Letter to the Clergy of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church at
the beginning of Lent 2012
the wear of clerical dress
begin Lent, the Christian witness of the clergy becomes even more
important. It is, of course, important each and every day. If the
faithful observe the clergy not acting in accordance with the
obligations of the Faith and their obligations as clergy, it can
easily have a negative impact on the resolve of the faithful to do
their own Christian duty. In this Lenten season, a time of penance,
preparation, and denial, it is all the more important that the clergy
set a good example for all the faithful to aid them in their efforts.
If the clergy embrace the world rather than the Kingdom of God, then
it communicates to the faithful that this is what they should be
doing. If, however, the clergy deny the world, take up their own
cross, and follow Jesus, this may inspire the faithful to do
likewise. This applies to all ranks of the clergy, from those at the
First Tonsure, the very beginning of the clerical state, through
Bishop, those who share in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.
One of the
most important mechanisms of Christian witness for the clergy is the
constant wear of clerical dress. It is a very visual and obvious
symbol of the Catholic Faith. Clerical dress communicates many
important facets of the Faith to the people. It is for this reason
that it makes such a good form of witness. Unfortunately in our
modern, secular society, many clerics feel as if they should not or
do not need to wear clerical dress outside of the walls of the church
or outside of overtly religious activities. This is precisely the
opposite of what clerics ought to do. We all can and should do
better. Let us resolve to do better during Lent and continue
throughout the year.
It is the
obligation of clerics, particularly those in the Major Orders, to
wear clerical attire as their normal or standard dress. This is both
Sacred Tradition and laid down in Canon Law. There are some
exceptions that exist. For example, priests who also work in the
secular world generally ought not wear their clerical habit while
engaged in commerce. Also, the clergy need not wear their habits
while engaged in sports or athletics (though some religious orders
retain their habit during these times as well). These exceptions
aside, the clerical habit is the standard attire for all clerics. All
else that is worn is merely an exception. It is not the other way
around, in which clerical attire is merely something donned when
"acting as a cleric." The clerical state is a state in life
that is always and everywhere part of the inherent nature of the
cleric. A cleric should, therefore, always and everywhere act as a
cleric just as a man who is married to a woman should always and
everywhere act as a married man.
there clerical habit, whether the cassock or the civic habit, out in
public and to social events may seem difficult or highly out of place
in today's society. Yet, it should be done and must be done anyway.
The secular influences of the world seek to suppress Christianity,
and Christians are feeling increasingly unable to express and
practice their religion. By wearing the habit in public, the clergy
may bolster the spirit of the faithful, comfort them, energize their
faith, and strengthen their resolve.
clerical dress marks the individual person as a cleric and does set
him apart from the populace. That separation is one of special
service, for the cleric's duty is to serve God and his people. For a
priest, it is the equivalent of his wedding ring, representing his
spiritual marriage to Christ's Holy Church. The habit reminds
everyone that the cleric is striving to live his vocation at all
times and in all places, as he should. It marks the cleric as a
person to whom the faithful may turn for support and assistance.
Clerical attire is a symbol of the public ministry which is present
always and everywhere. It cannot be turned on and off like a light
switch. It is a fallacy to suggest that a priest better serves the
people by appearing like them and "breaking down the
barrier." The so-called barrier between the clergy and faithful
is not in reality a barrier, but a boundary in terms of specific
roles ordained for the Kingdom of God, both here on earth and in
heaven. It is, therefore, a great disservice to the faithful for a
cleric not to wear his habit. A cleric must always relate to other
people as a cleric, for his life is not his own.
given the great decline in social decorum, wearing the clerical habit
is a clear reminder to all people to dress modestly and act
appropriately. Society would benefit greatly from a return to
manners, politeness, and simple courtesy.
it is stated, though, that clerics should not wear their habit in the
presence of non-Catholics or non-Christians, as this might make them
uncomfortable. However, removing the stimulus does not remove or
solve the problem. It is better to wear the habit always and serve as
an example of the Christian Faith to everyone. Education about the
Faith has a better chance of success rather than allowing the symbols
of the Faith to be suppressed.
never be stated enough that a cleric's life is not his own.
Therefore, do not become lackadaisical in attitude towards clerical
service. This not only includes performance of duties according to
one's level in the clergy, but also in terms of behavior and
appearance. Appearance is regulated by Canon Law and other norms, and
therefore obedience requires it to be followed. How can we expect
obedience of the faithful towards the Laws of God and his holy Church
if we as clerics do not set the example and be obedient ourselves?
Yes, the clerical collar and habit (again, whether the cassock or the
civic habit) should be a natural part of a cleric's daily life. It
should not be something set aside for certain occasions. It should
not be shunned when the cleric wants to relax, but rather the cleric
should feel relaxed when dressed according to his state in life.
indeed all do better, for none of us is perfect. We must encourage
each other for our own benefit and that of the faithful. We must
stand strong against the encroachment of modernism into the church
and against the secular influences of the world. Out duties as
clerics are paramount to all other aspects of our lives. To think or
believe otherwise is to deny the very vows we took at our ordination
and to eschew the indellible mark that was placed on our souls when
we entered the clerical state.
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