The following comes from a May 25 Cristianesimo Cattolico article by Msgr. Charles M. Mangan & Father Gerald E. Murray.
The Roman collar is a sign of priestly consecration to the Lord. As a wedding ring distinguishes husband and wife and symbolizes the union they enjoy, so the Roman collar identifies bishops and priests (and often deacons and seminarians) and manifests their proximity to the Divine Master by virtue of their free consent to the ordained ministry to which they have been (or may be) called.
By wearing clerical clothing and not possessing excess clothes, the priest demonstrates adherence to the Lord’s example of material poverty. The priest does not choose his clothes – the Church has, thanks to her accumulated wisdom over the past two millennia. Humble acceptance of the Church’s desire that the priest wear the Roman collar illustrates a healthy submission to authority and conformity to the will of Christ as expressed through his Church.
Church Law requires clerics to wear clerical clothing. We have cited above number 66 of the Directory for priests, which itself quotes canon 284.
The wearing of the Roman collar is the repeated, ardent desire of Pope John Paul 11. The Holy Father’s wish in this regard cannot be summarily dismissed; he speaks with a special charism. He frequently reminds priests of the value of wearing the Roman collar.In a September 8, 1982 letter to Ugo Cardinal Poletti, his Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, instructing him to promulgate norms concerning the use of the Roman collar and religious habit, the Pontiff observed that clerical dress is valuable “not only because it contributes to the propriety of the priest in his external behavior or in the exercise of his ministry, but above all because it gives evidence within the ecclesiastical community of the public witness that each priest is held to give of his own identity and special belonging to God.”In a homily on November 8, 1982 the Pope addressed a group of transitional deacons whom he was about to ordain to the priesthood. He said that if they tried to be just like everyone else in their “style of life” and “manner of dress,” then their mission as priests of Jesus Christ would not be fully realized.
The Roman collar prevents “mixed messages”; other people will recognize the priest’s intentions when he finds himself in what might appear to be compromising circumstances. Let’s suppose that a priest is required to make pastoral visits to different apartment houses in an area where drug dealing or prostitution is prevalent. The Roman collar sends a clear message to everyone that the priest has come to minister to the sick and needy in Christ’s name. Idle speculation might be triggered by a priest known to neighborhood residents visiting various apartment houses dressed as a layman.
The Roman collar inspires others to avoid immodesty in dress, words and actions and reminds them of the need for public decorum. A cheerful but diligent and serious priest can compel others to take stock of the manner in which they conduct themselves. The Roman collar serves as a necessary challenge to an age drowning in impurity, exhibited by suggestive dress, blasphemous speech and scandalous actions.
The Roman collar is a protection for one’s vocation when dealing with young, attractive women. A priest out of his collar (and, naturally, not wearing a wedding ring) can appear to be an attractive target for the affections of an unmarried woman looking for a husband, or for a married woman tempted to infidelity.
The Roman collar offers a kind of “safeguard “for oneself. The Roman collar provides a reminder to the priest himself of his mission and identity: to witness to Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, as one of his brother-priests.
A priest in a Roman collar is an inspiration to others who think: “Here is a modern disciple of Jesus.” The Roman collar speaks of the possibility of making a sincere, lasting commitment to God. Believers of diverse ages, nationalities and temperaments will note the virtuous, other-centered life of the man who gladly and proudly wears the garb of a Catholic priest, and perhaps will realize that they too can consecrate themselves anew, or for the first time, to the loving Good Shepherd.
The Roman collar is a source of beneficial intrigue to non-Catholics. Most non- Catholics do not have experience with ministers who wear clerical garb. Therefore, Catholic priests by virtue of their dress can cause them to reflect – even if only a cursory fashion – on the Church and what she entails.
A priest dressed as the Church wants is a reminder of God and of the sacred. The prevailing secular morass is not kind to images which connote the Almighty, the Church, etc. When one wears the Roman collar, the hearts and minds of others are refreshingly raised to the “Higher Being” who is usually relegated to a tiny footnote in the agenda of contemporary culture.
The Roman collar is also a reminder to the priest that he is “never not a priest.” With so much confusion prevalent today, the Roman collar can help the priest avoid internal doubt as to who he is. Two wardrobes can easily lead – and often does – to two lifestyles, or even two personalities.
A priest in a Roman collar is a walking vocation message. The sight of a cheerful, happy priest confidently walking down the street can be a magnet drawing young men to consider the possibility that God is calling them to the priesthood. God does the calling; the priest is simply a visible sign God will use to draw men unto himself.
