QUAERITUR: Can a priest wear a Cross around his neck?

don CamilloFrom a seminarian:

I am currently a Seminarian and still have 5 years ahead of me until, God willing, ordination. I personally feel a priest should always wear his clericals if not also a cassock, I plan to be in collar always. But my question is, I have always liked the idea of wearing a crucifix around the neck as a witness of faith, are priest allowed to wear a crucifix with the collar and what is your opinion on the subject? Of course I’m not speaking of a pectorial cross.

I am reminded of a story told about the late Bp. Alphonse Schladweiler, great old gent.  At a confirmation he once said, in his booming voice, “Now children, the bishop has been asking you questions.  Do have any questions for the bishop?”  Always dangerous.  One lad piped up, “What’s a Monsignor?”  The priest at the place was a Monsignor.  Without missing a beat the old bishop said “Why, sonny, a Monsignor is the Cross that hangs around the bishop’s neck!”

I don’t believe anything prohibits a secular/diocesan priest from wearing a crucifix suspended from his neck.  Bishops do this routinely.  

I am talking only about Latin Church priests now.  I don’t know what the customs of my Eastern brothers are.  I suspect they use Crosses abundantly as part of their regular garb.

In any event, I don’t think there is any law prohibiting a priest from wearing a Cross or Crucifix.

For my part, I find it a bit odd.  I can see a label pin, but a Cross?  Not so much, for me at least.  Some religious have the Crucifix or Cross as part of their habit.  But that’s a habit.   I think the military or Roman collar says a great deal and it was not really the custom of diocesan priests to wear Crosses like that.

As far as the cassock is concerned, in the USA it was once ecclesiastical law that secular/diocesan priests were not to go about in cassocks except in the course of, say, bringing the Last Sacraments or Communion.  They would wear the cassock at home and church and in the course of their regular duties, such as teaching.  Otherwise they were to use black secular dress with clerical bands or military “Roman” collar.  I think I am old enough and had enough influence from older priests to the point that that is my preference when in the USA.  In Italy I pretty much live in my cassock most of the day.

That said, those laws for the USA which were established at the Council of Baltimore are no longer in effect.   The Directory for Priests indicates that the cassock is the dress of the priest and, as a substitute, the clerical suit.

The Directory says:

[66.] … For this reason, the clergy should wear “suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and the legitimate local custom”. This means that the attire, when it is not the cassock, must be different from the manner in which the laity dress, and conform to the dignity and sacredness of his ministry. The style and colour should be established by the Episcopal Conference, always in agreement with the dispositions of the universal law.

I believe that in the USA the conference has permitted as colors for priests to wear just black clothing.  In Italy priests can use black, dark blue, or gray.

The USCCB, dealing with CIC 1983 can. 284, on clerical dress,  said:

In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. 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.

We had some discussion once about what deacons can wear.  Apparently, according to this note of the USCCB, if deacons perhaps should go about in the black suit and Roman collar, they can in the cassock.  I think someone didn’t have their coffee that morning.

In any event, many young diocesan priests these days, in the USA have made the choice the wear the cassock everywhere.  That’s fine.  It gives me pause, I must say.  This must be because I am a bit old fashioned and my sensibilities about this were formed by contact with men such as the fabled late Msgr. Schuler and those coeval priests who were in orbit around the place.  This is also why I have never taken to facial hair or jewelry, etc., which were prohibited in the old days for diocesan priests.

Bottom line: Worry about getting through seminary with good grades and good formation.  If they say were clerical dress, wear it when they tell you to.

Worry about what to wear as a priest when you are a priest.

My practice in the USA, which is open to adjustments, is to stick to the American custom of the black suit on the streets and cassock when in the course of liturgical or other functions.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. prairie says:

    I would love to see cassocks more. They are classic. As a seamstress I see their excellent design. (They flatter every figure.) As a convert, I love that they are distinctly and attractively Catholic.

  2. wolfeken says:

    Personally I think a priest in a clerical suit looks silly. Anglican. Lutheran. Modern, in any event. A cross between a banker and a clergyman.

    The trend of priests wearing cassocks always — on the street, at the store and at the restaurant — is a good, healthy thing for the United States. It is the way it was done for centuries before Americanism.

    I could not help but notice at the March for Life in D.C. a couple weeks ago that many, many priests and seminarians had their cassocks with full collars on. It was very powerful.

