The alienating cassock!

Father FinelliWhen we were seminarians, we guarded our love for traditional clerical attire, lest we were ridiculed at rigid traditionalist nutcases and expelled from formation. Wearing the cassock or expressing any solid Catholic devotional life was considered a very serious sin, mortal in the sense that it would separate you for your vocation.

After ordination to the diaconate, I began cautiously wearing my cassock. However, even then, I was ridiculed. I will never forget the day my pastor sat me down for the talk. “You think you are better than the people.” he said. “A clericalist and I’m worried about your future.” “You will alienate the people.” “We are not to be different. We need to be at their level.”

Even after ordination to the priesthood, I was cautious. Since I had been mentally and emotionally abused for so many years. Those people who were the so called liberals, were themselves the rigid, condescending control freaks. In all my years of seminary and priesthood, I have never demanded or ridiculed someone for not wearing their clerical attire (which is required by Canon Law). So, who has done the most damage to the Church in the last 50+ years? I’ll leave that to your own prayerful and thoughtful consideration.

In the last few years, I have been wearing my cassock every more frequently. The Congregation for the Clergy has made it clear the the cassock is the norm for the priest and transitory deacon. In the Directory For The Ministry And The Life Of Priests, 2013, #61 (pg. 82, 83)

“In a secularised and basically materialistic society where the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to disappear, deeply felt is the need for the priest – man of God, dispenser of his mysteries – to be recognisable in the eyes of the community by his attire as well, and this as an un- equivocal sign of his dedication and identity as holder of a public ministry247. The priest must be recognisable above all through his conduct, but also by his attire, which renders visi- ble to all the faithful, and to each person248, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.”

For this reason the priest, like the transitory deacon, must:

a) wear either the cassock “or suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and legitimate local customs”251; when other than the cassock, attire must be different from the way laypersons dress and consonant with the dignity and sanctity of the minister;”

The norms for the USCCB state:

“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.

What I find is that those who have an aversion to clerics in cassock are the ones who raise themselves above the laity the most. They are the ones with what once could call a bad clericalism. I know of those who have not time to bring the dying the Sacrament of the Sick. Or are annoyed when the telephone or door bell rings. There is no time to talk with someone at the door of the church, but don’t interfere with Tee Time at the golf corse.

My experience with the cassock has been very affirming of my vocation and a source of consolation to people. From my grocery shopping at the local Stop & Shop to the supply run to BJ’s Wholesale Warehouse to multiple restaurants and other places, I cannot count the prayer requests, desires for a blessing or just a big smile with “Hello Father.” I have blessed adults and children, heard sad stories of woe and given words of consolation. And even been treated to dinner to which I had not desire, but have accepted so as not to cause offense.

Although the liberals are repulsed by the cassock, it is a strong sign of God’s presence in a broken world. It shouts out “God is alive and the Catholic Church is here for you.” I love the Church and I love the fact that my cassock is a sign of God’s love in this world. All I can say to you my brother priests is let the world know we are here. And if you have any hesitation, follow the advise of St. John Paul II “Do not be afraid.”

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About Fr. Jay Finelli

Father Jay Finelli is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in the state of Rhode Island. He is a webmaster, podcaster, and blogger. In his free time, Father is an avid Live Steam enthusiast.

Comments

The alienating cassock! — 64 Comments

  1. I love to see a priest wearing the Roman collar out and about in the public eye. I must admit I have never seen a priest in public wearing a cassock. I also love to see nuns wearing a habit although that is almost on the endangered list anymore. When I see one now and then I always stop and thank them for wearing it. They are always of the older generation. They always smile and say “Thank You.” So thank you to you priests and Sisters who walk proudly letting the public know who you are. God Bless You!

  2. I rarely see priests in cassocks any more. I LOVE seeing it when I do. It is an affirmation of Hope and a silent witness to Love. I am sorry you were abused for it, and I thank you for the Love of God and man that you show in doing it in spite of that abuse. Please never stop

  3. Well said Fr. Jay. Your ministry is an inspiration. Glad to see traditional attire making a comeback. Whenever I see a priest in a cassock I know he is in line with church teaching across the board. I tend to trust them more.

  4. “We need to be at their level.” Sorry, don’t want my, yes MY priests at my level, I want them at their own level determined by the grace of God and their determination to live out their vocation known to Him alone. For each one, God knows how grateful i and all of us are.

  5. I began wearing a cassock around my parish last Holy Thursday, approx 19 years after ordination. I’m delighted I began doing so. Parishioners are very positive, and it reminds me to make an extra effort to be a really good priest. I thank God that some priests gave good example and wrote articles such as this to encourage me.

  6. So the premise of their argument is that Catholics and Priests shouldn’t set themselves apart by their appearance, lest they alienate the people. So I guess Christ never should have risen from the dead. How alienating.

  7. Although I was ordained in the liberal 1960s and endured the liberal 1970s and 80s, I never gave up the cassock. The cassock is not alienating at all. Clerical garb in general reassures people. People will approach a priest in a collar because they assume a kind welcome. Without the cassock or the collar, you are just another man on the street. Well done, Fr. Finelli! At least we agree on this issue!

  8. I am also 100% behind you Fr Jay. I love to see the clergy in their dog collars and cassocks.I think it shows commitment to their calling, a love of their vocation and proud to be seen as the Lord’s servants!

  9. In my humble opinion the liberals are destroying the church as well as our country. They are intolerant to all who don’t agree with them. I pray for all holy priest and I have met some. I also pray for the formation of new priests. The old way brought us much pain and scandal.

  10. Fr. Jay, love when you wear the traditional clothing. It provides me an inner peace knowing that some priests choose to keep with what I grew up with. Sometimes the changes I see make me crazy. I wish more priests would be like you in your holiness. The best priest ever !! I feel proud to know you and to have had you as my parish Priest in ,the past. Prayers for you always. Ps. My children have often voiced these very same feelings in religious conversations. A positive role model in their lives. thank you for that.

  11. In my home country of Poland cassock in the norm. Being part of an American diocese I started wearing mine only after 12 years of being ordained while on sabbatical at Polish-American Seminary in Kraków. Had been wearing it ever since and and all kind of feedback and was nicely surprised by the positive ones. Also noticed that many young priests at the Denver Archidiecese wear one. Courage!

    • Two of our local Priests wear them all the time. Fr Calvillo and Fr Donovan look great! I was raised amongst the Fransicans so I like the traditional look!

  12. Our small parish has been blessed to have one or two seminarians visit during the summer for the past few years. They always dressed in their cassocks while working at the church. Our priest, ordained in 1972, even wore his cassock while they were there. It was a joy to come into church in the afternoon and see these two young seminarians in their cassocks kneeling before the tabernacle with rosaries in hand.

  13. A priest that does not wear clerics is hiding his light under a bushel basket. In Florida most priests dress like golfers and bankers. O Lord grant us holy priests, O Lord grant us holy, holy priests, O Lord grant us holy, holy, holy priests. Amen.

    • Visit Tampa Jesuit High School. All the Jesuits there wear clerical dress, even the cassock on occasions. You can even find 2 devout Masses per day and all day Adoration in the student chapel on first Fridays.

  14. Yes, I’m with you too. I invariably wear my cassock to celebrate Mass and keep it on until some other duty makes trousers more practical.

  15. I too prefer to see a priest wearing a cassock. I have a friend who is a priest, and when he is dressed in ordinary clothes, I see him as a man, but when dressed in his cassock, I see a man of God.

  16. Do you know why the kids want to be a fireman, a policeman, a doctor? It’s due to the “uniform”. Does US have a shortage of vocations? Well, could it be because the youngsters do NOT see religious in action? Could it be that they do NOT see a priest, or a noun, helping someone? Do not be ashamed of the uniform, that is how you light the light in young hearts to do what you do… It also insures that you stay just a little more aware of what your function is, and whom you belong too…. Do not be afraid…

  17. Excellent article, Father. Although by condemning those who judge you, you are being just as condemnatory. Best to show why you do and bless those who curse you.

  18. In the spiritual battle we find ourselves in here on earth, I want to be able to identify my leaders. A commissioned officer in combat never disguises his dress. He wears his dress according to the rank in which he holds to lead his soldiers (of Christ in this case) into battle. His dress speaks of the strength he possesses as a trained leader and reassures his troops he is equipt to lead them through harms way.

