Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar

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.)

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20 Responses to Forbidden to Wear the Roman Collar

  1. John Deer says:

    You aren’t ready to be a deacon yet because you don’t have a proper understanding of Holy Orders. You wrote, ” While there is no sacramental difference between permanent and transitional deacons, there is a very different charism and level of involvement between the two.” This is a defective understanding on a theological level.

    There is only one Order of Deacons. The notion a transitional and permanent diaconate being two separate things is actually not theologically very solid, and it is coming under attack by theologians.

    My own though on the matter is that it is appropriate for priests and deacons to wear clerical shirts when they are engaged in ministry, but I can’t really see why a deacon would want to wear it all the time, especially if he has a secular job. For example, I am not sure if it would work well in an office or school. For married deacons it might attract too much attention when doing family activities.

    So should they wear it? Why not, when it serves a purpose.

    One more thing… Keep in mind that your observations here mainly pertain to the North American context. The diaconate is perceived different in other parts of the world and there are various practices regarding ministry they do and issues like clerical garb.

    • You are absolutely correct, there is only one Order of Deacons. That is precisely what I meant when I said there is no sacramental difference between the two. But to say that they do not have a different charism and level of involvement is not a theological question, it is a question of what they actually do. That is clearly measurably different. There may not be a difference in the Orders they have been given, but the way that is lived out is very different indeed.

      Theologians may argue on this point, but the bishops are the ones who write how things actually work in the real world, not theologians. The bishops in union with the pope are the Magisterium, not theologians. We often seem to forget this point. This post was not designed to express my opinion, but to express some possible opinions of the episcopacy, especially as it pertains to why they seem to be resistant to permanent deacons wearing the collar. There is certainly a difference for them, as they often command transitional deacons to wear it, and forbid their permanent deacons to do the same. As it is highly speculative, I would not be surprised to find that I was rather off base.

      Personally, I somewhat agree with your opinion, as I have stated previously in Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?.

      One more thing, yes, you are correct about this pertaining to North America, and only the Latin Rite.

      • Deacon Joseph Biangone says:

        I HAVE BEEN A PERMANENT DEACON FOR SIX YEARS AND REALLY HAVE NOT GIVEN THE IDEA ABOUT WEARING THE COLLAR A GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHT. I HAVE SPOKEN TO PRIESTS AND SEMINARIANS ON OCCASION ABOUT THIS VERY ISSUE. I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY THESE MEN THAT MEN IN THE SEMINARY WHO ARE ENTERING THEIR FIRST YEAR OF THEOLOGY AND IN EFFECT ARE STILL LAYMEN, ARE REQUIRED TO WEAR THE COLLAR. IT SEEMS STRANGE TO ME THAT A LAYMAN CAN BE MADE TO WEAR A COLLAR AND AN ORDAINED CLERGYMAN, IN MOST DIOCESES, MINE INCLUDED ARE NOT PERMITTED TO DO SO. ONE OF THE REASONS THAT I HEARD THAT WAS GIVEN WAS THAT”IT WOULD CONFUSE THE PARISHIONERS.” I AGREE WITH A STATEMENT WHICH YOU MADE THAT JUST ABOUT EVERYONE IN THE PARISH KNOWS WHO THEIR DEACON IS AND CONFUSION SHOULD BE MINIMAL AT BEST. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE AREAS IN THE CHURCH WHERE WEARING A COLLAR BY PERMANENT DEACONS IS EITHER ALLOWED OR NOT ALLOWED AND BE SUBJECT TO THE DISCRESTION OF THE ORDINARY.

  2. Ken Ramsey says:

    In reading this article and several others on this topic thre is one question that never seems to get asked and answered. That is, Why don’t the bishops want and allow deacons to wear the collar. Deacons are always asked why do you want to wear clericals but not the other way round. It seems to me the whole issue is a bigger problem and stumbling block for the epicopacy than for the diaconate. In my humble opinion it shows a major flaw in the personal confidence level of priests and bishops than anything else.

    • Well, this topic has come up many times within the bishops conferences, and honestly, they just don’t want to deal with it. I think they just have deeply mixed opinions on deacons in general, making it very challenging for them to come to any kind of agreement. So rather than try to be proactive and create a common vision for the diaconate, they just leave it all up to the individual bishop.

    • Anonymous says:

      my diocese doesn’t allow deacons to wear a collar, even if it is their best interest to do so. for example some organizations require clergy to wear their distinctive garb such as jail ministry and hospital ministry.

      I have gotten so tired of this issue that I no longer wear my deacons cross. No body looks at pins any more than a name tag. At the last deacons conference I attended I wore jeans, tee shit and worn out tennis shoes. If the bishops do not want us looking like clergy, I take it one step further. I do not even dress like a deacon. My last sermon was done in street clothes.

      I think I made my point to the bishop last year when I did not wear an alb and stole at the Chrism Mass. I explained to my bishop that if he doesn’t have the honesty to treat us like clergy, then he has no room to expect us to behave like clergy.

      Needless to say, I am not his favorite deacon.

      • Anonymous says:

        Don’t do that.
        Esteem the position you have.
        God cares even if a bishop does not.

      • Anonymous says:

        God called you and it was God’s grace that raised you to the clerical state at your ordination. Act so as to be a beacon of God’s presence to his people instead of engaging in a public passive aggressive fight with your Ordinary!

