The Origin of the Obligation: Codicial and Recent Discipline, Governing Legislation from the Conference of Bishops

in the United States of America, and Particular Legislation

in the United States of America




The Catholic Church's legislation on clerical attire displays great consistency in teaching almost from the beginning of her legitimized public status.  In the very early part of this development, however, it is necessary to note that Pope Celestine I (422-432 AD), in a disciplinary letter to the churches of Gaul seems to provide an example of discordant legislation. He reprimanded the clergy for taking up a particular way of dressing differing from that of the laity, whereas clerics are to be known «by their doctrine, and not by their dress; by their lifestyle, not their by habit; by the purity of their minds, not by the elegance of their clothing».[1]  While the Pope rejected the wearing of a distinctively clerical style of dress, nevertheless he does emphasize one of the elements upon which the Church's later discipline concerning clerical attire would be based: the need for clerics to always dress simply.  That the Church was yet to undergo a deepening appreciation of clerical attire should not be cause for great surprise, especially due to the time frame of Pope Celestine's letter.  After all, the Church was only then becoming accustomed to her public acceptance in society; up to the generation preceding Pope Celestine all that she knew was persecution or the threat of a return to it.

In fact, it may be demonstrated that in other areas of Church discipline as well something similar occurred.  For example, concerning the Church's mandating of a public canonical form for matrimony and forbidding the celebration of clandestine marriages except for grave reasons, the Church only by degrees came to see that the public nature of marriage necessitated a public celebration in order to establish clearly the fact of marriage between two people and thereby effectively root out potential problems which might arise due to uncertainty over whether a couple were indeed married.  This evolution continued for centuries and was only mandated by the Decree Tametsi of the Council of Trent[2]. Clerical attire, likewise, came to be valued more and more as clerics increasingly became a part of society, the aim being that their deportment, including the entire manner of their dress, be fitting to one in the clerical state. 

Considering the breadth of time and circumstances over which the Church's legislation must span, there is a remarkable harmony regarding the wearing of clerical attire.  Further, throughout this development three common themes may be discerned: the link between external clerical attire and the necessary proper internal disposition of the cleric, the need for simplicity in clerical attire in distinction to the manner of dressing of the laity, and the obligation to wear clerical attire whenever in public.  These are the themes which underlie all of the Church's discipline on the obligation of wearing clerical attire, from her early teachings, to canon 136 of the Codex Iuris Canonici 1917,[3] to canon 284 of the Codex Iuris Canonici 1983[4], and to the further precision given by the Congregation for the Clergy in the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests (January 31, 1994), §66[5].


The period preceding the CIC 1917

The topic of clerical dress was a frequent subject for Ecumenical Councils.  In the year 787, the Second Council of Nicaea taught that:

«All indulgence and adornment bestowed on the body is alien to the priestly order.  Therefore all those bishops and clerics who deck themselves out in brilliant and showy clothes should be called to order, and if they persist let them be punished [. . .] if persons are found who make fun of those who wear simple and respectful clothing, they should be corrected with punishment.  Indeed, from the earliest times all those ordained to the priesthood have been accustomed to present themselves in public dressed in modest and respectful clothing, and anyone who adds to his apparel for the sake of decoration and not out of necessity deserves, as the great Basil remarked, to be accused of ‘vainglory'.[6]  Neither did anyone dress in variegated clothes made of silk, nor did they add various coloured ornaments to the fringes of their garments».[7] (emphasis added)

It is to be noted that the three points associated with the Church's insistence on the wearing of clerical attire are already prominently present.  According to historians, the already well established "modest and respectful clothing" was the cassock, which, then as now, was a close fitting garment, which covered the entire body, extending to the ankles.  It was the common clothing of everyone, clerics and laity, until the end of the sixth century, when the laity opted to begin wearing shorter, more functional attire.  It was at this point historically that the distinctiveness of clerical dress began as clerics retained the wearing of the cassock[8].

The Second Lateran Council (1139) adds that those who refuse to change their practices are to be stripped of their ecclesiastical benefices[9].  The Decretum Gratiani (circa 1140) contains nine references to the topic.  Reference is made to the need for clerics to wear fitting dress ["ornatus habitus"],[10] and it is added that: «Clerics should give witness to their profession even by their dress and deportment».[11]  Following this particular canon, Gratian's own dictum bolsters the argument with a reference to St. Augustine when he writes: «A disorder of the body indicates a disorder of the mind».[12]  Further on, in the second part of the collection, five successive canons treat of clerical attire.  It is cited that «all boasting and dressing up of the body is foreign to the sacred order»[13], that this is an obligation that binds under pain of a one week suspension for violation of the norm,[14] that the norm admits of «the wearing of only the sacerdotal tunic, no worldly garments - not even when walking in the street, or in the city»,[15] that priests should wear appropriate clerical dress whenever they are in public,[16] and that since all clerics are to be seen as models of holiness there should be no superfluity in their dress, this under the pain of the attached penalty of the deprivation of benefices for those who fail to reform.[17]

The matter of clerical garb was taken up at the Fourth Lateran Council, which taught that clerics must practice modesty and simplicity in their dress, maintaining a distinction in their manner of dress from that of the laity «unless a justifiable fear requires a change of dress».[18]  This exception due to justifiable fear became an understood condition, which could alter, and indeed remove, the obligation of clerical attire.  This same exception is found in the  Decretales Gregorii IX (1234), where it is written: «Neither priests nor other clerical office-holders are to wear capes with sleeves to divine service in church or elsewhere unless a just reason of fear requires the habit to be changed»[19].  The Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, while speaking of married clerics, makes the enjoyment of any clerical privilege (such as being judged exclusively by ecclesiastical judges) contingent upon the individual cleric wearing a clerical tonsure and clerical attire.[20]

The Constitutiones Clementinae (1317) include in its entirety a decree of the Council of Vienne (1311-1312).[21]  These norms sum up much of the prior legislation by saying that all clerics «should show by the fittingness of their outer garb their inner decency of life».[22]  The clear exception of a reasonable cause to the contrary is again included.[23]  The legislation then adds a comprehensive list of penalties for those who should violate the requirements of clerical attire: for those wearing striped or slashed clothing, six months suspension from the fruits of their ecclesiastical benefice; concerning the same types of extravagant clothing, but now for non-beneficed clergy below the priesthood, six months disqualification from receiving any benefice; for beneficed clergy wearing, in addition to the above mentioned clothes, a linen hat or cap in public, one year suspension; for the non-beneficed clergy, one year disqualification from receiving any benefice; for those wearing an overgarment with a lining and so short that the undergarment can be clearly seen, in the case of non-beneficed clergy the garment is to be given to the poor within one month or, in the case of religious, to their superiors; in the case of beneficed clergy, a suspension and incapacity for the office; finally a special prohibition is issued against the wearing of checked, red or green stockings.[24]

In succeeding years we see an emphasis on the need for greater enforcement of existing legislation as opposed to the emanation of further legislation.  Thus, three successive councils, namely the Council of Constance (1414-1418),[25] the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome (1431-1445)[26] and the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517)[27], took up and reaffirmed the Catholic Church's already clear discipline on clerical attire, asserting a connection between external clerical attire and the internal disposition of the cleric, steadfastly professing the need for simplicity in clerical attire over and against ongoing abuses, and the obligation to wear clerical attire whenever in public.  For example, the Council of Constance declared wrongful the practice of clerics and prelates who seek

«to conform to the laity and [who] exhibit outwardly in their dress whatever they are thinking in their minds.  Therefore, with the approval of this sacred council, we renew and order the careful observance of all the laws currently in force regarding the clothing, tonsure and habits of clerics, as to both shape and colour [. . .]  These laws have been heeded far too little by both the secular and the regular clergy».[28]

During the Fifth Lateran Council, Pope Leo X issued his constitution, Supernae dispositionis,[29] which was subsequently approved by the Council Fathers and incorporated into the Council as the Bull on reform of the curia.  In a section laying down specific norms of dress for the entourage of a prelate we see for the first time a softening of the universal requirement of the wearing of clerical dress extending to the ankles in the case of clerics who were not priests and who were acting as "grooms", i.e. those in the entourage caring for the horses.  Instead, these clerics were allowed to wear «shorter and more suitable garments».[30]

The topic of clerical dress was treated three times at the Council of Trent.[31]  The Council recalled, in particular, the legislation of the Council of Vienne[32] instructing bishops to inflict penalties upon any cleric not wearing the proper clerical attire in accord with both universal and particular law.  Specifically, they taught forcefully that:

«Though the habit does not make the monk,[33] clerics must nevertheless always wear the clerical dress appropriate to their own order so that they may show by the suitability of their outward dress the interior uprightness of their characters.  Yet, so great has grown the rashness of some and their contempt of religion at the present time that, giving little weight to personal dignity and clerical honour, they wear lay clothes even in public, a walking contradiction, with one foot among divine things and the other among those of the flesh.  For that reason all ecclesiastical persons, however exempt, who are either in sacred orders or have obtained formal or informal dignities, offices or ecclesiastical benefices of any kind, if after warning by their own bishop, even by a public order, they do not wear the proper clerical dress befitting their order and dignity and in keeping with the regulation and command of their bishop, they can and should be restrained by suspension from their orders, office and benefice, and from the fruits, revenues and profits of those benefices [. . .]»[34]

It should be noted that the legal obligation of the wearing of clerical attire extends to all clerics alike, whether secular or religious, and even to those otherwise exempt from the authority of the diocesan bishop.  It is an obligation which requires of all clerics the wearing of clerical dress whenever in public.

