QUAERITUR: Can a rector or bishop forbid seminarians or priests use of the cassock?

From a reader:

In my diocese there are a small number of seminarians who wish to wear their cassock after their first year of study at the seminary. They have approached the bishop and rector about doing so, but both have refused to grant them permission, saying that can only do so after their ordination and that they must wear civilian clothing, much to their distress. I was wondering if either the bishop and/or rector (or both?) have the authority to do this?

Also, in another diocese in my country my priest friend, who has recently started celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass, wishes to wear the cassock but his bishop has refused to allow him to do so, saying he can wear a clerical shirt but anything more than that is ‘over the top’ and would cause him to draw attention to himself. Can a local bishop refuse to allow one of the priests in his diocese to wear a cassock?  [No.]

It matters not a whit if a bishop or a rector has the authority to ban cassocks for seminarians.

The only thing that matters is that they can throw you out of the seminary just because they didn’t like their corn flakes that morning.

Seminarians! LISTEN UP!

If your rector or bishop has a “cassock problem” for seminarians, fine.  Let them be as dim and dopey as they choose to be.

Smile.  Be cordial.  Obey.  Wear civvies.  Check off the days on your calendar.

These liberal ideologues are doomed.  The Biological Solution is as work.  You also have The Bux Protocol in your quivver.

When they pass you along for ordination, they are ordaining their own destruction.

Bide your time.

For priests, however, …

Bishops do not have the authority to ban, by particular law, the use of the cassock.

As the Directory for Priests indicates, the cassock is the norm for clerical garb. Furthermore, can. 284 says that clerics “are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.” In these USA, the bishops conference issued particular norms, which state:

“The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 284, hereby decrees that without prejudice to the provisions of canon 288 (which states that permanent deacons are are exempt from these norms, unless particular law established otherwise), clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling.  [That rules out Carmen Miranda fruit hats, but it cannot rule out the cassock.]

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.

“The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.

These norms from the US bishops were given the recognitio of the Congregation for Bishops in 1999.  Therefore, in these USA priests wear cassocks at their own discretion. A local bishop cannot, of his own authority, issue contradictory norms. He can advise, cajole, plead, threaten or bribe. He cannot mandate anything to the contrary without explicit approval from the Holy See.

Once, however, the use of the cassock in these USA was not permitted to priests as regular street clothes.  This comes from the time of the Councils of Baltimore and the anti-Catholicism of those days.  Priests used the cassock in the parish, etc., the frock coat on the street.  In these USA it is still not quite yet the custom, I think, to use the cassock as street clothes.  Some younger priests are doing this.  Fine.

But a bishop can’t tell a priest not to wear a cassock.  Of course if they bishop does and priest wear the cassock anyway, the petty and vindictive bishop has a thousand ways to hurt the priest.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jkm210 says:

    You need the picture of the actual “Matrix” priest, who is from my archdiocese!

    Of course, the reference is a little out-of-date now for the young guys considering a priestly vocation, but it is still cool!

  2. Don’t forget that priests who wear cassocks can still be sent to the furthest corner of the diocese or to the worst possible parish as punishment.

  3. Navigator says:

    A timely post Father. I was at Mass this morning with my daughters (my son was serving) and a Priest came out onto the altar in his cassock to do some housekeeping before Mass. I asked my 11 year old whether she preferred a cassock to the usual attire (black with collar) from our old Parish and she immediately responded she preferred the cassock, as it was more distinctive.

    These symbols matter.

    When I had my residence blessed earlier this year, the curate (in his first year after ordination) put a cassock on before doing so. I asked him why he did wear it normally, and he said, in not so many words, that he didn’t want to embarrass the Parish Priest.

  4. dominic1955 says:

    I was at Kenrick in St. Louis during the very tail end of the then-Archbishop Burke days and the cassock could be worn as daily wear. I just considered myself lucky.

    However, if one is not this lucky, do not sweat it. Worry about doing the Lord’s will, not what you get to wear. You can do all that kind of thing once you get ordained.

  5. Stephen McMullen says:

    I have read somewhere that our current Pontiff forbad the use of cassocks by his parish priests in Argentina. This is unsubstantiated; if anyone knows differently, please let me know.

  6. Priam1184 says:

    @jkm210 It frightens me to think that a reference to the Matrix is out of date. Am I that old now?

    @Stephen McMullen If your accusation about Pope Francis is, by your own admission, unsubstantiated then why are you posting it here?

  7. olivia says:

    Here in Krakow, Poland, it is not uncommon to see priests and nuns wearing traditional clothing wherever they go. Because there are so many different orders we are beginning to learn what order these priests and nuns are from based on what they wear. And might I add, some of the priest’s winter attire includes not only full cassocks but on top of that full black capes, with hoods. Amazing! My children are able to grow up in a place where the religious and clergy are a significant part of every day life and while they stand out significantly they are also joining in. It’s a blessing for our family.

