Thursday, October 11, 2007

Priests and clerics

UPDATE: With a swing of the thurible to Uncle Jim in the combox at Adam's Ale, comes this, umm..., interesting story from the UK.

One of my early posts was part of the homily I used to give on the priesthood, the part on obedience. In the middle of the post, I mentioned an encounter with someone downtown who spoke to me because I was wearing clerics, and he simply asked me to send an email to his parents because he hadn't seen them in a while. His invitation to speak to me was because my clothes represented and spoke to the world who I was.

There is a conversation going on at Adam's Ale on the same topic, and I have not posted on it over there, but still wanted to share my thoughts.

One commentator mentions that if she were a priest (not that she is, nor advocates for a female priesthood), she "would only wear my 'collar' while working."

The problem I have with that is how do you stop working when by your very presence you represent Christ to the world? As a priest, you come to realize that you are always 'on,' even at dinner at a friends house, a friend you have known your entire life. You are looked at differently because you are priest.

Yes, it can be absolutely frustrating. But it can be a moment of grace as well, as my wearing clerics invited a total stranger to approach me in confidence that I could do something that no one else could: send an email to give reassurance to his parents. Why did he ask me? Not because of any good gift that I have, because I was Christ to him. (Trust me, I know how inadequate I am for such a representation!)

Now, I certainly do not wear clerics constantly, in fact as I sit at my computer typing this post, I have jeans and a sweatshirt on. But any time I am 'on,' I try to wear clerics, including a sport coat. To me, it looks official, it causes me to think that I am not here because of me, I am here because I represent Christ!

(Funny enough, because I often now wear a 'rabbi' collar, which is just a half shirt, or shirt front, I often take that off to celebrate Mass. Clerics are our secular garb, for wearing out in the world. Our particular priestly garb for Mass is the stole and chasuble. That's one thing that drives me crazy, priests who wear a tie into the Church where they are assisting or presiding at a liturgical service and then proceed to take the tie off and put on clerics before the alb and stole. WRONG! In fact, the legislation seems to state that civil clothes, of which clerics are a part, should be covered by the liturgical vesture; hence the wearing of an amice.)

My own thinking on this subject has changed, and I am now much more apt to wear blacks than not, even on a hot sunny day. Not out of ego, but as I have seen mentioned several times, it is a great witness to the faithful that a (fairly) young man has embraced this call and is not afraid of proclaiming Christ through his mere presence and vesture.


Adoro te Devote said...

I agree that clericals should be worn out in public, due to the very reason you describe.

The priests at my home parish (very large; we have 3-4 inc. the hospital chaplain), often attend social events of parishioners, such as the Catholic Singles stuff which also includes general invites to we get a group of people not just from our parish, but from some neighboring ones if they are family/friends.

One priest used to show up in street clothes, and while on one hand, it seemed inappropriate, on the other hand, we all KNOW him. We all KNOW he is a priest, and we have the same respect for him. As far as he was concerned, these gatherings were "family time". The boundaries had been established already, and he didn't stop being a priest because he wasn't dressed like one.

Now, I don't know if it was his usual habit to go to public events without his clericals, so I can't comment on him specifically, but if I had something on my mind and I was, say, in an airport in some strange city and REALLY needed some direction, if I saw a priest I would be able to identify first him, then to him, myself as Catholic and present my question/issue, etc.

From the women religious perspective (you KNEW that was coming!), I once wrote a post on this:

When I studied in Mexico back in college, there was a day I needed to find my way somewhere. Although I wasn't doing anything to practice my faith (but praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to God for help), I flagged down a combi at the usual corner. ("combi" - VW van used as public transport).

Once I settled inside, I saw two religious sisters in black and white habits. It occurred to me that, with them present, I could address the people in the combi and ask for directions, what bus to take the next morning, etc. Their very presence gave me courage, because I knew that, were I alone, people might laugh at me or ignore me or even speak deliberately in a manner I didn't understand. With the Sisters present, people would be respectful.

(Please understand...I NEVER had that experience in Mexico; the Mexican people are wonderful, and in fact, perfect strangers all over Mexico proved their hospitality to traveling students all the time.)

And the people and Sisters helped me find the right bus route.

The point is this; had the Sisters not been there, I would not have spoken up. It was what they wore, as a symbol of Christ, that told me it was safe in this crowd of strangers I couldn't entirely understand.

It's also proof that God answers prayers of desperate students lost in a foreign land!

That's a different topic, though.

OK, as it's appropriate to end a book this way...

...And they lived happily ever after.

~ The End ~

Berolinensis said...

Father, I wonder whether you're correct about not wearing clerics specifically when celebrating Holy Mass. While it doesn't seem to be in the modern rubrics, our old Parish Priest said that you're always supposed to wear a cassock beneath the alb. When you look at Bishops, they always wear their choir cassock beneath the alb. I think it is the traditional practice.

Fr. V said...

"priests who wear a tie into the Church where they are assisting or presiding at a liturgical service and then proceed to take the tie off and put on clerics before the alb and stole."

That's wierd. What's the point??? We can be odd ducks at times.

Father Schnippel said...


the point I was trying to make, and perhaps was unclear on, was that clerics are our secular dress, and hence are to be covered with an amice. They are not necessarily to be worn only for religious ceremony (like the one father who shall remain nameless.)

Anonymous said...

A priest once told me about a nun who worked with teens that not only didn't wear a habit, she looked down on nuns that did. One day the priest saw this same nun wearing a habit and he asked her why. The sister discovered that the teens she was trying to help were more willing to go to her with their problems and to trust her when she wore the habit. She now wears the habit all the time.

Rich Leonardi said...

Wearing clerics also prevents potential embarrassment. A priest friend showed up at my home a few years ago wearing street clothes. When my other guests found out that the man they were calling "Arthur" (not his real name) was really "Father Arthur" they were mortified.

uncle jim said...

I know I'm days late on this, but when I see our pastor running around the parish grounds in jeans and sweatshirt, I hope no one enters the area in need of looking for a priest.

In public, if I need or wish to speak to a personal in clerical collar, I usually ask affiliation, such as "Roman Catholic?" There are many who wear the collar specifically for ID purposes - it answers a lot of unasked questions.