05 April 2011

A Call for Clericalism?

Well, of course not.

But the term needs a clear definition, as I have heard from some readers of a more progressive view of things that a photo of priests in cassocks, or of priests wearing a chasuble that doesn't look like he pinched it off of a picnic table at Tower Grove Park, or of a priest in a biretta, smacks of "clericalism".


When I hear this term used (which is rarely, btw) it is always in a negative sense. I looked up the definition in several online dictionaries.

The American Heritage Dictionary:

A policy of supporting the power and influence of the clergy in political or secular matters.

The Collins English Dictionary has something like it, and also this alternative definition:

The power of the clergy esp. when excessively strong.

And the provocatively-named Dictionary of ologies and isms has this one:

An undue influence of the hierarchy and clergy in public affairs and government.

It doesn't appear to me that any of these dictionary definitions applies to the things these readers note. I don't know why a priest wearing proper liturgical vestments or the traditional cassock would denote 'excessively strong' power and certainly priests of this kind don't have 'undue influence' in public affairs and government. Quite the reverse.

So what do these readers mean by the term "clericalism"? As far as I can tell, they seem to be complaining that a priest is acting like a priest, or dressing like a priest, in an obvious way.

No, no!, I might hear, what we mean is that these priests think they're better than everyone else, and that they should receive deference and an almost god-like reverence. Vatican II emphasized the priesthood of all the faithful. These priests are putting down the laity with their attire and attitude. It's divisive!

Well, let me respond from the point of view of one Catholic layman. To begin, let me say that I really mean that-- I am going to analyze this from the point of view of a lay observer, and not from inside the head or heart of a Catholic priest. Let me tell you what I see when I see a priest in public.

If a priest is out in public in the standard "I don't want to call attention to myself" uniform of dress pants and a polo shirt, the result is usually successful in that unless I know him personally I don't recognize that he is one. He can get in and out without incident. Just another guy, just another member of the "priesthood of all the faithful".

A priest who ventures out in public in his clerical attire sends an unmistakable message. You cannot doubt his vocation or his employer unless perhaps you may be in some doubt about whether he is Catholic or of a mainline Protestant group. But the default position is, "That man is a Catholic priest." He doesn't get to walk in and out of the grocery store without being the object of attention. He is subject to the curiosity of gawkers, the scorn of the worldings or even some Catholics who hate "clericalism", and perhaps, maybe, the grateful affection of a Catholic who sees in that "man just like the rest of us" hands that can bring the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ to us, and who speaks with the voice of Christ when he says "Te Absolvo" and we are made clean.

Clerical attire, whether the black suit or a cassock, sends the message that one is a priest. Yet, I will venture to say, the cassock is unmistakable. Though the cassock may not be strictly speaking exclusive to the Catholic priesthood, when I see one there is never any doubt in my mind that the wearer is a Catholic priest. The cassock says, "I am a priest, and moreover, this is serious business."If a priest wears a cassock in public, he just might get hit up for a confession in the lumber aisle of Home Depot, as happened to a priest friend of mine. He is an unmistakable sign of Christ's love in this world.

Yes, this may be "divisive", but only in the sense that Christ Himself was a "sign of contradiction." The priest is living proof that God has not forsaken us. He is subject to the scorn of the world but this is simply part of his lifelong and total sacrifice for the Bride of Christ. And, taking our Home Depot confession example, who knows whether that one encounter with a priest acting like a priest was the last confession this person made, or even whether they lived another day, or perhaps if this was the beginning of a conversion process that brought a stray sheep back to the fold.

The relevant norms for clerical attire for secular clerics in the United States:

...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.

And, from the 1994 Directory for Life and Ministry of Priests:

66. Obligation of Ecclesiastical Attire. In a secularised and materialistic society, where the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to disappear, it is particularly important that the community be able to recognise the priest, man of God and dispenser of his mysteries, by his attire as well, which is an unequivocal sign of his dedication and his identity as a public minister. The priest should be identifiable primarily through his conduct, but also by his manner of dressing, which makes visible to all the faithful, indeed and to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and the Church.

For this reason, the clergy should wear "suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and the legitimate local custom''. This means that the attire, when it is not the cassock, must be different from the manner in which the laity dress, and conform to the dignity and sacredness of his ministry. The style and colour should be established by the Episcopal Conference, always in agreement with the dispositions of the universal law.

Because of their incoherence with the spirit of this discipline, contrary practices cannot be considered legitimate customs; and should be removed by the competent authority.

Outside of entirely exceptional cases, a cleric's failure to use this proper ecclesiastical attire could manifest a weak sense of his identity as one consecrated to God.

And finally, on a related note, while we are all in a sense participants in the priesthood of Christ, instead of lifting up the laity this truism has been turned on its head in practice. We have diminished the worth of the priest in our eyes and instead have created all sorts of laypeople who try to act like ministerial priests. The ordained priest is merely one member of the liturgical committee, of "extraordinary" ministers of Holy Communion schlepping about the sanctuary in denim and birkenstocks, or "proclaiming" the Word of God like they were Hal Holbrook in a one-man show about Mark Twain. Everything bland, everything immediate, a fine grey mist over all.

Then the priest is no different from the rest of us-- he is not any "better". But it isn't that the priest is supposed to be "better". His vocation sets him apart. He is designated for holiness like us all, but his vocation is unique because Christ in His wisdom founded a sacramental Church and instituted an ordained priesthood to distribute the fruits of the redemption He won for us, once and for all.

