Saturday, August 11, 2012


The cassocked one and the cassockedaphobia one:

Just yesterday I was having a conversation with two newly ordained priests. We were speaking about wearing clerics and that my parochial vicar, Polish Father Dawid Kwiatkowski wears his cassock on and off church property. It is his street clothes.

I mentioned to the newbees that many priests my age and old are "cassockaphobic" (the female counterpart rampant in female orders is "habitaphobia") because the cassock (habit) conjures up those God horrible pre-Vatican II days that the Church in her infinite wisdom erased from the face of the earth with Vatican II that created a new and improved Church ruptured from its despicable past.

Folks, I'm using hyperbole here, but there is a great deal of truth in what I am writing for I know that in the immediate aftermath of the Post Vatican II Church that the greatest insult that was thrown towards traditionalists or those who loved the way the Church was in pre-Vatican II times (and they are legion) was to be called "you are so-pre-Vatican II!)

But the following is Father Dawid's letter in our parish bulletin for this Sunday, August 11/12. It is simply beautiful, but don't tell him I wrote that as he has a big head anyway.

"One of the events in my life that I will never forget took place in 2004 when I was still at the seminary in Poland. Every year, by the end of the second year of formation, we would celebrate the Mass of Investiture. During that Mass, the seminarians of the second year would solemnly receive their cassocks, just like monks receive their habits. After the homily, the Rector of the seminary would be seated in the middle of the church, our families and friends would be in the congregation, and we, who were to receive cassocks, would come up one after another wearing suits and ties for the last time. We would kneel before the rector. And as I was kneeling there, two older seminarians would come from behind, me, pull my hands back, take my suit jacket and my tie off, then they would put a cassock that had been blessed, on me. the rector would say to everyone of us the holy prayer which entered my heart with a great force and decided to lock itself deep down there.

He said, "May the Lord strip off of you the old man, with all his deeds, and clothe you with a new man made in the image and likeness of god, in justice, and holiness of truth."

While all of this was happening, the choir would be chanting. I remember thinking about all of my friends and family, all of the people who came to this Mass, what a powerful sight it was for them to see their brothers, sons, and friends publicly admitting willingness change, and what a powerful call to conversion for them.

This celebration was meant to be a sign. After we got up from kneeling, we would all go behind the high altar, put surplices on and proceed out to the middle of the church to present our new "selves" to family and friends who came to pray for us. That was the first time I wore my cassock. We were commanded to wear our cassock everywhere, to get used to them and to show people that there will be future priests. Still today, my cassock reminds me that I have chosen to belong to Christ and His Church and that I am a sign of God's presence among His people."

Fr. Dawid Kwiatkowski


Anonymous said...

"A priest in a cassock has no identity crisis. As for the faithful, they know what they are dealing with; the cassock is a guarantee of the authenticity of the priesthood." - Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre


M. L'abbé Rafael Gonzalez said...

I am a diocesan priest in Southern France and I do not own a suit. I only wear a cassock. After the Nuclear Winter of the Council where you recognized priests only by how badly they were dressed, most people, especially those that do not practice, appreciate it that I have a clear identity as a priest.

Henry Edwards said...

I can't think of a young priest--ordained in the current millenium--whom I know that does not wear a cassock.

Unknown said...

I completely understand the sentiment behind Fr. Kwiatkowski. His experience is one which is unique to him in road to the priesthood.

I would like to remind everyone though that the cassock is not the proper street attire for priests in the USA. Just look to the Council of Baltimore in the US. It has simply never been the practice of the secular priest to wear a cassock out an about.

That being said, on Church property, whether it be his own assignment or the Church at large, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason why the priest should not be in cassock. That is the attire most proper to the priesthood.

All of that being said, I think that there is no reason why seminarians should not be wearing the cassock while in seminary. It should be standard dress for them from the moment they are accepted, while on seminary grounds. However, I also agree that seminarians should follow the same rule as priests regarding dress outside of Church grounds.

This should not apply to religious orders or to priestly societies, as they have their own habits and by laws.

I would have you refer to the Provincial Councils of Baltimore to understand my reasoning.

Off Church property, the priest and seminarian should wear the appropriate Roman Collar and coat. The priest should comport himself as a professional in professional attire. (Whether this be a suit coat or a frock coat is left to the individual).

These are my humble and obviously personal views, but I do think that they are based in solid tradition which is as justifiable today as they were in the time of the Provincial Councils of Baltimore.

Carol H. said...

Cassock, most definately!

Anonymous said...

Andy, I like the idea of following the rules, but I also like the convenience of knowing with whom I am dealing: when I see a priest in a cassock, it is a sign these days that he leans toward orthodoxy, if not Traditionalism. Therefore,it is quite a handy visual queue for the laity.


Joseph Johnson said...

I know you can't always judge a book by its cover but many people, including myself, often use clothing, and the way it is worn, as a way to "size up" or try to figure out someone we don't know personally. There have been books written about things like this to assist lawyers in jury selection.

