When 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.”