11 October 2010

Priest, Wear thy Cassock!


Wear a cassock these days, and you're automatically branded a traditionalist (not a bad thing, of course). Especially modernist Roman Catholic priests are likely to turn their noses up in disgust that you haven't "gotten with the times." Now, the traditionalists on the Roman Rite site, like FSSP and SSPX priests certainly wear their cassocks, right down to the black zucchetto. But what passes for clerical dress for the Roman mainstream these days is an empty shell of what it once was. On the Anglican side, rumor has it that the cassock is worn far more regularly. I have even heard of one bishop who wears his cassock everywhere, even while riding a bicycle. Still, it isn't very much the norm in the Anglican mainstream these days, inside or outside the church walls.

All that aside, I must say I have never had anything but positive comments when I wear my cassock, and I wear it a lot. It is worn to all church functions, as well as to many secular formal events. I can hear the questions now: "What happens when you wear it out in public? Do children point and stare?"

People do sometimes come up to me because of the cassock. Some genuflect with baciamano. Often it starts conversations. This is not a bad thing at all, since there is a good chance they never would have come up to talk to me if I had not been in the cassock. This, too is part of Christian witness.

So it's a conversation piece, right? Just a quaint and eccentric reminder of days gone by? Not at all. Here are three good reasons to wear the cassock:

1. The cassock (a coat, not a robe as many think) has changed very little over the centuries. It links us to the universal Church over the past two thousand years rather than simply placing us in this time in which we live now. The Corporate Body of Christ exists without care of time. We today in the Church are not independent of those who have gone before us. A cassock reminds us of our place in history.
2. The cassock looks far more clerical than a clerical suit. Even the black clerical suit with vest is no different than modern secular dress...with the exception that there is some kind of different collar (band or tab). People view a clergyman differently who is in a habit (the cassock...or the habit of a religious order if they happen to be in such an order). I have been told that I look more holy when I wear the cassock. If the garment could actually produce that transformation in fact, it would be a most magical garment indeed! Perhaps this is part of the reason the modernists are so opposed to the cassock. It represents the true, strong unapologetic faith that the priest has committed his life to serve, not a watered down faith that is "keeping with the times."
3. Following No. 2, the cassock also immediately and quickly identifies the priest as a clergyman, even sometimes at great distance (add a cape for even better distance effect). How comforting it is to the faithful to know that there is a priest around. And, those who need a priest can find you easily. This is not always easy to do with a clerical suit.

Don't just wear the cassock around the church. You certainly should do that, of course. Our Ceremonial requires it, but you shouldn't do it simply because it is required. Wear the cassock outside of church grounds. Do not be afraid to show the world your faith. It is not being "in your face" as some detractors of the Church have suggested, but rather is a symbol of your faith and, most importantly, your duty as a priest and the special promises of service you have made. The habit is indeed as much a wedding ring as an actual wedding ring. Priests must remember that they are married to the Church.

So wear your cassock outside church grounds. I'm not suggesting that you must wear it at all times. I am, however, suggesting that you need not feel compelled to shed the cassock before leaving the church. Also, there may be some occasions of a secular nature to which you might just want to wear the cassock anyway. Formal events as a rule also require the cassock. A priest's "tuxedo" is the house cassock, and it looks infinitely more priestly than a dinner jacket worn with a clerical shirt as I periodically see.

To those of my brother priests who wear the cassock regularly, keep the faith! To those who know in their hearts it is the right thing to do, take heart and have courage. Each new cassock that is worn helps all the more to show the world Christ's love.