Category Archives: Church Commentary

Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?

There has been a lot of buzz over this topic over the past few years. I think it is an interesting question. The way I see it, there are three major thoughts that need to be worked out, and in a specific order.

1) Can a deacon wear the collar?
2) Is the deacon allowed to wear the collar?
3) Why does the deacon want to wear the collar?

Can a deacon wear the collar?

This one is a bit tricky. The code of Canon Law is pretty clear on the issue.

“Can. 284 Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.

Can. 288 The prescripts of cann. 284, …….do not bind permanent deacons unless particular law establishes otherwise.” (abbreviated)

So we are called to wear “clerical garb”, but are not obligated to do so. Hmm. What is “”clerical garb”? Is that the collar? Wearing the collar would certainly be the local custom I think, after all, transitional deacons,(that is men ordained as deacons before they become priests) are required to wear the collar. That would satisfy as local custom, right? So the way I see this, permanent deacons are encouraged, but not bound to wear the collar. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not set any mandate out of desire to let the local bishop decide what is best.

Is the deacon allowed to wear the collar?

This for me is the first really important question. It’s easy to start spouting laws and rights, but if we don’t try to get to the spirit of things first, we are seriously missing the point.

A deacon is called to obedience. A deacon, first and foremost, should be his “bishop’s man”. It is our primary call, as it is him that we are called to serve.

So to me the question is not just does your bishop allow you to wear the collar, but does he want you to wear the collar? Does he only want you wearing the collar when you are acting as minister, or would he prefer you to wear it all the time as a testament to your clerical state?

I think we get so caught up in laws, we can miss the point.

Ask, and Obey!

Why does the deacon want to wear the collar?

If a deacon wants to wear the collar because he thinks he looks dashing in one, or because he wants to be deffered to, then he’s missing the point. I’m not going to pretend that doesn’t happen, but that is hardly the norm by any stretch, so I’m not going to go into it at any length.

Let’s be honest here. In any parish, almost everyone knows who the deacons are. Heck, we know who the deacons of all the neighboring parishes are. Yes, you may have the odd guest, or the parishioner who still calls the deacon Father, but for the most part, within their parishes, they are easily identified. But then, so is the priest. If the priest put on a red hat and a pink tutu, everyone would still know who he was.

So it’s not about identification by the parishioner. Then it must be about the identification by the non-parishioner.

An ordained man was not ordained for his own benefit. He was given gifts by God to share with other people. A priest should be marked, so that if those gifts are required, he can be found easily. I am going out on a limb here, but I feel the same way about deacons. Imagine you are in the library, and someone is really interested in knowing more about the Church. Any priest knows this happens all the time, because those people feel safe coming up to ask questions, his collar has marked him as a cleric. Would we really want our deacons to keep the gifts given at their ordination to themselves? Do we not want to be open to help those who need the consolation that only the Church can give? A deacon’s cross is simply not effective for this kind of outreach, only clerical dress can do that.

I am often frustrated by nuns and monks for the same thing. I feel that without distinctive dress to let people know that they are dedicated to the service of their fellow man that they cannot live out their vocations fully. They are to be holy, set aside. I would think deacons should be the same way by virtue of the Holy Orders they have received in trust for us.

I’ll be honest, I don’t expect this to be settled in my lifetime, but I look forward to the day when there is a standard dress marking a deacon as a deacon. I’m liking how some dioceses are asking their deacon to wear grey clerical only, I think that’s right on. I certainly would rather not be confused with a priest.


Edit: I have written further commentary on this topic at:

“Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar”

Progressive vs. Traditional

There is a war going on in the heart of the Church. This first year in the program has shown me better than ever how deep this war really divides the Church. If you are not privy to the nature of this war, let me spell it out for you.

This war is often seen as being split into two opposing factions, one being more progressive, the other being more traditional. I would argue that there is a third faction that in not as exciting, but equally important. To begin, let me try to explain the basic ideologies of the two major factions.

The progressive element of the Church feels the need to see the Church grow outside the boxes that it has historically drawn. It sees the Church as being a little old fashioned, and wants to see it give way on many of the big issues in the world at large. The more centrist of these individuals want to see a more friendly, community centered approach to worship, not unlike protestant worship services. They want to be as inclusive as possible. As clerics, this group often look to various scientific and critical views of theology and biblical studies. The more extreme view of this group see the need for great change in the moral code of the Church, especially in relation to sexual morality, (abortion, birth control, homosexuality, etc) as well as church dogma and practice, (Ordination for women, marriage in the priesthood, etc).

This group feels the Church has already gone to far. They feel the massive changes in the Church since Vatican II have been grave errors that need to be corrected. They want a worship that is more in line with the worship of the Church in centuries past, one that is more Christ centered than community centered. Amid scholars and clerics, they often hold more traditional views of scripture and theology, and are uncomfortable with modern biblical criticism. They hold a hard line against what is seen as the evils of the modern age, especially as involves sexual morality, and see the Church as needing to fight the current state of affairs with all Her might. They often feel historical church practice has nearly as much importance as formally stated Church beliefs, or dogma.

Nowhere is this war more apparent then in our theology classes. The clear lines drawn over subject matter or lectures given seems to be the prime content of most of the discourse between candidates, myself included. This last year we have spent less then 10% of the time talking about the content of our classes themselves, and 90% talking about whether or not these classes are appropriate, given each of our individual “political” bents.

Don’t worry, I will tell you where I stand, but first I must point out the severe waste of time this is in a formation program. I so deeply wish that we could find a way of not letting this be the issue. I would truly much rather talk about theology in Church history or how the Incarnation opened the possibility for the redemption of the world. I would much rather discuss how Canon Law works in practice then discuss whether or not any individual law is appropriate. I hate feeling like I’m in a political seminar.

Okay, I know you have been waiting patiently, so I will put in my two cents.

There is a third party to this conflict, and it is in that party that I stand. It is often confused with the traditional group because of it’s hard stance on Church teaching, but it is not. I believe the Church hangs, not unlike Christ on the Cross, between these two differing views. Yes, the Church does care about the individual, and is open to science and biblical criticism. My goodness, our Holy Father has even written a book about it, “Jesus of Nazareth”.  (A must read by the way, it is incredible!) That does not mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater though.

The Church has held tight to beliefs that were handed down to us, and we cannot just let them go to suit the modern fancy either.  The Church holds strong to sexual morality, because She loves us, and the morality she teaches is true.

So to put it plain, I stand with the Church, dead center. If the Church says no, I say no, if it says yes, I agree completely. I am your full on, pope loving, rosary toting, (confession attending!) Catholic.

I will admit that I lean traditional where given the choice, but never at the expense of being at disagreement with the Magisterium. Would I attend a Latin Mass? Yup, sure would. Am I upset at folk music at Mass? Nope, not as long as I don’t have to listen to it. The Church allows this expression, and so I have no problem with it.

I do not however bend on that which the Church does not bend. I am firmly against, and have no problem wearing my sandwich-board to protest, abortion, birth control, pornography, homosexual “marriage”, or any other such issues that degrade the humanity of men and women. I also will do the same to stand against abuse of the poor by those in power, for the rights of the working man and for equality among different races and sexes.

So there you go. Now I firmly wish that would be the end of it, but the truth is, this is the battle of our time. This topic will have to be broached again and again. Now I am sure that I will be hung on the cross for what is true, but in that, I’m in good company.