    If we are to restore all things in the Catholic Church, it should be a given that the cassock or habit should be worn by all clergy. Take the “tab collars” and short sleeve clerical shirts and throw them in the pit for Ash Wednesday. You don’t sway people with a tabby.

  3. Fr. Basil says:

    Whenever I wear cassock and skoufia (simple ecclesiastical cap) in public, I wear a simple wooden budded cross with the distinctive three-bar cross inset so I won’t be confused for a mahometan.

    I cannot speak for the other Eastern churches, but in the Slavic tradition, all priests wear a pectoral cross. A simple priest wears a silver crucifix–and fancier and fancier crosses are awards. In the Greek and Antiochian tradition, all crosses are awards.

    An Orthodox bishop ordered all nuns in his diocese to wear a cross with their habit (normally this is not done), which looks too much like what mahometan women wear. So they all have elegantly simple silver three-bar crosses, except the abbess, who wears a similar gold cross.

  4. david andrew says:

    Meanwhile, I recently attended an Archdiocesan function held in our vicariate. In many cases I couldn’t tell who the laity were and who the priests were, because many of the men I knew to be priests were not in collar, or worse, some of the men had the tab (for those oh-so-stylish “tucky-tuck” style clerical shirts) sticking up out of the breast pocket, or were wearing collar, but with brightly-colored sweaters and worse, sports jerseys over their clerics.

    I’m now on the faculty of an independent seminary, and I love the fact that most (not all, but most) of the men wear cassock and collar to my class. For those who don’t wear cassock, they at least are in collar, and restrict their other garments to black and white. I in turn wear dress shirt and tie in keeping with my position and state in life when teaching. (As an aside, I wonder if there would be something else more traditional for me to appropriately wear, such as an Oxford-style teaching gown?)

    I heard a story told recently of a young seminarian at our major seminary who was on a campaign for a return to the wearing of the cassock as the standard dress for the seminarians. Apparently he’d been “dressed down” (pardon the pun) for this by various priests on the faculty. To drive the point home, one particularly cantankerous (and probably liberal) older priest/instructor asked the seminarian in front of his brother seminarians, point blank, why he was wearing the cassock. The young seminarian said something to the effect that he felt that tradition was important. The priest/instructor’s response? He said “very well”, and proceeded to deliver the whole of the lecture for that day in Latin, and the whole of the subject matter for that lecture was included on the final exam despite the fact that no one understood a word of the lecture, and no other instructor in the seminary ever taught in Latin.

    I’ll never understand why liberals view a return to tradition as a “zero-sum” game, and respond to it in such irrational ways.

  5. Andy Milam says:

    I can remember once while living at the rectory, Monsignor Schuler and I had just come home from Mass; Monsignor pulled me aside and said, “When you’re serving or sitting in choir, please take off your watch. I noticed you were checking. Were you in a hurry? Clerics don’t wear watches to Mass.”

    To this day, I take off my watch and put it in my pocket, whether I serve or not. Monsignor Schuler was a great influence. And practical too….

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    If (a) I manage to get into seminary and (b) God willing I’m ordained I will always wear the cassock in public (assuming I’m ordained for a diocese I’m not sure If’ I’m meant to be a secular or religious priest).

    That said I don’t think the Cassock is suitable when riding a bike so maybe that will be the one occasion where you will find me in clerical shirt. In any case I’ll be recognisable as a Priest.

  7. Centristian says:

    While I am of the mind that clergy should always dress like clergy and appear to be clergy in public, I think wearing the cassock everywhere is a bit over the top. Certain traditionalist clergy do that to make some sort of point, or because they are under the impression that before the Second Vatican Council, all priests always wore a cassock no matter what.

    The fact of the matter is that in the USA, the UK, Ireland, and other English-speaking cultures, priests generally wore their cassock while in church and perhaps around the rectory but otherwise it was their custom to wear a black suit with a Roman collar, just as they do today.

    As far as secular priests who wear crucifixes around their necks goes, I find the practice sentimental or perhaps even pretentious, certainly redundant. It’s overkill.

    While we’re on the subject of crosses worn around the neck, if I have one bone to pick with our Holy Father, it’s that he has continued the incorrect practice started by Pope John Paul of wearing his pectoral cross over his mozzetta, which is not the custom of popes. Popes wear theirs beneath. I do not know why. It seems to make no sense; that’s just the way it is. Look at the portraits of all other popes prior to John Paul I. None wear the pectoral cross over the mozzetta.

