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”

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37 thoughts on “Should Deacons Wear the Roman Collar?”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on what is such a hot button topic these days. I think you should ask one other question. Why don’t priests and bishop’s want Deacons wearing the roman collar. I personally could care less about the wearing of clerical clothing except it seems odd that deacon’s 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.

    1. That is a great question. Forbidden is a powerful word, and therefore it must have good reasons, right?

      I agree, I need to write a post about that. I’ll plop down later today and do just that.

  2. I carefully chose the word forbidden because that is what my Bishop wrote when he made his decision on the topic.

  3. While, I’m personally not much interested in looking like a priest after 19 yrs of diaconal ordination. There are, no doubt, situations where the collar would be beneficial to others.

    But what interests me in this issue is the insight into the mind of the Bishops. I mean, the FACT of the matter is that until there were married deacons, they had NO concerns over issues of either dress or address. And the forms were UNIVERSAL in the U.S. (Rev. Mr. and Roman Collar)!

    So, I do believe it speaks volumes about the episcopacy’s feelings toward married men (as that is the only difference here).

    Why? Well, why can seminarians (without a single minor order) wear collars ? Bishop’s have no concern that the faithful will be confused, etc. To say nothing of the multitude of various Protestant clergy wearing the “roman” collar these days.

    And sadly, this problem could be settled to the satisfaction of BOTH sides of the issue in a simple manner- select a non-roman collar for deacons (Paulist, Redemptorist, Christian Brother, Oratorian, Alexian, etc. Or develop a new one! I believe Atlanta uses the Christian Brothers/Oratorian model.)

    It would identify deacon as a cleric in major orders and specifically as such with no problems or confusion, etc. Not to mention deacons (who are not trapped in the parish sanctuary) are photographed doing all kinds of service in the community. It may be just me but I think the Church can use all the good publicity it can get these days.

    We CAN’T figure this out?! Or we don’t WANT to?

    So let’s create our own collar! Get yourself a black shirt with a regular collar and put your deacon cross on the left side of the collar (same side as your stole!). In the summer make it a black polo shirt. Get a nice suit jacket and “Bam!” something new in the great Tradition! Spread the word!;-)

    Just don’t waste too much time on this. It’s not nice to keep the poor waiting 😉

    1. Great thoughts, and I agree on all points. Heck, I don’t care what they decide to do, they can ask all deacons to wear a pink flamingo hat for all I care. I just think it does a great disservice to the People of God to not make the designation. Ordination is not for the man, but for the people, and that’s not much good if the people have no idea that a man pledged to service is standing in front of them, especially if that person is not a member of the parish that deacon happens to be stationed at.

      I think it’s time for the conference of bishops to decide what’s normative. Yes, of course a bishop should have the right to augment or disregard that as he chooses, but in my humble and irrelevant opinion, there should be a baseline for them to work with.

      1. Yes, and my REAL question and interest is Why Not? Why is the diaconate the ONE vocation that is the exception (Nuns, Priest, Brothers)?
        The only difference that I can detect is that we are married. Oh, and btw, last I checked that was a GOOD thing. Some even say it’s a sacrament! 🙂

        Oh, Well, God is always doing something new and the poor are waiting. Besides,the only looser in this approach is not the People of God, the marginal or the deacon. This hurts/undercuts the “hierarchical” concept of the Institutional Church and denies it some good will and publicity.
        See you at the Prison, Dance! ALL those people know are the deacons;-)

        1. I’m not sure I agree, I think the marginal ARE hurt by this lack of distinction. Those folks who really desire some spiritual help, but don’t know where to turn are more often found in the library or grocery store than in Sunday Mass. Ask any priest, and he will tell you people come up to him with questions all the time in his daily life. THAT is where distinction is valuable, in dealing with the marginalized, the poor, (especially the spiritually poor), and the curious. None of these people will talk to a stranger, but the collar opens them up, because they know that this person has been pledged to help them. The evangelical opportunity is so glaringly obvious I can hardly watch without being blinded.