    A priest wearing his clerics or Cassock is the same thing. He stands out as a leader ordained by God himself to lead the laypeople in spiritual warfare on a daily basis. It is clear by his address the rank that he holds. He is not to be disguised as a common soldier looking for leadership. He is to wear his dress proudly and be a light on a hillside, not bury that light under a bushel basket of liberalism. God bless you Father. HUA.

  19. Thankyou Fr. Jay!
    A priest wearing a cassock shows the world that he is a servant of God, (not only when in church but in everyday mundane situations.) It makes the priest more approachable NOT less. In a world that ignores faith, we need these daily unexpected reminders of the beauty of Christianity.

  20. Not only do I love priests who wear cassock, I also love nuns who wear a traditional habit. One day I was eating at a restaurant when there was an urgent call for a nun. The waitress looked around frantically to find the nun. She saw my miraculous medal and came to me and said Sister there is a very important phone call. I smiled and apologized and said I’m not a nun. Flustered she said I’m sorry, I saw the medal. Unfortunately both nuns and priests demean their calling by not wearing the beautiful clothing which immediately identify who they are.God bless you Father. Dominus tecum

  21. Our pastor is the priest you described. No time for the sick or elderly. Jogs in short shorts, has hours, don’t call me after 5:00. Sad sad sad.

  22. Here is a website for a very high quality tailor made cassock made in Czestochowa Poland for less than 1/3 the price of anything comparable in US at today’s Fx currency rates. The web is in Polish but if you follow the contact cues and inquire in English, they should respond in English. We gifted our Pastor with one during a recent pilgrimage. Of course they have other liturgical and clerical products as well. Short sleeved shirts (Roman or tab collar) around $15 plus shipping. http://www.sutannyfides.pl (sutanny is Polish for Cassock, Fides is tailor business name)

  23. I am a child of the 50’s. I grew up seeing priests in cassocks and nuns in habits down to their shoes and wearing veils.Then came Vatican ll and priests wore black suits and a Roman collar, except for some Jesuits in town who wore suits and ties! The wonderful order that taught me became Sister Mary Pantsuits, with only the elderly nuns keepng their habits and veils.They wanted to be one of us. Today they are a dying order of elderly no new vocations.
    Fifty miles to the North, the Dominicans Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist , which started in 1997 with 4 sisters, now has well over 100 sisters. Their average age is 28 years old. They wear the long traditional whitehabit and veils. Four years ago l moved to a new parish. Both of the pastors we have had, wear cassocks!
    Priests and nuns have a different vocation than l do; as such they should be wearing clothing commenstrate to their calling.
    God bless you Father Jay for your selfless service and for being a ” man of the cloth “!

  24. In today’s reading, Rom 10:9-18, the words than stand out to me were “as it is written, HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING THE GOOD NEWS!”
    Carry on Fr. Jay, blessings to you and those that bring the good news!
    PJ Martini

  25. Father,

    I am not among the more conservative of my Catholic friends with respect to doctrinal and theological matters. Whether or not this makes me a “liberal” is subjective matter, I suppose. However, even though I am not among the so-called “traditionalists,” I wholeheartedly agree with your post. Visible symbols of the priestly vocation are of great value to the faithful, and they also provide a silent yet significant sign of the priest’s presence in the wider community. It is heartening to see your advocacy for the more frequently wearing of the cassock in all contexts.

    Prayerful best wishes!

