20 March 2009

Questions about habits (Updated)

[NB. Thank you all for the great comments on this post! I believe that my initial assertion--habit-wearing can stir conversation and controversy!--has proven to be true. I remember one thing my novice master told us the first time we met in a novice chapter, "Brothers, we can wear the habit as a weapon--to intimidate, to segregate, to hide. We can also refuse to wear the habit, and this too can be a weapon--to intimidate, to segregate, to hide. The habit can be made into a costume to hide who you are. It can be an outfit to accessorize. It can be a symbol of power and authority you do not rightfully have. It can also be a sign of your preaching." In my mind, "to wear or not to wear" is not the question. The question is: what is the Dominican habit to a Dominican?]

If you want to start an argument among Dominican friars you could not do it more quickly than to ask: "So, why don't you guys wear your habits all the time?" The next sound you will hear is the room exploding.

My first argument as a Dominican--during the pre-novitiate retreat, no less!--was about when and how often we should wear the habit. My first yelling match in the novitiate was over the habit. My first challenge to authority in the Order was about wearing the habit to class at our Dominican owned and operated school of theology (that's right, we were forbidden to wear our habit at our own school!). I've turned down teaching opportunities at Catholic schools where wearing the habit would be discouraged.

You might think then that I am almost never out of the habit. You'd be wrong. I spend most of my day in shorts and a tee-shirt. I go out shopping in street clothes. I travel in civvies. Generally speaking, I wear the habit here in Rome on three occasions: to class, to ministry, to liturgical celebrations (and when you consider that I am almost always doing one of these or all three, I'm in-habited more often than not). I have worn it to show visitors around town. And to dinner if someone is treating me.

Religious habits in Rome are like cats in the forum--many and variously colored. The white Dominican habit is very striking. Add the black cappa and you have what we like to call "The Cadillac of Habits." I'm told that we Dominicans must always wear the black part of our habit when walking around in Rome. Apparently, only the Holy Father may wear white in urbe. I've never seen this written down anywhere, but some of the friars insist on it and others dismiss it. The Norbetines and one other male religious group in Rome have habits almost identical to ours. Some of the African sisters' groups have bright pink habits. Some have a deep indigo. Others a pale yellow. The strangest habit I've ever seen belongs to the Heralds of the Gospel. These guys look like knights w/o their armor!

So, why not wear the habit all the time? There are many practical reasons: 1) it's white, so it gets very dirty, very quickly; 2) it's not the most utilitarian garb--lots of flowing material makes working in libraries, etc. difficult; 3) it's hot, sometimes very hot depending on the material. None of these alone nor all of them together are perfect reasons not to wear the habit all the time. More like a list of excuses, really. Sometimes wearing the habit draws the wrong kind of attention--anti-clerical types, religious nuts (and I mean the dangerous, mentally unstable types), people wanting to convert you, people demanding apologies for the abuse heaped upon them by Sr. Mary of the Five Wounds when they were in third grade, etc. However, you also get positive attention as well--kind comments about being a priest, requests for blessings and prayers, sometimes a quick confession, often simple questions about something Catholic in the news.

For the OP's there are no hard and fast rules for wearing the habit. I've noticed that among some of the European friars, the habit is pretty much dead. Here at the Angelicum, OP students and profs wear them to class. We wear them to meals and prayer. I often see the younger friars leaving the university in habit. Sometimes I will see a friar in the cloister hallway wearing just the tunic and belt, indicating to me that he's in habit while in his room. I've even seen friars coming out of the bathroom in full kit! That's dedication right there.

Some wear the habit as a sign of consecration. Others because it is a way to maintain poverty. Many because they need the reminder that they are religious. And even a few as a form of obedience. There may be one or two in the Order who wear it for all these reasons. There are some who refuse to wear the habit because they see it as a medieval garb inappropriate for the 21st century. The habit is a sign of male authority. The habit encourages clericalism. The habit is weapon, a shield, a barrier, a mask, an obstacle. It's too monastic. I've heard otherwise perfectly sane and highly intelligent OP's say all of these things. Fortunately, these friars are in a tiny, tiny (and shrinking) minority.

Now, watch the combox fill up with OP arguments!

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  1. Is there any guidance from superiors on whether or not to wear the habit, or is it mostly left to individual friars?

    I have been taught that one can recognise a Dominican here in the Netherlands by the shortness of his tie!

