From the Pastor: To Die For Wearing A Cassock
The other day I had to look up something in Canon Law (Church Law) to answer a question about the proper attire for priests and religious. Canon 669, under the section specifically dealing with religious, has two subsections. “§1 As a sign of their consecration and as a witness to poverty, religious are to wear the habit of their institute, determined in accordance with the institute’s own law. §2 Religious of a clerical institute who do not have a special habit are to wear clerical dress, in accordance with canon 284.” So Religious Brothers, Sisters, and Priests must wear a habit unless their order does not have one, in which case they are to wear the attire that their Bishop’s Conference determines is proper. Secular clergy have their own rules spelled out in Canon 284, which states, “Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and legitimate local custom.” Furthermore, Canon 288 establishes that, “Permanent deacons are not bound by the provisions of cann. 284..., unless particular law states otherwise.” So, as far as I can tell, permanent deacons can wear clerics or lay attire as they see fit. After reading these laws, the question naturally arises, “What has our Episcopal Conference determined to be the norm for priests and religious?”
I found that answer on the USCCB website under a heading simply labeled, “Canon 284 - Clerical Garb”. Here is what they determined to be proper:
On November 18, 1998, the Latin Rite de iure members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved complementary legislation for canon 284 of the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States. The action was granted recognitio by the Congregation for Bishops in accord with article 82 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus and issued by decree of the Congregation for Bishops signed by His Eminence Lucas Cardinal Moreira Neves, Prefect, and His Excellency Most Reverend Franciscus Monterisi, Secretary, and dated September 29, 1999.
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.
As President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hereby decree that the effective date of this decree for all the Latin Rite dioceses in the United States will be December 1, 1999.
Given at the offices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, on November 1, 1999.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston
Reverend Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr
I write this today to remind you that just because I wear a cassock doesn’t mean that all priests must do the same. Although I am within my rights to wear it, I am neither “the norm” nor “abnormal”! For secular priests (and religious priests whose orders have no habit), “a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire.” Not to be too picky, but notice that a suit is the norm, not just a short sleeve shirt with a collar! Therefore, please don’t look askance at any priest just because he doesn’t wear a cassock. On the other hand, don’t let anyone berate a priest for wearing one, as if he was breaking Church law, either! But for those priests and religious who wear neither habit nor collars, at least give them a good-natured poke in the ribs!
I put this out the week before the May 29 feast day of Rolando Rivi, one of my favorite Blesseds. It has been a few years since I last wrote about him, and many of you may not know who he is. In short, he was a young Italian boy who wanted to be a priest. He was in seminary for that purpose and wore his cassock with honor, as it showed that he was dedicating his life to Jesus Christ. In 1945, at the age of 14, he was beaten and shot to death by communists, who targeted him simply because he wore his cassock. In their words while killing him they showed their hatred of all that Rolando held dear, "Tomorrow one priest less." He died praying for his father and mother. On April 4, 2001, a young boy was cured of leukemia through his intercession, leading to his beatification. I encourage you to find out more. And may his story inspire the boys and young men of our parish to desire the priesthood with such relish, even if they decide to wear a black suit and Roman collar instead of a cassock! Blessed Rolando Rivi, pray for us.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka