Friday, September 01, 2006

The collar

Mr. Culbreath mentions a dinner guest on his blog today-the dinner guest being a priest without his collar. It brings to mind an experience we once had....

We have had many priests over the house for dinner in the past 10-15 years. On one occasion, (and only one occasion), the priest came without his collar/clerical garb. (To be sure, some came with the collar undone, but each wore their clerics). He wore a sweatshirt and dark pants. As we sat down in the living room and talked before dinner, the kids had a few moments to get Father's attention. Number two son gained the floor, and seeing that Father was not wearing his clerical garb, he asked his question prefaced by, "Father-when you used to be a priest...."

Father came over to dinner at least twice more-but those times he wore his clerics. My son had addressed the issue in an innocent but more effective way than I ever could have.


This whole issue is certainly one that raises strong opinions on both sides. I view clerical garb of priests and religious as sort of a wedding ring-a sign of their vocation. Especially for priests, it means when in public, they are always on call. A person sees a priest in the airport, they may go to confession or begin a conversation which leads to conversion-which would not have happened if the priest was in 'street clothes'. Also too the clerical garb is a sign for the world-a sign of contradiction. The more one sees easily identified religious in public, the more you are aware of God's presence and the willingness of some people to give up 'the world' for God. This must have an effect on people-even if unmeasured.

On the other hand, to be sure I like to take off my tie and let my hair down (some people would laugh hysterically at that last). So why not a priest? I suppose part is determined by the occasion and closeness of the friendship. A parishioner inviting the parish priest to dinner is different than having over a brother or very close friend who is a priest. And the company matters too. Is the dinner party just the family and the priest, or are other individuals invited also-some of which may not know the priest well or may not be Catholic. I think all these things come into play. Priest and relgious are people too, to be sure, needing time to relax etc., but they are different from the laity also in their role and their sign to the culture.

Just to beat a dead horse...When I am out in public or at someone's house, I d0 not with my dress, demeanor, accessories (re: wedding ring), or actions wish to confuse anyone about my state in life-that being a married man. In my opinion, priest and religious should do the same.

I don't think all the lines are black and white, but they are more black and white than grey. I'm sure some of my readers will disagree-let's hear it.


Jeff Miller said...

There is also another issue. Canon law and the Bishop's conference.

"Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 284, hereby decrees that without prejudice to the provisions of canon 288, clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling."

"In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric."

This applies to all priests not part of a religious order.

Jeff Culbreath said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Spot on!

JCurley said...

Oh yes-there are the rules too (obedience IS one of the evangelical counsels). Thanks for that reminder.

Anonymous said...

Guys, I understand your concern. Especially with nuns walking around in jeans on a regualr basis. But, what if the priest wanted to go sking or swiming? I am a cop and "on duty" 24/7 but I don't wear my uniform all the time.

Queens NY

Steven said...

Dear Sir,

I find myself surprised to be in agreement, for the most part. Of couse, as Marty points out above, there are exceptions; however, Canon Law allows for that in that the "usual dress" is specified--altered circumstances sometimes cause that usual to be abrogated. I don't know Pope JPII's attire while skiing, but I suspect it wasn't the usual clerical suit. And again, there is a sort of sense here. In a way, skiing, or hiking, or working our at the gym are private moments--rather like taking a shower or preparing for bed. While they take place publicly, they aren't meant to be public, if that makes any sense. The point is not interaction with other people so much as physical exertion and exercise. And under those conditions, if a priest were doing heavy physical labor that might result in damage to his "usual" garb and cause undue stress because of color and warmth, I could see how one might eschew the "usual."

But for public gatherings, invitations, meetings, and all places where the main intent and focus is the interaction of individuals, a priest should at all times be cognizant of his position and make others aware as well so that conversation does not stray off into areas that would be problematic for both priest and persons unaware of priestly identity.