  8. basilorat says:

    Hey Fr. Z! I have to admit I get worried about seminarians who are too eager to want to know what they are entitled to wear. However… better that, than the alternative where they are learning how to put a rabbi on the day of their ordination (which I’ve seen). I know it’s confusing for seminarians these days because in some dioceses (St. Louis), theologian seminarians are required to wear clerics everywhere while in the diocese and cassock liturgically. Obviously this is not universal. I think most guys want to do the right thing and they trust you will give them the answer.

    Latin priests, it would seem, should not wear a cross since it is clear that a cross is a privilege granted to bishops and those equal to him in law (ordinaries not enjoying (or not enjoying!), episcopal character), and abbots and to those it has been personally conceded. I do not know of priests in the history of the Church with the privilege of wearing a crucifix, save the “mission cross” of the OMI’s and other missionary congregations.

    Regarding the Eastern Churches. I might add to what Fr. Basil was saying. Bishops in turn, wear a “panagia” or icon of the Mother of God suspended from a chain.

  9. Mike Morrow says:

    Fr. Z writes:
    “…many young diocesan priests these days, in the USA have made the choice the wear the cassock everywhere…. It gives me pause, I must say. This must be because I am a bit old fashioned … This is also why I have never taken to facial hair or jewelry, etc., which were prohibited in the old days for diocesan priests.”

    That sums up exactly my outlook, for it reflects exactly what life in the U.S. Church was like pre-Vatican II. It would have been considered bizarre for a diocesan priest to have been seen running around doing the many things in the community he was called to do, in a cassock. It wasn’t practical, and it would have been interpreted by most as some sort of affectation or eccentricity on the part of that priest.

    The same applies to the issue of beards, which seem pretty common today. I consider such, when I see it, as some sort of attempt to portray a “holy card holy man” image. That’s probably an incorrect and unfair assessment, [Probably.] but certainly bearded diocesan priests in the U.S. Church are not representative of traditional pre-Vatican II clergy.

  10. pop says:

    WOW! The pope incorrectly wears/displays the cross.

    Will someone please define “liberal”. That term seems to be thrown around quite a bit these days. Does it really mean “anyone who thinks differently than me”?

    A priest/deacon/cleric is what he is because of who he is and not because of what he wears. Because a priest is in your company, and you know so because of his manner of dress….. your manners, speech, demeanor and so forth change? I don’t get it. Really! A priest is a human being.

    Seminaries form their students as a community. As community, they do as do many religious orders do and adopt a communal dress uniform, if you will. The often preferred dress is a rather traditional one which in my opinion harkens back to a time when the church reeked of clericalism.

    Vatican II addressed that when it emphasized the church as “the people of God”. Personally I have no comment one way or the other regarding the manner of dress at a seminary. Those “communities” can and should adopt their style of dress. The exception being that because one is not a cleric until ordained, one should not wear clerics until he is ordained.

    The fear I have, and it is really a fear of mine, is that one drifts into a fantasy if you will by dressing up in costume (for lack of a better word). I worry about a falling in love with an image as a priest…… a feeling of security & identity both of which should be located in a well formed and solid spirituality.

    Abbeys, monasteries, seminaries, and so forth are places that are well suited for the wearing of particular garments. But as far as I am concerned, the church is and lives in the “real world”. Diocesan clergy are of the world…… Christ in the world. In the real world a business person when on business wears a proper business attire. People dress in formal attire for formal occasions. So it should be with clergy and clerics.

  11. newtrad says:

    You mean a Hawaiian shirt is NOT part of the required dress of clerics while in public? So good to know that. But seriously, it is so refreshing to see the younger crop of priests(and older traditional) wearing the cassock. It is just such a clearly Catholic statement. I always enjoy being with our priests in public and watching the reactions to those we pass by. I have seen them play soccer, golf and even ice skate in them. What a statement it makes and it is very humiliating at times, but I believe this makes them stronger men and priests.

  12. Katherine says:

    Unlike the black pants and suitjacket, the cassock is a gender neutral garb and therefore less offensive to women’s ordination advocates.

  13. Mitchell NY says:

    Living in NY I can say on the subways or around town with so many Churches it wold be nice to see Priests in their Cassocks. We see so many other outward displays of religion from other Faiths that is only seems right that Catholics should be part of it. A poweful reminder of the Faith. Remember if it goes unseen it is most likely forgotten. And for the Seminarian, I am happy he is looking ahead as to what his “garb” will be. Priests don’t get many luxuries in life and to be proud of their Catholic Identity, through the use of the Cassock I see as a good thing. Even if he is not a Priest yet, I think it is OK for him to think about the issue. It is formation time. I hope he spreads his ideas.

