From a reader…
In the United States, I imagine you would agree, it is not uncommon to see priests in very casual attire. Under what circumstances (if any) would the traditional modus operandi allow for dressing down (i.e. not wearing a cassock)? A private gathering of family and friends? The morning grocery run? Never?
The fact is that wearing the cassock out and about was not the custom for priests in the USA. The Council of Baltimore legislated that priests were not to use the cassock as their regular street dress, but rather the frock coat (like today’s suit). They wore the cassock around the parish grounds, church, campus, etc. So, right away, there is a slight distancing in US clerical culture from the cassock as daily wear out and about.
However, a generation of priests pretty much shattered decorum and quite a lot of the good aspects of clerical culture. Thus, today, younger priests are not plugged into the ways of their predecessors. I, for example, had the advantage when I came into the Church of being around priests who were quite a bit older, ordained in the 1940’s. In their company I picked up a lot of lore and their ways. So, even today I tend not to wear the cassock when out and around in the USA and I don’t sport a beard or jewelry, etc. Yes, sometimes I’ll have the cassock on when doing something, but it is not too often. Where I am, however, quite a few of the younger priests are wearing the cassock all day.
Non-clerical attire? Sure. If I have to wash the car or run an errand or go to the grocery store, I don’t feel compelled to wear clerical clothing. If I am in an informal group of friends, I’ll not dress in clerics. Or maybe I will, depending on what I’ve been up to before hand. I’ve also been using my “clerical BDU” style, of 5.11 pants and clerically modified shirts. Super practical.
We are getting to a point where priests probably should use the cassock when going around. It is highly counter-cultural. The witness could be necessary. I know that any number of priests will confirm that when you wear the cassock, quite a few people notice and express gratitude and interest.