  8. robtbrown says:

    The following is from Narrative of a captivity among the Mohawk Indians . . . by Father Isaac Joques (and John Shea)

    As the missionary was about to set out, an Algonquin chief advised him to lay aside his religious habit. His reason was striking: it exemplifies perfectly what has been called “the hideous face of Christianity”. “There is nothing, ” said the Algonquin chief “nothing more repulsive at first than this doctrine, that seems to exterminate all that men hold dearest. Your long gown preaches it as strongly as your lips: leave it, and go in a short coat.”

    The cassock, therefore, is an indication of celibacy.


  9. robtbrown says:

    indication should be symbol

  10. JeffK says:

    Perhaps the quota of petty and vindictive bishops appointed could be reduced?

  11. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you for this sensible post. I am a bit fed up with some young men who refuse to cooperate with grace and go with the flow until after they are ordained. Some have not finished seminary studies because of being to hung up on conservative dress, such as cassocks. The real test of a vocation is not what one wears, but who one is. Formation includes humility and dying to self, which may mean no blacks until diaconate year. Bishops may be wrong on insisting on civies, but the young men who are obedient show a higher form of maturity and spirituality.

  12. LadyMarchmain says:

    Might it be possible to wear the cassock privately in one’s room to affirm devotion and a sense of vocation, or when going out to dinner or with family? (I am not familiar with life inside a seminary so can’t say whether this is a viable proposal). For young seminarians out in restaurants or at dinner parties, there is a certain value to the cassock as a sign of the life path they are on, so that they are not accosted (for example), by certain temptations.

    I am amazed that we have any priests at all, given stories like this. I am praying for young men like these who want to show in everything they do that they are consecrating themselves to the priestly life and to formation as a priest.

  13. everett says:

    @LadyMarchmain It’d be possible, but if you’re in this situation, I sure wouldn’t recommend it. Seminarians in this situation are likely to have rectors or vocation directors or bishops who are just ready to reprimand or possibly kick out of the seminary for anything they can. If you’re in this situation, keep your head down, avoid notice, stay out of trouble, and be obedient in all things but sin (even if they’re distasteful). Get yourself ordained, so that you can fulfill your vocation, and serve as a priest. I have friends who went to CUA 20 some years ago, and they’ve told stories of having classes taught by nuns wherein they learned about crystals. If they’d freaked out (out loud), and gone complaining (which would’ve been reasonable), they probably would’ve been kicked out, and would not be priests of vibrant parishes or rectors/vocation directors in dioceses with larger #s of vocations. Be faithful, and get yourselves ordained!

  14. SpesUnica says:

    I strongly agree with SuperTradMum. In my experience (which is mine, and I don’t presume it is necessarily indicative of others’), one of the hardest lessons to learn in seminary is submission of will. I am a religious, and so my relationship with my superiors is not identical to that of a diocesan priest with his bishop, but when I was in seminary, and for a year during theology served as a “residence assistant” for undergrad/philosophy seminarians, we would sometimes have young men who struggled with obedience. We have a saying, “You are JOINING an order, not FOUNDING one.”

    It is difficult, because without a doubt, we are deep in the process of reclaiming some babies from the bathwater discarded with Vat. II (I don’t mean that pejoratively). However, that process, in my opinion, may be contemplated by those in temporary/simple vows and only IMAGINED by postulants, novices and philosophy students. A man in such an early period of formation who has designs for how to change his seminary should design himself right out of that seminary. At the same time, I know that some men have had much more traumatic seminary experiences than I have, and I acknowledge that rough times can call for drastic measures.

    With respect to LadyM, I humbly submit that a seminarian wearing a cassock privately in his room would stand out to me as a big red flag in terms of his formation. I may have been biased by poor experiences, but the couple of men who I have known of who did such “private devotions” were not cut out for public ministry. Not because of the cassocks themselves, but because that secret dissension was a sign of more deeply-seated problems with authority in general.

    My community has our seminarians slowly “wade in” to clerical garb. I don’t claim it is a perfect system, but I think it is healthy for their maturing understanding of their ministerial identities. The first year of philosophy, the men serve Mass in an alb. The second year the house orders a cassock and surplice in their size (if needed), and they serve Mass in that. They receive the habit upon acceptance into the Novitiate, and wear it for community feasts, celebrations, vows, ordinations and funerals throughout theology and simple vows, in addition to other times (always to serve Mass, occasionally to ministry placements, etc.), and when not in habit our theologians wear a collar-shirt to class and ministry. At this point, most of our priests wear a collar-shirt or clerical suit when ministering, though not necessarily when “off the clock” out running errands, going to the movies, etc. Many of our middle-aged (boomer) men don’t really wear the collar much at all. Most of the younger men do, though the full habit is mainly seen at the same major community events where the vowed seminarians would also be wearing it. Ten years ago NO ONE would have been wearing the habit, and 15 years ago only the “straight-laced” would have been seen wearing a collar outside the parish/office. Thanks be to God, the culture has begun to shift back to pride for our religious identity and its visual manifestations and reminders.