  14. iudicame says:

    In places where wearing the cassock was and/or is second nature – what does one wear under it? Full trousers?


  15. Andy Milam says:

    It used to be that one would wear something similar to plus 4s. They were pants that came just below the knee and there were high black stockings and shoes were worn.

    That fell out of style and trousers were worn underneath. That essentially is the norm. However, I will tell you that when I was wearing a cassock on a daily basis, I would often times wear shorts and knee high black socks, in the summer…it was just to blasted hot to wear pants…

    As long as the cassock is not threadbare, what is worn underneath can be whatever the wearer likes, however, the wearer should be aware of a couple of things:

    1. The buttons do pop off from time to time.
    2. It looks really tacky to wear white socks with a black cassock
    3. Pants are always preferable, because if you have to remove your cassock for whatever reason, you won’t embarass yourself. I’m just sayin’.

  16. dlongenecker says:

    I like the Monsignor quip. In the Anglican church there was a similar one about Archdeacons.

    The Archdeacon is the crook at the top of the Bishop’s staff.

  17. Alice says:

    American priests were once forbidden by law to wear the cassock when not at the church/rectory unless they were administering the sacraments?!?! Say it ain’t so! I mean, you can tell me Bach didn’t write the Toccata and Fugue in d minor and that Q didn’t write the Synoptic Gospels but don’t tell me that it’s only in modern America that priests wear their cassocks to run errands. My world is reeling!

  18. Jack007 says:

    It is indeed an American/English/anti Catholic custom to wear the so called “black clericals”.

    The legislation from the Council of Baltimore was aimed solely and strictly at a false sense of ecumenism. There was a lot of anti Catholic bigotry in those new United States. “Popishness” was frowned upon. The Council Fathers felt that it would be more prudent for the clergy to not stand out as much; many times for their own personal safety.

    That said, we live in a more “tolerant” society today, don’t we? :-)
    Having seen priests like my own in public always in a cassock, is truly refreshing and edifying. Yes, they get all kinds of reactions, but most are positive. They have also “snagged”a fair share of converts, and lapsed Catholics!

    I don’t condemn those, like the good Fr. Z who wear the black suits, [whew] but I certainly don’t encourage it. Please, any and all, if you have a seminarian or priest who wears the cassock, ENCOURAGE him and let him know how you appreciate his effort. You might be surprised how much that will mean to him. Believe me, I know first hand. As one FSSP priest once said, “To the world today, we are freaks.”

    As far as the cross…not so much. To that seminarian…I agree with Fr. Z. A nice pin or even a small medal of our Lady a la [suspended] Fr. Gruner maybe? A roman collar and cassock will make a plenty big statement.

    Jack in KC

  19. Trevor says:

    My thoughts on the cassock have changed a bit since I’ve been in seminary. When I first entered, I was like the OP and really “gung-ho” about wearing it as a witness and also aligning myself with the traditional movement. However, I noticed a few things about myself and about wearing clerics.

    First, I noticed that when I wore the clerics at that stage in my formation, I thought an awfully lot about myself and my own importance, and not about the event at which I was asked to assist or the people I was supposed to serve. Thus, unless you reach a stage of adequate human formation, the clerics can perhaps encourage clericalism or perhaps mask one’s insecurities.

    Second, I got the same history lesson as Fr. Z, in the United States the cassock has first and foremost been a liturgical and ministerial dress. So the calls for wearing the cassock everywhere really aren’t that “traditional”. It has its places where its appropriate, but I think its a fine line between being a witness and trying to make a statement.

    Third, I think one really does have to take the considerations of their brother priests into account. I’m sure the priests who comment on these forums are well aware of the rewards and challenges of working a presbyterate (and its one area that most lay Catholics don’t know about). These are men that you’re going to need to rely upon at some point. So if you’ve made up your mind to wear clerics all the time, and going to be the only one in clerics at priest convocation or wear a cassock to the clergy golf outing, then I think you need to reflect a bit.

