The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Collared: a seminarian reflects

posted by jmcgee

There’s been much debate around these parts about deacons wearing collars (and even about priests wearing them).

Now a seminarian from Long Island has added his voice:

priestcollar.jpgIn the past decades seminarians were discouraged away from the collar in order to discourage the temptation to clericalism, or from forming a superficial attraction to the trappings of the priesthood. The seminarians of today, training for the priesthood in a time of church-wide pain and scandal, do not want to wear the collar out of a feeling of superiority or exclusivity; we want to wear the collar out of a desire to be a witness to the world, and a symbol of hope and continuance. Externals matter. Attire matters. The Roman collar matters.

I was grateful for the change in collar-policy because it happened as I was heading out of the seminary and into a parish for my pastoral-year internship. I don’t know who was happier — the Parish of St. Joseph’s in Ronkonkoma, NY to have a seminarian, or me for being sent there. This particular parish has a history of hosting pastoral-year seminarians. I was their third in five years. The two who preceded me are men whom I admire tremendously. I knew I had big shoes to fill.

I wore the collar every chance I could while in the parish. I truly believed the people expected it of me. The collar helped me tell the people of the parish and the town that men willing to give up the world in order to serve Christ do exist, despite the negative press. The people of God love their priests, and, by extension, they love seminarians.

To be a priest is to be a public person. Being a seminarian in a collar means learning how to be that public man, and that spiritual leader; one can’t possibly lead if one cannot be seen. The collar, for good or ill, made me stick out like a sore thumb at parish gatherings. There is an expectation of how one should comport oneself while wearing the collar, and I was acutely aware of it. My task and challenge during the year was to fulfill that expectation “in season and out”; when it was convenient and when it wasn’t; when I was dressed clerically and when I wasn’t.

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 11:47 am

Deacons & Collar…a topic sure to start a heated debate. I see it as follows:
The pioneers seem to have been taught that the collar was not really proper for the permanent deacon. Perhaps this was inevitable as no one seemed to know exactly what to “do” with these new clercical guys whose lives resembled laity more than traditional clergy (so I have been told by “oldtimers”). And truly there would be many occassions (IMO) that a collar would be utterly out of place and a poor choice of attire for the permanent deacon.
Use of the collar by permanent deacons was restricted also so as to not “confuse the faithful”…is he a priest or what? Oddly no one sees this as a problem or reason to prohibit clerical clothing by seminarians who are not clerics and who most, statistically speaking, will never become clerics. It makes one wonder what the real reason is here…turf issue? clerical caste system? This argument just doesn;t hold water.
Canon Law grants the collar as a canonical right for the clerical state of the deacon and then gives the deacon the option to make use of the exemption or not. It allows for the local ordinary to make regulations as to when or if his deacons are to claim this exemption.
Some (many?) dioceses have policies as to when a deacon may wear the collar (mine does not, its up to each deacon). This seems erroneous as any canonist will tell you that a bishop cannot deny a canonical right except by means of penalty. So one would have to ask, canonically speaking, what have the deacons done that deserve the dynamic penalty of prohibition of clerical clothing? There is debate as to if this exemption clause by the ordinary gives him this canonical right. A bishop is the “last word” in his diocese but he doe snot hold unreigned authority over canon law. However, I think obedience is the best poilicy while things are discussed and debated.
I personally this that if permanent deacons wore the collar while in ministry (except those few ministries where the collar might not be helpful)the Catholic people would begin to develop a healthier and more accurate understanding of who the deaocn is and that his ministry is part of the hierarchical service of the Church. “A picture is worth a thousand words” and how true in this case! If recognizable (collared) deacons abounded in ministry I think the people would come to know (not just see) that we are indeed ordained clergy of the Catholic Church with an official function. Furthermore, over time the idea of an ordained Catholic clercyman with a wife and kids would not be seen as such a “big deal” and our grandchildren might just grow up in a Church wherein the whole concept of having both married and celibate clergy is not something restricted to the Eastern Church.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Your second point (about seminarians wearing clerical attire) brings a whole new twist to this discussion. You are correct, of course. A surprising number of major seminaries — often at the insistence of the seminarians themselves — allow seminarians to wear cassocks to class. And, yes, they do this even though they have not yet been accepted “in Holy Orders.” Perhaps this is all rather medieval where/when a long robe was pretty practical in those old drafty monasteries.
A seminary, however, is like a monastery in many ways, and maybe even more like a military basic training camp. Its environment is educational and academic but also to a very, very restricted population. Both the seminary and the boot-camp require a tough application process, then both start to break down secular/civilian presumptions and then both rebuild the applicant upon long-standing traditional values that both of those institutions hold dear. Both institutions require all their participants to be “in uniform” and neither of them relish sharing that professional collegiality with anyone else outside of their select group.
Perhaps you also know that a Permanently Ordained Married Deacon — regardless how impressive his academic status is — will only VERY RARELY be given a faculty position at a major seminary. Apparently there is some concern that some seminarians will be dissuaded by that type of a faculty-mentor enough that they will drop out of formal seminary training — once they realize that you can be both married and be a cleric at the same time?
Frankly, I really don’t like the idea of non-clerical seminarians wearing either the collar or the cassock. They haven’t passed the test!

