Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nice take on the whole "collar" thing -- by a priest

Check out this reflection by Fr. Francis X. Clooney, SJ.  He's writing about priests wearing clericals, and his observations relate directly to the same issue for deacons.

He outlines a number of interesting points, like this one:

  • I suppose all Jesuits know from early on that stories of the great Jesuit missionaries in Asia, who learned to fit perfectly into the local cultures, as it were incarnating in every possible and appropriate way. St Francis Xavier famously threw off his shabby cassock and dressed in yellow silk, to reach the Japanese nobles; Matteo Ricci dressed perfectly for the imperial court; Robert de Nobili adopted the saffron robe of an Indian ascetic, knowing that the black cassock would puzzle and repel. Or just re-read I Corinthians 9:22. And so too today: when on campus, dress for the occasion, fit in, that words and deeds be clearer, less encumbered, freer, direct and undistracted.
What's interesting for us deacons, of course, is how this resonates with what the US bishops have said about deacons' attire since 1971, that it is their preference that "deacons dress in a manner similar to the people they serve."

Again, you can read the whole thing here.  Good stuff.


  1. Respectfully, Deacon, I think there is a confusion here in the application of your example of the Jesuits. Those missionaries dressed not as regular folk, but as clerics or whatever the near-equivalent may be. Do you think de Nobili wore the saffron robe to look like the people he served?? He did it to look like someone who had set himself apart for service in a special way!

    Secondly, the arguments that apply to deacons should apply to priests, if they apply to clerics in general at all. So if we live in a culture where priests legtimately wear suits and ties, then deacons should also. But in the entire Western World, priests wear a type of clerical attire, usually black (or white in tropical countries). Deacons should of course do the same.

    Much more important than examples about the Jesuits is this question: What does the Church want her priests to look like? We have the answer from Canon Law, from the popes, etc. Whenever these rules apply to clerics, then deacons should be encouraged to follow, no?

  2. Dev,

    I just posted one of the points made by Fr. Rooney, so I hope you get a chance to read the whole thing.

    I highlighted this one point simply because I thought it interesting that clerical attire was adapted to be meaningful within the culture being evangelized. There are many ways to do that. Let me put it this way: many people who encourage distinctive clerical dress as a way to be COUNTER-cultural are on one side of the spectrum and we often hear that argument. But, on the other hand, there is THIS argument, that clerical dress can serve WITHIN cultural norms and not be counter-cultural. In this way, potential barriers to communicating with that culture can be reduced.

    It's just like most things: there are many ways of looking at the issue.

    If you have time, please read all of Rooney's article. You'll find he agrees with much of your position as well.

    God bless,


  3. As one of this topics most whole-hearted proponents I agree 100% that clerics shoudl wear whatever clothing is recognized in a culutre are "God-oriented" (for lack of a better term). I believe a good example of this adaptation (though not clerical) might be the way Mother Teresa adopted the Indian sari giving it a blue/white theme for Our Lady and added the shoulder crucifix and side rosary. Also I have heard (not verified) that Passionist Nuns in Asia often wear white instead of black because in Asian culutre white is the color of mourning (Passionists wear black to recall the sorrow of the Passion).

    With culutre in totally in mind I think it is extremely safe and correct to say that American of every denomination (or none) recognize a clerical collar (no matter what color of shirt) as designating a minister of the Gospel.

    As far as the bishops mention of deacons looking like the people they serve, I think the DATE of this comment bespeaks the reason. In the beginning my take is that no one really knew what to "do" with these restored deacons and their potential confusion as priests. Also consider that the climate of the culture/times even in religious life was to "dress like the people" (which has now been proven 39 years later to have been a fiasco for vocations).