Rorate Caeli has an interesting article mentioning Cardinal Siri’s take on the abandonment of the cassock.
I have written about it in the past, but would like to make some points again:
1) It is not true that the habit doesn’t count. The habit counts a lot. The habit reminds the priest all the time of who he is. This happens by all kinds of “uniform”, at the point that “to wear the uniform” is strictly identified with, say, military identity. You are, therefore you wear, and when a priest tries to look as if he wasn’t one, I wonder how much he wants to be one.
2) The clerical habit (specifically: the cassock; the real, authentic clerical garb of the Catholic priest) is also a form of social control for the priest. If a priest has the habit of going out without his, well, habit, and no one really notices, it will be much easier for him to go unnoticed in the wrong places, or to frequent the wrong people (like prostitutes, or so-called “gay saunas”). If the public expects to see him in cassock everytime he is seen at all, all this will become a much more difficult exercise, and in case of discovery there will be no defence possible:whoever sees the priest in “plain clothes” in another part of town will have strong reasons to suspect the man is up to no good.
3) The clerical garb (best of all: the cassock) reminds everyone (not only the priest) that his wearer is detached from the world. The priest wanting to be seen as “one of the others” is ipso facto betraying his role as a priest, even in those cases (which I assume will be a minority) in which his refusal to wear clerical garb is due to a well-intentioned, if ill-thought pastoral zeal. The priest is not of this world. He is there to remind us of the other one. The more he identifies himself with this life, the less will be able to do his job concerning the next one.
Not only must the Church insist on the priests wearing clerical garbs, but if you ask me the Church should insist on the Priest wearing the cassock whenever practicable. Don Camillo rode a bicycle and a light motorcycle with a cassock, and it worked rather well.
Besides, no priest is so despised as the one who wouldn’t want to be one.
Read here a beautiful entry of a Catholic blog called The Deacon’s Bench about the many reasons why a Catholic priest should wear a Roman collar.
In reading it, though, I could not avoid thinking that many priests nowadays do not wear a clerical collar; they actually do not wear clerical garments at all. Why is that? Because they want to “mix”, be “one of us”, be considered “friends” rather than “pastors”.
So far, so bad.
But then one thinks: if the Church wants to be recognisable, why has the Church tolerated the spread of clerical garments (the so-called “clergyman”, at least in Italy) making them look pretty much like Anglican clergy?
If you modify clerical garments and make them more similar to normal garments (with trousers, shirt and jacket), why should you as an institution be surprised that some priests understand the motives of the modification and happily go further along this line of thoughts? And why – as we are by the questions – is this neglect of regulations happily ignored by countless bishops?
If you want to go back to make the priest recognisable as a Catholic priest, the best thing to do is to make him…. recognisable as a Catholic priest instead of as a possible Anglican clergyman.
The proper clerical garment (whenever appropriate) is not the “clergyman”.
It’s the Cassock.