The succeeding years leading up to codification in 1917 witnessed several further instances of Popes and Roman congregations seeking to enforce and apply the Church's legislation in the particular circumstances that had arisen.  Specifically, Pope Sixtus V[35], Pope Innocent XIII,[36] Pope Benedict XIII[37], Pope Benedict XIV[38] and Pope Pius IX[39] once again took up these matters, insisting on the use of clerical dress and demanding that ordinaries be strong in rooting out abuses.  Obstinacy in this area of «gravest abuse»,[40] was to be met with penalties restricting clerical privileges and with the deprivation of benefices.  Pope Sixtus V, in giving interpretation to the Council of Trent, seems to be the first to specifically mandate the wearing of the cassock as the distinctive dress for all clerics.[41]

The Sacred Congregation of the Consistory,[42] the Sacred Congregation of the Council,[43] and the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith[44] also offered instructions on the wearing of clerical attire.  In an instruction of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to missionaries working in southern India, permission was given allowing clerics to wear white due to the repulsiveness of black to the Indian outcasts, the pariahs.[45]  The same congregation points out to a vicar apostolic the need for zeal in the wearing of the cassock by his missionaries, something which had been lacking, and then grants permission for missionaries to wear clothing more suited to occasions of hard labor than the cassock, which would nonetheless maintain a decorum appropriate to a priest.[46]


The CIC 1917 and later legislation

The codification of Church Law in the Codex Iuris Canonici of 1917 contains a masterful synthesis of the Church's long legislative tradition concerning clerical attire.  In seventeen instances[47] the CIC 1917 treated the topic of clerical dress.  The obligation of clerics to wear clerical attire is the subject of c. 136 §1, which reads: «All clerics should wear fitting ecclesiastical attire, according to the legitimate customs of the place and the regulations of the local ordinary».[48]  The CIC 1917 never designated the specific type of clerical attire.  This was left to the legitimate customs of the place and the regulations of the local ordinary. 

Nonetheless, the seriousness of the obligation of wearing clerical attire may be seen from the severity of the penalties threatened against those clerics who ignore the admonitions of their bishops to be diligent in the wearing of clerical attire whenever in public.  Those who have stopped wearing clerical attire without a just reason and have not changed their practice within one month of admonition from their ordinary are to be subjected to an ipso facto loss of ecclesiastical office.[49]  Those clerics who do not heed the warning of their ordinary within one month, if they are in minor orders, are to be stripped of the clerical state[50]; if they are in major orders, they are to be suspended from from their ecclesiastical office or from their powers of orders.[51]

Soon after the promulgation of the CIC 1917, and in spite of the clarity of its legal discipline on clerical attire, the Holy See found itself bound to remind clerics to be diligent in this practice, and to insist that ordinaries be vigilant in enforcing the Church's discipline against a more recent sort of worldliness among clerics.  The problem of the time was expressed in this way:

«Some [priests] even lay aside their clerical garb and dress exactly as laymen, in order to enjoy greater freedom and liberty.

Moreover, there are some priests who, even at other times, give themselves the same liberty, and dress as laymen in order to visit cities where they are not known, and to attend shows that are unbecoming and immoral».[52]

Against this «very great evil»[53], ordinaries are instructed to take precautions «lest the number of such priests unhappily increase and the disease [be] spread by contagion».[54]  In its exhortation the Sacred Congregation of the Council highlights an important aspect of the obligation of wearing clerical attire: the protective and on-going formative value of distinctive attire for the cleric himself.  Of course, the cleric should be well formed in priestly discipline and comportment prior to Sacred Ordination, but no cleric is immune to the temptations of the world.  Dressing as a layman can all to easily foster un-priestly behavior since the cleric may well acquire a sense of being invisible and therefore able to act with greater impunity.

Five years later, the same congregation went on to restate the need for clerics to dress visibly as such since «clerics, who are called to the inheritance of the Lord, should manifest their interior holiness by the decency of their external habit».[55]  The Congregation concluded by ordering that all clerics, in conformity with canon 136 §1, should wear in public always, even during the summer vacation, a decent ecclesiastical dress, that is, such dress as the lawful custom and the prescriptions of the Ordinary of the place shall have recognized as proper to the clerical order in their own country.[56]

A further concern of the congregation was the obligation of priests to wear the cassock under the vestments when celebrating Mass and, additionally, whenever publicly administering any of the sacraments, in accordance with canon 811 §1 of the CIC 1917.  To this end, pastors and rectors of churches were instructed to refuse priests the right to celebrate Mass in their churches unless they were dressed properly.[57]  Later, the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and of Universities of Studies, in a monitum concerning the ecclesiastical dress of those clerics serving in Italy, urged that greater care be taken by clerics in the manner of their dress, insisting on the wearing of the cassock as the ordinary attire of the cleric.[58]


The Second Vatican Council, Post-Conciliar teaching, the CIC 1983 and the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests

At the time of the Second Vatican Council a not insignificant number of priests came to see distinctive clerical attire as being out of touch with the modern world and representative of a foolish "formalism" rightly to be jettisoned so that the priest might be closer to his people.[59]  This developed in spite of the fact that only a few years previous, Pope John XXIII, at the First Synod of Rome, had reaffirmed the Church's discipline on clerical attire for all clerics residing in Rome.[60] 

The Second Vatican Council dealt with the subject twice. The Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, reaffirmed the obligation for all religious, and therefore for religious clerics, to wear the religious habit.  The Council listed several elements fundamental to a religious habit:

«The religious habit, as a symbol of consecration, must be simple and modest, at once poor and becoming.  In addition, it must be in keeping with the requirements of health and it must be suited to the times and place and to the needs of the apostolate.  The habits, both of men and of women, which are not in conformity with these norms ought to be changed».[61]

Furthermore, Bishops were given the authority, in accord with the powers entrusted to them in the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, to prohibit all clerics, whether secular or religious, including exempt religious, from dressing in lay clothing whenever in public.[62]

The turbulence of the twentieth century prompted Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and several Congregations of the Roman Curia to admonish the clergy at various points against the abuse of setting aside clerical attire.  Perhaps it is precisely because of the flagrancy of the violations in recent times and a rather general hesitancy of local authorities to vigorously enforce the Church's legislation, that we have received a series of admonitions regarding the seriousness of this obligation for the cleric.  The frequent correlation to «a certain impoverishment»[63] of the priestly ministry when this obligation is ignored is also noted in these admonitions.

The loss of priestly identity expressed in the setting aside of clerical attire deeply troubled Pope Paul VI.  He saw countless priests allow themselves to be deceived into thinking that in order to really be of service to the people, the priest must be like the rest of mankind.  This necessitated, to follow the logic, a more secularized priest.  All too quickly some priests were willing to accept these wrongful notions in disobedience.  The priest who followed such a pattern was drawn into a perceived need of «secularizing his dress completely, his way of thinking and his way of living».[64]  In this scenario, the priest

«must have all the experiences a man has. And by experiences, unfortunately, it is the negative ones that are usually meant. It is said that if the priest does not know these things, he remains in ignorance, he forms a false, artificial, ingenuous, childish idea of life.  He must know. 