  2. Venite,

    It differs from province to province. The constitutions leave it up to the provincial to set policy for his province. Generally, priors in individual houses determine habit use at prayer and meals. Practically speaking, once a friar is solemnly professed, he can wear the habit as he likes. The ones who really catch the brunt of the ideological explosions over habit wear are the novices and students.

    I wasn't aware there were any OP's left in the Netherlands.

  3. A Real Man3:40 AM

    That is why like you have one vocation and is probably corrupted already. All the orders that don't use their habit end up with no vocations. And the Dominicans are suffering for it.

    On the other hand you commented the Heralds of the Gospel. Call it strange but I saw their video site and they've got TONS of vocations.

    And then you have the traditional nun habit vs the my grandma-dresses-better habits. The traditional ones have vocations.

    Even in Europe!

    Shorts and t-shirts! And I wonder how the moral life of most Dominicans are, because I wonder where is it that they go that they can't go in at least a clergyman.

  4. Real,

    Um, I wear shorts and tee-shirt in my room and in the cloister. If it is really hot, I will wear shorts out. And don't go anywhere I'm not supposed to...regardless of how I am dressed.

    OP's are doing quite well in the US, Poland, Central and South America. Not so well in northern and western Europe...though the UK is doing well.

    My province had five novices last year and four this year. The other 3 provinces in the US had at least twice this number each.

    When I say the habits of the Heralds are strange I mean exactly that: their habits are a bit odd. The Heralds themselves seem like great men and women. I take classes with several.

  5. I thought this quote might interest you:

    "One who has been trained in the errors and almost incredible prejudices of Protestantism is inclined to laugh at that exterior garb in which the Catholic Priest presents himself before an audience to teach the Gospel truths. ... The cassock, the surplice and the stole seem useless or absurd novelties to those who, familiar with ministers, see them continually preaching the Bible in their secular garb, which they use on all religious occasions. An explanation of the reason and Religious signification of the Priestly vestments served wonderfully to win respect and reverence for that Church which covers the frail humanity of the priest with the Mantle of her Apostolic Mission and with the emblems of her celestial virtues or better with those of her Divine Spouse, humiliated and suffering on earth."

    Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP (1806-1864) from his memoirs, originally published in 1844. This quote comes from a recent reprint of these memoirs entitled _The Missionary_ (Anza Publishing, 2005) ISBN 1-932490-10-8, p. 220.

    Father Mazzuchelli was a Dominican missionary to the upper midwest United States, where he led a remarkable life, founding many parishes and schools. A practical man, from his memoirs, he seems to have had the opinion that wearing some sort of obvious clerical clothing was a good means of evangelization.

    I'm rather fond of him--he helped to found the parish that I attend and as a convert, I rather look upon him as one who helped me in my journey. :-)

  6. There is a new group in Boston that has a really cool habit. They're the Little Brothers of St. Francis. The habit is the regular Franciscan habit, except that the material is denim. Yep, that's right: "denim/ jeans/ dungaree/blue jeans." And it's the nice soft material that your favorite jeans are made of. They're light blue. Franciscans wear their habits all over Boston: shopping, the T, the Common, etc. Our Cardinal, O'Malley is a Franciscan and you'll notice he's always in habit.

  7. A Real Man6:39 AM

    Well the Pope just recently talked about using the cassock. Now that gets ruined. Should we not use it for that reason?

    Get some 3 habits and send them to wash often. If you are lazy and lean on wall, then sure you will get dirty. Especially in Italy, where cleanliness is a rare comodity.

    Shorts and T-shirts are still things that I disagree even for lay people to use around all day. Unless you are swiming, shorts are for little boys. Real men wear pants. Even in your house you need to have some order and discipline. If not, little habits tend to be an indicative of what happens interiorly.

    Its my soul. What I do with it inside is my problem...

    Plus, only God, Heaven and Hell can see what I am doing when I am alone!

  8. A Real Man6:43 AM

    I don't mean any disrespect. I just don't buy that you can't wear a habit because of outsider reactions. If they are anti-clerical, then just let them know how much you are anti-secular.

  9. As a lay person who is only an observer, I can tell you that I think habits are important. They symbolize the commitment to Christ and to an extraordinary life not lived by most of us. I think one of the negatives of the past 40+ years is the view of some that Fr. (or Sister) needs to be a "regular guy." We need compelling, dynamic leaders in this life and you folks lead the way.

    Uniformity is symbolic in many professions. It enhances "esprit de corps", and presents an immediate message. If you don't think so, go ask a cop, or a Marine.