The Roman collar makes the priest available for the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Anointing of the Sick, and for crisis situations. Because the Roman collar gives instant recognition, priests who wear it make themselves more apt to be approached, particularly when seriously needed. The authors can testify to being asked for the Sacraments and summoned for assistance in airports, crowded cities and isolated villages because they were immediately recognized as Catholic priests.
The Roman collar is a sign that the priest is striving to become holy by living out his vocation always. It is a sacrifice to make oneself constantly available to souls by being publicly identifiable as a priest, but a sacrifice pleasing to Our Divine Lord. We are reminded of how the people came to him, and how he never turned them away. There are so many people who will benefit by our sacrifice of striving to be holy priests without interruption.
The Roman collar serves as a reminder to “alienated” Catholics not to forget their irregular situation and their responsibilities to the Lord. The priest is a witness – for good or ill – to Christ and his Holy Church. When a “fallen-away” sees a priest, he is encouraged to recall that the Church continues to exist. A cheerful priest provides a salutary reminder of the Church.
The wearing of clerical clothing is a sacrifice at times, especially in hot weather. The best mortifications are the ones we do not look for. Putting up with the discomforts of heat and humidity can be a wonderful reparation for our own sins, and a means of obtaining graces for our parishioners.
The Roman collar serves as a “sign of contradiction” to a world lost in sin and rebellion against the Creator. The Roman collar makes a powerful statement: the priest as an alter Christus has accepted the Redeemer’s mandate to take the Gospel into the public square, regardless of personal cost.
The Roman collar helps priests to avoid the on duty/off duty mentality of priestly service. The numbers 24 and 7 should be our special numbers: we are priests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are priests, not men who engage in the “priest profession.” On or off duty, we should be available to whomever God may send our way. The “lost sheep” do not make appointments.
The “officers” in Christ’s army should be identifiable as such. Traditionally, we have remarked that those who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation become “soldiers” of Christ, adult Catholics ready and willing to defend his name and his Church. Those who are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops must also be prepared – whatever the stakes – to shepherd the flock of the Lord. Those priests who wear the Roman collar show forth their role unmistakably as leaders in the Church.
The saints have never approved of a lackadaisical approach concerning priestly vesture. For example, Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), Patron Saint of Moral Theologians and Confessors, in his esteemed treatise The Dignity and Duties of the Priest, urges the wearing of the appropriate clerical dress, asserting that the Roman collar helps both priest and faithful to recall the sublime splendor of the sacerdotal state instituted by the God-Man.
Most Catholics expect their priests to dress accordingly. Priests have long provided a great measure of comfort and security to their people. As youths, Catholics are taught that the priest is God’s representative – someone they can trust. Hence, the People of God want to know who these representatives are and what they stand for. The cherished custom of wearing distinguishable dress has been for centuries sanctioned by the Church; it is not an arbitrary imposition. Catholics expect their priests to dress as priests and to behave in harmony with Church teaching and practice. As we have painfully observed over the last few years, the faithful are especially bothered and harmed when priests defy the legitimate authority of the Church, and teach and act in inappropriate and even sinful ways.
Your life is not your own; you belong to God in a special way, you are sent out to serve him with your life. When we wake each morning, we should turn our thoughts to our loving God, and ask for the grace to serve him well that day. We remind ourselves of our status as His chosen servants by putting on the attire that proclaims for all to see that God is still working in this world through the ministry of poor and sinful men.
All this fuss about wearing the Roman collar reminds me of Jesus warning the mega-pious about doing things to be SEEN!
Matthew 23: 1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,a and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbib by…
During my 22years in the United States Navy, I wore my uniform proudly. It told everyone who I was and what my commitment was. That I was committed do die in the defense of my country and it’s citizens. The Roman collar tells the world who this man is and to whom his comittment is, the care of souls and his willingness to stand in the place of our Saviour in all things. When you call the Fire Department do you expect a big red truck with a bunch of guys in jeans and tie-died t-shirts to show up? When you see the Marine band, do you expect a group of people dressed as clowns to be marching down the avenue? Clerical dress, like a uniform shows that here is a man set…
Wouldn’t care if my house was on fire. They could wear ballerina outfits as long as they put out that fire!! LoL
The Roman Collar is a symbol of Celibacy and Obedience to the Rule of one’s priesthood for which he was ordained. Most people on earth from time to time do suffer hypocrisy, “Your sin no matter how great, is but a drop in the ocean of My Mercy! Come to My Divine Mercy….” to St. Faustina.
