More on clerical garb, this time from the Secretary of State

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Dog collar??

  2. dominic1955 says:

    It must be a local nickname. Whatever the explanation, it sounds rather inelegant in English. When I think of dog collar as refering to something other than an actual dog collar, I think of the sling mounts for a Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle. Those at least look like a real dog collar, with the little buckle and everything.

  3. jbas says:

    Why did Pope Benedict dress that way back then? And, does anyone know for certain if the original CEI text really refers to a dog collar?

  4. discerningguy says:

    jbas, my understanding is that the clerical suit has been the “traditional” dress for priests who teach theology in Germany for a long time. Fr. Ratzinger fell in to that category.

  5. VexillaRegis says:

    Here the black shirt with a small white square on the collar is nick named ” stamp shirt”. (Hopefully the postage is high enough to get the priest in question to heaven ;-P !)

    Dog collar is an english expression, I think.

  6. thefeds says:

    I wonder what effect this might have on visiting American permanent Deacons? Would they be required to wear the polo shirts with the red stole thingies embroidered on the breast?

  7. VexillaRegis says:

    With the increasing persecution of Catholics, priests probably should consider wearing real spiked dog collars when in town. ?

  8. Garcilaso says:

    The original Italian of the article refers to the collar with the English term “clergyman.” The question is why was it translated as “dog collar”?

  9. jaykay says:

    Yes, “dog collar” is an English-language slang usage, and an inelegant one IMHO, if not really intended to be derogatory. Vexilla: the Domini Canes should perhaps adopt the spiked collars, always with habit and cappa magna of course, and maybe turned inwards from time to time, for penitential purposes? =)

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    fwiw, i never saw clerics out of uniform during my month the Synod, tho a few were dressed in clerical suits (apparently to the chagrin of some others). anyway, folks looked pretty sharp already. wonder who this policy is for?

  11. Darren says:

    This is the first I have ever heard or read the use of “dog collar” for the priest’s white collar.

    How does anyone feel about permanent deacons wearing the collar? It is very rare, but I have seen it.

  12. Blaise says:

    Dog collar is used almost universally in England. You would be very unlikely to hear it called anything else unless the very formal version is being distinguished as a “roman collar”

  13. Phillip says:

    Sounds good to me. If I’m at work, I’m wearing the uniform of the day. And if I have a meeting with my Officer-in-Charge, I promise you I will not ever show up in civvies. If I were ever to meet the Pope, I would try to look my best out of respect to the dignity of his office. There’s no reason that clerics should be held to a lower standard (at least in terms of wearing the garments appropriate to their vocation – I couldn’t care less how long their sideburns are) than military personnel, and for many of the same reasons. Tradition, as a visible way of setting themselves apart from the world at large, and to bear witness to Christ and His Church, just as in when I’m in my uniform I represent the United States and the Navy. Cassocks also look awesome. I’m surprised that this apparently wasn’t required before.

  14. rodin says:

    Whatever happened to “Roman collar”? As a child I heard that term in Canada and usually the Canadians use British terms, or at least they did.

  15. ghp95134 says:

    Yes, “dog collar” is used in the UK.

    From Wiki:
    In the United Kingdom (and other British-influenced countries, such as Canada), clerical collars have been informally referred to as dog collars since the mid-nineteenth century. The term Roman collar is equivalent to “clerical collar” and does not necessarily mean that the wearer is Roman Catholic.


  16. pelerin says:

    I had no idea that the term ‘dog collar’ was strange to American ears. I don’t think it is slang at all in English – in my life time it has always been the normal term used whether for Catholic priests or Church of England vicars.

  17. pseudomodo says:

    I have heard of the term ‘dog’ collar and it referes to the full white collar rather than the stamp size roman collar. Common in England with both catholic and ‘other’ clergy.

  18. Patti Day says:

    I’ve heard the term ‘dog collar’ used on BBC in America programs . Our deacon sometimes wears one.

  19. JARay says:

    I grew up being familiar with the term “dog collar” and also “Roman collar”, but then, I grew up in England. I suppose the term ‘dog collar’ came about since both collars are fastened at the back of the neck and not at the front. In those days men wore shirts with detached collars and they were attached by means of studs….one stud at the back (always the hardest to fasten), and one stud at the front. It was possible to buy a front stud with a diamond in it and if one wore a diamond stud then the tie was dispensed with. Shirts always came with two collars. When I was serving my time in the Royal Air Force we were issued with blue shirts and each with two collars. The collars were always very carefully pressed.
    Now, Roman collars were stiff collars and one always used a front stud to fasten the Roman collar at the back because the stud had to pass through the shirt and through both ends of the collar. Front studs were always a little longer in length than back studs. Nowadays priests wear a black shirt with a sewn down collar so that a little bit of plastic can be slipped beween the two ends of the collar, as I’m sure you all know. Priestly dress has changed just a little from fifty years ago.

