Just recently I answered a question from a reader about clerical dress.
This is just in from Andrea Tornielli of Vatican Insider:
An internal circular signed by Cardinal Bertone invites all clerics working in the Holy See to wear black cassocks or dog collars
It’s the dress that makes the monk. A least in the Vatican. Last 15 October, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, signed a circular letter sent to all offices in the Roman Curia, to stress the need for priests and clerics to turn up at work wearing traditional clerical garb, that is the dog collar and black cassock. On formal occasions, for example when the Pope is present, monsignors will no longer be able to let their robe with the red buttons and purple fascia gather dust. [Mixed message here. Just when there is an audience? Just cassock? Cassock or suit?]
The Code of Canon Law states that “clerics must wear decorous ecclesiastical vestments” in line with the laws that bind the various bishops’ conferences. The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) established that “the clergy has to wear a cassock or dog collar,” meaning black or grey vestments and a white dog collar. The dog collar was originally a Protestant garment; Catholic clergymen initially adopted it to make life easier for clerics when they had to travel. [I object to the term “dog collar”.]
In 1994, the Vatican Congregation for the clergy explained the reasons – sociological ones as well – behind Catholic priests’ vestments: “In a secularised and essentially materialistic society” there is a strong need for the community to be able to recognise the presbyter, who is a man of God and deliverer of his mysteries, the circular stated.
Bertone’s letter asks monsignors to wear the cassock with the red buttons at “events where the Holy Father is present” and on other official occasions. In one of his audiences, the Pope also urged bishops to start paying extra close attention to etiquette. [What does that mean? Clerical garb? Saying “Please” and “Thank you”? C’mon.]
In the past, the clergy wore civilian clothes only in certain contexts, for example in Turkey in the 40’s and recently in Mexico, with bishops used to dressing as managers. [Both places not so friendly to Catholics.] Soon, the habit took root in Europe: how can one forget the image of Joseph Ratzinger in a suit and dark tie during the Council years. But after the Second Vatican Council, the cassock ended up in a box in the loft and priests started to make less of an effort to stand out. But for some years now, there has been a significant countertrend, among young priests in particular. A “clerical” turning point which the Secretary of State has now put down in black and white in its circular.
Not up to Tornielli’s standard, I’m afraid.