  26. Might a (habited) religious make a comment? I realise I’m in a somewhat different cultural context from yours as I’m in the UK whereas I think I’m right in saying most if not all of the above comments are from the US. Catholic American friends of mine give me the impression that the Church is a little more polarised where you are than here, so that has to be taken into account, and, please believe me, I don’t intend what I say here to be smug or patronising – just that sometimes things from a different perspective can be illuminating.
    In our congregation (I’m a Dominican of the English Congregation of St Catherine of Siena) our constitutions say that our habit is “our normal wear”. Most of us, including me, interpret this to mean that we wear it almost all of the time; the two exceptions being when we’re doing particularly messy manual work (I’m hugely clumsy and it was one of the Good Lord’s better jokes making me join an Order that wears white!) and when we’re on holiday or days off. I say about this latter that the reason I wear the habit most of the time is the reason that very occasionally I take it off: that is,the habit is a witness, it makes me visible and recognisable so that people can approach and ask for help, and for that matter, so that people who have anger issues with the Church have an obvious place to vent, but, I’m a weak and fragile human being like the rest of you, and, if I was never able to go out in public without courting this range of reactions, I think I would break down and be no good to anyone. I’m a huge fan of both the religious habit and the clerical cassock (I’m a convert from Anglicanism where, ironically, at least in “high church” contexts, it’s much more common than in the Catholic Church here in England) but I do beg non-clerical and non-Religious readers to remember that “the habit doesn’t make the monk” (those of us who are habited religious or cassocked priests know all too well, alas, that it doesn’t! We know our own daily failures in holiness and charity are as real as those of our confreres and sisters who dress more casually) and to refrain from putting us (as opposed to the immense privilege of our vocations) on a pedestal: it’s seriously bad for our spiritual health, not especially easy to live with,and it creates unrealistic and damaging expectations. Do consider, too,that priests and religious not wearing the habit/cassock (habitually – no pun intended! – I mean, not just on occasion like me) is often, actually always, in my experience, motivated by a belief that this is how best to serve Christ in his people, usually because, as the article says, there is a belief that distinctive dress alienates. I think, conscientiously, that this very often ( perhaps not always) a mistake, but it’s not generally, I believe a stupid or malicious one: after all, the Lord himself, great high priest and model of consecrated life, lived a hidden life for thirty years, and, so far as we know, even during his public ministry wore no special insignia. And, there are congregations whose members are impeccably orthodox but who have never had a habit (I once met some sisters from a Polish congregation, who were founded under communism, and continued to wear secular clothes as a tribute to the heroic sacrifices of their sisters under persecution); situations in which to wear religious garb would be to invite violence against oneself and those one serves (there is a community of sisters in Kabul, and I was privileged to meet a former member recently, who run a home for disabled children. They do not wear their habits but the local dress of Afghanistan. This is not cowardice but common sense, and, when the sisters are assigned to other communities in safer locations they return to their habits with joy) And so on. Please, let’s all remember how complex – but also how secondary – these issues are, assume the good faith of those who disagree with us about them, and then get on with preaching the Good News! Sorry if that sounds snide; it’s not meant to. God bless from across the Pond, and please say one for me!

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Sr. Ann. I enjoyed what you had to say and I hope others will also find it edifying.

  27. Thank you Father for wearing the cassock and the Roman collar. I love traditional clerical dress. I have been making traditional vestments for
    5 years now. What a privilege!

  28. First an admission: I love seeing a priest in a cassock. It really does speak to me.

    That being said, I think the decision to wear or not is not as clearly drawn as this article suggests. Two of the best priests in my life are diametrically different–one has never met a cassock (or maniple) he didn’t like; the other practically breaks out in a rash when he dons his habit. which is not often. One ministers in a downtown parish, the other to the poorest and most disenfranchised. For one clerical garb is an asset in connecting to people; to the other it’s a barrier. For some folks who are put off by the cassock, their memories are of priests in them who were, for one reason or another, not ministering to their needs. And those folks do exist and need to me encountered.

    A cassock is an item of clothing. It’s certainly a symbol but all symbols have positive and negative aspects. The garment that makes the difference in ministering is whether we put on Christ. Could we please agree that this is a matter best left to the circumstances of the individual priest and not generalize one way or another. Not everyone in a cassock is Bing Crosby and not every priest who ministers in jeans is a lazy or indifferent. No one should be criticized for wearing it and likewise no one should be criticized for not wearing it.

    • I agree completely, except for one point. All priests are required to wear clerical dress, be it cassock or collar. Jeans are not appropriate dress for ministry. That is fine if a priest is taking a youth group to an amusement park or hiking, vacations and a day off. But the regular dress of priests is clerical dress – both for the sake of the people and for the priest.

  29. As one who has recently “come home” to the Catholic Church by way of Eastern Orthodoxy, I can say that the Orthodox priests almost always wore the cassock, and that even tonsured readers among the Orthodox would often wear the cassock. The Orthodox lack the living voice of magisterial authority, but they have maintained many vital traditions that we in the West would do well to revive.