So, please pardon me if I think that the charge of clericalism is misplaced when levelled at priests who realize the dignity and grave responsibility of their position and who embrace that cross, with all its agony and joy. Yet in a sense, one of those definitions hints at the truth without realizing it. There is a 'power' to the clergy, and it can be 'excessively strong'. It is the power of Christ working in the priest. Me, I find that comforting. Why would any Catholic want their priests to be reluctant in applying it?


Fr. Andrew said...

Funny story on this note: a priest friend was invited to dinner by a elderly Sicilian widow. In the kitchen, cooking and talking, in a fit of egalitarianism and youthful foolishness, he tells her "Call me Michael."

She stops what she's doing. Turns and looks at him with wooden spoon in one hand, the other on her hip. "Don't go thinking that I call you Father because I think you're better than me. I call you Father to remind you who you're supposed to be for me."

Lesson learned. And a good story for me to tell when people ask "What shall we call you?" That's good clericalism.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, priests of Opus Dei have told me St. Josemaria Escriva thought it was clericalist for a priest NOT to wear clerical dress in public. If he did, it was as if he was pretending to be someone who was apart from his vocation, much as if a layman dressed up like a priest. A priest wearing a collar is a sign of his professional work and vocation, something that cannot be checked at the door (as if a husband took off his wedding ring in public!)

Anonymous said...

WELL said, well said.
I have priest friends who tell me that every time they are in the public arena in cassock, someone comes up to comment or ask a question.

Once, I watched a priest dressed like a priest should be dressed near
SLU and as he began to leave 2 men dressed in plaid shirts stood up and introduced themselves as priests....sort of sad- it was...as if they wanted the well dressed priest to know that they were in the "Club" too!

Bruno said...


But wait a minute ... you forgot the most important point: THE CASSOCK IS A SACRAMENTAL! It isn't a mere sign (though it certainly is that). No one blesses the clerical suit because wearing it confers no grace. Not so with the cassock.

Are we becoming Protestants? This is a theological question. Imagine someone turning against the use of holy water. Laicism! Always "reaffirming"--or reasserting--your baptismal vows! We get it. The universal priesthood of the baptized. Get over yourself. Stop it!

It is theological my brother. Catholics are not Protestants.

Meg said...

Where is the next in the Seven Deadly Sins series of sermons?????

thetimman said...

Thanks for the kind comments.

Meg, The last in the series will be preached next Sunday, Passion Sunday. I am only guessing, but I think they gave this week a pass because it was Laetare Sunday and not so penitential in nature.

When I get it, I will post it.

Anonymous said...

I think that the attempt to give the word "clericalism" its negative take was made by today's empty-and gray-headed LCWR-type nuns back in the 1970s when they were younger and began their campaigns against the Church. Apparently their strategy was successful since many think of the word in a negative snese, but alas, it was another of their vapid moves since no one really knows what a negative use of the word "clericalism" can really mean. There isn't a bone in my body that has ever understood what anyone was talking about when they used the term "clericalism" in a negative sense. All I know is, when I'm in danger of death (and numeorus times before that, too), if the word "clericalism" means that a priest of Jesus Christ is nearby, then for me it's a beautiful word. JRDM

Bob said...

I will never understand you traditionalists. You have to complain about everything. And you obsess over externals. What is the problem? The cassock is "liturgical garb." Why would a priest want to wear it outside of the liturgy?

Anonymous said...

The priest is first and foremost for God, and not for men, or better and more precisely: Because he is first and foremost for God he is really and effectively for men.

thetimman said...

Dear Bob,

Thanks for the comment. But I would disagree with a couple of points you made. We don't complain about everything. We may have complaints about some things that progressives might like, and thus it seems worse than it is. If you read this blog you will see that there is a whole lot more that I like than that I don't like.

Secondly, the cassock is not primarily a liturgical garment, but constituted for a long time the ordinary everyday garb of clerics. Canon law and the USCCB's regulations acknowledge that any cleric, in his own discretion, can wear it as his ordinary garb.

The "externals" to which you refer aren't really-- or aren't merely, if you will-- externals. They pertain to the worship of God and to His sacred ministers. Giving God our very best makes it natural for us to give some attention to externals, as well as purely "internals"--even if we assume your characterization were apt. One can take your position to the opposite extreme and say that Mass should be said on a garbage pile by a priest wearing a gorilla suit and a congregation of fig-leaf wearers eating dinner, because these mere externals wouldn't speak to what was in the hearts of all. Yet I will venture a guess that you yourself would not approve of this approach.

Signs, sacramentals, symbols, and real material items are all used to give honor to the God Who, though He is pure spirit, became incarnate and saved us creatures of spirit and flesh.

The little things matter.

Anonymous said...


Because the priest is always priest, not only on Sundays and not only during celebrating the liturgy. During Mass, at the moment of consecration, the priest is even an "alter Christus", that is why is covered with Christ's garments and made invisible as simple man. Outside of Mass and the liturgy the priestly character of his being remains - always. That is traditional, yes, but it is also contemporary ( it remains to be the teaching of the Church).

Loisy said...


You're the lone voice of sanity amidst the craziness. Don't bother trying to reason with these people. They are more Catholic than the Pope and they won't be happy until he declares Vatican II a robber council, madates a return to the Tridentine Mass, and launches a new Inquisition. They can't stand the modern Church so they cling to outdated signs of the good old days. It's pure nostalgia for Tridentine Catholicism.


Bob said...