     But what?  Evil, temptations, falls, bad experiences.  He must - it is said, have some direct and actual knowledge of life, otherwise he does not reach full growth.  As if a man who is hurt, deformed in his moral figure, in his spiritual inviolability as a baptized man, son of God, has anything to gain from these sabre-thrusts, these wounds! In the framework of this conception, for example, what remains of ecclesiastical dress?»[65]

What the Holy Father saw so well was that priests who, in his words "laicize themselves", thinking that they will more readily be able to penetrate society, in fact walk a dangerous and injurious path which can lead to their no longer being the salt of the earth; at this point the priest is reduced to a uselessness worse than that of salt which has gone flat.[66]  Certainly the priest is human, certainly the priest is in the world, but the Pope asks:

«Can the disciple, the apostle, the priest, the authentic minister of the Gospel, be a man socially like other men?  He can indeed be poor, like others; a brother, for others; a servant, of others; a victim, for others.  But at the same time he is endowed with a lofty and very special function: "Vos estis sal terrae . . . Vos estis lux mundi.[67]

In the "mania for laicization" priests have given up «the external mark of the priesthood, namely the sacred cassock».[68]  Even worse, the clerical attire, having been set aside, is replaced «with an ostentatious display of profane ways».[69] 

In 1976, the Sacred Congregation for Bishops sent a letter to all of the papal representatives throughout the world for dissemination to all bishops.  The letter reminds bishops that they must be a «pattern to the flock».[70]  Sadly, it goes on to reveal that bad example and sometimes even prodding from bishops has been at least partly to blame in several cases of religious orders abandoning the religious habit.  Thus, bishops are reminded that:

«Especially in their meetings with their own priests and with religious [they] should wear with simplicity the insignia which have been established by law for their rank and should not set them aside without just cause.  Furthermore, they will make every possible effort that the clergy, both secular and religious, avoid, also in matters concerning their deportment, whatever could becloud «the decorum of the clerical state»[71].

Pope John Paul II has echoed and expanded upon the thought of Pope Paul VI, even from his first months as the Bishop of Rome.  Speaking of the great necessity of the priesthood for mankind, he attacked a functionalist notion of the priesthood, arguing that [priests] «are immensely necessary, and not part-time, not half-time, like "employees"!»[72]  He went on to tell the Roman clergy:

«Let us not deceive ourselves that we are serving the Gospel if we try to ‘water down' our priestly charism through exaggerated interest in the vast field of temporal problems, if we wish to ‘secularize' our way of living and acting, if we cancel even the external signs of our priestly vocation.  We must keep the sense of our singular vocation, and this ‘singularity' must be expressed, also in our exterior garb».[73]

Priests must avoid all temptation to be secularized in order for the priesthood to be truly «a clear and plain sign and indication»[74] for the people of God.  That «clear and plain sign and indication» of the priesthood is something to which the faithful «have a right».[75]  Only by avoiding all forms of secularization can the priest maintain his identity and be faithful to his vocation.  The Pope writes, «Our pastoral activity demands that we should be close to people and all their problems [. . .] but it also demands that we should be close to all these problems "in a priestly way"».[76]  After all, «what would be the use of a priest so "assimilated" to the world as to become a camouflaged part of it and no longer a transforming leaven?»[77]

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, writing to all local Ordinaries on spiritual formation in seminaries in a letter entitled simply, The Document,[78] reminded seminaries of their obligation to provide sound teaching to future priests in the area of ecclesiastical and liturgical dress.  The Congregation notes that:

«The significance of the "sacraments of faith" is steadily degraded when a priest is habitually negligent about his clothing or even fully secularized when he is the minister of them.  These sacraments include penance, anointing the sick, and above all, the holy eucharist.  Often the situation ends with the priest not even using the prescribed liturgical vestments».[79]

Therefore, in order that the next generation of priests may be well formed, it is specified that seminaries are to be diligent in explaining clearly the significance of ecclesiastical and liturgical dress and in establishing obligations for seminarians in this regard.  The Praenotanda[80] of the Church's various sacramental rites offer clear evidence of the intent of the Holy See to oblige all priests to wear the proper liturgical dress in the celebration of the sacraments, especially in the offering of the Mass.  The Congregation's letter emphasizes this same point as well as the general obligation to wear ecclesiastical dress whenever in public.  Thus, it is the Holy See's clear intention that a priest would always wear clerical attire and the appropriate liturgical vesture when he carries out any liturgical or sacramental rites.  As we shall see below, this is clearly spelled out in the legislation in force in the Diocese of Rome.

The continuing problems related to the discipline of ecclesiastical dress prompted Pope John Paul II to raise this matter with Ugo Cardinal Poletti, the Cardinal Vicar of the Diocese of Rome, and as well with the Sacred Congregations for the Clergy, for Religious and Secular Institutes, and for Catholic Education because of the «pastoral consequences deriving from it».[81]  The Pope wrote that clerical attire «indicates within the ecclesiastical community the public testimony which every priest is bound to give of his own identity and of his special dedication to God».[82]  The Pope goes on to clarify the precise motives for the wearing of clerical dress in the cases of both diocesan and religious priests.  For the diocesan priest, it «distinguishes him from the secular environment in which he lives»; for the religious priest, and indeed for all religious, «[the habit] expresses also the character of consecration and makes evident the eschatological end of the religious life».[83]  Therefore, ecclesiastical dress is particularly fruitful in the work of evangelization.  By its very nature, it leads the world to reflect on the realities which the priest and religious represent in the world, and to see  «the primacy of the spiritual values».[84]

A fruit of the Pope's letter was the establishment by Cardinal Poletti of particular norms for the Diocese of Rome which were approved by Pope John Paul II.[85]  In force in the Diocese of Rome, and moreover providing a clear indication of the mind of the supreme lawgiver concerning the application of the Church's discipline, are the following:

«1. From now on the obligation of ecclesiastical and religious dress for priests, whether diocesan or religious, resident in the diocese of Rome, is confirmed in all its force.

2. For secular priests, whether diocesan or permanently domiciled in Rome, this dress may be either the soutane or the "clergyman” according to Italian usage, black or dark grey, or even dark blue, with the Roman collar.

3. This disposition is valid also for non-diocesan priests who intend to reside in Rome only temporarily.

4. Religious, under the vigilance of their lawful superiors, shall wear the habit of their own institute, a sign of their special consecration, or at least - in accordance with their own law - the "clergyman".

5. The soutane or the religious habit is of obligation in liturgical celebrations, in the administration of the sacraments, and in preaching.  It is strongly advised in the ambient of one's own pastoral ministry.

6. As from the beginning of the current scholastic year the use of ecclesiastical or religious dress shall be resumed also in the period of formation in seminaries and colleges beginning with the rite of admission of candidates for the priesthood and, in religious studentates, from first religious profession».[86]

The revision of the Codex Iuris Canonici in 1983 left practically intact the legislation of canon 136 §1 of the CIC 1917 concerning clerical attire, with two modifications.[87]  The first modification was incidental: the word "omnes" (going with clerici) was eliminated as unnecessary.[88]  The second modification changed the competent authority to make the exact determination of clerical garb from the local ordinary to the Episcopal Conference.[89]  The CIC 1917 stated that it was «according to legitimate customs of the place and the regulations of the local ordinary». ([. . .] secundum legitimas locorum consuetudines et Ordinarii loci praescripta [. . .]) 

The CIC 1983 states that the determination is made «in accordance with the norms established by the Conference of Bishops and legitimate local custom» ([. . .] iuxta normas ab Episcoporum conferentia editas atque legitimas locorum consuetudines [. . .]).  The remainder of the canon, as concerns clerical attire, is unchanged.  Canon 136 §1 became canon 284 in the CIC 1983.[90]  The new canon reads: «Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Conference of Bishops and legitimate local custom».[91]  It is interesting to note that Episcopal Conferences do not have the competence to establish (or to abolish) the obligation to wear clerical attire, as the canon already establishes this obligation.  Rather, it is the competence of the Episcopal Conferences to determine what will constitute the precise ecclesiastical dress for their particular locality.[92]

Shortly before the CIC 1983 came into force, the Papal Secretary of State, Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, wrote a letter to the presidents of Episcopal Conferences listing the areas of the new code where Episcopal Conferences would be able to establish particular norms, and the areas where they would be bound to establish particular norms.  Episcopal Conferences are obliged to establish norms specifying the legitimate ecclesiastical dress.[93]

The Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests was composed at the request of numerous bishops at the Synod of Bishops in 1990.[94]  It summarizes the discipline set forth by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II regarding the exact nature of the obligation of wearing clerical attire.  The Directory emphasizes the need for the priest to be "identifiable" not only by his conduct, but also by the distinctness of his dress, «which makes visible to all the faithful, indeed and to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and the Church».[95]  Recalling the words of Pope Paul VI, it reminds the priest that «failure to use this proper ecclesiastical attire could manifest a weak sense of his identity as one consecrated to God».[96]  Elaborating further, it teaches that: «The attire when it is not the cassock, must be different from the manner in which the laity dress, and conform to the dignity and sacredness of his ministry».[97]  Here, we see the pride of place given to the cassock.  The Directory also contains a reminder to ordinaries that «contrary practices cannot be considered legitimate customs and should be removed by the competent authority».[98]

