Sunday, May 2, 2010

Clothing and Caste

So, Fr Z recently wrote a long rant emphasizing how priests are "supposed to" wear clerics basically all the time (except during messy activities or whatever) and went on about how it's true even when the priest isn't "on the job" because of the permanent ontological character, blah blah blah...

There are lots of reasons I totally disagree with this and find the mentality clericalist and troublesome.

I agree with priestly clothes for priestly duties. I agree the consecrated religious should usually always wear their habit (but they would also ideally be living out of the secular world, in community). And certainly a priest should never wear a suit or shirt-and-tie to formal functions because he already does have his own type of formal-wear.

But those young or traddy priests who insist on wearing a cassock even just to the grocery store or whatever...strike me as totally affected and quite possibly crazy.

If I were a priest, I'd wear a cassock for liturgical functions and for black- or white-tie events. I'd wear the clerical suit (or just a clergy-shirt in hot weather, perhaps) for hospital and home visits, at official meetings and around the office, while teaching or ministering, or for other functions when a suit or at least shirt-and-tie would be called for on a layman. In other words while "on the job" as a public figure representing the Church.

But when it comes to his down-time, his off-hours, his vacations (which secular priests do get), in other words his casual secular activities as a private individual…I wouldn’t be all surprised or freaked out if a priest wasn’t wearing clerics anymore than a deacon. Secular clothes on a secular priest for secular activities doesn’t sound like a big deal to me, in fact I'd probably expect that during his casual time as a private individual (of which secular priests do get quite a bit).

The apologists for constant clerical garb (which may even technically be the current official regulation, though thankfully largely treated as very flexible) emphasize the permanent ontological change in a priest and the need to be a witness or constantly available to people, etc.

But I don't buy it. Permanent deacons are just as much clerics, and have just as indelible a character, and yet they aren’t expected to wear clerics all the time (in fact, in some places they are positively not allowed to). Baptism and confirmation give an indelible character too, but we aren't expected to wear our baptismal white robes all the time. Doctors are sometimes called upon to save lives in an emergency, but they aren't always in a uniform.

And while the public witness aspect might indeed be nice, I think trying to require it (like mandatory celibacy) is again making the perfect the enemy of the good, is another example of the authoritarian mindset whereby they try to legislate nice but non-essential side-effects into existence. Being able to give reasons why something is good is not sufficient reason for mandating it.

As much as certain trads and neocons would like to imagine, the clergy is not a separate social class anymore. It is not a separate caste, there is no First Estate as this isn’t Christendom anymore.

The model of the priesthood as a full-time caste with all sorts of markers of otherness and separation from normal people (like institutional celibacy, special clothes and haircuts, and the boarding-school seminary environment)…is simply incongruous with secular society today, and part of the clericalist mentalities that led to the cover-up of the child abuse and the out-of-touch world of the secular clergy.

The secular priesthood must adopt the model of volunteer permanent deacons. The secular clergy is not a separate caste anymore. Religious living out of the world are a different question, but the secular clergy need to integrate into secular society, not pretend like we still live in a world where they are a special social class. That world simply doesn't exist anymore.

10 comments:

cor ad cor loquitur said...

I agree with you. And I don't know why Fr Zuhlsdorf opens these "debates", since he and his claque invariably squash any disagreement with his opening thesis.

I do think that "clericalism" has become a stick for each side to beat the other with. Traddies say that extraordinary ministers of holy communion are an example of "clericalism" because laypeople are trying to act like priests. Libruls say that the priest who wears a cassock to the grocers is "clericalist" because he's trying to set himself apart from the laity. Maybe the word isn't all that useful anymore...

There does seem to be a generational divide. In the community of Jesuits I work in, it's the younger priests who are almost always in clericals; the older ones wear them on Sunday and when performing pastoral functions, but otherwise slip into "civilian" clothes or at least remove their white collars...

Tony said...

Looks like Fr. Z had a field day with your comment. haha

A Sinner said...

Well, what did we expect? It shows the depths of the problem with the priesthood right now though.

The Exceptionalism those people seem to believe a priest is priveleged to (and the disparaging of deacons to the point of one priest claiming deacons don't experience an ontological change when they most certainly do receive an indelible Character) is absolutely mind-boggling but also, sadly, not surprising at all.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

I think I'm gonna go on record here and just say flat-out that I don't agree with the whole "all clerics, all the time" schtick.

I do support wearing clerics most of the time, particularly when "on the job," which would probably be about 85% of the time. But (and I speak from experience here) the reality is that there are places where you can do the most work without wearing a collar, because the collar carries with it a load of baggage and prejudices that will stop people from listening to you before you so much as open your mouth. In this case, I think that the argument for "making oneself available" is seriously flawed.

As for me, I tend to wear my collar when going on ecclesiastical business, particularly when meeting people for the first time. Around my own church, though, I don't wear it as often as I should, largely because they all know who I am (I've been friends with 90% of my current congregants for several years), and it's not like they're not going to see me in full vestments saying Introibo ad altare Dei a few minutes later, anyway. So I'd say that my approach is largely situational.

Btw, as for the priest who said the diaconate does not possess an indelible character, I would accuse him or formal heresy. He was taught better than this in seminary, hence he has no excuse. That, and it also irks me, because it calls into question what he might be feeding his flock regarding other matters.

A Sinner said...

I might accuse him too, but just to make sure we're dotting our i's and crossing our t's before making such a claim, I will point out that his exact words were:

"In addition, there is no ontological change upon receiving the diaconate as there is with priesthood."

I can't see this as anything but a grave misunderstanding used to support an elitist view of priests-on-a-pedastal.

But he might try to weasel into arguing that "ontological change" isn't the same as "indelible character" or something like that.

What's clear is that these men have been convinced that they are "special" and set-apart and have eaten that up with their itching ears.

It's priestly Pride plain and simple.

cor ad cor loquitur said...

Most of the comments in Fr Z's combox are dreck, plain and simple.

I wonder whether the poster who claimed that deacons aren't ontologically changed was thinking of the recently released motu proprio, Omnium in Mentem which says that deacons do not receive the power to act in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head) but rather vim populo Dei serviendi in diaconia liturgiae, verbi et caritatis -- the power to serve the people of God in a servant-ministry [diaconia] of the liturgy, of the word and of charity.

An ontological change, of course, but of a different character than in ordination to the presbyterate.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

Good point, and I'm glad you posted the priest's exact words; it helps to give context.

I would say that this is why I've never been too comfortable with the term "ontological change," though. It's not specific enough (e.g. you mention the possibility of it being weasled into "not the same thing as the 'indelible character'"). In either case, the character of the diaconate isn't the same as the priesthood, so I take back what I said about formal heresy and humbly apologize.

However, I still can't see how pointing out the difference in sacramental character between the two Orders has any bearing on whether one should be allowed and/or required to wear clerics. A cleric is a cleric, period. But then, I've never been one for "priestly Pride plain and simple," either.

A Sinner said...

Yeah, still I would argue that ANY indelible character imprinted is by definition an "ontological change"...and as you say, I don't see why a priest should have to be always in clerics even when not doing priestly things when a deacon doesn't have do even when he IS doing diaconal things usually.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

Very true, an indelible character is a kind of "ontological change," but not every ontological change is necessarily an indelible sacramental character. The only thing I was talking about was the potential for wiggle room (which is only my personal discomfort which I'm not trying to impose on anyone else, sorry if I came off that way); other than that I really think we're on the same page.

Btw, I gave an anecdote related to this thread on my blog. Wasn't sure if it was appropriate to post here.

Michael Lechowicz said...

Well, then, you would make a great Jesuit. I've been telling you for "ages."