How is the cassock "Christ's garments?" Did Jesus Christ wear it? I don't think so. Besides, there are many things the priest doesn't wear outside of the liturgy. Why is the cassock so special?

thetimman said...

Loisy, leaving aside the many cliches, let me just say that she isn't going back to the '60s either. :-)

doughboy said...

lol @ "not going back to the 60's either" that's good.

thetimman said...

And, Loisy, you throw a lot of accusations around. They don't bother me, but if I didn't know you were so progressive they could appear--just a bit-- judgmental.

Loisy said...


My comments are not judgmental. They are just true. Besdies, I'm not the one saying that the Bishops and Priests of this country are bad Catholics for not wearing the cassock all the time. You are the one out of step with the Church, not me. I can't think of a single Bishop who wears the cassock. Aren't you the one "judging" them?

Anonymous said...


The priestly garments the priest wears during Mass are the sacred vestments (chasuble, alb, stole ...). They all have their mystical significance (stole is the cross of Christ on both shoulders/around the neck). The chasuble is of course Christ's garment. Outside of Mass the priest remains recognizable through the collar, the color black, the cassock. Why do people have this obsession of civilizing the priesthood?

Susan said...

I find the comments here interesting. I'm undecided. I can see both sides of the issue. Couldn't we compromise and just agree that wearing the clerical shirt and tab collar are sufficient? Isn't that a clear enough sign? Why does it have to be the cassock?

I don't see the problem.

thetimman said...


I think that the rules that state it is at the option of the cleric to decide. Like I said in the post, either identifies the vocation of the wearer. My preference for the cassock is thus presented as my own opinion, though I see the point made by a commenter, that the garment being a sacramental is a very good objective reason to wear it. I don't judge the decision of any priest between the two. The point of my article was to defend its use against charges of clericalism, not to try to force it on any cleric as a greater imposition than the canon law requires. But there is no compromise to be made, as the law is clear: either is allowed.

The problem is that some, perhaps for political or theological reasons, have a visceral aversion to the cassock. It bothers them. The better question might be to ask them why that is.

As you can see, it touches a nerve with some. These signs and symbols carry meaning, and many Catholics find great solace in seeing their priests so unmistakably identified with Christ and His Church.

Peter said...

Can anyone say "rupture"?

Don't we Catholics have a past, a tradition? What is the Faith without that tradition? What are WE without it?

It isn't nostalgia. It is the sensus fidelium, the sensus Catholicus.

Grace. Grace. Grace.

Joy said...

Definitely an interesting discussion. As long as we're just stating our personal preference, my vote as a lay person is for the cassock. It makes the strongest statement about the Catholic priesthood. When I see a black shirt and clerical collar, I think a minister of some sort. When I see a black cassock, I think of the holy Eucharist and the confessional.

Also, I can't imagine the Pope's official dress being anything but a cassock. As long as that's the case, a priest's cassock visually unites him to the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

Gorilla suit mass > Clown mass, FWIW IMHO

Intereseting set of comments here. I am a bit surprised by the virulence of those responding with disapproval to a post that was a very reasoned and even-handed explanation for why some would prefer that priests dress like priests.

Bob and Loisy, do you get this worked up when you see a priest out in public wearing a cassock? Or even a simple black shirt/collar combo? Really? What is wrong with that?

I truly ask in charity and out of curiosity, because I simply do not understand the high temperature of your posts.

Proud SLPS Parent

StGuyFawkes said...


The issue is simple.

Suppose you were in a hospital awaiting surgery to remove a malignant t-3 tumor. Suppose the surgeon showed up at the operating tablewearing golf shorts and a polo shirt. Just before you go under the anesthesia you beg him,
"Doctor, do you think I'll make it?"

And the Doctor says , "Oh, please, just call me Phil!"

Would you not feel sure you were going to die?

Now imagine that the priest who showed up an hour earlier to offer Extreme Unction was wearing a Brooks Brother’s blazer. Would you not feel sure you were going to Hell?

Take your minds back to the last scene of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist." The little girl, Regan, has been saved, and her mother tells a Jesuit friend that Regan remembers NOTHING of her ordeal. Then the little girl comes bouncing out of the house and before she gets in the car she sees the priest and for a second mysteriously stares at his Roman Collar. Then she spontaneously kisses the worldly Georgetown Jesuit. As the car speeds away the priest holds his cheek, his jaw drops and he smiles. It's as if his vocation has suddenly been saved by the girl.

Go rent the film. The movie actually ends that what way.

Anonymous said...

It is entirely incorrect to imagine that the casock is a liturgicval gard. The priests' liturgical garment is the alb and stole, accompanied by whatever other vestments are appropriate for whatever rite he is celebrating or in which he is participating (ui.e. the chasuble if he is saying Mass). The priest's ordinary clothing is the clerical garb of the priest, acceptably the black shirt and black pants with the tab clerical collar for street wear or attending a ballgame or visiting KMart, or the soutane or cassock, which is acceptable at all tiems everywhere, but in our casual culture, might understandably be used more on the Church premises than in town, but absolutely not restricted to the sanctuary.

It is inappropriate to be critical of a priest for wearing his soutane in public, although we are aware that making this kind of criticism is required for any priest ordained between the years 1954 and 1988 (unless Father has earned a special dispensation in 5this regard) and of course, those Mothers of the Faith, the vapid dinosaurs of the LCWR congregations. JRDM

Martha said...