God bless all those who believe in Him and repent for our sins!
Our Lord was speaking about hypocrisy and seeking praise for oneself, rather than the glory of God. This article was about humility and providing a witness to virtue, even in the way that one dresses. The only connection to the passage in Matthew is that they both mention clothing.
the pastor of the church here in virginia recently visited ireland he was arned not to wear the roman collar while going to lunch or he was at risk of being beaten up
Both Priests and Nuns should wear traditional ‘garb’. It bears witness to God and makes people think. Look at the orders of Nuns whom are getting the vocations…..all the traditional orders!
I will not go near a priest who fails to wear his Roman collar in public– nor a nun who refuses to wear her habit, either! I do not trust such people! Do they betray Christ?? Do they even CARE?? The world so badly needs to daily see priests and nuns, as a reminder that God is n their presence! I also miss seeing priests wearing cassocks! That was wonderful! Say “hello” to Father (maybe there are several priests, together!) when you are out shopping or running errands, with the family!! Wonderful! And maybe they are going to the hospital, to care for the sick, and elderly– and bring them the Sacraments! Or else, maybe they are going to someone’s home– maybe invited for dinner! Wearing cassocks, happy to see people, and…
I will finish, with my above post! It is so wonderful, for people to see Father in his cassock, going about town, doing his priestly duties– and for Father to see all the people–, and for all to know– that GOD is near!!
I recall, when quite young, one of the priests was busy with some duties in the church, and several kids were gazing at his hands, wanting to see his gold, priestly wedding band. Those priestly hands, consecrated the bread and wine at Mass– and brought us all the holy Sacraments– the Divine Life of Christ, straight from Heaven! The priest affirmed, “yes, I am married to God! And I am very happy!” Everyone was very serious, gazing at his gold wedding band– as the vocation of a celibate priest, “married to God,” was considered by all, to be the very highest calling!!
Wonderful article. A good one to pass on to Father Dolan and other priests who fail to understand this. Bravo CCD for this article.
A priest friend of mine,ordained 40 years,a faithful and,prayerful pastor,was returning from a cultural immersion trip to the Phillipines. He was wearing his black suit and clerical collar. As he passed through Customs at the airport,a Customs official looked at him with much disgust and asked,”how many children did you molest on your trip?”Wearing a Roman collar is not always a blessing these days.
Rev. Piers comments cut to the quick, and sting – which is nothing compared to the Harm done by those Evil Perverts who infiltrated and abused the Children (Mostly Homosex Ephebophile Abuse of Boys)of the Church, which is far far worse.
The Arch Bishop and others are helping heal these wounds – and Prevent a Recurrence by the same forces as behind these attacks.
I’m afraid I would cross myself and say a quick St. Michael’s prayer and let the mean spirited person think what they will. God bless all faithful priests, for you are dearly loved.
It’s an opportunity for apostolate. Many priests have heard this directed toward them. Not wearing a collar because of these kinds of comments implies guilt.
The British actor Alec Guiness became a Catholic when he was making a Fr Brown film in France. Apparently he was out taking a walk and saw a child come joyously running up to a priest and grabbing the priest’s hand with his own, began talking to him as though he were his oldest, dearest friend. Mr. Guiness was so struck by the absolute trust of the boy to the priest that he was greatly moved and apparently wanted to be part of something so loving…I’ve put it in my own words, but that’s what he said led to his conversion. New Oxford Review has some really great gear to put your Catholicity out there.
I was just thinking (a rare occurence) that it was Alec Guiness himself, not another priest, who was dressed as Fr.Brown and a child came running up to HIM in complete trust, thinking he was a priest. That’s the story. Sorry I got it confused.
…thanks for sharing, Dana. Witnessing such a thing as I often have – minus Alec Guiness – is quite moving. Your story, however, brought me back to the time of my “re” version when such a vision was new and wholly unexpected.
The cassock is evangelization without words.
Dana, please don’t demean yourself. You think a lot, as we all know. Even those of us who often disagree with you, grant that you think and think well and often.
Peggy yes I agree. The problem is not the collar. Men of God know this and therefore wear their collar with pride. There are many forms of infidelity and those who make weak excuses not to wear their roman collar are not keeping their eyes on Jesus but are focused more on their pride and self. We continue to pray for our priests because we humbly understand the cross they carry and pray for courage and wharever virtues and grace they need in their spiritual walk to obey God and know His will for them. For we know that its always an easy one. God bless our priests. Mercy Dear Beloved Jesus. Have mercy and please come to their aid for you are most merciful and compassionate. You give our faithful priests what they need to perservere with…
Correction: for we know its Not always an easy one. And I want to add, dear priests and bishpps do no commit infidelity. Wear your collar with love and remember to honor God in all that you do.
