Further Reflections on Clerical Dress for Deacons

Further Reflections on Clerical Dress for Deacons

Once and a while, you get lucky. So when a former key staffer for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops takes the time to comment on your blog, a simple thank you isn’t enough. Deacon William Ditewig, Ph.D. was kind enough to share these thoughts on my posts, Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar, and Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar. Deacon Dietwig has authored ten books on the diaconate and lay ministry, and served as the head of the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Diaconate. His thought’s follow:

Lots of great thoughts here. If I may add my own two-cents’ worth?

This question is, first of all, not a new one. All the way back to 1968 when the US bishops first sought permission to renew the diaconate here in the United States, this was discussed. Remember that back then, the medieval “cursus honorum” was still in place with tonsure admitted a man to the clerical state, then the four minor orders, then the major order of subdeacon, and then the diaconate. Our first permanent deacons in this country went through all of that, since it didn’t go away until 1972! So in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, for example, we have some wonderful pictures of our first permanent deacons (ordained in 1971) wearing cassocks, collars and all the assorted vestments associated with the time. The collar, however, remained a sticking point, even from the beginning.

Baltimore's First Deacons

Baltimore’s First Deacons

The first negative experiences back then WERE based on confusion. The original permanent deacons in the early 1970s were actually considerably younger than many of our current ordinands: the age at ordination has been rising steadily over the decades. So, you had transitional deacons AND permanent deacons, both of whom could look quite young, out and about doing ministry. There WERE times when both sets of deacons would have to explain that they were not priests and couldn’t hear someone’s confession, and so forth.

But there’s something more significant at play here. I served for a number of years on the USCCB Staff, and one thing that I learned very clearly was that the bishops of a country — ANY country — do not like to generate particular national law whenever they can avoid it. The like to keep as much autonomy as they can so they can adapt things to the specific and very concrete needs of their diocese. This approach applies to ANYTHING, not just “deacons in collars.” Now, suppose there was a national policy that required deacons to wear collars. OK, fine. Got it. Now, imagine you’re a deacon in a remote diocese in the State of ________. There, the diocesan practice for the priests is that when they gather for anything outside of Mass, they are NOT in clericals. Then, here comes the deacon, following national law, and he’s the only cleric around who is. Who will be confused now? See, there’s no national law or practice on what PRIESTS are to wear either! The practice of wearing collars didn’t really catch on till the 20th century. Clerical attire is simply supposed to be “distinctive” attire, and it’s really only custom that has led to what we now have. So, bishops reasonably ask, “Why, when we don’t have a national law or policy on what our priests are supposed to wear, should we have one for deacons?”

Casual Priest Retreat

Casual Priest Retreat

During the preparation of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, one bishop recommended that the questions of “what deacons wear” should be determined by the bishops of each of the 15 episcopal regions (there are 14 geographical regions, plus one “region” for the Eastern Catholic Churchs). This got hooted off the floor very quickly. As one bishop told me later in the hallway, “We can’t decide by regions on what day to celebrate the Ascension? How would we ever decide what kind of shirt our deacons are wearing?”

The wearing of the grey clerical shirt (what we used to refer to for many years as “the St. Louis model,” because it seemed to originate there many, many years ago) is one way to go, but since many priests and other ministers of other faiths also wear multi-colored clericals, they don’t, ultimately, help all that much. Over the years, many designs have emerged. I would say that in my six years or so at the Conference, a new one would arrive about once a month. One was even a kind of clerical “dickie” that had a vertical stripe in the middle of the collar. Another was a collar without a notch; this was quickly vetoed by the bishops, however, because of complaints by many religious brothers who wear that kind of collar with their habits.

Colorful Collars

Seriously, after twenty-three years as a deacon, I’ve encountered every reason there is to wear a collar, and every reason why not to. Yes, I believe deacons should be readily identifiable as deacons of the Church in service to others. I also don’t like the fact that non-ordained seminarians wear clericals without question. That’s why I’ve always liked the policy that we have in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and which I’ve recommended to many bishops around the country: “If in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so.”

All I can say is, “Hang in there; there are more important things to worry about!”

God bless,

Deacon Bill Ditewig

A little update

A little update

I am a writer. I cannot help but write. It has been so frustrating trying to find a way of processing my experience that doesn’t include writing publicly. Not only that, I really miss the questions and comments from this online community. It really helped me work through what I am going through.There can beContinue Reading

Not Quite Farewell

Not Quite Farewell

If you follow my blog at all, you may have noticed that my posts have been nearly absent all summer. There is a reason, and I suppose it is high time that I share it with you. I had the good fortune of having my formation director over for dinner a couple months ago, andContinue Reading

Keeping Evil At Bay

Keeping Evil At Bay

It’s been a really rough few weeks, and I’m sorry I haven’t posted. We went on vacation to see my wife’s family for a couple weeks, and while we were away, the Lord blessed us by finally closing escrow our our new home. So you know that feeling when you get home from vacation thatContinue Reading

Southern Hospitality

Southern Hospitality

So this week I am in Mississippi, visting my wife’s family. It is always such a culture shock for me to make my way to the south, because as a native Californian, there is so very little I have in common with the people down here. You see, where I am from, to say “YesContinue Reading

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

I am pro with my scapular. Yes, many faithful Catholics wear the scapular, and I am ever so proud whenever I see it creeping up someone’s back, or I see it hanging out of a child’s shirt. But let me ask you this, how quickly can you knot it so it won’t fall off whileContinue Reading

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award

There are few blogs that I follow regularly, in fact, there are less than ten. So when one of my personal favorite bloggers sends me a recognition of some kind, I can’t help but be thankful for the notice from someone I personally read so regularly. You see, I’m a homeschooling father, and to beContinue Reading

Supreme (Court) Frustration

Supreme (Court) Frustration

I have been pretty quiet over the last couple weeks, I just haven’t been inspired to write. It’s not that there haven’t been issues to write about, I just haven’t felt that there was anything that I really needed to say. I do however feel it is my duty to write something about the decision rendered byContinue Reading

Power of the Apostles

Power of the Apostles

I cried this weekend. I wasn’t bawling or anything, I just got really teary eyed, and couldn’t help myself.  I was just too affected. This weekend, we had a Mass for a congregation of sisters. It was their 100th year Jubilee, and so was a very big deal. It was amazing to see so manyContinue Reading

Reverend Know-It-All

Reverend Know-It-All

Oh Wow. I just read the best article on religious education that I have read in a long, long time. I’m not usually one to shamelessly plug someone else’s articles, but you seriously need to check this out now. Here is a short excerpt to wet your appetite. “In order to commit a mortal sin,Continue Reading