I didn’t have the luxury of attending a Latin Mass. At the Mass I went to, you can see the priest’s khaki pants under his chasuble. Walking across the parking lot, his parka jacket hid his collar, so it was hard to tell from afar that he’s the priest. (He’s a good priest, btw.) Now, imagine the same lone figure walking across the parking lot, but wearing a black cassock…. It would have made a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Funny, but when I think of a priest, I think of far more than the person's attire.

I'm one of those that use the term "clericalism" in a negative way, and here's why. (Which I'm guessing Timman won't print because, well, of his clericalism.) That is very different than 'the priesthood,' which I hold in highest esteem.

Clericalism is the belief that "Father can do no wrong. Father knows best. Father always has our best interests at heart. Father is the smartest of us all. Father will know how to fix things."

There are a number of Catholic writers who would say that the sex abuse crisis existed solely on the shoulders of clericalism. I.e. that the general laity thought so highly of priests that no one would be in the least bit suspicious of their humanity.

As we learned in the seminary, we are human men first. We are Christian second. And we are ordained priests third. Clericalism ignores the first two, and skips to the third.

It is totally a shame that a few bad apples gave so many good, Christian, ordained men such a black eye. This is a matter of broken trust, where we as laity should be able to trust priests, and vice verse.

Pews are far emptier now than ever because of that broken trust. Those of us still kneeling in pews need to have the trust of our priests earned back. The debate about attire is incredibly far off in terms of the deeper relationship between these "men of God" and the laity. We thirst for depth, for relevance, for wisdom, for a vibrant faith, and for priests who clearly have a deep relationship with our loving God.

It could be said that clericalism is also the belief that 'one's attire makes the man.' If you read the Scriptures, you most certainly will never, ever find Jesus concerned about external shows of religiosity.

Anon: "nammiT"

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear Readers,

A doctor wears whites but only when he is acting as a doctor. It's a point of professionalism and it tells the patient that the the doctor takes the aches and pains of his client seriously, and that the client is in good hands.

A lawyer wears a suit but only, or usually when in court or consultation. It tells the defendant or plaintiff, (and the judge), that the lawyer takes his client's plea or defense seriously.

A priest also wears a cassock or other defining garments. By doing so he tells the layperson that he takes the matters of his soul seriously and in speaking with a priest the patient's soul is in good hands.

The difference between the doctor or lawyer (or uniformed cop), and the priest is that the doc, lawyer and cop need to wear their uniform only while they are on duty.

However, matters of the soul never sleep or take vacations and the priest must wear his "uniform" always because the battle is day by day, minute by minute, day and night.

Return to the soutane and scare Satan. Hell beckons 24/7. The the priest must be in uniform always when he takes the care of a soul.

Anonymous said...

Not only the black cassock of the secular priest, but don't forget the brown habit of the Carmelite with it's very highly indulgenced brown scapaular; or the universally-beloved simple brown (or black or gray)Franciscan habit with its knotted cord; or the most habit of all, the Dominican white; or the gray clergy-shirt and gray pants and unique crucifix worn by Mother Theresa's Missionary Fathers of Charity. All of these colors and many more are also part of the Church's color patrimony for priestly religious garb, if only all Religious priests would dress properly and wear their appropriate garb proudly (or should I say humbly?). JRDM

thetimman said...


You said: "(Which I'm guessing Timman won't print because, well, of his clericalism.)"

As I've said before, I am absolutely powerless in the face of reverse psychology.

You said: "If you read the Scriptures, you most certainly will never, ever find Jesus concerned about external shows of religiosity.


Mark 14: 3-9--

"And when he was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard. And breaking the alabaster box, she poured it out upon his head.

Now there were some that had indignation within themselves and said: Why was this waste of the ointment made?

For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence and given to the poor. And they murmured against her.

But Jesus said: Let her alone. Why do You molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me.

For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always.

She hath done what she could: she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burial.

Amen, I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done shall be told for a memorial of her."

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob and Lousy,
Timman makes the most relevant point when he states "The problem is that some, perhaps for political or theological reasons, have a visceral aversion to the cassock. It bothers them. The better question might be to ask them why that is." Your posts, I am sad to point out, are conspicuous among the participants of this discussion for their dearth of objective reasons. Perhaps you would serve your position better by developing and sharing a sensible collection of arguments. The temptation may come to think that it is pointless to reason with "traditionalists" and that they never change their positions. If this thought begins to take hold, then I can merely point to myself and say that I am willing to learn from your discussion. I feel passionately about this subject, and I can only respect those whose attitude towards the question is also full of urgency - even if they hold the opposite position. In such a case, at least we can honestly debate and express our love for what we hold to be true. So, I kindly ask the two of you (and any others out there) to add some substance to your reactionary posts above and to not be afraid to engage in open intellectual discourse. Out of charity, you _should_ do so if you feel that we are straying from the path of Truth and Love.
Perhaps as a way of stimulating your thoughts, I propose the following scenario. My office is surrounded by those of priests, but for the first two years of my work I had no idea that the men I encountered every day were actually ordained. It was only when I saw them celebrate Mass at a large function on SLU's campus that I learned this. So, I ask in all openness, what was gained by the fact that they were dressed in regular clothes? What if I had been troubled in conscience and desirous of the sacrament of Confession? What if I had taken ill (perhaps after choking on my ramen noodles) and in need of the Last Rites? I would have had no idea that these great graces were mine for the asking just by calling out the door. And to respond to the possible objection that I could have learned this merely by speaking with them, I should add that I did have conversations over those years and never had any suspicion that I spoke to priests.
I sincerely look forward to any and all responses.


