Category Archives: Church Commentary

Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar

I had an interesting comment on a post I wrote a while back, “Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?”, and as that post is one that continues to garner interest, and his question was really good, I thought I’d take a moment to muse on it.

“…. I think you should ask one other question. Why don’t priests and bishops want Deacons wearing the roman collar? I personally could care less about the wearing of clerical clothing except it seems odd that deacons are most of the time banned from the wearing. I truly think the bigger question is not why does a deacon want to wear the collar, but why is he forbidden to.” -Ken (I abridged and added emphasis to his comment)

Why would a bishop not want his deacons wearing clerical garb? It’s a dang good question, and I think it deserves serious thought. I also don’t think the answer is simple, there is a lot of things to consider here.

The question has a presupposition in it though that I think needs to be addressed first. It assumes that deacons wearing the collar is a good thing and that a bishop should want it to be that way. I think this is a fair assumption. I think it is fair, because in the modern world, it seems natural to want to show regular folks that not everyone buys into the world’s nonsense. Clerical dress, like religious dress, bears witness to a life lived for Christ. It bears witness to the fact that intelligent people can want something more in their lives, and God is calling them to live that out in way that is so concrete, that it is a Sacrament.

A deacon has set his life aside in a very real way, and many assume that should be visibly apparent due to this idea of “witness”. There is more than meets the eye here though, and the bishops treading lightly and carefully is not a bad thing. Now I’m not a bishop, nor am I privileged with their thought processes, but I think I can make a few educated guesses as to why they are being cautious.

First, and I believe foremost, there is the issue of discerning the value and proper place of priests. This is obviously extremely important to the bishops, as transitional deacons, that is deacons who are on the road to priesthood, are required to wear the collar. It is only permanent deacons that we are discussing here. While there is no sacramental difference between permanent and transitional deacons, there is a very different charism and level of involvement between the two. Transitional deacons will be priests, God willing, and the scrutiny that they are under is very real and visible. Visibly marking them that way is clearly important.

Permanent deacons are not headed towards priesthood though, and I think this is where the main issue lies. In a world where priests are in shortage, often devalued, and often under attack, the idea of allowing deacons to have any resemblance to priests could conceivably damage vocations. If a deacon is wearing the same clerical dress as a priest, doesn’t that mean there is some equivalency? I don’t think any bishop wants to risk that idea becoming prevalent.

You see, in the Roman Church, deacons are really a rather new idea. Yes, we had them a long time ago, but in this post Vatican II era, we are still just learning what a deacon is. We are still establishing what this “new” role really is, how it looks, feels and acts. No one, deacons included, wants anyone to think of the deacon as a “mini priest”, and I think that the bishops feel allowing them to wear the collar would do just that.

There is also an issue of authority. The priests are all directly under the immediate authority of the bishop, and the bishop knows each of his priests by name. He knows their proclivities, he gets mail from their parishioners, and speaks to them on a very regular basis. This communication is not nearly as commonplace with deacons. Deacons are also under the direct control of their bishops, but they mainly report to their parish priests, and are off doing their thing to support their parishes. Without the bishop having that deep amount of contact with the deacons, I think they may be uncomfortable with the deacons having such free reign to speak for the Church, especially since they have so much less connection to the bishop and the institutional Church than a priest has. To put it briefly, I would guess they would say to themselves, “I’m not even sure who these guys really are!”

In fairness, they often really don’t know who these guys are. While I’m sure its a minority, I have little doubt that some men have gone through the process to become a deacon for primarily social reasons. All it takes is a few of these guys, and since the bishop has little contact with his deacons, he begins to wonder if they all aren’t like that to some degree. I’ve heard of bishops saying things like, “Men only become deacons so they can marry off their daughters and baptize their grandchildren.” Some probably have, and I’m not surprised that a bishop may feel that way, considering the low amount of communication between bishops and deacons.

I would bet that bishops don’t really see the value in their deacons as well. The parish priest does, I’m sure, but the bishop sees very little of the work a deacon does, as it is done in places and times that the bishop has little relation to. Bishops don’t often visit prisons, hospitals, confirmation programs, children’s religious education classes, marriage prep classes, bereavment groups, etc. I do not fault the bishops for this one iota, they have other important tasks that must be done, and can only be done by them. They are extremely busy men. They sure see their priests often, but they see deacons in action very infrequently in comparison. It’s not their fault, it is rather built that way.