Father Lahey, you are quite correct.
Nuns who are friends of mine are not only mocked because of their habit, but sometimes verbally assaulted.
I don’t know the answer to this dilemma, but it does make me feel compassion for ANYONE who wears religious garb (e.g., a Muslim woman with a headscarf) and then becomes a target for bigots… :(
Anonymous– we have the duty, to STAND UP FOR CHRIST– no matter what!! It is much worse, in Communist and jihadist Muslim nations– where Catholic priests, nuns, and lay folk, have all been tortured and killed, for their Faith!! STAND UP FOR CHRIST!! Be His Light and His Love, for the evil and suffering world!!
I live in a part of the country where nuns in habits are mistaken for Muslims.
I get to travel a lot for work and pleasure, and my worst immigration experience came returning from Europe where I was shuttled off to a private room where my travel partners had no idea what happenned to me, and I was thoroughly interrogated about my trip and had every item in my belongings searched.
But that paled in comparison to what they put a poor priest just ahead of me through. He came with an overnight bag and a breviary, and they just could not get their head around a person travelling from Europe with so little. It is a crime to live like Saint Francis, apparently. I think he wasn’t in Roman collar, I can’t recall. I wonder if it would have helped or hurt?
I know priests who have experienced specific targeting while traveling. Their mass kits are thoroughly examined with individuals delighting in running hands inside the chalice and all manner of activities intended to harass.
Some nun friends are frequently relegated to debasing searches.
Ann Malley, I think it would be helpful to lift up experiences like ours, and ask priests and sisters to come forward if they have had similar experiences. I’m not sure if there are instances of terrorists posing as priests and nuns, but if there is widespread indiscriminate screening of them, and belittling of them and their sacred objects, we should speak out.
….this can very well be a safety concern on legitimate grounds – garbed “priest” rushing into someplace like after the Boston bombing to wreak more havoc. (But there are those that do enjoy harassing religious – and is not with these concerns.)
Fingering sacred objects with glee is very much a part of that.
Thanks for your kind words Ann and YFC..if you were a little fly on the wall in my house you might see me going into a room and pondering, hmmm, now what was it I came in here for? Maybe I have to think TOO much. haha. Here is a really something quite upsetting, but you need to see this! https://patrickmadrid.blogspot.com/2010/11/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-catholic.html There truly is targeting. I’ve been through Detroit airport and they especially taget old people in wheelchairs. Frightening, really. People that have no voice, so gentle and fragile.
I once took an atheist friend to a going away party for a priest who was leaving the pastorship of his parish and going into the archdiocesan chancery. When my friend asked who the priest was, I had to point him out as the man wearing a light color suit and a blue shirt. He was holding a microphone and singing with several women of the parish…I was embarrassed that wasn’t looking or acting like a priest.
Seeing priests in “regular clothes” — sandals, shorts, suits and ties, etc. in public would be like me, a married woman, going into a bar and hanging out with the guys (after removing my wedding ring).
Peg of my heart, THAT, is a priceless post! : )
I agree Catherine…she summed it up very neatly and tied it with a bow. :)
anonymous, i notice that Jesus’ words do not condemn the wearing of distinctive religious garb (phylacteries and tassels) but their abuse, ‘long’. ‘broad’ and the wrong motivation behind it. the cassock is the closest thing in RC tradition to middle eastern clothing traditions. and the style never goes out of date before the clothes are worn out. didn’t Mary make him his first rabbinical garment , seamless, with tassels? find the passage.
With all due respect to Father Lahey and all of God’s wonderful Priests, I think that we all have to take a stand, whether we are disrespected for wearing a Cross or a Priest in his Clerics or a Nun in her Habit. We cannot be afraid! Look what was done to Our Dear Lord….do we expect any better treatment?
I wear my Crucifix, Elizabeth, and have Catholic stickers on my car. I often say God bless you to people who serve me in stores, etc. and cross myself at mealtimes in restaurant before I say a blessing. I’m not in the least embarrassed about my faith. I’ve given saints’ medals to guys who park my car and keep rosaries to give away (just in case) Everyone likes a free rosary! As I’ve said before, because true Catholic art is so classic you can have paintings up all over your house and it adds real beauty and yet speaks to the heart. I’m not a fan of modern kitchy Catholic stuff, but to each his or her own. I’ve been in Catholic homes where there is absolutely NOTHING to show their faith in Christ! Can you imagine people not…
…well, you’ll never know what I was going to say since all my great ideas were cut off. C’est la vie. Had lots of ideas for bringing Holiness into our daily lives, but so glad I didn’t go over the word limit! Heaven forfend.