In response to a question about the binding value of the teaching contained in §66 of the Directory, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of the Legislative Texts responded that «a clearly binding juridical force»[99] should be attributed to article §66.  The "Clarifications" further state that the precision of the instructions approved by the Supreme Authority himself is witness of the need to resolve any doubts concerning the complementary norms emanating from the episcopal conferences in accord with the teaching of the Directory.[100]


Particular Legislation on Clerical Attire in force in the United States of America

The Decrees of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) were the binding legislation on ecclesiastical dress in the United States of America until the promulgation of the CIC 1917.  This Council laid down that:

«All observe the law of the Church, and that at home or in the church they shall always wear the cassock, which is proper to the clergy.  When they go out for duty or relaxation or on a journey, they may use a shorter dress, which is to be black in color, and which reaches to the knees, so as to distinguish it from the dress of the laity.  They should reject the more elegant and worldly styles of garments, which are found today.  We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept that, both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they shall wear the Roman collar».[101]

In the CIC 1917, the particular law concerning clerical attire became a matter for the legitimate customs of the place and the regulations of the local ordinary, as was seen above (cf. pp. 12-13).  Therefore, should a particular bishop have legislated on clerical attire after 1917 and derogated from the legislation of Baltimore III, the newer provisions of his local legislation would have been binding.  The same would be true of any legitimate customs which derogated from Baltimore III's legislation.  However, after 1917, in the absence of any local legislation or legitimate custom which derogated from Baltimore III, the provisions of that Council remained in effect.  This is clear from canon 6, n. 1 of the CIC 1917.  Even after the promulgation of the CIC 1983 and up until very recently, the same held true since canon 6 §1, n. 2 does not abrogate particular laws which are in accord with its own provisions. 

This situation produced a lack of uniformity from diocese to diocese in the United States of America regarding particular legislation, and in some cases the leaving in force of obviously outdated laws contributed to a confusion regarding the nature of the obligation to wear clerical attire.

As an example, the legislation of «a shorter dress [. . .]  which reaches to the knees» from Baltimore III will demonstrate this point.  In recent years such attire has rarely been worn, instead priests in the United States of America adopted a shorter black suit jacket of the kind now worn commonly.  The question thus is posed: until most recently, what is the status of the law concerning the knee length jacket?  Again, it should be recalled that if a local ordinary legislated at any time after the CIC 1917 on the specific type of jacket that the priest is to wear, the response is simple: the legislation of the Council of Baltimore loses force in this area.  However, in the case that no such particular legislation was established, the Council of Baltimore would have remained in force.  Could the wearing of other than knee length jackets be a case of a contrary custom which was not reprobated in the canons of either the CIC 1917or the CIC 1983, and which has become a legitimate custom over the passage of time?[102]   This would seem to be the case.

One might also ponder the former juridic status of the knee length jacket by studying the original intent of the lawgiver.  It has been argued[103] that since the Second Plenary Council had mandated as a shorter dress a coat extending below the knees ("infra genua"[104]) and the Third Plenary Council, so shortly after, mandated a coat extending to the knees ("ad genua"[105]), the real intention of the Third Plenary Council was to bind clergy only to the style of conservative lay dress of the time.  The knee length jacket provides a good example of how the lack of appropriate and up to date legislation leads to not a little perplexity concerning the very object of the law (i.e. the appropriate clerical attire to wear in public).  It also becomes all the more clear why the Holy See went so far as to impose an obligation on Episcopal Conferences to legislate in the area of clerical attire (cf. pp. 22-23, above).

In addition to the obligation of Episcopal Conferences, there exists a serious obligation on the part of local ordinaries to enforce universal and particular legislation.  In situations where the Episcopal Conference has not yet acted this will require ordinaries to remind priests of the universal and particular legislation in force in their own dioceses, and even to enact interim norms while awaiting the particular legislation of the Episcopal Conference.

On November 18, 1998, the Conference of Bishops in the United States of America approved complementary legislation for canon 284, which was subsequently granted recognitio by the Congregation for Bishops on September 29, 1999.  The text of the complementary legislation is as follows:

«The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 284, hereby decrees that without prejudice to the provisions of canon 288, clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling.

   In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books.  Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests.  The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.

   In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit.

   As President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hereby decree that the effective date this decree for all the Latin Rite dioceses in the United States will be December 1, 1999».[106]

With respect to diocesan legislation, two diocesan bishops who have established such norms are the Archbishop of Hartford, Connecticut, and the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska. 

After quoting canon 284, the particular law of Hartford states: «Inasmuch as a priest serves in a professional capacity, he should wear appropriate clerical attire at all parish functions and at public occasions when it would be reasonably expected».[107]

Particular law for the Diocese of Lincoln has provided a set of practical norms to guide priests in the day to day application of the universal law.  These norms state that:

«The proper dress for priests attending liturgical functions is the cassock and surplice - not the alb, and never civilian attire.  Outside of liturgical functions the public attire of the priest is the Roman collar and the black suit or black clerical shirt.  The overcoat and hat must also be black».[108]

Regarding diocesan missionaries, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz has mandated that:

«In the Diocese of Lincoln correct clerical clothing is black, and this includes clerical shirts, although it does not matter what color a priest's shirt is which is worn underneath a black vest.  For sports wear or physical work, naturally, other kinds of clothing may be worn, as well as for relaxation.  Priests working in the missions or visiting the missions may, of course, wear white clerical shirts or other appropriate clothing».[109]

Seeking to clarify the "just reasons" why a priest might legitimately be found not wearing his clerical attire, Bishop Bruskewitz has written that:

«Golfing, farming, hunting, jogging, swimming, fishing, hiking on vacation, etc. can excuse priests in the Lincoln Diocese from wearing clerical attire.  However, black clerical clothes are the rule and regulation for this diocese.  This excludes overalls, shorts, white clerical shirts, etc. except when engaged in such activities as listed above».[110]

In establishing the diocesan norm regarding the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in accord with no. 14 of the Praenotanda of the Rite of Penance (see pp. 19-20, fn. 79, above), Bishop Bruskewitz has legislated that:

«When administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest should normally wear a cassock and a purple stole.  In case of a real need (e.g. necessity of hurrying off to a sick call or to teach school immediately after confessions, etc.), a black suit (with black shirt and Roman collar) can be substituted for the cassock.  However, this should not be a regular practice.  Sport clothes are never to be worn when hearing confessions [. . .] unless there is an obvious emergency».[111]


Final Reflections

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have treated the matter of clerical attire with a greater emphasis upon its connection with the very nature of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.  This stands in constrast to earlier admonitions which mandated the wearing of distinctive attire whenever in public, without giving a theological basis for this discipline, such as in the Decree Prudentissimo sane (see pp. 13-14 above).[112]  More recent admonitions have focused on the need for the priest to be truly priestly in the whole of his life.  Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have both repeatedly rejected any notion of the Priesthood as some sort of part-time employment, or indeed any notion envisaging the Priesthood merely in terms of its functions.  They have insisted that the Priesthood be viewed as a consecration of the whole of the priest's life as an alter Christus in the world today. 

What Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have done is to set forth a theological justification for maintaining the discipline of distinctive clerical attire.  The priest is obliged to wear clerical attire not only, or not primarily, from obedience to the universal law of the Church.  First and foremost, it is demanded of him because of his identity as a priest.  Obviously rejected by the Church's legislation is the "fully secularized" or "camouflaged" version of the priestly life which these Popes have consistently condemned.

In addition, the Popes have highlighted another reason for the discipline of wearing clerical dress whenever the priest is in public which perhaps was not previously emphasized: the people have a right to the ministrations of a priest.  That right of the people of God is not restricted to office hours, or even to their own pastor, should the urgency of the circumstances so dictate.  The people have a true right to the ministrations of a priest, but how can that right be exercised when the priest cannot even be recognized?  The significance of the obligation of clerical attire is found first and foremost in the nature and requirements of the priestly life. 

The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, set the framework for the formulations of the CIC 1983 regarding the right of the faithful to the ministrations of a priest when it taught that: «The laity have the right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially that of the word of God and the sacraments from the pastors».[113] (emphasis added)  This right of the faithful was taken almost verbatim into canon 213.[114]  In addition, the notion of the right of the faithful to the ministrations of a priest was integrated into the CIC 1983 in the appropriate canons concerning the priest's obligation to proclaim the word of God and to administer the sacraments to the dying.[115]  Of course, many of these priestly obligations can only be fulfilled, and the laity's right simultaneously respected, should the priest be readily recognizable as such whenever in public.