StGuyFawkes said...


I have read all the posts on this thread and don't think the contumely has really become as bristling as you think. Nonetheless, I think your final comments about working near priests who you could not identify as priests was very good. It speaks volumes.

The question of the cassock or soutane is less one of "clericalism", however defined, than it is a question of whether the Catholic Church should seek to have a public face in everyday life.

All the taste and tone of society is converging to make the modern priest a "hedge priest" of Elizabethan days who must hide his identity everywhere except at the Mass. The wonder is that our priests are in hiding when there is no active persecution to create make these priest want to become invisible.

The force that makes them hedge and hide their public identities is entirely cultural.

I'd like to see the Archbishop simply not incardinate anyone in the diocese unless he wears the team uniform except when he is asleep or showering.

By the way, JJR, you made an inadvertant typo in addressing Mr. Loisy as "Lousy."

I'm surprised that no one has pointed out that Fr. Loisy was one of the chief theologians of the Modernist movement and he was finally excommunicated. Ironically, I think he always wore a cassock even while he admitted his disbelief in Christ.

Whoever you are Mr. Loisy, St. Guy salutes you for having a great sense of historical allusion.

Great thread. Thanks to all.

St. Guy

Anonymous said...


Any reasonable Catholic who needs to go to confession can do so during scheduled times, or make an appointment at any parish. As for last rites, no doubt a priest in any clothes will administer them in an emergency situation.

The point is, proper attire for a priest while performing his sacred duties is up to him (either suit or cassock, in conformance to the guidelines from the bishops.) When he is not discharging his priestly duties, I don’t see why he couldn’t wear regular clothes. Look, would you require that policemen wear their uniform when they are off duty? Tho’ I’d also prefer priests wear their priestly clothes at all times, what’s the big deal when they don’t?

Another point, who are we to say whether a priest should wear a cassock or suit? That’s entirely an individual decision of the priest, regardless of what we like!


Anonymous said...

St. Guy,
Thank you for your comments. Regarding "contumely," I actually did not think of that at all while reading the discussion. I would just like to see more tangible reasons offered. I can only hope my own comments did not come across as heated.
To Loisy, please accept my apology. The typo was entirely unintended, and it is unfortunate that my misspelling could imply insult.


thetimman said...

RJS, JJR can answer for himself, but I think the whole point is that the priest is never "off duty"; he is not working a job; he is always and everywhere a priest. Hence, the garb is always appropriate to wear.

Anonymous said...

Dear RJS,
The timman captured the heart of my point. In a general response to your post, however, may I suggest that you read Archbishop Sheen's _The Priest is not His Own_? Priests are called to a life of service and sacrifice, and they deserve the protection and reminder of this fact that clerical clothing provides just as much as the faithful deserve to know when they are encountering a man dedicated to saving their souls. For centuries, the cassock was considered the best way to do this. Perhaps it still is...


Loisy said...

St. Guy. Thank you for your kind remarks. Perhaps you see what I am up to?

May I respond to the call for objective reasons? The original post by thetimman was about the cassock. Somehow the debate has been transformed into a dispute about signs. Very well.

No one has suggested that some outward sign of the clerical state is inappropriate. The dispute regards which sign it shall be. The sheer number of posts indicates that the cassock signifies more, much, much more, than the clerical state. It signifies--clearly, I think--one's opinions about tradition, Vatican II, the Novus Ordo, the New Catechism, the New Theology. You get the point.

Someone who deliberately wears the cassock is in many cases making a commentary on recent developments in the Church. This is the reason why it is so divisive. It is in many cases (but certainly not in all) a statement about the post-Conciliar Church. It is no different from Latin, Gregorian Chant, the Baltimore Catechism, etc.

To many it signifies a return to the past coupled with a rejection (or minimizing) of the reforms of the Council.

Those of us committed to real change and reform in the Church, which is what we believe the Church is asking us to embrace, know what the cassock signifies. Your garments speak a thousand words.

I want an outward sign from the young priests (and seminarians above all!) that clearly indicates that they fully embrace the Council and, yes, I'm going to say it, its SPIRIT! Refusal to change the outward signs, as the Council asked us to, indicates a refusal to embrace the modernizing reforms of the Council.

Do any of you really deny that this is what the dispute is really about?

thetimman said...

Loisy, admitting the cassock is a sign of Catholicity is appreciated. Admitting that rejecting the option of a priest to wear it (because you admit that wearing priestly attire in general is appropriate) is a natural result of the "spirit of Vatican II" (tm) is also quite instructive.

The "reforms" of the Council, to which you refer, are nebulous to say the least. Which reforms? What was actually mandated by the Council? What was just some people taking the excuse of the Council to start demolishing things they didn't like but were part of the fabric of the faith for more than a millenium?

And, blessed as we are with the fruits of these efforts, 45 years later with empty pews and lost souls, maybe it's time to give up Bugnini's ghost once and for all.

Don't you think? Or does the sight of a priest in the cassock strike that much fear into the hearts of the moderns? Is it a harbinger of the end of a "reform" that has utterly failed?

thetimman said...

Oh, and since I'm rolling...

"Divisive"? Please. The word is devoid of real meaning. The modernists took a sledgehammer to the edifice when most did not ask for it. They responded to the horror by putting down the horrified as simplistic or superstitious. They themselves were the great farsighted ones.

So, they divided but weren't divisive.

Now that the faithful remnant seek to restore a portion of what was lost, THEY are divisive.

