NEW EDITION: Directory for the Ministry and the Life of Priests – An Item of Interest

After some years of waiting, the next, new edition of the Directory for the Ministry and the Life of Priests has been issued by the Congregation of Clergy, which is now under the direction of His Eminence Beniamino Card. Stella. He was appointed by Pope Francis.

The PDF in English HERE

This is going to take a while to absorb, but I want you priests and bishops to take note of a paragraph right away.

Go to PAGE 82 in the PDF.

The Importance and Obligatory Nature of Ecclesiastical Attire

61. In a secularised and basically materialistic society where the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to disappear, deeply felt is the need for the priest – man of God, dispenser of his mysteries – to be recognisable in the eyes of the community by his attire as well, and this as an unequivocal sign of his dedication and identity as holder of a public ministry. The priest must be recognisable above all through his conduct, but also by his attire, which renders visible to all the faithful, and to each person, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.

Clerical attire is the external sign of an interior reality: “Indeed, the priest no longer belongs to himself but, because of the sacramental seal he has received (cf. Catechism of Catholic Church, nn. 1563, 1582), is the ‘property’ of God. The priest’s ‘belonging to Another’, must become recognisable to all, through a transparent witness. […] In the way of thinking, speaking, and judging events of the world, of serving and loving, of relating to people, also in his habits, the priest must draw prophetic power from his sacramental belonging”. For this reason the priest, like the transitory deacon, must:  [transitional deacon…]

a) wear either the cassock “or suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and legitimate local customs”; when other than the cassock, attire must be different from the way laypersons dress and consonant with the dignity and sanctity of the minister; the style and the colour are to be determined by the Conference of Bishops; [Once again, the default dress for the priest is identified as the cassock.]

b) because of their incoherence with the spirit of this discipline, contrary practices are bereft of the rationality necessary for them to become legitimate customs and must be absolutely eliminated by the competent authority.

Outside of specific exceptional cases, the non use of ecclesiastical attire may manifest a weak sense of one’s identity as a pastor dedicated entirely to the service of the Church.

Moreover, in its form, colour and dignity the cassock is most opportune, because it clearly distinguishes priests from laymen and makes people understand the scared [sic – just a typo] nature of their ministry, reminding the priest himself that forever and at each moment he is a priest ordained to serve, teach, guide, and sanctify souls mainly through the celebration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of God. Wearing ecclesiastical attire is also a safeguard for poverty and chastity.

As far as the local custom is concerned, as I have written here many times before about clerical dress, in these USA, the custom was – and I think still is – not to use the cassock as street dress all the time.  This goes back to the Councils of Baltimore which, while obviously no longer in force now, shaped custom in these USA. This is shifting among younger priests.  How quickly will this shift?  It is sure interesting to watch!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    So I’m guessing teal is not an appropriate colour? [I think not.]

  2. JBS says:

    Looks like a “cut and paste” from the old directory, to me. [So what?]

  3. John says:

    I am 52 years old, went to catholic school and have going to church all my life. I go to church to pray and worship and not for socializing there. But, just this last year, I went to a Dave Ramsey FPU course at my church hall at night and our priest was there in civilian clothes. I was surprised and a little shocked. I had thought there was rule that the priest had to wear his priestly attire all the time.

  4. capchoirgirl says:

    I LOVE the cassock, personally. I mean, yeah, I don’t have to wear it, but when I see a priest in it (or a traditional habit, if they’re part of an order) it makes me really happy.

  5. TWF says:

    I’ve noticed that YOUNGER priests are starting to wear cassocks, at least on parish property, in many parts of Canada now. I would love to see all secular priests wear the cassock at least at times.

    That being said, I assume religious priests are always governed by the norms of their communities. This is directed at secular priests? [Mostly, yes.]

  6. Mike Morrow says:

    This document seems very positive and would set things going back to the proper custom.

    However, I question the practicality of the cassock for normal daily wear. It’s very clumsy, especially for getting in and out of automobiles, even as a passenger. I found that out on many occasions as an altar server going to graveside services after a Requiem Mass, more than 50 years ago. [50 years ago? As an altar boy, no doubt. To that point: We, priests, generally have better cassocks. And when you live in them, you can manage just fine.]

    In the late 1950s and early 1960s in the two parishes with which I was most familiar, the cassock generally was not worn by parish priests except when in the parish church/school/rectory/convent area. Even there its wear was not universal at all times. Black clergy-type Roman-collar long-sleeve shirts, trousers, shoes, socks, and suit jacket were the norm outside of that area. In that sense, cassock wear would not have been traditional, as I experienced that era.

    Still, it’s very good to see the promulgation of documents like this one.

  7. jhayes says:

    TWF, yes. The USCCB policy (confirmed by Rome) is that diocesan clerics should wear a black suit and Roman collar [“clergyman”] – or a cassock at the priest’s discretion. But religious clerics should follow the policies of their institute.

    Complementary Norm: 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, clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling.

    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.

    In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit.