          I totally agree with you on how this deeply undercuts the hierarchical concept of the Church too. It seems madness to desire nuns and monks to wear habits, but not men with Major Orders. Here we have a prime opportunity to show the world more men pledging obedience to their bishops in the public sphere, and we want to hide them under the carpet. I honestly don’t get it.

          1. I would say that in general, Christians do not have an obvious ‘boundary marker’ in terms of what we wear. Moslem women are easy to pick form a crowd – some to the point of a human rights violation. But the moderate ones cover their head. Jewish men wear yarmulkes (spelling?) but unless the already small number of clergy go out in cossacks or even a collar, the nuns may exist but I dont see them,…who are the outward signs of our faith? I would be happy (if I make it to ordination) to wear a collar and grey (not black). Any outward sign permitted would be useful And I dont say this for vanity. I say this collectively because I like seeing the police in cars with lights and in uniform. To know they are there. I like the same for the faithful.

    2. I was Ordained in 1998. I can enumerate countless situations where wearing “Diaconal” clothing could be enormously helpful to the faith. I personally am in favor of gray shirts with roman collar to avoid confusion between deacon and priest.
      One situation that has occurred numerous times when it is obvious that I am a deacon is that men ask me questions about what we do, how we recognize the call, what the process to become a deacon is, etc. I am sure that this can (and in at least one case has) led people to move forward in the discernment process.
      Furthermore, in a world that is increasingly secular, I would think it a ‘no brainier’ to have men publicly acknowledge by virtue of their outward appearance that they belong to Christ. I am a professional service provider. I am seen in public business situations all the time. Most people do not recognize the Deacon’s cross so there is no public witness that I am a man of faith to those who have casual contact with me. It is true that those who know me are already aware that I am a deacon so outward appearance is not important with them.
      I too believe there are a few who look for stature in their desire to wear the
      Roman Collar. That is a tiny minority though. The reality is that deacons received a direct and clear call from God to serve and answered yes to that call. What better way to fulfill that calling than by proclaiming to the world in our appearance, dress, behavior and service (not only in the church or while performing religious functions) but at all times that “I belong to Christ”?
      The funny thing is that there would be times when wearing clerical garments in the workplace could be costly to a deacon. It may “offend” or put off some who see the world thru a different lense. It could cost a man a business deal. That actually happened to me some years ago when some men in a business group I was bidding to facilitate objected to me as they thought I might try to evangelize them rather than simply provide the business service I would be contracted to perform. So in a very small way wearing a collar could be a way to sacrifice.
      When religious (Brothers), Protestant Ministers, Seminarians wear clerical clothing, why would anyone object to men with Holy Orders doing so? (rhetorical)! Oh well, this is only one deacon’s opinion.
      Lastly, we promise respect and obedience to our Bishop at ordination. So while I would be strongly in favor of deacons wearing a roman collar and grey shirt, I am most willing to follow my Bishop’s instructions on this matter. In the end it is his opinion that counts.

      Deacon Bob Duncan

  4. The distinction between the priest and the rest of us should be maintained at any cost. If I were a deacon, out of respect for the priesthood, I would NOT want to wear the collar. The deacon is a very special character who is one of us, and the humility of his simple dress is at once a lesson to US and a testimony from HIM. The great deacons that I know personally would be wounded at the heart to think that they might be confused with priests. With our merely-human minds, we can not begin to know the ineffable and divine character of the priest, who himself can not grasp it. One thing, however is for certain: Only a priest is a priest, and there should NEVER be any doubt or confusion about who he is. Thanks be to God.

    1. I get you. I really do. I even agree. However, I think you might be missing something of great importance. Of course a deacon should not want to be confused with a priest. He is not a priest. In the same way, a priest should never want to be confused with a bishop. A bishop is our living connection to the rest of the Church, the very source of Catholic identity. No good priest would ever want to be confused with a bishop. That real and deep difference does not mean the priest is worth less. Quite the contrary, the priest has deep, eternal value for what he is, because of his relation to the bishop. The same is true of a deacon. Should a deacon want the be a priest? Of course not. But he IS a deacon, and he IS clergy, whether he likes it or not, whether he is humble about it or not.

      You see, using your words, if the priest is not “one of us” then the deacon can’t be either, the deacon is NOT a really great layman. A deacon is an ordained man who has given his life in obedience to his bishop, not in the same way or degree as a priest, but in a way every bit as real, permanent and sacred as a priest. That misconception is one the problems with deacons not having a distinctive style of dress outside of liturgy, it blurs that reality. Bishops have pink hats and big crosses so that we never get them confused with priests. All I am saying is that deacons need an alteration of the standard clergy dress that clearly marks them as deacons.

      If your issue is with the collar itself, you should probably know that the collar has never been reserved for priests alone. It is worn by some monks, transitional deacons, even men in seminary who have not received orders, not to mention many of our protestant brethren in many different forms.

    2. I have never spoken to a Deacon who felt that not wearing the collar was an advantage. It is clearly a disadvantage. Deacons are a member of the Roman Catholic Clergy.

  5. Dance,

    Wonderful insights. Where are you in formation and when will you be ordained? I am less than 90 days from ordination as a permanent deacon (May 4th). In doing hospital ministry I can tell you that a collar would certainly be a HUGE help.

    Blessings on the path you are on and know of my prayers,


    1. Congratulations on your pending ordination! May God Bless your ministry.

      I am light years from that day, and the day keeps getting pushed farther back. At best guess, we are 3 years out, and we’ve been in the process for three years. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn patience.

      1. Good for you. In my diocese (Diocese of Crookston (MN)) the formation process is currently 6 years total as well. Deacon Candidates want great/excellent formation and our 6 years of study have been amazing. Hang in there Dance, your remaining time will pass quickly – sure did for me. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Blessings, –dan

        1. Honestly, The hardest part is constantly being asked how much longer I have, even by my priest! (I think he’s more excited than I am, he already let me know that I would be his slave…) I simply tell them I expect to be ordained before I become a great-grandfather, but there are no guarantees. You are right though, I just love our formation class, I get so much out of it that I cannot really put it into words. Already it seems to be moving so fast.

  6. Yes to all before me. I have done a bit more than create my own collar. I had made through Boric Religious Supply, long sleeve black t-shirts embroidered with the Deacon Cross on the left chest. I have for many years worn two shirts together, a white t-shirt then whatever. In this case a white t-shirt under my black long sleeve was a natural. The white t-shirt collar shows above the black collar.

  7. There have no comments and I wear my black shirts almost daily. My point has never been to imitate a priest especially at my parish however I do believe the shirt helps at the hospital.

  8. The Diocese of La Crosse seems to have the perfect solution. Permanent deacons are allowed to wear grey clergy shirts with roman collars. The collar opens conversations and allows the public to easily identify the deacon as a clergyman and the gray color helps the lay faithful distinguish between a priest and a deacon. I believe similar guidance is in place in the Diocese of St. Paul as well.

    1. It seems that the grey clerical wear for Deacons is becoming more and more common. Such an easy solution yet it is still being met with resistance by priests and bishops. I pray everyday for an understanding of why they resist accepting the married Deacon fully into the brotherhood of clergy. We should be their most natural and strongest ally. Hopefully more individuals will open up to the trend of grey for Deacons.

  9. Blessings from Boston. I am entering ( God-willing) fourth and final year in the Diaconate program here. This is a subject of much “off-line” discussion here. Formal messages for ordained deacons – “it’s up to your Bishop…ask permission on the occassion you think a collar is called for”. Bottom line: you almost never see a collar on a deacon here. I have heard many in authority say that any deacon’s clerical which resembles a priest’s is confusing and must be avoided- I agree. Off line many deacons say they welcome some “deacon-clerical” that avoids the black and white but is uniform. There is rumored to be a formal set of guidelines on all things diaconate coming this year- I think it would be welcome. Jesus said ” It’s not what goes in a man’s mouth that makes him unclean”. Conversely, its what we do as followers of Christ that will win souls, not what we wear. I think many believe for deacons at bedside, cell-side and grave-side, a uniform clerical may make sense…otherwise probably not. …back to the poor!