  15. Sieber says:

    Here in Los Angeles, back in the 50’s, after graduating from high school you entered Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary for two year before going on to St John’s. The first order of business was to go to Cotter’s Religious Supplies for a cassock & a few collars, one of which was dyed green for St. Paddy’s Day. Semi Jesuit was the most popular style cassock.

  16. Tantum Ergo says:

    When I see a priest in a cassock my spirit soars! I see someone who’s so serious about his calling that he doesn’t care if he sticks out. Indeed, God calls us to be a “peculiar” people.
    Deuteronomy 26:18
    “And the Lord hath chosen thee this day, to be his peculiar people”

    Exodus 19:5
    “If therefore you will hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be my peculiar possession above all people”

    Deuteronomy 7:6
    “Because thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee, to be his peculiar people of all peoples that are upon the earth”

    Remember, the only thing that “goes with the flow” is dead fish.

  17. LadyMarchmain says:

    Thank you, Tantum Ergo!

    SpesUnica, thank you for clarifying about the way things are on the inside. It’s just a little bit cognitively dissonant to think that passion and enthusiasm for the signs of one’s calling or a habit of private devotions would raise a red flag about a vocation. The point about obedience is well taken, but why would this extend to private devotions? (Clearly, I have no vocation to community life….)

    I believe it was Father Malachi Martin who pointed out that the churchmen he knew who were, shall we say, lukewarm about the Catholic faith, quite often had no devotional life? I understand that priests are not called to a contemplative order, and also must recite their Holy Office every day, but surely a strong devotional life is a sign of sanctity?

  18. Ella says:

    Great advice, Father. Although I have never been a seminarian (being a woman and all), I have a few times been in a position that if I bided my time and held my tongue, I would end up in a position where I could change things before they changed me. One small incident involved a bigoted liberal (redundant, I know) college professor. When my A for the course was safe, I told her exactly what I thought of her bigotry towards those with whom she did not agree and not with crudity but with facts and logic. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor and “bide your time” can have merit. Seminarians need to learn sooner rather than later that they will face struggles in their vocation as priests especially if they are conservative and traditional. The greater crown will in the end be theirs if they persevere.

  19. I am turning on moderation.

  20. SpesUnica says:

    LadyM, I apologize for being unclear in my earlier post. The scare quotes around “private devotion” was meant to refer only to the private wearing of clerical garb, not private devotions in general.

  21. Lin says:

    My spirit soars too when I see a priest in a cossack. [Mine too! o{];¬) All that riding around on horses, singing, doing those dances that are so hard on the knees, swinging sabers around. How I miss it.] But than again that is usually because I am in Rome and/or on pilgrimage. Our priest in his mid-sixties almost never wears a Roman collar, not even to a funeral! As much as we need priests, I pray he retires soon. And I pray daily for increased vocations! [We need more cossack priests, too! Perhaps the modern cossack priest can study cannon law open carry his liturgical Beretta!]

  22. RichR says:

    I think one thing we can learn from this post is that many priests wearing cassocks face similar silent suffering as some younger nuns who choose to wear veils. My recommendation for people who see priests wearing cassocks is to go up to them and tell them how they appreciate such a visible symbol of devotion to one’s vocation and to Christ.

  23. ASPM Sem says:

    Our rector suggested to us that we begin wearing our cassocks when we go to pray outside Planned Parenthood… perseverance dear brother seminarian! Major seminary will be here in no time!

  24. benedetta says:

    LOL! Indeed it appears that cossacks too are making a comeback!


  25. acardnal says:

    ? ????????. ???????

  26. LadyMarchmain says:

    SpesUnica, Thank you so much for clarifying! I completely misunderstood you, I am very sorry! (And also very relieved).

  27. RidersOnTheStorm says:

    As C.S. Lewis put it when a villain orates on the folly of “trusting in Calvary for salvation in a day of mechanized warfare.”

    Yep, there was no cavalry charge on Calvary

  28. iPadre says:

    The cassock is a strong sign of evangelization. Anyone can wear a collar these days. We even see woomen priestlesses wearing the collar. You can tell a Roman priest clearly by the cassock. I love the comments from the people. Now the cassock doesn’t make the priest, but people see a priest in cassock and they know he ain’t a lib.