Lastly, a friend of mine once quoted his old bishop as saying, “My deacons all want to wear the collar, and my priests all want to take theirs off.” Let me translate in my own words: priests want to be able to be anonymous, and deacons want to stand out. There can be a very real concern that deacons want to wear the collar for reasons that are not in line with the purposes behind clerical dress. Maybe the bishops are concerned that deacons only want to wear the collar to exalt their own status.

All of this tend to devalue the deacon in the eyes of the episcopacy. So for them to allow deacons to wear clerical dress in their mind, is to put deacons on par with the men they know, who have clearly and visibly dedicated their lives to the Church, for a benefit that they may not really see. In practice, I think bishops tend to see their deacons as unduly exalted laymen rather than their brothers working in the fields. I would bet in some cases, they can very right in this assessment, and that only solidifies that belief.

All that being said, I continue to stand with my position in:

“Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?”.

But then, I’m not a bishop!

(As a side note, I have never met a deacon that meets any of the negative descriptions that I have posted above, but sheer statistics command that they must exist. Also, I would like to repeat that I have never spoken to a bishop on this matter, and all of my thoughts as to why they might feel this way are 100% theoretical, and from my own musing on the subject.)

Notre Dame Letter

A friend was kind enough to pass this email to me. If you have the time, I would love for you to respond. I cannot tell you how important it is to respond to these attacks against our Catholic institutions, especially when the attacks come from within.

You won’t believe this…

The University of Notre Dame – a Catholic institution – is offering students “summer internship opportunities” at several notorious pro-abortion groups, including Emily’s List, Feminist Majority Foundation, and the United Nations Population Fund.

SIGN THIS E-PROTEST to get the internships removed

Your instant protest message will go directly to the president of Notre Dame, Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., urging him to remove every pro-abortion organization for the list of “internship opportunities” now being offered by the university’s Department of Political Science.

It is highly scandalous for a Catholic university to encourage students to support groups that actively promote the sin of abortion.

For example, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s mission is to support…

“safe, legal and accessible abortion, contraception, and family planning, including Medicaid funding and access for minors.”

Other pro-abortion, anti-family groups listed on Notre Dame web site includes Human Rights Watch, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, National Women’s Law Center, Center for American Progress, and Think Progress – ALL PRO-ABORTION.

In addition to its pro-abortion stance, Think Progress recently criticized Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, for defending traditional marriage.

Can you help me ramp up this protest?

Please sign your instant protest today – right now – here

And to give this peaceful effort much more impact, help me spread the word by forwarding this message to all your pro-life friends (or even your entire address book). You don’t need to be a student to participate.

With God’s help, the truth will prevail.

Fighting the good fight,

John Ritchie
Tradition Family Property
Student Action
, Director

P.S. – For more background information about this scandal at the University of Notre Dame, read this article. God bless you for defending the truth.

Contact information (please be firm yet polite):

The University of Notre Dame

Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Genesis is Only the Beginning

So in our deacon formation classes, we have a bit of an argument, and I thought it would be fun to air our dirty laundry all over the internet.

Okay, so it’s not all that, but we do get rather excited over this topic.

Is the creation account in Genesis historically accurate, or is it a mythological story designed to tell us more about our spiritual creation without attempting to explain actual events?

Now at first glance, you can see that this can ruffle some feathers. The implications to this question however reach even further, because how you answer this question puts a very different slant on the rest of scripture. Suddenly Job was never born, and Jonah never gets swallowed by a fish. This can even reach into the New Testament and make one question Jesus’ miracles.

This question is not a small one, and folks get really tied up about it.

I’m not going to tell you what I believe, nor am I going to expound the benefits and detriments to either position. I do however have a very serious point to make, and I don’t want you to miss it.

Neither view is the official teaching of the Church.

Yes, I’m serious, and both sides want to claim it is. But the truth is the Church has never defined the scriptures in this way.

Never. Ever.

In fact this question has been talked about by saints and sinners alike since the first century, without conclusion. Great men and women throughout history have held both views, so don’t go throwing quotes at me either.

I will add this too. The Church will not ever define this. Why?

Because scripture grows. It gets larger with every passing generation. It gets deeper, more full, and brighter. To close the Word down and try to shrink it to fit out times and thoughts is to try to stuff God Himself into a bottle. The Church will never do it.

So believe either with a free and open heart. Whatever you do, don’t criticize the other point of view as heretical or naive, as they are not. You can can be full of faith and love our Lord while at the same time believing in a seven day creation, or the majesty of God working through the mythology of man. It honestly makes little difference.

