Rorate Caeli

The Cassock

From what used to be, until 1991, the official daily of the Italian Communist Party, L'Unità, founded by Antonio Gramsci in 1924:

The Cassock

The Church has been for quite some time strenuously defending herself from a media-driven movement that has turned on the lights on the phenomenon of the erotic activities and aberrations of the clergy. And it is not only about the horrors of pedophilia, but also red-light feasts, orgies, and clandestine sorties of every kind. Abandoning the cassock and wearing civilian clothes, many priests have gone from the sacred onto the secular in no time. I ask a friend who writes for this paper, Father Filippo Di Giacomo, if it would not be more appropriate, for him and for his jolly colleagues, to renounce walking around in civilian clothes and go back to wearing the long habit of the priest. It would not be embarrassing to wear it, on the contrary, it would be a sign of respect for the Catholic community and would even have the power of eliminating any ambiguity. It is hard to recognize a priest from a fellow in a shirt: we are in the presence of a deception, at least at the semiotic level. My friend Di Giacomo should throw his "lay" habits out of the window and launch an appeal to all priests in the world that it be forbidden to wear anything except for two cassocks: one of wool for winter, and one of cotton for summer. This will certainly not deter the truly possessed from eros, but will keep at bay the profusion of numerous, small daily corruptions. It is said, in general, that "l'abito non fa il monaco" ["the habit does not a monk make"], but it is not thus for the Church: the habit must make the monk. Catholicism, as other religions, lives off of symbols, of rites, of chastity, of foundational and unrenounceable values, of faithfulness to doctrine, of rigorous obedience to priestly rules. The cassock, at the simple sight, conveys to us all this: much spirit and little flesh. A priest who replaces his cassock with plain clothes gives up the spirit, as it were.  

August 15, 2011
 [Vincenzo Cerami]

[Tip:, via / Image: Eugenio Pacelli, Seminarian - source. / The article's author, Vincenzo Cerami, is probably the most famous living Italian screenwriter.]


Cruise the Groove. said...

Hear this Fr Richard McBrian?

Cossak said...

Yes, you have a point. How can you tell a Baptist pastor from a Catholic priest?

Ben said...

That looks somewhat like a young Eugenio Pacelli!

Anonymous said...

It was never the custom of clergy in the US to wear the cassock on public streets. Only on church property was the wearing of the cassock the usual costume of the clergy. There may have been an exception such as in bringing the Viaticum to a dying person, but even in that case the clerical suit was still worn more often than not.

With that said, I wouldn't mind seeing a Catholic clergyman walking through the neighborhood wearing a cassock once and a while!

David Werling said...

"How can you tell a Baptist pastor from a Catholic priest?"

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

Long-Skirts said...

"The cassock, at the simple sight, conveys to us all this: much spirit and little flesh. A priest who replaces his cassock with plain clothes gives up the spirit, as it were."


The power of the cassock
Is to lure
Like fishermen
To nets secure.

The power of the cassock
Ebony shine
A hull of hues
On deck Divine.

The power of the cassock
Anchors the man
Dead to the world
In his sea-span.

The power of the cassock
Weighted strength
Before the mast
It's linen length.

The power of the cassock
Sails your soul
To greater depths
From shallow shoal.

The power of the cassock
Captains' pure
The fishermen
Our land-locked cure.

Anonymous said...

You know many bishops in the United States regulate AGAINST wearing the cassock off the parish property...

How are we to deal with such blithe ignorance?


Anonymous said...

It should be mandatory that all priests wear a cassock.
It would only make sense.

Anonymous said...

Great quote and poem Longskirts!


shane said...

In Ireland, before the Council, the cassock was worn about the parish but rarely in public. IINM it is still technically illegal in England for a priest to wear a Roman cassock in public.

I have seen (presumably) traditionalist priests here wear it in public and thought it looked odd and over the top. A (different) traditionalist priest expressed similar sentiments to me and criticised the practice. As with most disciplines these things should defer to custom. (Traditionalist priests should just follow the disciplines and practices that prevailed in their locality before the Second Vatican Council --- otherwise traditionalism just becomes about personal choice and degenerates into something every bit as rupturist as neo-conservative Catholicism)

New Catholic said...

Shane, to you and others saying similar things: what matters here is not the specific clerical item, but the distinctiveness of it. If it is the longstanding custom in a certain part of the world for the priest to wear a different clerical garb (Can. 284), then the words still make perfect sense - the author is writing as an Italian, after all.

Naturally, the cassock has a radicalness about it that is quite remarkable, and remarked by non-Catholics. If the custom of wearing other kinds of clerical garb arose naturally, it certainly should be respected - if, however, it arose due to certain anti-Catholic civil regulations of the past forbidding it and that would probably never be invoked these days (or that, even if abrogated, were carried on out of inertia), or of preventative measures of the Church herself for fear of persecution, there is no reason not to revisit the matter.

