I have had a number of questions from permanent deacons about the use of clerical dress, either in a liturgical setting or as street clothing.
After consulting a trustworthy canonist, I will respond to them all here.
In 2009, the USCCB (the deacons were from the USA) promulgated the Directory for the Formation, Life and Ministry of Permanent Deacons, which is largely drawn from the 1998 Directory issued by the Congregation for the Clergy. It has several unfortunate statements that defy (in my opinion) logic and tradition. For example, the Directory states that the proper form of address for permanent deacons in all situations is “Deacon X”. How does that make sense? The proper form of address for a priest is not “Priest Z”. Calling a bishop “Bishop Q” is pedestrian, and common, but there are other forms of address for him. Proper in “all situations”? No. The Directory makes distinctions between permanent deacons and transitional deacons that I don’t think are there in canon law.
Is a permanent deacon not ordained to the diaconate? Is a permanent deacon not a cleric?
In any case, the Directory, which is law in the US, states,
“For the Sacred Liturgy they should vest worthily and with dignity, in accordance with the prescribed liturgical norms. The dalmatic, in its appropriate liturgical colors, together with the alb, cincture and stole, ‘constitutes the liturgical dress proper to deacons.” (83)
No mention is made of just wearing an alb and stole, nor of wearing a cassock and cotta with or without stole.
Here logic must intervene and supply what is lacking. If there is not a dalmatic available (or if another deacon is assisting at the Mass and wearing the only dalmatic available) the deacon wear an alb, or a cassock and surplice, no?
But currently, there is no universal law on that, or particular law for the US, so the diocesan bishop is allowed to make specific regulations in his diocese.
If the diocesan bishop says the deacon should not wear a Roman collar under his cassock, the bishop is being silly, but it is his prerogative. He is being strange and goofy and making no sense at all, but it is his right. He is suggesting that somehow the man isn’t a real deacon after all, but it is his decision.
The deacon could push the issue and wear a Roman collar. Were the bishop to impose a sanction, the deacon could address the matter to the Congregation for the Clergy and he would probably be successful. However… is that the appropriate Thermopylae to die for?
A passive aggressive deacon might decide to wear a blaze orange turtleneck under his cassock.
Might that draw attention away from the Sacrament?
Perhaps no more than the under dressed altar girls. You decide.
Outside of the liturgy, the USCCB directory mandates,
The Code of Canon Law does not oblige permanent deacons to wear an ecclesiastical garb.96 Further, because they are prominent and active in secular professions and society, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops specifies that permanent deacons should resemble the lay faithful in dress and matters of lifestyle. Each diocesan bishop should, however, determine and promulgate any exceptions to this law, as well as specify the appropriate clerical attire if it is to be worn. (89)
Yet the selfsame USCCB has also issued, in 1998, complementary legislation on canon 284, stating,
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.
Presumably, a deacon is still a cleric. Therefore, he has the right to exercise his own discretion in using a cassock.
I can think of few better uses for a cassock than to put it on and wear it.
Sadly, I think, bishops still have little idea what to do with deacons.
The idea of denying the Roman collar to men duly ordained as clerics, while permitting it for those merely studying for the priesthood, as is the case in many seminaries, doesn’t make sense to me.
A deacon is a deacon is a deacon.