  20. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    fwiw, I have never heard the Roman collar referred to as a “dog collar”, and I find the phrase demeaning.

  21. JacobWall says:

    I just commented over at the other clerical dress post that as far as I know, in Mexico, priests are still prohibited from being in public (i.e. outside of the church building or private home) in clerical dress. The Mexican Constitution is still very anti-clerical.

  22. An American Mother says:

    The term “dog collar” is (or used to be) extremely common and is not intended to be demeaning.

    Back in the old days when I was an Episcopalian, it was in general use for (and even by) the clergy, and it is so far as I know the correct descriptive term for the ‘white showing all around’ collar worn without a standing black shirt collar or separate black cover on top hiding most of the white collar underneath (that was called the “tab collar” or “Roman collar” to distinguish it).

    Traditionally, the “dog collar” was in general use by Low Church and Broad Church ministers (who tended to wear “Virginia clericals”, i.e. a dog collar and a business suit), while if you saw an Anglican or Episcopalian in a tab collar you could be pretty sure he was a High Churchman, although a number of the latter wore cassocks in their continuing efforts to be “more Roman than Rome”.

    Now it’s quite confusing. I see Catholic priests in “dog collars” occasionally, and Anglicans/Episcopalians seem to have gone all in for the “Roman collar”.

    Maybe they should bring back stocks and Geneva bands.

  23. John Nolan says:

    In 19th century England a priest going outdoors in a Roman collar might well have had stones thrown at him, whether he were Catholic or Anglo-Catholic. Going back to an earlier thread about the legality of a Catholic priest wearing the cassock in public, you must remember that in England a lot of laws fall into desuetude without being formally repealed; when in the 1990s the Princess of Wales admitted adultery with James Hewitt both could technically have been hanged for High Treason under the Statute of 1351.

    My great-uncle was a Holy Ghost Father and I have a photograph of him taken in 1948 helping with the haymaking on the family farm in Co. Down, Northern Ireland; he is wearing not a cassock, but the much more enveloping French soutane characteristic of the Order.

  24. jhayes says:

    that was called the “tab collar” or “Roman collar” to distinguish it [from the dog collar]

    If you could see white at the top of the sides it was the Roman collar; the tab collar slips inside the folded-over cloth collar so you don’t see white anywhere but the front.

    For a picture of a Catholic priest wearing a dog collar, go to the “Ronald Knox” entry at Wikipedia.

  25. Tim Ferguson says:

    I’ve heard the term dog collar before, in some clerical circles. Perhaps it was in a context with Dominicans, for whom “dog collar” would seem less of an insult and more of an inside joke.

  26. An American Mother says:

    You’re right of course. But rarely saw either the standing-collar shirt or the collar cover with the Piskies. Even the bishops tended to wear the dog collar until fairly recently.
    And our Catholic parish priests wear the cassock on Sundays and just about any time they’re at a parish function. I had to stop and think of the few times I’ve met them “out and about” in a clerical shirt – and I’m pretty sure they wear the Roman collar.

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    For the dyslexic priest, it would be the God collar – hey, works for me!

    The Chicken

  28. VexillaRegis says:

    And for the lazy priest, it would be useful to wear a Dodge collar.

  29. An American Mother says:

    And somebody’s bound to don an Odd collar . . .

  30. Gratias says:

    When in Rome earlier this month it was great to see so many priests in soutane. I suspect one of the many I saw then was Father Z, for people were effusively greeting him at the end of the Pontifical Mass at St. Peter’s and then at the Una Voce conference. But I cannot be sure because I have not seen a picture of our fearless host.

  31. VexillaRegis says:

    There is a picture of Fr Z on this site. If you scroll almost t to the bottom, you find his Facebook portrait.

  32. Pingback: Miracles Sacred Polyphony CCHD Changing | Big Pulpit

  33. Magash says:

    Backing away from the fixation on collars…
    Isn’t there already a rule on the books in Vatican City which requires clerics to wear, well, their clericals when in the Holy City?
    Aside from that, someone asked about deacons. A deacon is a clergyman and may wear the military collar when appropriate. In my own diocese deacons have been instructed to always wear clericals when they are at diocesan events, though they may wear a cross with deacon stole or a pin after the same pattern if they wish to differentiate themselves from priests.
    Typically when at such meetings I note that the usual suspects tend to ignore the rule and show up in “civvies.” The bishop hasn’t pushed it yet, but I know he tends to have period of tolerance for fools, before he reaches the point of action. I hope those involved are smart enough to know that too.

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