In basing the obligation of clerical attire upon the very identity of the priest, the Popes have also begun the process of rooting out an associated problem: publicly dressing as a priest only some of the time.  The chief problem with the practice of wearing clerical attire only some of the time when in public is that the priest then becomes a judge unto himself of whether or not he feels like "dressing up", as though he could decide for himself whether or not he wants to be a priest on any given occasion. Admittedly, there are "just reasons" which excuse one from the obligation of wearing clerical attire (e.g. recreation, physical labor, danger of persecution, etc.), but the mere desire to go out in public "incognito" can never be cited as a legitmate reason for the priest to dress as a lay person.  In fact, the obligation is exactly the opposite - whenever in public the priest is a priest for the people. 

An analogy may illustrate the point.  All would agree that citizens have a legal and moral right to the services of a police officer when they are in need.  It is unlikely that they would be able to find one if police officers felt free to chose selectively not to wear their uniforms while on duty.  The same is true in regard to priests, with the major exception that the priest, by his very identity, is never "off duty", especially when he is in public.

By no means should we ignore what the long experience of the Church has verified: that the wearing of a distinctive attire also serves a protective and even formative role for the priest himself.  The recent emphasis of the Church's discipline has focused on the value of wearing clerical attire in connection with the unique Christian witness provided by the priest, but clerical attire can be for the priest himself a perpetual reminder that he is not of this world.  His distinctive dress can act to reinforce this truth, leading him to conduct himself with the decorum and manner appropriate to a priest.

Sadly, a certain lack of clarity and a notable lack of enforcement of universal and particular legislation in the United States of America has made it difficult for many priests to know and to appreciate the Church's discipline.  Too often it has become a cause of confusion for those who are assiduous in the observance of the law, and a cause of skepticism for those of an anti-juridical mind set.  We are reminded that, in order for the universal law to be truly effective, it must be applied fairly and evenly.  Of course, both universal and particular law, if they are to be truly effective, must be enforced on the local level. 

With a consistency rivaling that of the Church's virtually unchanged discipline obliging clerics to wear some form of ecclesiastical attire, the Church's history also bears witness to the consistent abuses against her discipline, and the consequent need for vigilant enforcement.

Frequently discussed today in connection with the obligation to wear clerical dress is the potential role of customs contrary to the law.  Concerning such customs, a few remarks are in order.  First, the CIC 1983 does envisage the possibility of new customs, even those contrary to law, arising, but it is never enough simply to invoke "custom" to justify some practice contrary to law.  As the old expression goes, it may be customary to slip a police officer a twenty dollar bill as you hand him your driver's license after having been pulled over for speeding, but that does not make it a custom.  It is still illegal. 

The only customs capable of attaining the force of law are those which have been approved by the legislator and accepted by a community which is capable of receiving a law and has bound itself to act in accord with that custom.[116]  In the case of a custom which is contrary to law, even though it has not been expressly reprobated, as in the case of priests wearing lay clothes in public, it is to be removed by the competent authority.  In fact, the competent authority is under a serious obligation to suppress such contrary practices, except in the situation where he deems that they cannot be removed due to the «circumstances of place and person».[117]  Therefore, at best, non-reprobated customs contrary to law can be tolerated.  Ordinarily, the duty of the competent authority is to suppress them as being a way of acting which is contrary to the intention of the lawgiver.  In fact, this is the specific judgment that has been given by the Holy See regarding the obligation to wear clerical attire: «Because of their incoherence with the spirit of this discipline, contrary practices cannot be considered legitimate customs and should be removed by the competent authority».[118]

By way of conclusion, it seems clear from the provisions of the universal law of the Church that

1. all priests are bound to wear the determined ecclesiastical dress, whenever in public, from the very nature of their identity as men set apart to publicly serve Christ and the Church as priests.

2. the people of God have a right to the ministrations of a priest, in connection with their right to hear the word of God and to receive the sacraments, especially in times of urgent need.  They, therefore, have a right to be able to readily recognize the priest when such a need arises.

3. retaining the pride of place as the prototype of clerical attire is the cassock; priests should not in any way consider it outdated or rejected.

4. in the administration of the sacraments, and especially in the celebration of the Mass, priests are obliged to be dressed in proper clerical attire, in addition to the appropriate liturgical vestments.

In the United States of America, we have seen an application of the norms of the universal law emanating from Third Plenary Council of Baltimore which lasted until very recently when they were replaced by newly promulgated complementary legislation to canon 284 of the CIC 1983.  Thus it is that priests in the United States of America are to wear as their distinctive clerical attire the Roman collar and black clothing.  Deemed no longer necessary, the provision of Baltimore III restricting the wearing of the cassock to home or in the church has been eliminated, and now may be worn at the discretion of the cleric.

With great consistency we have seen the unfolding of the logic of the Church's ancient discipline, from Pope Celestine I and the Second Council of Nicaea to the present: from its simplest and most ancient terms, clerics must always dress simply and distinctively from that of the laity to its modern expression, a cleric's dress is the external reflection of his internal consecration, a reflection which is simple and distinctive.  Upon becoming a cleric at his diaconate ordination, the future priest is bound to wear distinctive attire in witness that he is a man for others.  In the hope that the value of clerical attire may be fully grasped by all priests, we pray to our Heavenly Father along with Pope John Paul II:  «Save us from "grieving" Your spirit [. . .] by whatever shows itself as a desire to hide one's priesthood before men and to avoid all external signs of it».[119]


Thomas Fucinaro




L'Origine dell'obbligo: disciplina codiciale e recente, legislazione governativa della Conferenza dei Vescovi cattolici negli Stati Uniti, e legislazione particolare negli Stati Uniti. 

La continuità della disciplina della Chiesa cattolica riguardo all'abito di ecclesiastico, dal quinto secolo ad oggi, è stata straordinaria.  In tutta la storia le circostanze hanno reso necessario riaffermare l'obbligo per i chierici di portare un abito che li distinguesse, che potesse essere adatto allo stato clericale. Nella legislazione sono evidenti temi comuni: il nesso tra abito ecclesiastico esterno e la disposizione interna corretta e necessaria dell'uomo di chiesa; la necessita della semplicità dell'abito ecclesiastico per distinzione dalla maniera di vestire del laicato, e l'obbligo di portare l'abito  ecclesiastico in pubblico. Questi stessi temi sono stati tratti dalla legislazione particolare promulgata per le diocesi degli Stati Uniti d'America.


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L'origine de l'obligation du port de l'habit ecclésiastique : Discipline canonique et actuelle, législation de la Conférence des évêques catholiques des États-Unis, et législation particulière aux États-Unis.

La continuité de la discipline de l'Église Catholique concernant l'habit ecclésiastique, depuis le 5ème siècle jusqu'à maintenant, est remarquable. A travers l'histoire, les circonstances ont nécessité la ré-affirmation de l'obligation du port d'un habit distinctif, en particulier afin que la conduite des clercs, et par conséquent leur manière de s'habiller, puisse correspondre à leur état clérical. Dans la législation, les thèmes communs sont évidents : le lien entre l'aspect extérieur du vêtement clérical et les nécessaires dispositions intérieures du clerc, la simplicité de l'habit ecclésiastique en rapport à la façon qu'ont les laïcs de se vêtir, enfin l'obligation du port de l'habit ecclésiastique à tout moment, lorsque le clerc est en public. Ces mêmes thèmes ont été assumés dans la législation particulière promulguée pour les diocèses des États-Unis d'Amérique.


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Die Priesterkleidung - Ursprung einer Verpflichtung: die Situation gemäß dem Kirchenrecht und der jüngeren Disziplin. Die Gesetzgebung der Amerikanischen Bischofskonferenz und das Partikularrecht in den Vereinigten Staaten.

Die Kontinuität der Verpflichtung zur Priesterkleidung innerhalb der Katholischen Kirche vom fünften Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart ist beeindruckend. Im Laufe der Geschichte haben verschiedene Umstände es immer wieder notwendig gemacht, den Klerikern die Verpflichtung einzuschärfen, eine (von der Laien) klar unterschiedene Kleidung zu tragen, damit das Verhalten der Geistlichen, einschließlich der Art und Weise, sich zu kleiden, dem priesterlichen Stand entspricht. Innerhalb der Gesetzgebung sind allgemeine Leitlinien offensichtlich: die Verbindung zwischen der äußerlichen Erkennbarkeit als Priester und der inneren Disposition, die Notwendigkeit zur Einfachheit klerikaler Kleidung im Gegensatz zur Art der Laienkleidung und die Verpflichtung, in der Öffentlichkeit stets in priesterlicher Kleidung in Erscheinung zu treten. Diese wiederkehrenden Themen sind in die partikulare Gesetzgebung eingeflossen, die von den Bistümern der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika erlassen worden sind.


