December 8, 2010

What to Wear?

An interesting question came up in our house chapter (i.e. community meeting) last night: does it matter what we wear for Mass and Liturgy of the Hours? My province of the Order is pretty casual on this point; there is no expectation that a brother would wear his habit to chapel when we pray in the house. Most would put it on for liturgies in public, though not all.

We were questioning ourselves on this point. Does the relative neatness and formality of someone's external appearance reflect his internal spiritual condition? It's not an easy question, and the answer is both yes and no.

Soul and body are distinct, but in a deep and mysterious relationship. Together they constitute the person who has a vocation in this world and an eternal destiny in the next. We believe in the bodily resurrection, and though it might be difficult to articulate exactly what this might mean, we know that the whole person will go into eternity. As one of my favorite teachers liked to say, "eschatologically speaking, the human being is not a two-stage rocket."

Thus, the exterior does have significance for the interior, and vice versa. When we desire to express our reverence for sacred spaces and times, a neatness or formality in our external appearance is a natural and obvious means. With our more serious and formal clothes on, we then behave in a more serious and reverent manner.

When I first began attending a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, one of the things that immediately edified me was the care the people seemed to have taken with their dress and appearance. As I have written about many times, what hooked me into an interest in the EF was the discovery of a reverence and recollection among the people that I had been missing in some other parts of my liturgical life. No doubt the practice of dressing in a particular or formal way for Mass was formative for them as well.

On the other hand, I think that care must always be taken not to push such reflections and claims too far. I suspect that some of the most sincere prayers in this world come from people who both feel and look a mess. Some religious will say that the relative neatness and cleanliness of one's room or appearance is indicative of the state of soul and vocation within, but this is not always the case. Along the way I have met very spiritual brothers who were quite slovenly and even dirty. On the other hand, sometimes someone will try to deal with internal chaos by controlling the neatness of his external world.


Thom, sfo said...

I have to wonder how Francis would have approached this.

Brother Charles said...

A very interesting question! On the one hand, Francis commands in the Rule that the friars' clothes exhibit vilitas, which is usually translated "poor," but could also be "cheap." 'Vile,' of course, is in there too.

On the other hand, Francis is very strong about the cleanliness and neatness of churches and sacred things.

Barb, sfo said...

Interesting. I'm SFO, and I pray the Hours at home. Generally, though, I've just woken up or am almost ready to go to sleep. (Evening Prayer around the dinner hour doesn't work in my family!) So...I pray in my pajamas.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Along similar lines, when my children were growing up, they sometimes attended public school and sometimes private (usually religious) school. I noticed that when they wore uniforms, their behavior (and the behavior of their peers) tended to be better.

Brother Charles said...

Barb: I'm usually in the same condition when I pray the Office of Readings each morning.

RJ said...

A few reasons come to mind:

The habit is a sacramental, so is an occasion of grace to those rightly disposed.

I assume it's specified in your constitutions, so it could be taken as a sign of faithfulness and obedience (I think St Francis would have approved of that).

It was not abrogated by Vatican II, which said that the habit should be adapted. You don't adapt something by discarding it.

The most recent document I know of, Vita Consecrata, said:

Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.

Anonymous said...

Is the importance in what you wear, or how you wear it?

Anonymous said...

the religious habit is a sign of consecration. it is not a costume and it should not be treated as such. in very few congregation does a habit not exist. most often, therefore, a habit is not optional.

taking the habit on and off like one takes off the winter coat seems a bit foolish, trivializing the witness.

the popes have asked with conviction, in no uncertain words, that religious are expected to wear the habit and diocesan priests a collar and/or cassock.

the habit matters. among the friars it is a witness to each other helping one another sustain each other's vocation; in front of the world the habit witnesses to the Gospel and to the vows. so, it is what and how and why and to what end one wears the habit.

capuchins, like the benedictines, dominicans, norbertines, should be wearing the habit to Mass, the Divine Office, to the apostolate, around the house. enough of the casual.

Brother Charles said...


Greg said...

In the middle of your post we walk past one of those mysterious doors that most of us choose to leave closed.

"Soul and body are distinct, but in a deep and mysterious relationship."