New Templar said...

Ireland before the council can hardly be considered to be the norm if viewed in the context of the entire history of the Christian presence in our country. Personally I see nothing odd about wearing the cassock in public. I think the fact that Ireland has become a thoroughly anti catholic state in the last decade is perhaps what might make it seem so. I remember a Carmelite priest regaling me with the "its actually illegal to wear the habit in public" line and I took it to mean that he was happy that he had an excuse not to have to look out of step and "medieval". St. Augustine was of the opinion that all Christians should wear a distinctive form of address in order to be 'out and proud' as it were! Lets not be shy about being Catholic.

Long-Skirts said...

NC said:

"St. Augustine was of the opinion that all Christians should wear a distinctive form of address in order to be 'out and proud' as it were! Lets not be shy about being Catholic.:

I have one son who now is a Cleric and wears his cassock wherever he goes...yes, people stare at us when we're with him...I sometimes think he's a silent-rebuke to the world. Not that he's trying to make people feel bad but it's so odd how people come up to him and ask him what he is. Some just smile but others do frown and walk away. The best, though, was when our 12 yr. old neighbor boy who is Protestant and has Aspergers walked into our home and saw my son in his cassock talking with his brothers & sisters and the 12 yr. old came over to him and said:

"Wow, that's a cool casket you have on!"

Now, THAT'S being dead to the world!!

New Catholic said...

Congratulations, Long-Skirts! May he persevere in his call!

(But it was not I who said that, but "New Templar".)


Anonymous said...

New Templar, Could you provide me a a cite for this. Thanks.

St. Augustine was of the opinion that all Christians should wear a distinctive form of dress . . . .

Andrew said...

Medieval Catholics had an expression:

"Cucullus non facit monachum"

(The cowl does not make the monk).

The same could be said of the cassock. The cassock (or collar) does not make the priest.

Nevertheless, I was at an Opus Dei Recollection this week and I have to say that the cassock does inspire respect. It inspires both respect from the laity and I think it forces a priest to respect his high calling as well.

So, yes I think the cassock is something that should be worn, and often. However, we should be careful not to make an idol of the thing. Its the man's holiness and commitment to God that matters. Sadly, we traditional/conservative Catholics can sometimes be blinded by externals and assume orthodoxy and holiness because of cassocks or vestments. That is an error.

As for lay Christians wearing distinctive clothes...the early Church did not encourage this. In fact, the 2nd century Epistle to Diognetus makes that very clear. We are known by our love of God and neighbor, not our clothing.

Here is a direct quote:

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

Check it out for yourself:

Blayne Riley said...

Wearing cassocks publicly was quite common in San Antonio Texas(where I live) even to the 70's. I think the custom varied from diocese to diocese in the states.

New Catholic said...

Andrew, you did see that the expression was mentioned in the article itself, right?... I personally tend to agree with the author...

Alex said...

Nice Post, very interesting... quite surprising coming from a left-wing newspaper!

I agree with the opinion on the article. I simply cannot trust a priest who does not wear a cassock. Of course nowadays I can only find them in groups attached to the TLM... or during Opus Dei recollections.

GE said...

Agree in principle, though remember: the real traditional clothing for a secular Latin cleric is the 'habito corto': breeches, waistcoat and frock coat all in black with white shirt and Roman collar (this was the standard until the late 19th century, the use of the cassock outside church being considered very improper).

I know a traditional-leaning priest who habitually wears a modern adaptation of this dress: black suit with a black waistcoat, custom-made with a high collar to accommodate a Roman collar (thus imitating the top part of a cassock) Certainly is better than the dreadful 'tab shirt', and more practical than the cassock, yet still visibly priestly and dignified.

New Catholic said...

The "real traditional clothing"?... I do believe many clerics, up to the pre-Conciliar days, would be surprised with your sweeping statement - particularly in Latin Europe (and, by extension, in their former colonies), where some form of the "vestis talaris" was almost always uniform and universal.

Regardless of this, I hope this does not turn into one of those extravagant sartorial discussions on unessential matters.


Anonymous said...

The famous French bishop Jean-Michel Di Falco showing the distinctiveness of the clerical state while holidaying...

Mar said...

A lovely lady in our traditional Mass community calls it the cossack.

RR said...

Re: the habito corto:

New Catholic said...

It is most interesting that the last picture of that set is of the most famous Freemason Bishop of the Iberian Peninsula in the 19th century, a man who publicly despised all that was traditional, as it can be read in numerous sources - not exactly a repudiation of the vestis talaris, almost universal for centuries, as I had mentioned earlier, certainly in all Latin nations...

MCITL said...