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Origen de la Obligación: disciplina del Código y reciente, legislación governativa de la Conferencia Episcopal de los Estados Unidos, y legislación particular en los Estados Unidos.

La continuidad de la disciplina de la Iglesia católica a propósito del traje eclesiástico, desde el quinto siglo hasta hoy, ha sido extraordinaria. En toda la historia las regiones eclesiásticas han estimado oportuno reafirmar la obligación para los clérigos de llevar un traje eclesiástico que les distinguiese, apropiado al estado clerical. En la legislación son evidentes temas comunes: relación entre traje eclesiástico externo y disposición interna correcta y necesaria del hombre de Iglesia; la necesidad de la simplicidad del traje eclesiástico para distinguirlo del modo de vestir del laico, y obligación de llevar el traje eclesiástico en público. Estos mismo temas has sido asumidos por la legislación particular  promulgada por las Diócesis de Estados Unidos.


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A Origem da obrigação: Disciplina Codicial e Recente, Normas vigentes da Conferência dos Bispos nos Estados Unidos e Legislação Particular nos Estados Unidos.

A continuidade da disciplina da Igreja Católica concernente ao hábito eclesiástico, do quinto século até ao presente, tem sido notável.  Ao longo da história, as circunstâncias impuseram a necessidade de reafirmar a obrigação de vestir um hábito distintivo, particularmente para que o comportamento dos clérigos, inclusive o  modo de vestir, fosse apropriado ao seu estado clerical. Na legislação, sublinham-se alguns temas comuns são postos em evidência: a conexão entre o hábito clerical externo e as necessárias disposições internas adequadas do clérigo, a necessidade de simplicidade no hábito clerical de sorte que o distinga da maneira de vestir dos leigos, e a obrigação de usar veste clerical sempre que estiver público. Estes mesmos temas foram retomados na legislação particular promulgada para as dioceses dos Estados Unidos da América.

[1] Pope Celestine I, "Ep II ad Episcopos Provinciæ". In Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, Ioannes Mansi, ed., vol. 4, (Graz: Akademische Druck-U. Verlagsanstalt, 1960), 465.  «[. . .] doctrina, non veste; conversatione, non habitu; mentis puritate, non cultu».

[2] Cf. Council of Trent, session XXIV, Canones super reformatione circa matrimonium, canon 1. In Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, N.P. Tanner, S.J., ed., vol. 2, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1990), 759-761.  (Hereafter cited as Tanner.)  It should be recalled that Tametsi received universal promulgation only with the Decree Ne Temere (August 2, 1907) of Pope Pius X.

[3]  Leges Ecclesiae: post Codicem iuris canonici editae, Andrés Gutiérrez, ed., vol. 7 [Codices Iuris Canonici, Latini et Orientales, Fontium Annotatione Aucti], (Roma: EDIURCLA, 1994).  (Hereafter cited as Leges Ecclesiae; references to the Code of 1917 itself will be cited as CIC 1917.)

[4] Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition, promulgated by the authority of Pope John Paul II, trans. Canon Law Society of America (Città del Vaticano and Washington, D.C.: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis and Canon Law Society of America, 1983).  (References to the Code of 1983 itself will be cited as CIC 1983.)

[5] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests, Jan. 31, 1994, (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994).  (Hereafter cited as Directory.)

[6] St. Basil, Reg. fus., 22.  An English translation of the complete text may be found in The Fathers of the Church, Roy Joseph Deferrari, ed., vol. 9, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, trans. Sister M. Monica Wagner, C.S.C., (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1950), 281-284.  (Hereafter cited as The Fathers of the Church.)

[7] Second Council of Nicaea, canon 16, in Tanner, vol. 1, 150-151.

[8] H. J. McCloud, A.B., Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1948), 47.  The Foreword to this book points out that custom and legislation gradually evolved to distinguish ecclesiastical dress, i.e. the ordinary public attire of the cleric, from choir and liturgical vesture, which were respectively required of clerics when they were present at worship or performing a ministerial role in the Church’s various rites.  (cf. Ibid., Foreword, vii-ix.)

[9] Second Lateran Council, canon 4, in Tanner, vol. 1, 197.

[10] Cf. Corpus Iuris Canonici, D. 23  c. 32, ed. Aemilius Friedberg, 2 vols., (Graz: Akademische Druck-U. Verlagsanstalt, 1955), (Hereafter cited according to the standard means of citation.)

[11] D. 41 c. 8.  «clericus professionem suam etiam habitu et incessu probet [...]».

[12] Cf. D. 41 dictum p. c. 8.  St. Augustine’s own words are quite different from Gratian’s dictum, nonetheless, they aim at the same meaning.  An English translation of the complete text may be found in The Fathers of the Church, letter 211, vol 32, 38-51.  (The remarks recalled by Gratian are found on p. 47.)  Of further importance, the pre-Vulgate system of numbering used by Gratian gave this letter of Saint Augustine the number CIX; its current number, 211, is the result of the assignment given by the Maurist editors of Saint Augustine.  For the table indicating the change cf. "Ordo antea vulgatus ad novum reductus" in Sancti Aurelii Augustini Hipponensis Episcopi Operum, ed. Ordinis S. Benedicti e Congregatione S. Mauri, tomus secundus, (Parisiis: Parisiensis typographus, 1679).

[13] C. 21  q. 4  c. 1.  «omnis iactantia et ornatura corporalis aliena est a sacrato ordine».

[14] C. 21  q. 4  c. 2.  «Si vero quis tale quid fecerit, per unam hebdomadam suspendatur».

[15] C. 21  q. 4  c. 3.  «Episcopi, presbiteri, diaconi, secularibus indumentis non utantur, nisi, ut condecet, tunica sacerdotali; sed neque dum ambulaverint in civitate, aut in via [. . .] ».

[16] C. 21  q. 4  c. 4.  «Sine ornatu sacerdotali extra domos sacerdotes apparere nullo modo convenit, ne, ut aliquis secularium, iniurias patiantur ».

[17] C. 21  q. 4  c. 5.  «Precipimus, ut tam episcopi quam clerici in statu mentis, in habitu corporis, Deo et hominibus placere studeant, et nec in superfluitate, fissurae, aut colore vestium, nec in tonsura intuentium (quorum forma et exemplum esse debent) offendant aspectum, sed potius quod eorum deceat sanctitatem.  Quod si moniti ab episcopis emendare noluerint, ecclesiasticis careant beneficiis ».

[18] Fourth Lateran Council, 16th constitution, in Tanner, vol. 1, 243.

[19] X 3, 1, 15.  «Cappas manicatas ad divinum officium intra ecclesiam non gerant, sed nec alibi, qui sunt in sacerdotio et personatibus constituti, nisi iusta causa timoris exegerit habitum transformari ».

[20] VI 3, 2, 1. «Clerici, qui cum unicis et virginibus contraxerunt, si tonsuram et vestes deferant clericales, privilegium retineant canonis ab Innocentio Papa II praedecessore nostro editi in favorem totius ordinis clericalis ».

[21] Council of Vienne, decree 9, in Tanner, vol. 1, 365; cf. Clem 3, 1, 2.

[22] Ibid. «[. . .] oportet per decentiam habitus extrinseci morum intrinsecam honestatem ostendere [. . .] ».

[23] Ibid.  «[. . .] praeterquam ex causa rationabili [. . .] ».

[24] Ibid.

[25] Council of Constance, session 43, in Tanner, vol. 1, 449.

[26] Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome, session 15, in Tanner, vol. 1, 473.

[27] Fifth Lateran Council, session 9, Bull on reform of the curia, in Tanner, vol. 1, 619.

[28] Council of Constance, session 43, in Tanner, vol. 1, 449.

[29] Pope Leo X, Supernae dispositionis, in Lateran Council V, May 5, 1514, in Codicis iuris canonici fontes, cura et studio E.mi Petri card. Gasparri et E.mi Iustiniani card. Serédi editi, vol.1, (Roma: Typis polyglottis Vaticanis, 1923-1939), 105.  Cf. §§ 24-25.  (Hereafter cited as Fontes.)

[30] Fifth Lateran Council, session 9, Bull on reform of the curia, in Tanner, vol. 1, 619.