Pardon me, but that is rich.

thetimman said...

To the person who attempted to post under the name "Thinking Catholic":

Accusing me of censorship is not exactly on point. As you can see by the posting of comments of many on this thread, that disagreement with me is not something that will get your comment nixed. In fact, I think debate, even vigorous debate, is quite fun and I welcome it.

But, see, what I will never knowingly post is something that contains a complete disrespect for the Church and/or her pastors, which contains mere gossip, slander or detraction, or which incites contumely against the Pope or the bishop.

Now, without getting more specific as to your post, let me just say that it shed all heat and no light, in my opinion. If you wish to try again, feel free. If you are so annoyed that you won't, I apologize.

To answer your last, that's how I live with myself.

Thinking Catholic said...

Honestly, most Catholics in the pews realize that it (the Catholic Church) IS a business...it's all about the $$$.

How is that comment "offensive" or "disrespectful"?

Thinking Catholic

Loisy said...


To clarify: when I say "divisive" I do not mean a cause of division but a sign of an already existing division. Do you agree that the cassock at least in part is a sign of the division with the Church?

Question: would it be better if more priests wore the cassock, and if so, would this be because it signals a return to tradition, the tradition from which you believe we have departed?

Anonymous said...

Timman, you say that the results of the "reforms" from VII "45 years later" are "empty pews and lost souls."

Using that logic, it was fantastic that Archbishop Burke arrived here and completely reversed that trend, and all Catholic Churches started overflowing.

Oh wait, the opposite happened - congregations at MOST churches fled in droves following the St. Stanislaus financial issue as well as A/B Burke's attack on Sheryl Crow's fundraising event for Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. (E.g. at St. Paul's in Fenton, parishioners had to arrive 10 - 15 minutes early for the 9:00 Mass before he spoke up, with people standing 6 rows deep at the back of church. After his speaking up, people could (and sadly, would) arrive 10 minutes late and still get a pew!

You speak of a "Faithful remnant," which is absolutely counter to your concern about filling up the pews. Really, you can only have it one way or the other way - not both in the real world. And the real underlying question on all this, which some are getting, is whether you want our church to be spelled with a capital "C" as in Catholic, or with the small "c" as in catholic. Do you want a much smaller church filled solely with those who follow a strict doxology, or do you prefer a much larger church with people who are attracted to a people struggling to make sense out of life, and trying their best to find spirituality in a church that too, at times, struggles to get it right.


thetimman said...


I appreciate the response. But if you are right that it is divisive only because it evidences an already existing division, then by that logic the clerical shirt/pants are divisive, and wearing no sign of the vocation is divisive. It would just signal the side of the divide. While you may think that is true, it doesn't address the issue of how to heal any divide, regardless of which garb is worn. And hence, divisiveness ceases to be a legitimate reason NOT to wear the cassock or other clerical attire. As you say, the divide is already there.

I appreciate the discussion.

So, in like kind, I will answer your question. I am not a priest, so I won't judge any priest who follows the norms for attire. They allow for either clerical suit or cassock, at the discretion of the cleric. So then would I. Which means I support the right and practice of wearing the cassock for those who choose it. Because I am Catholic, I would do my best to comport myself with the rules and teachings of the Church.

So, if we can agree that the rules call for distinctive garb, and that the cassock is entirely appropriate under those rules, we surely can agree that a cleric should be allowed to wear it, yes?

Yet, to further the discussion, and again speaking only as a layman, I do think a cassock is a more powerful and distinctive sign of the priest's vocation, for the reasons I laid out in the post. Because it is the more traditional expression of clerical garb, yes, I think it better ties us in to the timeless tradition of the Church. Those are my personal feelings. But to deny the cassock to those who wish to wear it goes beyond the Church's rules and merely substitutes one's personal feelings. In short, I think it cannot be justified for someone to ban the cassock when the Church has not, in order to signal to their "side" of the divisiveness you say exists that you want that side to "win".

thetimman said...


Love the name. I wonder if you really are my bizarro twin?

To address your points in order:

1. This is a bit of a red herring. If 45 years of watered-down faith, poor catechesis, lack of evangelization, banal liturgy that violates even the simplified version of the Mass actually discussed in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the even way more denuded rubrics of the novus ordo missae, leads to "empty pews and lost souls", then I would not expect a wholesale restoration of the universal Church because one good bishop began to try to put the brakes on the cart going over the cliff and then turn it around. Cardinal Burke was here for roughly four years, right? Four years, and he did much, but it was just a beginning.

Give that process 41 more years and then I will swap our "look at what happened" stories.

That being said, the growth or decrease of the numbers in the pews, to the extent we are discussing the effect of episcopal policies, is probably going to depend upon the reception of the individual Catholic parish. I know of great growth in some. I know of others where the slanders of the media and schismatics were believed by the people there. I am quite confident when I see a full house of people who accept the Church's teaching against contraception and sterilization, where there are many large families, that that flock will, in 41 more years, dwarf the size of the flock where there are 1.2 children. I am not judging souls here, just speaking to demographics. Who knows, but we shall see.

2. I would say your second point, related to the first, also does not follow. If the pews became emptier (and this is statisticlly undeniable-- I urge you to consult Kenneth Jones' "Index of Leading Catholic Indicators", and then began to turn it around to "fill the pews" then one can indeed "have it both ways". For, there are Churches in this town that are overflowing in the wake of the wider availability of the traditional Mass, for example.