If it did matter, you can bet the Church would have defined it very clearly indeed.

You’re Such a Jerk

So I was looking over my posts over the last few weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I sound overly critical. I truly don’t mean to be that way. I’m not a jerk, I swear!

When it comes to the Church, I’ll be the first to say there are real problems. There are real, honest issues that we need to work out, both on a macro level, and within our our parishes as well. These issues are of such great importance that they must be looked at, prayed about and acted on.

That does not me I think it’s all doom and gloom, and that the apocalypse is on the horizon.

I don’t.

In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I feel that the Church is the one great hope in the world, and that what we are doing right far outweighs our failings. If you drive into any town, you will find Catholic hospitals, Catholic schools, Catholic charities. You will find Catholics feeding the poor, visiting the sick, ministering to prisons, raising their children, protesting outside of abortion clinics, in short, living the gospel.

We are doing so much, so very right, and I’m proud of it.

More than that, I am proud to know how many Catholics are doing this out of a sincere love of Jesus. In a world where Jesus has become a bad word, used to curse, and banned from both the office and any other public sphere, I am proud to see so many profess their love for Him openly, and backing it up with service.

I’m truly very proud indeed.

In fact, I would say that I am critical because I see so much good. For example, I am critical of my daughters because I see their potential. Are they doing a great job? Unbelievably good, without doubt. For me, that means I need to push harder, not ease up. I need to challenge them more, not less. They have shown what they are capable of, and I must call them to task.

The Catholic Church as an organization has had the single largest impact on the world, bar none. No one else can even pretend to have had half the effect on humanity. I think I can comfortably say that nearly all that effect was good. Have there been problems? You bet, but on the whole, I find the problems to be rather minuscule in comparison to the good that has been wrought.

So I think we as a people need to be held to task. We have changed the face of the world time and time again, and we will change it now. So if I’m overly critical, please don’t think I’m not quite in love, I most certainly am.

Plus, arguments are so much more fun to talk about.

Holding Hands?

I’m a touchy guy, I’ll admit it. I always love those Italian movies where folks are running around kissing everyone they know on the cheek as a standard greeting. I love to hug people, and I’ve got a pretty firm handshake. I like to touch people.

In my family, we are very touchy as well. I will be cooking dinner, and guaranteed, either my wife or either of my daughters will come in for one of my 5 minute hugs while I’m cooking up a roast. I just like people, and it just seems natural to share actual physical contact.

Not very American, I know. We like to stand far off from one another, and a far reaching, weak handshake is usually our norm. Often this is followed by a quick dip into the purse for our own personal bottle of hand sanitizer.

So be it I suppose, but that’s not me.

Holding hands doesn’t bother me. It really doesn’t. I like to hold hands.

When we get to the Our Father at Mass though, I’m not so into it. Don’t get me wrong, if someone reaches out and grabs my hand, I’m not going to jerk it away. I feel being charitable is more important than my own proclivities, but that doesn’t mean I like it all that much.

Even my own family does this. My daughters are the first to want to reach out and hold everyone’s hand, including my own, but I must admit, I feel that it is really bad communication.

When we all hold hands during the Our Father, what is it that we are saying by this action? What feeling are we trying to convey? I would argue that we are expressing oneness, or togetherness, and I’m just not so sure this is the right time to highlight that aspect of our being together.

Let me be the first to say that we are a community praying together, that’s why we are all here right? So if we want to hold hands, could we not pick a moment so near communion, when we truly become one? Let me show you how this plays out in my mind.

We all hold hand like we are at a girl scout camp out singing Kumbaya. We feel great. Then we kneel to let God know that we are not worthy, and we instantly get caught up into our own bubble. Then we are all rather silent as we go up to receive our Lord. So the togetherness is accented before communion, and our solitude is accented during communion.

This just doesn’t feel right to me. What brings us together, what truly makes up one is communion itself. We become One Body because we share the One Bread, not because we decide to hold hands. It just seems to place the focus just off center.

Again, holding hands is fine. Why not pick another time in Mass, like the opening hymn? Why the Our Father? I think it’s just too confusing.

If we really want to do it right, we should hold hands after communion, to show that what was separate is now brought together.

Don’t get me wrong, if you wanna hold my hand, I’m cool with that, I’m not going to pull away. I mean, come on, there is no reason to be rude.

If you don’t offer though, don’t expect me to.