[31] Cf. Council of Trent, session 14, canon 6; session 22, canon 1; and session 24, canon 12; in Tanner, vol. 2, 716-717, 737-738, 767, respectively.

[32] Council of Trent, session 14, canon 6, in Tanner, vol. 2, 716-717.

[33] It has come to light that the famous opening words of the above canon, «habitus non facit monachum», were most likely originally intended differently from the way they are popularly understood.  In what is believed to be the first usage of the expression, we are provided with some much needed clarification and correction of a popular misunderstanding of the expression.  Scholars consider the words to originate in a decretal put into the Liber Extra, a compilation done at the command of Pope Gregory IX (X 3, 31, 13.), and authored either by Pope Clement III (1187-1191) or more likely by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). (cf. for example F. Marie-Felix, moine de Sept-Fons, Recherche et réflexions à propos de l’habit monastique, (Sept-Fons, 1972), 14-15, and J. Gaudemet, Preface to Le costume du clergé by Louis Trichet, (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1986), 9.)  The argument is strengthened by the fact that the expression is so rarely found at such an early point outside of this reference.  This being the case regarding the expression, «habitus non facit monachum», we should be led to inquire about the likelihood that the popular interpretation of it, namely that the wearing of the habit is not necessary to a monk seeking to live a life of Christian perfection, could really be what was intended.  After all, numerous Popes and councils, as has been seen above, enunciated frequently and clearly the importance of the wearing of distinctive clerical attire and held that there is a strong connection between clerical dress and the interior disposition of the cleric.  Further, neither Popes nor the Ecumenical Councils of the Church have ever taught otherwise, with the sole exception of Pope Celestine I. 

    The examination of what we believe is the original context of «habitus non facit monachum» weakens the popular misreading still further.  It was frequently held by ancient monks that it was at the moment of the taking of the habit that a man became a monk.  This particular decretal is directed against that mentality.  In it the Pope is giving a response to the question of whether or not someone could really be considered a monk in the case where a person had made a death bed profession of religious vows, but feared dying before being able to take the habit.   In answer to the question posed, the Pope was seeking to give reassurance that it is not the habit that makes a monk, but instead religious profession. («[. . .] quum monachum non faciat habitus, sed professio regularis [. . .] ». It should be noted that the verb facere is here used in the subjunctive mood, according to the sequence of tenses to express contemporaneous action, because it is part of the subordinate clause begun with quum, meaning in this case "since" or "because").  The Pope explains this by saying that a person does not become a monk in the taking of the habit, but from the moment of the uttering of the vows of religious life.  Thus he argues that in spite of the fact that the habit had not been taken, the uttering of the vows is most certainly a valid and efficacious act; in short, the man is indeed a monk. 

    Seen in its own proper context, we realize that the expression, «habitus non facit monachum», was aimed at establishing the point at which a person becomes a monk, a matter which is made clear from the fact that the uncropped expression finishes with «[. . .] sed professio regularis».  The popular misconception of «habitus non facit monachum» has led not a few to the wrongful affirmation that the habit is not necessary for those who live by the Spirit.  This can in no way be supported by the original context of the present expression.  The decretal goes only so far as to say that while the habit is not the constitutive element in transforming men into monks, nevertheless, the habit is necessary to monks since it is meant, in the words of the Council of Trent, to reveal the «interior uprightness of their characters». (Council of Trent, session 14, canon 6, in Tanner, vol. 2, 716.)

[34] Council of Trent, session 14, canon 6, in Tanner, vol. 2, 716-717.

[35] Pope Sixtus V, const. Cum sacrosanctam (Jan. 9, 1589), §2, in Fontes, vol. 1, 315.

[36] Pope Innocent XIII, const. Apostolici ministerii (May 23, 1723), §8, in Fontes, vol. 1, 585.

[37] Pope Benedict XIII, const. In supremo (Sept. 23, 1724), §6,28; const. Apostolicae Ecclesiae (May 2, 1725), §1-2; and const. Pastoralis officii (March 27, 1726), §3.  In Fontes, vol. 1, 601-602, 608-609, 614-615, 634.

[38] Benedict XIV, const. Ad militantis (March 30, 1742), §26, in Fontes, vol. 1, 728.

[39] Pope Pius IX, encyclical Nemo certe ignorat (March 25, 1852), §6, in Sr. Claudia Carlin, IHM, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, vol. 1, (1740-1878), (Raleigh: McGrath Publishing Co., 1981), 311.

[40] Pope Benedict XIII, const. Apostolicae Ecclesiae (May 2, 1725), §1, in Fontes, vol. 1, 614-615.

[41] Pope Sixtus V, const. Cum sacrosanctam (Jan. 9, 1589), §2, in Fontes, vol. 1, 315.

[42] Sacred Congregation of the Consistory, (March 31, 1916), in Fontes, vol. 5, 67-69.

[43] Sacred Congregation of the Council, Ruben. (July 28 - August 18, 1708) and Spoletana (Jan 14 - Jan 28, 1764), in Fontes, vols. 5-6, 527; 32.

[44] Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, instr. (pro Mission. Marabar.) [April 9, 1783]; instr. (ad vic. Ap. Indiar. Orient.) [Sept. 8, 1869], n. 7; instr. (ad Vic. Ap. Sin.) [Oct. 18, 1883], n. III; in Fontes, vol. 7, 130-131,417, 494.

[45] It is clear from the nature of the permission that by now the ordinary color for clerical garb was black.  See Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, instr. (pro Mission. Marabar.), [April 9, 1783], in Fontes, vol. 7, 130-131.

[46] Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, instr. (ad Vic. Ap. Indiar. Orient.), [Sept. 8, 1869], n. 7, in Fontes, vol. 7, 130-131.

[47] From the CIC 1917, canons 136 §§1,3; 188 n. 7; 213 §1; 670; 671 nn. 2, 3, 6; 683; 1576 §1 n. 2; 2298 nn. 9,11; 2304 §§1,2; 2300; 2305; 2379.

[48] The Latin text of canon 136 §1 reads: «Omnes clerici decentem habitum ecclesiasticum, secundum legitimas locorum consuetudines et Ordinarii loci praescripta, deferant [. . .]».

[49] Canon 188 n. 7.

[50] Canon 2379.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Sacred Congregation of the Council, Circular letter, July 1, 1926, Acta Apostolica Sedis 18 (1926), 312.  (Hereafter cited as AAS)  An English translation may be found in Lincoln Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest: Officially Published Documents Affecting the Code of Canon Law, Ted., vol. 1, (Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1934), 138. (Hereafter cited as CLD.)

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Sacred Congregation of the Council, Decree Prudentissimo sane, July 28, 1931, AAS 23 (1931), 336-337.  In CLD, vol. 1, 123.

[56] Ibid.  In CLD, vol. 1, 124.

[57] Ibid.  In CLD, vol. 124-125.

[58] Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and of Universities of Studies, Monitum, July 20, 1949. In Leges Ecclesiae: post Codicem iuris canonici editae, Xaverius Ochoa, ed., vol. 2 [leges annis 1942-1958 editae], n. 2067, (Roma: Commentarium pro Religiosis, 1969), 2618.

[59] Such would seem to be the thought, for example, of Walter Kasper when he writes soon after the close of the Second Vatican Council: «The priest, in the past, was the person of special holiness, dedicated to cultic worship; in many external matters (dress, style of life, celibacy), he was clearly distinguished from the laity.  Now, to the extent that the Church proposes to be present in the world again even in the person of her official representatives, and to the extent that she wishes to avoid retreat into the ghetto of the sacred, she must set aside her older conceptions as hindrances»: W. Kasper, "A New Dogmatic Outlook on the Priestly Ministry", in K. Rahner, S.J., The Identity of the Priest, ed., John Drury, trans., in Concilium: theology in the age of renewal, vol. 43, (New York: Paulist Press, 1969), 21.

[60] Primo Sinodo Romano, 1960, art. 37 §§ 2, 4.  In Apollinaris: Commentarius Juris Canonici, vol. 34, (Città del Vaticano: Editrice Pontificia Universitas Lateranensis, 1961), 81.

[61] Perfectae Caritatis, 17.  In A. Flannery, O.P., Vatican Council II: the Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, ed., vol. 1, (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1984), 621.  (Hereafter cited as Vatican Council II.)

[62] Cf. Christus Dominus, 35, n. 4 , and the motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, I, 25, n. 2 d (Apostolic Letter on the implementation of the Decrees Christus Dominus, Presbyterorum Ordinis and Perfectae Caritatis).  In Vatican Council II, 585, 605.

[63] Pope John Paul II, "Letter to Cardinal Poletti, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome", Sept. 8, 1982, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], Oct. 25, 1982, 5.