And finally, of course, the truth is the truth, regardless if no one held to it. I know I brought up the empty pews issue, so I'll own it. But if you were the last Catholic left the Church would be no less true, and the faith would not be subject to change.

Carl said...


Did you really mean to say "I think it cannot be justified for someone to ban the cassock ..."

Has someone banned the wearing of the cassock?

I thought you were responding to charges of clericalism.

thetimman said...

I guess I spoke inexactly-- I meant to refer to one who opposes their wear. Sorry.

Loisy said...

nammiT said:

" ... a much larger church with people who are attracted to a people struggling to make sense out of life, and trying their best to find spirituality in a church that too, at times, struggles to get it right."

Beautiful. I couldn't have said it better myself. This is exactly the Church that certain people want to go away. Nothing short of rigid orthodoxy will do (even the New Catechism isn't good enough for them).

They wear the cassock to signal their discontent.

What they really are, at bottom, is revolutionaries. Or is it counter-revolutionaries?

Mrs. Colombo said...

To all who oppose or question the cassock worn by priests.
We had the pleasure of hosting four seminary students a few years ago for a week in our home. It was one of the most special, edifying week of our lives. These four young men wore their cassocks all of the time when they were out of their rooms. They even played on scooters with our children in them!

They were all respectable, holy young men, but I think that part of their amazing, mature manner was because they were dressed like priests. My children were absolute angels around them, but also felt comfortable, the youngest cuddling on their laps. I know that if they were dressed as lay people, it would not have been as special.

When we dress the part, we act the part and people treat us with respect. That is the way it is, plain and simple. Priests and nuns need to look like they are happy with their vocations and the conversions will follow. . .

thetimman said...

Something short of orthodoxy is heterodoxy.

Your only decision then is to choose which truths to discard.

But no worries, there are over 30,000 sects from which to choose.

Loisy said...


Shall I explain the all-important qualifier "rigid" that you conveniently dropped?

The Catholic Faith consists in the first place and above all of THE MYSTERY. The rigid concepts in which this mystery has been formulated at various periods of history (at Councils, by theologians, in Catechisms, etc.) are time-bound products that need to be adjusted and adapted to the needs of the times.

I'm not opposed to fidelity to the Mystery. I'm opposed to fossilizing the faith in the rigid concepts and practices of the past.
Like it or not, the faith must be adapted to the needs of the times--as Vatican II tells us.

Aggiornamento! It's the law of the faith. Risist it at your own peril.

Latinmassgirl said...


Did it ever occur to you that the priests who wear cassocks may be trying to wear this modest, casual priestly attire because they wish to be sacrificial and modest so that the temptations of the world will be lessoned? You do realize that these holy men are human, correct?

Can you imagine any woman (or man) making a pass at a handsome priest with a black cassock draped over his body? No, of course not! It would be unthinkable! Now, how about that same priest wearing blue jeans or even black pants and a collar? Hmmm. . . why they look more approachable then, don't they? More like the rest of us?

Everything is not political, Loisy. Some priests just want to not only look unmistakably as the men who are Married To The Church, but they want to ACT like a priest and avoid the occasion of sin. Counter revolutionaries, indeed!

thetimman said...


I didn't omit it; it is redundant when used to modify orthodoxy. The truth cannot change. Aggiornamento, indeed. A fancy way to dress up heresy so it is easier to swallow. No thanks. You can find it down at St. Stan's.

Sarge said...

I appreciate the conversation so far. My point comes from experiences as a member of the military. The “uniform” was always a sign of meaning to my unit and I. On the battlefield, I could easily recognize my own from others. Based on the Geneva Convention, I should have been able to recognize the opposing force. When that does not happen, the confusion and increased complexity sets in.

To go even further on the importance of the uniform, I will be able to tell just by looking at the uniform, what skills and experience that individual should have without talking to them. It is because of the will to comply with the rules (i.e., orthodoxy) that this culture thrives and works. Seeing a priest in his authorized uniform helps me identify him sooner and I will have greater expectations of support out on the “battlefield”.

If anyone can deny that we are at war, culturally and spiritually, then we have nothing to discuss. Saying that, in this war, simplicity helps me defuse the complexities and define my resources. When I see one of my own in uniform, I begin with recognition. We both will act a certain way and based on actions, we will develop a relationship.

Conversely, my first encounter with a priest wearing the same clothes I am will not progress as well. Why? If he cannot wear the uniform, then why on earth will he abide by all the other teachings of Mother Church? That is the simplicity.

From my experiences in the military, I can summarize what that individual’s work ethic and productivity will be based on the way the uniform was worn. Why? Everyone was trained and held to the same rules. Albeit never perfect, striving for perfection is always the goal. If you can’t wear the uniform, then how am I going to expect you to carry out your duties?

I love when priests choose to wear the cassock and/or authorized uniforms whenever I see them. I appreciate seeing military members going through the airport either going to theater or coming home and different public events. I identify with them immediately. I have been one of them but one day we (military members) get to take the uniform off. Priests dedicate their total lives to God. My expectations are higher and my relationship with them has higher aspirations from the beginning. We both are called to do better than the casual. It maybe oversimplified but again in this battle, simplification helps.

Latinmassgirl said...

Loisy and others who want the Catholic Church to Keep Up With the Times;

I have something else to say on this topic, now that I have slept. What you say is really ridiculous and would make the Catholic Faith heretical like the Protestants.