    [Cassock is the default, the standard, the norm. Other forms of garb are permitted exceptions.]

  8. iPadre says:

    Love my cassock. I find myself wearing it more frequently. I would prefer to be seen as a priest and not as a business man in a suit.

    It is a very clear witness. I have had many a person stop me in the market and other places asking for prayers and thinking me for being a priest and for being visible. I find that those who persecute a priest in a cassock are not the laity, not even non-Catholics if you get my drift!

    The cassock may not always be”practical,” it can be warm in the summer, but Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me.” And if it makes me a target, praise God, it will be my door to the kingdom.

  9. APX says:


    Our priest doesn’t seem to find wearing a cassock much of a hindrance to downhill skiing (aside that it seems to slow him down to only 80 km/h.)

    I don’t see how they could be anymore of a hindrance than women wearing long dresses, which as a woman I can say that I found it to be not difficult at all in climbing in and out of my dad’s truck in ball gown complete with hoop petticoat.

  10. APX says:

    I would like to add one thing about cassocks. If a priest is going to wear one, it needs to be tailored to actually fit properly. Otherwise, it just looks sloppy and muumuuish.

  11. acricketchirps says:

    Yes. The cassock not only distinguishes priest from layman, but Catholic Priest from Protestant clergy.

  12. Random Friar says:

    Well, we’re all “transitory,” spending but for a moment on this vale of tears…

    Now, the extraordinary cases where clerical garb might not be mandatory may be something like Bl. Miguel Pro, or changing the oil in the parish car.

  13. acardnal says:

    Thank you iPadre for your witness as a priest.

  14. Kerry says:

    More cassocks! More processions! Down the pantsuit, up the Habit! Viva Christo Rey!
    (And what a phrase, bereft of rationality; it will be very useful methinks. Heh.)

  15. Bea says:

    That’s so good to hear.
    I love to see a priest attired in the cassock.
    It not only shows he has put Christ first above any personal preference.
    It also shows the people that he is ready to serve and save souls at any time, at any place.
    Who knows how many souls have slipped through the cracks if at that precise moment the sinner was given a grace to repent if he had seen a recognizable priest at that very grace-filled moment and that moment could have been lost forever.

  16. Ed the Roman says:

    Regarding heat, in Orlando I was a singer and we wore cassocks.

    We didn’t necessarily have trousers or dresses beneath them.

  17. dominic1955 says:

    That is what I would do too back in the seminary. I’d wear shorts underneath with knee length black dress socks. I think it looks more like proper garb when you don’t have pants cuffs poking through at the bottom. When then do (especially if the cassock is too short already) it makes the whole ensemble look like a costume you just throw over your “real” clothes. Plus, since the cassock is real garb, wearing full length pants underneath seems to make about as much sense as wearing two pairs of dress pants. I suppose you could for warmth, but something like long johns works better for that anyway. I would wear shorts because then I had pockets for keys, phone, wallet, etc. Cassocks sometimes have pockets in them but, at least the way mine was made, if you had anything substantial in it the pockets would swing around and you’d end up sitting on things. I’d also use the fascia as a big pocket of sorts for my breviary or missal around school if I already had a hand full.

  18. yatzer says:

    Secular priests. My inner former Protestant always chuckles at that, as I had no idea what that meant. I do now, of course.

  19. Ed the Roman says:

    The choir cassocks had a pocket on one side and a slit on the other. The pocket was OK for a handkerchief. Not much more.

  20. Fr. Erik Richtsteig says:

    And there is wailing and gnashing of teeth in the ’70s.

  21. onesheep says:

    Exactly Fr. Erik! I used to love to see the priests in their cassocks. Even seeing them in their collars these days makes me smile. You don’t see that as often these days either.

  22. Netmilsmom says:

    If one looks ANYWHERE in the MSM, when they want to have a simple way to show a Catholic, it’s a nun in habit or a Priest in Cassock. It’s like our trademark, it shows our brand. Not just Christian, Catholic!
    I will never understand WHY we don’t want to show our brand.

  23. pjsandstrom says:

    There used to be a saying: “the habit/cassock does not make the monk, but it does cover a multitude of sins”. Nowadays, some would wonder reasonably what ‘multitude’ it is covering?

  24. Now the ordinary dress for priests in the Americas and in Europe is a clerical shirt (more often than a cassock) I wonder if this norm will be fulfilled like some other norms.

    Remember the Liturgy of the Hours (and the Ordinary Form Mass) are to be celebrated “in Latin, or in another language.”

    Just saying…

    Me: I found it very hard to find a Latin Liturgy of the Hours yet I wear a clerical shirt when outside my community.

  25. frival says:

    I remember some years back my then-pastor making fun of a friend of his who was in seminary and preferred to wear a cassock (and, in fact, now still does all these years later). He described it as a combination of cute, quaint, silly and not just a little ridiculous. Ironically now most of our young priests are frequently seen with cassocks and even some of our older priests don them from time to time. Tradition has a force all its own with which the spirit of accommodation just can’t compete.

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