[64] Pope Paul VI, General Audience, Sept. 17, 1969, AAS 61 (1969), 190.  An English translation may be found in L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], Sept. 25, 1969, 1.

[65] Pope Paul VI, Address to the Roman Clergy, March 1, 1973, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], March 15, 1973, 4 [as reported].

[66] Pope Paul VI, Address to the Roman Clergy, Feb. 17, 1972, AAS 64 (1972), 223.  An English translation may be found in The Pope Speaks, vol. 17, no. 1, 57.

[67] Pope Paul VI, Address to Pastors and Lenten Preachers of Rome, Feb. 17, 1969, AAS 61 (1969), 190.  An English translation may be found in The Pope Speaks, vol. 14, no. 1, 26.

[68] Pope Paul VI, Address to the Roman Clergy, Feb. 10, 1978, AAS 70 (1978), 191.  The Pope Speaks, vol. 23, no. 1, 120.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Sacred Congregation of Bishops, Circular Letter to all Papal Representatives, Jan. 27, 1976.  In CLD, vol. 8, 125.

[71]  Christus Dom., 35, 4.

[72] Pope John Paul II, Address to the Roman Clergy, Nov. 9, 1978, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], Nov. 16, 1978, 5.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Pope John Paul II, Holy Thursday letter to Priests, Novo Incipiente, April 9, 1979, no. 7, AAS 71 (1979), 403.  An English translation may be found in L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], April 17, 1979, 7.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Pope John Paul II, Address to the Clergy of Bologna, April 19, 1979, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], April 30, 1979, 10.

[78] Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, "Letter to Ordinaries on Spiritual Formation in Seminaries", The Document, Jan. 6, 1980.  In E. Lora, Enchiridion Vaticanum: Documenti Ufficiali della Santa Sede, ed., vol. 7, (Bologna: Edizioni Dehoniane Bologna, 1982), 68-113.  (Hereafter cited as Enchiridion Vaticanum.)

[79] Ibid.  In Enchiridion Vaticanum, vol. 7, n. 74, 98.

[80] The Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, 48; The Rite of Baptism for Children (when celebrated outside of Mass), 35, 74; The Rite of Confirmation (when celebrated outside of Mass), 19, and The Rite of Marriage (when celebrated outside of Mass), 39, all mandate the wearing of the «alb or surplice, with a stole» (the minister of Confirmation is additionally mandated to wear a cope). The Rite of Penance, 14, leaves the decision of appropriate dress to the norms of particular law.  The Rite of Communion of the Sick (outside of Mass), 72, and The Celebration of Viaticum (outside of Mass), 177, mandate the wearing of «attire appropriate to this ministry» so as to include those ministers who are not clerics.  The Rite of Anointing outside Mass, 111, mandates that «appropriate vestments should be worn by the priest».  An English translation of these rites may be found in The Rites, vols. I - IA, (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1988), 48 (IA), 376 (I), 394 (I), 486 (I), 534 (I), 734 (I), 801 (I), 819 (I), 848 (I).

[81] Pope John Paul II, Letter to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Ugo Cardinal Poletti, Sept. 8, 1982, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], Oct. 25, 1982, 5.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ugo Cardinal Poletti, Letter to Priests in Rome, Sept. 27, 1982, L’Osservatore Romano [English ed.], Oct. 25, 1982, 5, 11.

[86] Ibid.

[87] The provision concerning the tonsure was also dropped from the canon.

[88] Cf. Ex Actis Pontificiae Commissionis CIC Recognoscendo, "Coetus studii 'De sacra Hierarchia' (olim 'De Clericis') Sessio XII", Dec. 11-16, 1972, Communicationes 24, no. 2, (1992): 275.

[89] Cf. Ex Actis Pontificiae Commissionis CIC Recognoscendo, "Coetus studiorum de sacra Hierarchia, Sessio I", Oct. 24-28, 1966, Communicationes 16 (1984): 179.

[90] By 1980 the Pontifical Commission had given final approval to the revisions.  Cf. Ex Actis Pontificiae Commissionis CIC Recognoscendo, "Coetus 'De Populo Dei' - De Ministris sacris seu de Clericis (Sectio I) - De Clericorum obligationibus et iuribus (Caput III)", Jan. 16, 1980, Communicationes 14 (1982): 81.  It should be noted that with its publication in the CIC 1983 a slight change was made from the final draft «[. . .] ab Episcoporum conferentiis [. . .]» («[. . .] by the Conferences of Bishops [...]») to «[. . .] ab Episcoporum conferentia [. . .]» («[. . .] by the Conference of Bishops [. . .]»).

[91] The authentic text of canon 284 is: «Clerici decentem habitum ecclesiasticum, iuxta normas ab Episcoporum conferentia editas atque legitimas locorum consuetudines, deferant».

[92] José Tomás Martín de Agar, "Note sul diritto particolare delle Conferenze Episcopali".  Ius Ecclesiae 2, no. 2 (1990): 601.

[93] Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Secretary of State, "Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences", Nov. 8, 1983, Communicationes, vol. 15 (1983): 135-139.

[94] Cf. Directory, Introduction.

[95] Ibid., §66.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of the Legislative Texts, "Clarifications Concerning the Value Binding of Art. 66 of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests", Sacrum Ministerium, vol. 1 (1995): 266.

[100] Ibid., 267.

[101] Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, De Vita et Honestate Clericorum (Caput VIII), 77.  In Acta et Decreta Concilii Plenarii Baltimorensis Tertii, [1884] (Baltimorae: Typis Joannis Murphy Sociorum, 1886), p. 41.  (Hereafter cited as Baltimore III)  «. . . omnes Ecclesiae legem servent, domique agentes vel in templo veste talari, quae clerico propria est, semper utantur.  Cum foras prodeunt muneris vel animi recreandi causa vel in itinere, breviori quadam veste indui licet, quae tamen nigri coloris sit et ad genua producatur, ita ut a laicis distingui possint.  Elegantiores vestium formas et mundanas quae novae in dies inveniuntur respuant.  Stricto praecepto sacerdotibus nostris injungimus, ut tam domi quam foris, sive in propria dioecesi degant sive extra eam, collare quod romanum vocatur gerant ».

[102] Cf. canon 5 §1.

[103] Cf. J. A. Shields, "Deprivation of the Clerical Garb" (J.C.D. diss., Catholic University of America, 1958), 9.

[104] Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, De Vita et Honestate Clericorum (Caput VI), 148.  In Concilii Plenarii Baltimorensis II: Acta et Decreta, [1866] (Baltimorae: Excudebat Joannes Murphy, 1868), p. 94.

[105] Baltimore III, 77, p. 41.

[106] National Conference of Catholic Bishops, promulgated December 1, 1999.  From United States Conference of Catholic Bishops official website:

[107] Archdiocese of Hartford, Guidelines for Priestly Life and Ministry (1994): 30.

[108] Diocese of Lincoln, Standing Instructions, (promulgated by Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, [no date]), 2.

[109] Bishop F.W. Bruskewitz, Pastoral Bulletin, Diocese of Lincoln, vol. II, no. 5, (1993).

[110] Ibid.  Vol. III, no. 4, (1994).

[111] Ibid.  Vol. IV, no. 1, (1995).  (Emphasis in original)

[112] It is to be noted that the Decree Prudentissimo sane is cited as a font of canon 284 of the CIC 1983 and therefore provides a key to the correct understanding of the canon.  Cf.  Leges Ecclesiae, vol. 7, p. 10133.

[113] Lumen Gentium, 37.  In Vatican Council II, 394.

[114] Canon 213: «The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments».

[115] Cf. canon 771 §1 regarding the pastoral care to be given to those who «due to the condition of life» would not be assisted by the ordinary means of proclaiming the Gospel; canon 771 §2 is a similar situation, but extends the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel also to non-believers; canon 787 §1 regarding missionaries in «the witness of their life and words»; canons 921 §1 and 922 regarding the «zealous and vigilant» care to be taken in bringing Holy Viaticum to the faithful who are sick and dying; canon 986 §2 regarding the obligation of any priest to hear the confessions of the faithful who are in danger of death; canon 1001 regarding the obligation to insure that the sick are supported by the anointing of the sick «at an appropriate time».

[116] Cf. canon 23 of the CIC 1983.

[117] Canon 5 §1.

[118] Directory, §66.

[119] Pope John Paul II, Holy Thursday Prayer to Priests, March 25, 1982, no. 4.  AAS 74 (1982), 526.  An English translation may be found in Origins, vol. 11, no. 44, (April 15, 1982): 706-707.