  30. I am so happy to see this . . . I love a Cassock and having come in as a Convert at the Cathedral, I was so used to seeing them, simple, plain and not distracting at all. I am grateful to be again in a Church where some of the Priests wear them. Robes will be the dress in Heaven, as I remember. Is that not true? All white washed in the Blood of the Lamb?

  31. When I am in a war, I do not want a soldier to “be at my level”. I want him to have the physical armor and strength and intelligence to do battle to keep me safe. Even more so with priests, as they are in the business of protecting me for eternity in the battle for souls.. I want my priest to be morally strong, emotionally and spiritually capable of fighting the devil in the battle of my lifetime. A cassock tells me that despite everything that the culture of death and secular sameness sells, this priest is wearing his armor and not afraid to announce it. Bravo. You have my prayers.

  32. Father…There is a purpose for a “uniform”.

    As one from a long line of Methodist preachers and an ex-Protestant missionary who took far too long to “come home” to the One True Church…

    Wear that cassock!

    A while back our FSSP priest visited us at the ranch and he and I took the horses up into the mountains. He in his cassock. He goes no where without it.

    That thing isn’t just for lining vestments!!

    God bless you, Father.

    🙂

  33. Love the Cassocks! Love full habits on Sisters as well! Full on and awesome Catholic identity which makes my soul sing whenever I see it as beautiful witnesses!

  34. I love cassocks! There was a seminarian visiting my parish last week who wore a cassock, and, during Mass, a very beautiful (liberals would say “girly, lacy”) surplice – I told my husband: “I can tell by his attire that I’ll like him!” Keep up that cassock-wearing!

  35. Wearing the cassock is a great way to recruit priests. How many young boys see a police officer, a marine or sailor in uniform, and are inspired to become one of “the few the proud, the Marines”. The same principle for the priesthood. Out of sight, out of mind. Good Job Father!

  36. I was always under the impression that it was not the custom for priests in the US to wear cassocks as street wear.Incould be wrong.I think it is a great idea.It is so sad that religious congregations that are dying out still won’t face up to their stupidity in abandoning the religious habit.If orders like the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Charity reformed their rule and returned to wearing a traditional habit they might prevent their extinction.The good news is that slowly but surely new orders of orthodox nuns and priests are growing.Dont tell Pope Francis!lol

    • In the past is was not the custom. In fact, the Council of Baltimore forbade it because of the persecution against Catholics at the time. However, now the Directory For The Ministry And The Life Of Priests overrides it.

  37. Well, Father, in the course of my seven-going-on-eight years as a Catholic, I have come around to your way of thinking where the cassock’s concerned.

    Initially, I absorbed prejudices like your pastor’s uncritically: The cassock was an outdated garment that looked theatrical — and, frankly, a little louche — on today’s streets, or even around today’s parish. Whoever wore one was probably a reactionary, an unreconstructed Maurrasian in politics, a raving anti-Semite, and more importantly, a pompous jerk.

    Now, as luck would have it, the first cassock-wearing priest I met filled that description in one particular: He was indeed pompous, he was indeed overbearing. He was one of those people who could make “Good morning” sound like such a display of insolence that you wanted to break his teeth for it. Meeting him was a little like seeing an editorial by the late Eugene Cullen Kennedy made flesh, and believe me, it was no fun at all.

    Well, gradually, I began meeting other priests who wore the cassock but made a very different impression. If you’ll forgive the generalization, their manner does seem a bit on the formal side, but if my intuition’s worth anything, they’re standing on their dignity for the good of the office, not in order to gratify their egos. Who can fail to respect someone who takes his vocation seriously and wants to make sure the whole world — especially the people he’s meant to help — knows it?

    It’s true — all the world’s a stage. And I’d bet that plenty of laypeople find some occasion to costume themselves in eye-catchingly distinctive ways. Me, I’m a long-distance runner. With temperatures falling and a marathon only a month away, I’ve ramped up my training in form-fitting outfits made from synthetic fibers. Wearing these Greek Lantern outfits remind me that I’m a serious athlete and can’t afford to mess around. With luck, they’ll send the same message to other people — the cyclists with whom I share space on the multi-use paths and the motorists who may be tempted to make late left turns as I’m hauling my carcass through the crosswalk.

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