When my husband and I taught Pre-Cana classes for the Archdiocese, about 98% of the couples in our classes were living together, and proud of it, much to our frustration. One guy stood up during one of our discussions about how the Church is against co-habitation and loudly proclaimed, "The solution is the Church needs to make it not a sin to live together because EVERYBODY DOES IT!!!! The Church needs to keep up with the times or nobody will want to be Catholic."

Yeah, right. Is that really what you want Loisy? I hope not.

Thinking Catholic said...

The collar doesn't "make" the "priest"....everyone knows that.

Thinking Catholic

MrsC said...

If we are discussing “clericalism,” do we agree on what a “cleric” is?

So far, the discussion shows that at least we agree that a cleric in the Catholic Church wears a clerical suit or a cassock – or should. Exactly what the garment signifies means different things to different people, according to their perspective on the role of the Church, and VCII.

As Catholics, we have more which unite us than divide us. Confounding the symbolism of a clerical garment with our understanding of what a cleric is in the Church is confusing and makes our disagreements seem more irreconcilable than perhaps they really are.

Or, perhaps, when it comes right down to it, we don’t agree on what a cleric is and what the priesthood is.

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear Sarge,

I hope you contribute to this blog about a million times. Your spiritual analysis of the cassock which comes from your military background is one of the best things I've read in years.

The military is much too little represented in Catholic blogs or in Catholic discussion in anywhere.

I think you should develop your comment above into a 3000 word essay and get it published somewhere.

I'll close by saying that my father was a Marine and I don't know if you were one but I can only say to your comment, "Semper Fi."

St. Guy

Michael said...

Fascinating post and comments!

Loisy, my dear friend, you are a modernist.

Truth is eternal. The doctrines of the Church are immutable. True once, true always and everywhere, for all people.

We Catholics will always adapt the eternal and immutable truth taught by Holy Mother Church by living it out in the society and times in which we are born.

But we can never change the truth itself. Nor can the Holy Catholic Church, the pillar and foundation of truth, change one iota of Her doctrine.

The priest is ordained in order to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The cassock both signifies this identity and, if worn with the proper dispostion, confers the grace necessary to live in accordance with this vocation.

You, Loisy, have not provided even the semblance of a reason for why priests no longer need to wear the cassock.

If I were a priest, I would wear it because it would remind me and others of the gravity of my state and confer the grace I would so desparately need to fulfill the will of God.

Adaptation to circumstances, yes. Change the truth. Never!

Anonymous said...


Can't tell if you were being praiseful, or cynical, about the reason people like myself attend the Eucharist.

Deep down, I find the core faith in Jesus to be breath-taking. Life only has meaning to me in the face of our crucified God - an act so preposterous, yet so core to what gives our short mortal lives meaning and purpose.

The trappings of exactly how that mystery remains core to us can really distance people from this core truth, and has led to schisms and sects for two centuries.

I don't mind a priest wearing a cassock if indeed he is indeed a man of deep faith and a personal witness to the life of Jesus. I am deeply offended, though, when some wear it to distance themselves from us, or worse, to hide behind it. Again, the sex abuse crisis rode on the backs of people who thought that the priest is only a priest, and not a man and a Christian first.

You can't put lipstick on a pig and expect it to be something different. And in a number of well-publicized cases, you can't (and shouldn't) put a cassock on someone expecting that they too should be different. "Clericalism" is the belief that lipstick indeed changes all men.

100 out of 100 times I will attend a Mass where the priest is able to make the life of Jesus relevent to our daily life but wears casual clothes on his free time than to attend a voodoo-like service where teh priest thinks that, solely by his actions and appearance, he can command God to appear, but can't communicate how this makes any difference in each and every choice we make throughout the day.


MrsC said...

Throughout the history of man, God teaches man how to relate to Him: worship Him at the altar. The Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation repeats this motif over and over: The first offsprings of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to God; Noah built an altar the moment he stepped off the ark; Abraham, Jacob, Isaac built altars in worship; Moses, and the Passover, the prefiguring of the Sacrificial Lamb at Calvary; the institution of the Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, the entire history of the Church, and finally the revelation of the heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation.

It sometimes seems to me that the whole salvation history of man is about this central fact: we worship God at the altar by offering Him the most worthy Sacrifice we have, and since the Incarnation, none is more worthy than Jesus Christ Himself.

This is why I am a Catholic today and everyday, because in Holy Mass I am able to relate to God in the most important way He has indicated throughout the salvation history of man – and in the salvation history of my life.

There is nothing more important to me as a Christian in my faith than worshiping God at the Altar. For me, a Catholic priest is first and foremost a man of the altar. What he does, what he says, and how he lives should reflect that, but for me, his most important attribute is that he is called by Jesus Christ, King and Sovereign Priest, to be a man of the altar.

Anonymous said...

OH! I get it! I finally get it! I appreciate the exchanges on this board. And I appreciate the respect for each other that thetimman requires and facilitates. However, I do have to make one comment that will be hard for some to read. Loisy, dear Loisy, I think I have finally figured you out and in doing so must alert others to the same reality to protect them. When all of your comments are strung together, they suggest, my dear, that you are Sister in an LCWR Congregation. And all hyperdulia aside for the earlier Sisters in your Congregation whose lives were sacrifical and useful to the mission of the Church, if you are LCWR-type nun, then anything you have to say in your secular clothing and uncovered head is vapid, stuck in a perspective from 1969, and harmful to the Church. So readers beware: it is probably better not to read any more of Loisy's posts, unless she can convince us that she does not belong to the mindless dinosaur club I just described. JRDM