  10. 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.

    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?”

    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.

    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

  11. I am totally in favor of deacons (permanent or transitional) to wear the Roman Collar especially when involved in official ecclesiastical ministry. When I was a hospital chaplain of two hospitals, I was greatly assisted by two wonderful deacons, Deacon Leo Dunn and Deacon Charlie Clark. I have two terrific deacons in my parish where I have been pastor for more than ten years (Deacon Jim Rush and Deacon Joe Gorini). Whenever these dedicated men go the hospital, nursing home, prison, or whenever they teach CCD, RCIA, adult ed., etc., they should be wearing distinguishing garb because they are ordained clerics. A suit and tie does not do it. My diocese is 12% Catholic. Hence, most men in suit and tie are Protestant Ministers when people encounter them in ministry. I like the idea used in some dioceses where the deacons wear a gray clerical shirt to differentiate them from the priests. Once people know that is the common garb, they have no problem and no one asks for confession or anointing from a man readily attired as a deacon. These men are NOT laity so they should not have to dress like laity. They are clergy. The Eastern Catholic and Orthodox also have a tradition of referring to deacons as Father Deacon whereas in the Latin Rite we call our permanent deacons “Deacon” and address transitional deacons as “Reverend Mister”. The distinction seems unnecessary. Both are equally ordained and equal members of the clergy. I can see bishops restricting the wearing of clerical garb to official church business and excluding secular employment as most permanent deacons have secular jobs in addition to their canonical assignment.

  12. what a great thought process here guided as we all are by the Holy Spirit I am most of the way through the first year of the deaconate formation process.

  13. just finishing first year of Servant Scholl in the Boise Diocese; pray that I will be a sked to continue until ordination
    The Deacons in our Diocese do not wera collars; but the we have anew progressive Bishop so time will tell.

  14. The Cannon say that a deacon “should not be forced to wear clerics”. But when he does “he should wear black clerics as a priest does”. After permission from my Director of Deacons I wear clerics when I am doing vigils, grave side services, visiting the sick in hospitals/physical therapy centers, prison/juvenile center ministry. Sometime I wear gray and sometimes I wear a white cleric. However, I fell a deacon should be able to wear clerics at his discretion and not be treated as non clergy. And our bishops should follow Cannon law not their personal preferences.

    1. This question is not a recent one. It goes back to the beginning of the renewed diaconate in the United States. And actually, Shawn, canon law does not say what you have written above. Canon law (c. 284) states, “Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.” Notice there is nothing about the color of that garb or even the style of that garb. Then, c. 288 removes the OBLIGATION to wear “suitable ecclesiastical garb”. The reason for this is simple: if a deacon works in a profession (such as police officer or in the military) in which wearing clerical garb would be problematic, then he is not to be obliged to do so. It also leaves the decision about the wearing of such garb up to the regional episcopal conference (in the US, that is the USCCB). Our bishops’ conference has consistently maintained since 1971 that such decisions are best made by the individual diocesan bishop. In my experience, many of our bishops/dioceses have their deacons where clerical garb when engaged in public ministry, and others do not. That is their right.

      In terms of color, again notice that canon law is silent on that. Again, it is up to the local bishop. For many years in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, for example, we all wore black clericals. Then, a subsequent Cardinal Archbishop asked us to shift into gray clericals, as several other dioceses have also done. So, my recommendation is — if you wish to wear clericals — check with your deacon director and discuss it with him. It may be that an approach could be made to your bishop to revise his current policy. In short, Shawn, our bishops ARE following Canon Law when they issue such policy. Believe, all of our bishops have heard ALL, and I mean ALL of the reasons for and against our wearing of clericals! They make their own decision based on their determination of pastoral need in their diocese.

      God bless,

      Deacon Bill Ditewig
      Former Executive Director, Secretariat for the Diaconate
      United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  15. The only vestment our Great High Priest ever wore was a towel around his waist……it is not about the stole, the alb, the dalmatic, the collar……it is simply about service to and love for “the lest of these” His brothers.

    My opinion only…..i could be wrong

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