I have also read accounts that surmise that Pope Benedict XVI has, at times, used clerical dress and vestments as a way to silently "telegraph" his attitudes about the direction the Church should go (the hermeneutic of continuity). His use of the camauro and ermine-trimmed pectoral cape, Roman chasubles, and tall, bejeweled mitres have been cited as examples (I'm waiting for the episcopal gloves, which he did wear sometimes as a cardinal but not as Pope, and the papal tiara!).

As to the local parish scene, things got so bad in the 1980's and earlier 1990's that it became more and more rare just to see a priest in all black clericals. Just the use of such a minor thing as the more traditional full detachable clerical collar with neckband shirt (as opposed to the one with the slide in front insert) was seen as a possible indicator of more traditional tendencies (my convert friend and fellow attorney, Jody Peterman and I used to tongue-in-cheek refer to the detachable clerical collar as the "true" collar). For some reason, it seems that when priests become bishops they begin wearing this "true" collar style more frequently (along with the full white French-cuff shirt).

The fact that we are, once again, even starting to see cassocks worn again is a very hopeful sign with significance which, hopefully, runs far deeper than a mere personal preference in a clerical clothing style. It is an outward witness to the world and a reminder of priestly identity to the wearer.

Jacob said...

The traditional priest receives the cassock at the tonsure ceremony. It is black to show he is dead to the world. It is a sacramental and is needed by our priests. When the priest dresses in the morning he buttons up the 33 buttons that represent the years of Christ on earth. He prays when he puts on the collar that he have obedience, he prays for chastity as he puts on his sash around his waist. These are constant reminders during the day to be chaste and obey his superiors. The 5 buttons on his cuff remind him of the 5 wounds of Christ. It is theological

Joe Shlabotnick said...

There's many a young priest who puts on the cassock, only to be scolded by his pastor and that's the end of that. Wearing the cassock will also get you drummed out of many American seminaries.

Thank you Father that you are not one of those pastors.

Rood Screen said...

The norm regarding the cassock changed in the USA just before I was ordained. Before that time, priests were not usually allowed to wear the cassock "in the streets". In fact, the US bishops tried to retain this practice, but the Vatican itself added the last line of the present USA 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."

Joseph Johnson said...

A few months ago, there was an interesting article in "The Latin Mass" magazine regarding the history of the use of the cassock and the predecessor of the modern clerical suit/collar combination. That predecessor outfit was called the "abito corto," (which I supposed means something like "court habit").

The abito corto consisted of a black saturno-like hat which had its brim turned up like an eighteenth century tricorn, black knee breeches and hose with simple buckled shoes, and a buttoned clerical style frock coat with the large eighteenth century style turned back sleeve cuffs with buttons, similar to the ones on some cassocks, as mentioned above by Jacob. I believe this style survived into the twentieth century and was still in use in some European settings during that time.

Anonymous said...

I really like Fr Dawid's reason for wearing a cassock. Our pastor wears one around the church as well.... not sure about out on the street. I think as a minimum, priests should wear their collars everywhere they go. I'm part of the Diocese of Salt Lake City now and I can't tell you how many times I've run into priests wearing street clothes and no collar, even in the church. I miss that about the Savannah diocese, I don't think I ever saw a single priest without their clerics.

rcg said...

I like it. When I would go to Washington I was not allowed to wear my uniform because someone might infer a political sponsorship of the military. I took an oath the Constitution and presidents and parties changed, so that is complete hogwash. PEople fear commitment in someone else not because of what you might do, but because of what they didn't do. The least I can do is say a prayer before a meal in a restaurant.

Joseph Johnson said...

For more on the "abito corto" and the history of the cassock, with period illustrations, see New Liturgical Movement, September 9, 2010 entitled: "Clerical Dress in the City of Rome in the 19th Century, Part I."

There is even a 1956 photo of Cardinal Ottaviani's "gentiluomo" (his gentleman) in a version of the abito corto carrying the Cardinal's red saturno.

Joseph Johnson said...

Similar (and contemporary) to the Catholic abito corto was the Anglican combination of "apron and gaiters." This was a kind of knee-length cassock-like coat worn with breeches (as with the abito corto) but worn with black knee-length gaiters over the tops of the shoes and covering the knee-length hose.

Gaiters, which originated as a practical and protective military legging and also dating back to the 1700's, fit over the top of the shoe (old-fashioned spats are derived from these) and they button up on the outer leg with a strap under the shoe. With the gaiters, such an outfit was more practical than a cassock for traveling out in the countryside in the days of more walking and horseback travel.

The Anglican apron and gaiters still are sometimes (though rarely)seen in English Anglican settings. I remember in the 1970's seeing magazine photos of the late Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Runcie, wearing this historical ecclesiastical garb.

As you can tell, I think it is pretty cool when distinctive ecclesiastical or military garb with a long history survives long past its original practical purpose into modern times!

Joseph Johnson said...

Correction, that's Anglican Archbishop Robert Runcie and the referenced photos must be in the 1980's.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss a post on why St. Joseph changed the alter server's cassocks from black to red? (I liked the black better.)