"Why must it be mysterious?" we ponder, then we scoot past.

"We believe in the bodily resurrection, and though it might be difficult to articulate exactly what this might mean,..."

Difficult, yes, but not impossible. We rush past, however, leaving the door closed, hoping no one opens it while we are present.

"we know that the whole person will go into eternity."

We pause and look back. Do we really know that? What could that possibly mean? Then a little voice says, "Move on, move on, nothing to see here."

"As one of my favorite teachers liked to say, 'eschatologically speaking, the human being is not a two-stage rocket.'"

But if it is a mystery, how do we know that? Are we simply clinging to flesh? Must St. Paul convince us once again, when we have "departed" to quit hanging on to the flesh? Is our obsession with the flesh clouding our judgment?

Or do we turn to Origen in Principiis (v3) for his discussion of vessels and souls...

Most of the time we think better of it and scoot past that door.

RJ said...

Further thoughts: wearing a habit is not a matter of individual preference, nor does it depend entirely on the local community. It's already been decided: the question doesn't need revisiting.

Moreover, I suspect there is an insidious temptation here..."You know, it doesn't really matter" etc. etc....but what else suffers when this little slackening is accepted? Poverty perhaps: we have to think about clothes. Do we have a set of smarter clothes and another less smart, one thing suitable for this occasion, another for that? No. Wearing the habit gives you one less thing to worry about.

What else might suffer: community spirit? Distinctions might begin to emerge.

The devil is always filing away quietly; introducing seemingly harmless things that undermine us.

Anonymous said...

The idea "Wearing the habit gives you one less thing to worry about" is understandable,l practical but is missing the point. The matter is not about utility; about having fewer choices to make in terms of wardrobe.

Wearing the religious habit or the Roman cassock if you are a secular priest, is about the witness of the Kingdom of God; it is about the eschatological nature of religious vows; it is about conforming one's life to the crucified and risen One.

What part of the Capuchin habit blessed? Is every new habit blessed, if it is blessed at all?

Another point: wearing the habit is about obedience to Mother Church and obedience to the Rule and Constitutions. Period.

Anonymous said...

Friar Charles may have opened a bag of hot air. I mentioned the Capuchin Constitutions, as one item, I thought I would provide here what's said there...

From the Capuchin Constitutions (1990):

The religious habit is given during the rite of religious profession, even though the clothes of probation may have been previously received. Let us remember the clothes we wear must be a sign both of our consecration to God and of our minority and fraternity.

Clothed as we are with the meek and humble Christ, let us not be fraudulent minors but those who are sincere in heart, word and deed.

The signs of humility that the brothers wear outwardly contribute little to the salvation of souls unless they are animated by a spirit of humility.
Following the example of Saint Francis, therefore, let us make every effort to become good and not merely to appear so, to be the same in word and in life, within and without and, considering ourselves less than all others, as the Rule admonishes us, let us surpass others in showing respect.

Our habit, according to the Rule and custom of the Order, consists of a tunic with a hood, chestnut in color, a cord and sandals, or, for a just cause, shoes.
Let the brothers, as a sign of their consecration and a witness of poverty, wear the habit of the Order. The norm of pluriformity applies to the custom of wearing the beard. (33)

Anonymous said...

Next year when I receive my habit, I'm going to wear it as much as possible within reason. Obviously I won't be wearing it to the gym, but I will be wearing it whenever I'm in public, even in airports :)

Anonymous said...

I shared this with one of my brothers. Good insights.

A few things I've noticed as someone only wearing the habit now for three and a half months. One, it's more uncomfortable than I thought it would be when I'm "seen" in public wearing it. I think that's a good thing. Two, wearing it around the monastery is important, I think, because my primary apostolate is community itself, and so it is within my community that I am most in need of witnessing to myself, which I think is the primary purpose of the habit. It is only after witnessing to myself that its public witness/sacramental value seems to make sense.

I can't say yet whether it affects my disposition in prayer, and I do think there is a temptation to pride/vanity that I constantly must battle and struggle with regarding the habit, but that's a good struggle, I think.

Anyway, just some varied, random, discombobulated thoughts :)