  29. Elizabeth D says:

    It may be the younger clerics who become cossack priests, if that becomes a trend. They are known for riding without stirrups and for their acrobatics, hanging off the side of the saddle of the galloping horse, and stuff. This was to place the horse’s body between the Alter Christus and the slings and arrows of the truly dangerous Kossack priests… those who frequent Daily Kos (that was what we called ourselves back when I was a leading member there).

  30. Father G says:

    I went to a seminary where the diocesan seminarians were not allowed to wear clerics until their diaconate ordination. As a member of a religious congregation, I was not bound by that rule and so I would wear my cassock to class. Several of my fellow seminarians would comment how great it was to see my confreres and I wearing the cassock on campus. They (the diocesan seminarians) had their cassocks in the closet waiting for the day when they could wear them after priestly ordination.
    Sure enough, now that we are priests I have seen a few of them wearing cassocks.

  31. SimonDodd says:

    I have seen a cleric wearing a cassock with my own eyes on one occasion, and only one. Not coincidentally, it was after one of the few liturgies that I have similarly-witnessed that was celebrated with all the appropriate sobriety and dignity for which one might hope.

    Alas, it was in an Anglican cathedral.

  32. ray from mn says:

    A priest on the internet once admonished a seminarian: The primary job of a seminarian is to get ordained!

  33. CaliPriest says:

    I’m one of those young clerics who likes to wear the cassock. When you’re in the seminary, you basically have to do what you’re told and I agree it’s not a good idea to make waves. Besides, obedience is a good thing to practice and good for one’s sense of humility – both virtues to carry into the priesthood. As it is, I’m definitely one of the more “conservative” priests in my diocese (ordained in the last two years), but because I’ve gone out of my way to be kind to my brother priests, they’ve been very accepting of me. My pastor is definitely left-leaning, but since we get along so well, he doesn’t care that I wear my cassock (including often out of the parish). I know not every cassock-wearing priest has had it this easy (and who knows what the future holds for me in other assignments) but I’ve found that once you show people you’re friendly and respect them and that you’re not out to fight them, their hostility towards more traditional, younger priests and their practices can be disarmed. They may hate “conservatives” but they’ll find it hard to hate YOU.

  34. robtbrown says:

    ray from mn says:

    A priest on the internet once admonished a seminarian: The primary job of a seminarian is to get ordained!

    First, a seminarian must decide whether he wants to be ordained–and in whatever diocese or religious order. I have known some very good men who admirably persevered to ordination, only to leave a few years later.

  35. acardnal says:

    Sorry. My earlier entry at 27 October 2013, 6:59 pm, above didn’t translate due to Cyrillic alphabet characters.

  36. Magash says:

    Was fortunate to get to attend the Diocesan Men’s Conference of the Diocese of Richmond this past weekend. I saw several seminarians there assisting, all in Roman collars. The bishop encourages them to attend diocesan functions to assist on a regular basis. They are always required to wear teh collar on such occasions. There were also a number of priests there to allow the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be made available to the participants. Naturally the large number of priests attending made the use of EMCs unnecessary. I saw a number of these priests in cassock.
    As an aside our bishop, Francis DiLorenzo was suppose to attend, but as he spent the week with the priests of our diocese he was unable to attend for health reasons. I ask for your prayers for him.

  37. Scott W. says:

    Fiat Bux!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  38. robtbrown says:

    The subject of cassocks reminds me of some of the criticism I saw of Joseph Ratzinger as a priest wearing a suit, dark sweater, white shirt, but no collar. In Europe, esp. in German speaking areas, priests didn’t wear a black suit with Roman collar because that was considered the dress of Lutheran and other Reformed clergy.

  39. Ignatius says:

    Stephen McMullen says “I have read somewhere that our current Pontiff forbad the use of cassocks by his parish priests in Argentina. This is unsubstantiated; if anyone knows differently, please let me know”.

    Stephen, Card. Bergoglio never formally forbade the use of cassocks. Some priests wore them and still wear them in the archdiocese of Buenos Aires. However, wearing a cassock was quite a statement here… if you happened to attend a meeting with the archbishop in cassock… well…

    Best regards,

  40. Pingback: Bringing Hope to the Infertile - BigPulpit.com

  41. Stephen McMullen says:

    @ Priam1184: I made the statement in an effort to learn whether it is true or not. . I thought that I qualified my statement enough by putting the disclaimer that “this is unsubstantiated” but I guess I can not satisfy everyone. If I am wrong, I want to know. We are learning here……this is why I like this site. I learn something everytime I read it.

  42. vandalia says:

    The fundamental rule for seminarians – “Until the stole hangs straight, keep your mouth shut.”

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