27 February 2012

Patriarchal Letter to the Clergy of the ARRCC at the beginning of Lent 2012 regarding the wear of clerical dress

As we begin Lent, the Christian witness of the clergy becomes even more important. It is, of course, important each and every day. If the faithful observe the clergy not acting in accordance with the obligations of the Faith and their obligations as clergy, it can easily have a negative impact on the resolve of the faithful to do their own Christian duty. In this Lenten season, a time of penance, preparation, and denial, it is all the more important that the clergy set a good example for all the faithful to aid them in their efforts. If the clergy embrace the world rather than the Kingdom of God, then it communicates to the faithful that this is what they should be doing. If, however, the clergy deny the world, take up their own cross, and follow Jesus, this may inspire the faithful to do likewise. This applies to all ranks of the clergy, from those at the First Tonsure, the very beginning of the clerical state, through Bishop, those who share in the fullness of Christ's priesthood.

One of the most important mechanisms of Christian witness for the clergy is the constant wear of clerical dress. It is a very visual and obvious symbol of the Catholic Faith. Clerical dress communicates many important facets of the Faith to the people. It is for this reason that it makes such a good form of witness. Unfortunately in our modern, secular society, many clerics feel as if they should not or do not need to wear clerical dress outside of the walls of the church or outside of overtly religious activities. This is precisely the opposite of what clerics ought to do. We all can and should do better. Let us resolve to do better during Lent and continue throughout the year.

It is the obligation of clerics, particularly those in the Major Orders, to wear clerical attire as their normal or standard dress. This is both Sacred Tradition and laid down in Canon Law. There are some exceptions that exist. For example, priests who also work in the secular world generally ought not wear their clerical habit while engaged in commerce. Also, the clergy need not wear their habits while engaged in sports or athletics (though some religious orders retain their habit during these times as well). These exceptions aside, the clerical habit is the standard attire for all clerics. All else that is worn is merely an exception. It is not the other way around, in which clerical attire is merely something donned when "acting as a cleric." The clerical state is a state in life that is always and everywhere part of the inherent nature of the cleric. A cleric should, therefore, always and everywhere act as a cleric just as a man who is married to a woman should always and everywhere act as a married man.

Wearing there clerical habit, whether the cassock or the civic habit, out in public and to social events may seem difficult or highly out of place in today's society. Yet, it should be done and must be done anyway. The secular influences of the world seek to suppress Christianity, and Christians are feeling increasingly unable to express and practice their religion. By wearing the habit in public, the clergy may bolster the spirit of the faithful, comfort them, energize their faith, and strengthen their resolve.

Also, clerical dress marks the individual person as a cleric and does set him apart from the populace. That separation is one of special service, for the cleric's duty is to serve God and his people. For a priest, it is the equivalent of his wedding ring, representing his spiritual marriage to Christ's Holy Church. The habit reminds everyone that the cleric is striving to live his vocation at all times and in all places, as he should. It marks the cleric as a person to whom the faithful may turn for support and assistance. Clerical attire is a symbol of the public ministry which is present always and everywhere. It cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. It is a fallacy to suggest that a priest better serves the people by appearing like them and "breaking down the barrier." The so-called barrier between the clergy and faithful is not in reality a barrier, but a boundary in terms of specific roles ordained for the Kingdom of God, both here on earth and in heaven. It is, therefore, a great disservice to the faithful for a cleric not to wear his habit. A cleric must always relate to other people as a cleric, for his life is not his own.

Also, given the great decline in social decorum, wearing the clerical habit is a clear reminder to all people to dress modestly and act appropriately. Society would benefit greatly from a return to manners, politeness, and simple courtesy.

Sometimes it is stated, though, that clerics should not wear their habit in the presence of non-Catholics or non-Christians, as this might make them uncomfortable. However, removing the stimulus does not remove or solve the problem. It is better to wear the habit always and serve as an example of the Christian Faith to everyone. Education about the Faith has a better chance of success rather than allowing the symbols of the Faith to be suppressed.

It can never be stated enough that a cleric's life is not his own. Therefore, do not become lackadaisical in attitude towards clerical service. This not only includes performance of duties according to one's level in the clergy, but also in terms of behavior and appearance. Appearance is regulated by Canon Law and other norms, and therefore obedience requires it to be followed. How can we expect obedience of the faithful towards the Laws of God and his holy Church if we as clerics do not set the example and be obedient ourselves? Yes, the clerical collar and habit (again, whether the cassock or the civic habit) should be a natural part of a cleric's daily life. It should not be something set aside for certain occasions. It should not be shunned when the cleric wants to relax, but rather the cleric should feel relaxed when dressed according to his state in life.

We can indeed all do better, for none of us is perfect. We must encourage each other for our own benefit and that of the faithful. We must stand strong against the encroachment of modernism into the church and against the secular influences of the world. Out duties as clerics are paramount to all other aspects of our lives. To think or believe otherwise is to deny the very vows we took at our ordination and to eschew the indellible mark that was placed on our souls when we entered the clerical state.