  10. I'd think wearing the habit as often as comfortable/practical would help serve as a reminder to all that Catholic clergy might be in this world but not of it. The follow-on thought would involve recognition of that "other world" to which we all have to answer some day.

    So time spent recognizing the purported existence of that "other world" may help turn some minds away from being centered on this materialistic one. In the end it might be a good thing. After all, out of little acorns do mighty oaks grow.

    Sorry to run on like I have but it's a habit.

  11. Few things bring a smile to my face as seeing someone in a religious habit. In my parish we occasionally see sisters from the Vietnamese Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena here in Houston. They are received well and have always been very nice to me.

  12. Personally, I like the habits--especially those of the Dominicans and Franciscans. Call me a little eccentric (hopefully not in a prideful way), but if they made such a thing for third order irregulars (or lay people in general), I would probably wear it as often as I could, as a sort of sacramental. I would almost certainly wear it at last to Sunday Mass.
    There are plenty of religious in our diocese, but the only one I ever see in habit (outside of special occasions) is one of our Franciscan priests. Most of the others stick to the black slacks and shirt that are so prevalent--the same outfit worn by many ministers of the "mainline" Protestant denominations. As to the reason that some have cited about not wanting to be targets of anti-clericalism, whatever happened to "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you"?

  13. I remember before entering the novitiate having told some friends of mine:
    "Oh, I will wear the habit all the time... you see, the way I look at it is, there are those who will appreciate it, and those who will hate it. So, when people are nice to you because of it, that balances out the people who are mean to you because of it."

    Aside from analyzing my logic at the time... Oddly enough, I didn't expect the ones to be the most opposed to my wearing it in public to be my own brothers.

    That said, I wear the habit as often as I can without being disobedient to my superiors who have asked us not to wear it on certain occasions. I, personally, feel disingenuous when I do not wear it in public, so I wear some other symbol, like a cross.

    The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (which can be read here: http://www.op.org/curia/ConstOP/) state the following about the habit:

    "The brethren should wear the habit of the Order in our convents as a sign of our consecration, unless for a just cause the prior provincial shall have determined otherwise. Outside the convent, ecclesiastical laws being observed, the direction of the prior provincial shall be followed."

    As for the prior provincial, I've looked, but never found any written policies or directives about this for my province. So, as Canon Law and Vatican II both state that religious should wear their proper habits, and add that to various statements of JPII and Paul VI... The mind of the Order and the Church seems clear to me.

    That may seem simplistic, but I'm just tired of explaining things away that are clearly and rationally laid out. All the same, I don't always like wearing the habit, sometimes it can seem cumbersome, and sometimes I wish that we could modify it a bit, sometimes I feel foolish when I'm the only one dressed like this, consider walking into a Home Depot... but I cope, it's a truly humbling experience.

    Something important to me about wearing the habit is that I remember times past where religious were REALLY persecuted and forbidden to wear the habit. When I get annoyed because of the habit, I try to think of that, and wear it "proudly" in solidarity with those who have gone before me and not been able to wear it in public. To shirk this real privilege seems, to me, to insult so many who have been forced to surrender the signs of their consecration and even given their lives for their religious vows.

  14. Historically, the dominican habit is, along with the brown Franciscan habit,one of the most recognizable habits. At least in Latin America, the Dominican great influence is difficult to deny or to ignore. There is a whole country, for instance, with its capital that received its name from the Doiminican order. The first defensor of the Indians was a Dominican (Bartolome de las casas), also do not forget San Martin de Porres nor Santa Rosa de Lima, don't you dare messing with them in L.America or you will hear it! LOL. And in all of these instances the white and black habit is so quickly identified that I can't think of a Dominican in latin America not publically wearing it, and believe me: it can get hot down there.
    I grew up seeing religious in habits on the streets all my life in Mexico, I don't see why so many "modern trend" people these days would like to join a mendicant order and become friars and not wear the habit? Hello!


  15. I'm a son of the Dominican Province of the Philippines and a professor of Canon Law at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Here we don't have a problem about wearing the op habit or not. In the novitiate, the novices are required to wear the habit at certain times like classes, common prayers, doing apostolate outside the novitiate house. Philosophy and theology students wear the habit during communal prayers, meals and while doing apostolate; they can wear the habit during classes if they like. Clerics wear the habit when administering the sacraments, teaching in classes (if not, at least in clerical attire), giving talks or retreats, attending sick (hospital) calls even during wee hours of the morning, also when doing administrative work - the people like it and manifest due reverence to us. Even protestant ministers show their reverence for those in habit, etc. --- Just like I said, we don't have problems wearing our habit or not. God bless.