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posted November 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Fiergenholt – good points. Thanks. For the record I am not against sems wearing the clerical clothing but my point was directed at some of the reasons why permanent deacons are disuaded or even disallowed this canonical clerical right.
Considering that on most weekends and every summer sems are sent out into the parishes, and that many sems are as old as many priests (its not just college boys anymore)the argument of confusion over who is a priest is blown out of the water. That cannot be the real reason. Its too obvious and easy to disprove it.
To be quite blunt and honest: my intuition and experience tells me the most fundamental reason is that most of us permanent deacons are married and even have kids and the image of a Catholic clergyman in collar with the Mrs and the perhaps the brood might be a bit too much for the status quo. But that might be just me…

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posted November 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I am not a deacon nor am I especially knowledgable about the diaconate. So I have a question regarding the thought of a deacon wearing the collar while in ministry. Isn’t the special ministry of a permanant deacon to be a deacon while in his life the secular world?

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posted November 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

“I personally this that if permanent deacons wore the collar while in ministry (except those few ministries where the collar might not be helpful)the Catholic people would begin to develop a healthier and more accurate understanding of who the deaocn is and that his ministry is part of the hierarchical service of the Church.”
That’s how it’s turned out in my diocese.I have worn a collar since I was ordained in 2001. I teach Theology in a Catholic High School, and I am in a collar every day. Our people now see it as a “clergy collar,” not just a “priest collar,”
Deacons are now seen as clergy, many of them married, and part of the hierarchy of the Church. Not laypeople.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Ttarp – a deacon IS a deacon in the secular realm but that is not why he is ordained; rather it is because ordination to the diaconate changes the man sacramentally (as does that to the priesthood) and so the deacon is configured to Christ 24/7 x 365 as a minister. A deacon is ordained a clergyman to carry out a threefold ministry of Liturgy, Word and Works of Mercy.
Deaconnecessary – that is exactly what I heave heard from across the country in dioceses where the collar is either mandated or encouraged for use in ministry. Even though many knew a guy was a deacon when they saw him “dressed the part” it was like a light went on inside their heads. One guy relayed that the youth group seemed a bit confused but they one teen exclaimed: “OH I get it! You’re official like Fr. (pastor).” As I said in previous post, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

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posted November 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Dante, I apologize for not getting it, don’t have an agenda, and am not picking a fight. If the deacon is configured to Christ 24x7x365 as a minister, and he would wearhis collar while in ministry, wouldn’t he wear his collar all the time?

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Gerard Nadal

posted November 15, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Deacons and Seminarians should definitely be permitted to wear the collar. Clericalism is not a function of the collar. Clericalism is something that starts with imperious seminary faculty. A good formation team should be able to give good witness and filter out those without a servant’s heart.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Ttarp – you are correct in that IF the collar was madated to be worn 24/7 as a sign of clerical vocation then a deacon should indeed do so. However, the Church gives deacons the exemption because of the many who work in secular occupations where such may not be appreciated or permitted. Also, it is important to know that clerical attire differs according to various locales (for example the German and Swiss, I believe, wear or used to wear a gray suit, white shirt and tie, with a cross lapel pin). There have also been times in Church history when no clerical garb was permitted (Mexico, nations occupied by Communist regimes). I guess the bottom line is that ine uses his common sense in obedience to appropriate Church authority.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Nine posts debating the issue of clerical collars i the Catholic Church. Please give me a rationale for why this is important enough to be posted on Deacon’s Bench.

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posted November 15, 2010 at 9:54 pm

it only is surprising if you have not been around many deacons, wait till they get talking about vestments and dalmatics!!

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 15, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Did you even read the original post by the seminarian?
Dcn. G.

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posted November 16, 2010 at 12:25 am

Anthony….dalmatics??!!!! Now you’re talkin….with lace or monastic alb????? LOL

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Deacon Norb

posted November 16, 2010 at 1:40 am

Being the sort of amateur historian I am, I have been trying to place this vice of arrogant “clericalism” into some context.
It was quite the topic of conversations in the mid-late 1990’s in our area. In fact, I can remember at least one long meeting of our local deanery where the priests and deacons thrashed this issue out for several hours. That discussion took a bizarre turn when one priest all but accused one deacon of clericalism, not because he was addicted to the trappings of the clerical state but because he was a high-powered manager in his secular profession and rather naturally slipped into a very directive style of leadership with folks when trying to solve some local pastoral issues.
Since the pedophile crisis of the early 2000’s, however, that vice has not surfaced in our area at all — even in conversations. It is almost as if that whole scandal forced a lot of bishops, seminary professors, priests (and even maybe some deacons) into eating a lot of “humble-pie.” It seems as if any arrogant clericalism vanished into history.
And maybe that is a good thing.

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posted November 16, 2010 at 11:14 am

Deacon Greg:
Of course I read your post. But you did catch me; I did not read the “Read more” section. Responding to your challenge, I just read the “rest of the story.” The seminarian’s sincerity and desire to serve are very evident and very touching. However, I have some issues with the his comment: “Suddenly, I had gravitas.”
It reminded me of encounter I witnessed a few years ago. A priest was teasing a nun who was no longer wearing the habit. Her response was: “But, Father, doesn’t my charism still show?”

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posted November 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I understand the seminarian’s comment. As a volunteer, I sometimes have to don an official uniform and badge of my state, or drive a marked vehicle. When I do so, to the average person I AM the state; what I do reflects not only on me, but upon my agency and even upon the entire state; my behaviors reflect all the way up to the Governor.
When one dons a uniform, be it that of public safety or that of spiritual service, one puts on the persona represented by that uniform. It is no less than a visceral means of communication, telling the world that the wearer can be counted upon to act and respond in a certain manner. In my case, counted upon to serve the public of my state; in the case of the seminarian, to serve the Body of Christ.

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Folding Dave

posted April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am

Say, you got a nice article.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.

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