    Additionally, it seems that a priest can all too easily be judged by his clothes. The priests who wear a tab collars may be one of the best pastors, preachers, or confessors in the diocese. And those just out seminary wearing a cassock might have very little knowledge on how to handle a pastoral situation or have the experience to give the people the advice they need in the confessional (I’ll add myself in this group if I reach ordination). And even those men who don’t wear clerics surely have other talents (NB: And not wearing clerics doesn’t necessarily indicate “liberal”, some of the priests might actually be fairly conservative). The thing I keep try to keep in mind is that all these men are priests of God…called by God…for God’s Church. I may never agree with some in theological matters or vision for the Church, but these are still men of pastoral insight, and more importantly: they stayed firm in their vocation despite seeing brothers leave the priesthood, sex abuse scandals, and temptations against chastity. For that, they deserve respect and our charity.

    So for now, I think that we, as seminarians, shouldn’t make a big deal about clerics. I think when asked to wear them by superiors we should, and when permitted to do so, then exercise one’s own judgment. In the meantime, we have a duty to God’s people to work on human formation, and become MEN of God. When we put our nose to the floor, we should already be a spiritual authorities, and the collar will simply be a sign of that reality; not make us one. Additionally, we’ll see clerics for what they are: a sign that we’ve renounced the world, and not a sign of ideology or privilege.

  20. Jack007 says:

    I wondered if the mention of Fr. Gruner might elicit a comment, but he came to mind as a priest who wears a medal on his cassock. I’m not sure why you needed to add Father’s unfortunate canonical situation; perhaps it was just informative in nature. Regardless, I hope that Fr. Gruner is someday able to return to the bosom of the Church, which he served so tirelessly for so many years.

    Glad to see that you’re relieved I spared you any condemnation on your sartorial choices, Father Z! If that strong cup of Mystic Monk isn’t keeping you awake at night, I surely wouldn’t want to either! :-)

    Sadly, speaking of Mystic Monk, I have a complete intolerance of caffeine. I am forced to do the whole decaf thing. Maybe the monks might be able to do a decaf? I can’t be the ONLY wretched soul who can’t enjoy a cup of good coffee?

    Jack in KC

  21. The Egyptian says:

    I still remember Fr Stock, CPPS, our parish priest of my youth, black cassock, and this huge, and I mean HUGE cross that fit into loops on the cassock, it had to be 12 inches long, sat in a pocket at the waist band and held by loops at the top and sides, with a long gold neck chain that looped down from his neck, if held by the chain I think it would have hung below his waist.

    He was in interesting man, he told us that as a young priest in Kansas he worked in a feed mill as an accountant and sometime bagged feed, to keep his parish open, all the money went to the parish to pay bills like heat and upkeep, the people were so poor, it was the depression. He also until his death canned his own food and mended his own cloths. I wish I knew more about him, he died when I was about 10, A saintly man.

  22. Re: thinking about your clothes and cassocks — If you ever hung around with guys in a medieval group, you wouldn’t think twice about wearing any kind of long robe, and it wouldn’t seem weird to do active sports in ’em! Pants are still a relatively recent invention, for which we can thank horseback riders; but I’ve seen plenty of old footage of cassocked priests riding bicycles. (Though some may have used those tab things that keep the hem from slipping into the wheels, I don’t know that most of ’em did.)

    The remedy for thinking about your clothes is to wear them every day, until you’re totally bored with them and they become second nature. (The old SCA saying after a long medieval weekend was, “You know you’re in the SCA when you automatically adjust your skirts to sit down, before you realize you’re wearing jeans — and you’re a guy.”) Admittedly, I’m one of those people who forgets to check sock colors, so I fail to see the problem…. :)

  23. Trevor says:


    While I’m sure you know this, the cross that Missionaries of the Precious Blood wear is part of their official habit. The priest wasn’t wearing it out of private devotion.

    My former pastor was also CPPS. He said wearing the mission cross actually came with its perks. He once wore his habit to a papal Mass at St. Peter’s. Upon taking his seat near the back of church, the Swiss Guard mistook him for a bishop, and directed him towards an open seat near the front.

  24. amsjj1002 says:

    I suppose regional background also affects this. I live in a formerly Spanish-ruled state, and even long after the U.S. took over, I’ve seen pictures of pioneer priests travelling around the diocese in cassock, and sometimes with allowance due to the very hot weather, a protective hat.

    I agree with another poster; I’d think if one wears it often, it’ll become 2nd nature. Like my veil at church. I was self-conscious about it at first and fussed about it, but now I put it on and don’t think about it. I’m familiar with several priests who wear cassocks, but don’t make a big deal about it (oh, does that make sense? I don’t mean it to sound bad!). But if it’s causing troubles inside, then I can see someone prayerfully taking a step back from doing so. :-)

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