( a bit of self mockery, by the way ) :)
Clerical dress is a type of sacramental. It can draw people closer to God, and inspire them to receive the sacraments. Many times, while travelling at airports, and train stations, I have been asked to give fellow passengers a blessing, and priestly advice. Had I been wearing regular street clothes, and not my cassock or clerical suit, I never would have been approached. The clerical collar is a sign of my consecration to God. Just as most nuns no longer wear a habit, most priests do not wear their priestly garb. It is a result of the secularization of society, and the removal of God from the market place. I am always proud (in the good sense) of my priesthood, and have never been ashamed to be a witness of the wonderful vocation which God…
I heard a story of a priest who was wearing his priest dress in an airport and someone asked if he could hear their confession. They went to a place where they could be seen but not heard. When the priest finished with that confession, he looked up to find that a line of penitents had formed, wanting him to hear their confessions.
“Had I been wearing regular street clothes, and not my cassock or clerical suit, I never would have been approached. The clerical collar is a sign of my consecration to God.”
Thank you Father Karl!
If you go to the original article, you will see it was written in 1995 — the reference to Pope John Paul II was in the present tense. During the Vietnam war, those of us in the service who wore our uniforms in public were often the subject of ridicule and taunts — I can only imagine what some fools say to priests/religious who are wearing their collar/habit — everything from, “Oh, do you expect a free ticket, meal, ride …” or the aforementioned abuse criticism. Not easy being a faithful clergy/religious.
Actually ….priests in my parish have a problem that if they go to a resturaunt, the owner will try to insist on comping them.
Priests in the Oakland Diocese have petitioned the Bishop to allow Hawaiian shirts with an affixed Roman Collar.
har har…You’re kidding, right? How about Nehru jackets and white polyester pants. Or ‘holey’ blue work shirts? Or tee shirts with a priests’ collar painted on them? Can Americans become any more tacky and slovenly ? Apparently, yes.
Dana, you may not be aware of the large population of people in the Bay Area from the Pacific Islands, where the “Hawaiian shirt is dress-up garb. You don’t wear heavy black clothes in Polynesia.
Sorry if I don’t agree with you Bob. We’re not Polynesians and Hawaiian shirts have always connoted casual attire in this country. But then you believe that as long as shorts are expensive they’re okay to wear to Mass, so we come at this from a different perspective. I can only state that I’ve lived my entire life as I have believed…to dress well on very little money, to be neat and clean and attractive as I can without worrying over much about it. For one thing people treat you better because you show you respect yourself…seeing a priest in an Hawaiian shirt would send the wrong signal to an old fuddy duddy like me. ;( God bless you, Bob.
That has nothing to do with Priests wearing or not wearing Roman collars.
Bob One, they need to keep the floral and other designs out and keep the shirts all white. That is what the priests do in Africa and many other hot climates.. Then they are dressed with dignity and coolness.
I was referring to priestly attire in my last post. In the summer I have seen priests from other islands in short-sleeved white shirts with Roman collars, and they look just fine. Also, white shirts can probably be bought in quantity and more cheaply. It also gives them an international look, instead of an ethnic look since all priests serve different ethnic groups.
I should have not used the words “they should” in my very first post as that is up to their order, but another option is a light-blue, short-sleeved cotton dress shirt with a Roman collar. I once saw a Japanese-American priest dressed that way on a hot day, and he, too, looked both dignified and comfortable.
In tropical climates, the priests and nuns usually wore white habits and not black ones. There were also different kinds of wool and cotton to be worn which would act like a cooling agent. Being half naked, like the inhabitants of the Hawaiian and Polynesian Islands is not Christian. Unfortunately, once Europeans saw how these people dressed, they adapted their immodest clothing. Remember how people dressed a hundred years ago when they went to the beach, and there were dressing rooms to change clothing. Now people dress most of the summer looking like they just left the beach. Ave Maria Pruuissima !
People 100 years ago were stupid. They also wore suits to watch baseball games in summer.
There is, I think, a happy medium between flaunting and getting fixated on clothing. Victorian prudishness also had its costs, including people ignoring medical problems b/c they were convinced that examining their own body was something they could not bear due to an over-abundance of modesty.