      • David Oatney says:

        Were I your bishop I would remove your faculties immediately and without any hesitation. There are times when our bishop might make a decision with which I disagree. Okay…

        But he is the bishop, he is the successor to the apostles who you are sworn to obey. If you can’t respect the authority of the bishop and what he is asking of you, whether you agree with it or not, you certainly have no business putting on an alb and stole, let alone being given faculties to preach in any diocese anywhere.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Iowa is broken into four dioceses — three bishops allow wearing of the collar for deacons, one (mine) does not.

  4. M says:

    how sad when you say that you were making a point to the Bishop….at the chrism mass!
    Isn’t mass where heaven meets earth….you chose to also make that same point to all present angels, saints, purgatory.etc…

    My child always looks for dress to determine who is a priest or deacon….but your choice had mislead and misguided….I will pray for you.

  5. R.P.S. says:

    I am 58 yrs. old and have always wanted to be part of the clergy. I am married with 5 adult children.i read in the catholic sun the call for deacons. I serve in my church as a Eucharistic minister, work in the training of alter servers. Set up for mass. I am very hurt that my parish priest has told me that he does not believe in Deacons.that all they want to do is wear the robes and shash and be on the alter. I want to serve my community the sick, the dying . I want to continue to work with poor young people. I don’t understand why my priest would tell me not while I’m alive will there be a deacon in my church….

  6. Dan says:

    Wow, talk about judgmental. It’s really not up to you or any parishoner to decide who can be a deacon and who can’t. I suggest you trust the discretion of the bishop who will ordain this young man.

    One thing I never realized until these last few years is how judgmental some parishoners are towards the clergy, as if they are the pastor’s supervisor rather than the other way around.

    I just found this blog and find it very insightful. I commend anyone who is studying to be a deacon and pray that the Lord will lead him.

  7. Jim says:

    From my perspective only!

    My diocese suggests we wear clerics for official functions. Such as wake service, internment and so forth. That works fine for me

    Recently some dioceses have directed deacons wear grey clerics and a
    Deacon’s cross on the pocket. That prevents confusion when we are gathered with other clergy so the right title can be used if one desires to address another by title

    It seems to me that when the diaconate as a permanent ministry was again adopted by the Latin church, it was recognized that deacons live and work in a secular world. To that end, deacons as permanent deacons were Allowed To dress as the secular workplace would have it. That made life simpler for these deacons. And it should be noted too that we were exempted from praying the full liturgy Of hours. Again a effort to make life easier.

    Funny How these considerations were turned into prohibitions! Maybe the church has not quite shed her “clerical” attitude.

    In any event I’d. Bet most guys would wear clerics only on special occasions like wakes and so forth and perhaps at gatherings where other clergy Are gathered……. A nice sign of unity with our bishop.

  8. Here in the UK it varies. Most dioceses, including mine, allow it. I know that Liverpool does not I am not sure if there are any others. Some of my colleagues in formation, I was only ordained this year, where cassocks when they are going about “official business” I am not sure if this is a parish or diocesan requirement.
    I tend to wear mine on Sundays when I am preaching and am going to official meetings. I am in the process of ordering diaconal sweatshirts for use on semi-official business.

  9. robert says:

    In my oppinion and as I understand it a Deacon is sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and is a Cleric, and as such the Deacon should wear a Clerical collar, I agree in that there is a distinction in the vocation of a permanent and a transitional deacon, but they are both Ordained and they are both Clergy, why make a distinction in the dress of Deacons ???

    • Shawnbm says:

      Why indeed? One would think the Catholic Church would want the public to see more and more men in public announcing they are clergy. Who knows how many people, upon seeing the collar, think if God, say a quick prayer or engage the cleric? Put deacons in purple or blue shirts with a collar but let them say to the world that they are clergy. Why the supposed concern about confusion? These present teaching moments when someone confuses the deacon for being a priest. And nobody in a parish is going to mistake the priest and a deacon? Very few. Ordinaries need to have more confidence in their deacons and let them help bring more people into the church.

  10. Edward A. Hara says:

    Very interesting article for me, since I am hoping to finish my last year of seminary this year and be considered for the diaconate in the Byzantine Catholic Church. I had the same problem that you mention in your article — i.e., that of having a certain status in my mind when wearing my clerics to Liturgy. It was only after I had some heart to hearts with other men in the class and a couple of priests that I realized that we all fight this temptation to some degree or the other. The fact is that we, like all humanity, are fallen and the lure of pride of self is part of the residue of concupiscence in us.

    After three years of showing up at Liturgy (and Mass at my wife’s Roman parish) I have pretty much gotten over this issue (not entirely, but better than it was years ago).What I found interesting is that as I am getting really close to finishing the course, I find myself feeling less and less connected to the reality of being a deacon, even though I honestly believe I am called. It just somehow doesn’t totally seem real to me.

    I have to do a video of myself doing a mock Liturgy with my priest and I put on the deacon’s vestments last night to see how they fit and where they would have to be tucked up (they are way long and I will have to pin them up). It was kind of strange because I have been working so hard, and with God’s blessing have come this far, and yet I couldn’t connect with the man I saw in the mirror wearing the deacon’s vestments.

    Maybe that’s God’s way of telling me “Remember, you’re nobody special. Just point people to me and share my love with them.”

    Why would I want to wear the collar in public (if I do, God willing, get ordained?) Because it is a conversation starter and as a convert to the Catholic faith, I LOVE to talk about the faith with people. I want everyone to be Catholic. I also find purpose and joy in serving others, which is the heart of the diaconate.

    If you are reading this, your prayers for me and my journey will be appreciated.

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