From a reader:
I am now wondering about beards for clerics of the Roman Rite (if, as Benedict once asked, the Latin Rite still exists). [If Benedict existed… some scholars of late-antiquity have their doubts…] It is my understanding that priests and seminarians of the Latin Rite were clean shaven. I know that St. Charles Borromeo wrote concerning this for example. A number of dioceses do not allow their seminarians to wear beards (e.g. ____), but there is a contigent of men here that are all starting to wear them. It looks terrible. Is there anything in writing still in force proscribing them?
It is true that for a very long time Latin rite clerics (therefore seminarians) were forbidden facial hair and and jewelry because they are “vanities”. Think about some of the spectacular trends in male facial hair in ages past. As Jack Aubrey would say, “Vanity ain’t in it.”
Since I am an unreconstructed ossified manualist, I think priests and diocesan seminarians of the Latin Rite should be clean shaven. Yes, I know that it is no longer the law and I know that some men chose beards for skin reasons and not for vanity, but that is where I stand. I stand there, damn it! No beard! No mustaches, d’ya hear? Off with them, then!
A bishop doesn’t have the right under law to require a diocesan seminarian to shave every day… think about it. However, he can, for one reason or another, chose to keep the man as a seminarian or not.
Seminarians have the right to Christian burial… sort of. It’s a power thing, like it or not.
However, the physical appearance of priests reflects on the priesthood and the diocese. The bishop has a responsibility to uphold both the reputation of priests and the dignity of the whole presbyterate and diocese.
I recommend these things as gifts to seminarians and priests with beards.
In the meantime, remember that some seminarians are actually pretty young and are still figuring out what they want to do with those, as Bill Cosby put it, “little tiny hairs growin’ out my face”.
Look… common sense has to prevail here. Men grow beards. So long as they are decent, and since the law does not now forbid them for Latin rite clerics, fine. If they are scruffy and make the priest look like an idiot….. well… they have to figure that out on their own, just as would be the case in academia, an office, on Wall Street… or in the Occupy Wall Street crowd wherein I believe beards are also lice infested and laden with souvenirs of unpurchased meals.