  16. We recently had an online exchange regarding this topic in our Province. Very interesting and diverse reactions. The elements of the discussion were focused on the witness of the habit to a world in need of a sign of God and the practicalities of wearing it in travel and grocery stores, etc.

    Basically the majority of the differences are based on the age of the friar and not as much theological identity. But as the world becomes more and more hostile to the Church and to faith in general, it is necessary to stand as a sign and show the world there are many who have given all for the Gospel.

    That being said, I do not wear my habit when caoching baseball, it makes throwing batting practice a little difficult. ;-)

  17. catholic college student10:25 AM

    Interesting. I'm wondering, Father, would you say the same for women religious as well? It almost seems, from my experience, there's differing opinions from males to females when it comes to wearing the habit or for priests, cassock/clerics.

    When priests are at home, in their rectory, it seems appropriate for them to wear 'normal' clothing. So I could see the same argument for a religious inside of the cloister-- yet, for whatever reason, I can only picture it for the male religious, and not the female.

  18. "If you are lazy and lean on wall, then sure you will get dirty."

    Real Man, you evidently never had to wear anything in the way of a uniform that made you a representative of an organization.

    I spent 22 years in the USN, so I can identify with the problems of keeping light colored clothing presentable. It's a four star flaming pain in the rump! I imagine anyone who took a vow of poverty would find it much harder than comparatively well paid military men.

    Bottom line, you don't know what you're talking about!

  19. Do you mean to say you own clothes?

    So soon you want to abandon poverty and build great palaces!

  20. "Real Man" said you shouldn't wear long pants at home?????


    Sorry, but I'd love to see you hang out around here in mid August!!

  21. Tom,

    Yes, I own clothes. To the great embarrassment of my more fashionable brothers, all my civvies are purchased at Wal-Mart...

  22. Anonymous3:15 PM

    Brother, the nuns wear their habit all the time, when they travel, when it's hot, when they do dirty work and they wear a veil, too, which keeps all the heat in...

    And yes it gets dirty. That's why you need to wash it regularly and not wait until the dirt rots the fold line on the sleeves or the hem or collar! Trust me, even we, who can do miracles with habits have a hard time with that one!

    I love and respect all my brothers whether or not they wear the habit but those excuses really don't cut it with the the nuns.

    I must say, though, that an OP in clerics always looks odd! :-)

    One of your OP Sisters

  23. A Real Man3:19 PM

    Take the Franciscans of the Renewal. They are totally new. New style of evangelizing. Yet their habit makes them identifiable as people of God, ready to serve the community. Without this, they are just "another".

    As far as representation, does a varsity jacket count?

  24. Anonymous8:01 PM

    Personally, I am always VERY happy to see the consecrated people in their habits.

    I confess I don't understand why (unless out of obedience to superiors of course) a person would ever NOT wear their habits in public, or where others can see you. It is a sign of being consecrated for God. And in a greater sense, the solidity and timelessness of the Catholic Church. Do the vows change? Does the Church change? No. So why change out of the habit?

    Too hot? An opportunity for sacrifice. Hatred and abuse? An opportunity for grace. Don't get me wrong, I am aware that this can be a big burden, and I tremendously admire those with the courage to do this day in and day out, in this generally very anti-clerical society.

    The Missionaries of Charity have a very difficult habit to keep clean--somehow, they manage it, despite their many duties in the world. A dear OP sister I knew, changed to a lighter material in the summer. She would NEVER dream of running around in anything different than her habit.

    On a practical note, the nomads in the desert have long been wearing long, flowing garments, covering up their entire bodies, despite the intense heat. They've found it better to dress in layers.

    God Bless,

    Embattled Catholic

  25. Anonymous8:49 PM


  26. i always thought it funny to see the sisters (OP) in front of their convent raking leaves or grocery shopping , playing kick ball with students, etc. in their habits...but then see friars in the same grocery store and book shops in fancy duds...and some of those friars are VERY snazzy dressers...poverty?

  27. I agree with subvet regarding problems with white uniforms though my US Navy hitch was only six years. As a lay person, wearing a sailor's uniform is as close as I can come to identifying with this discussion. However, looking back I can say I wore my uniform with pride and regret not having more opportunities to wear it in public due to security concerns. In fact, a big factor in my joining the Navy was the recruiter's cracker jack dress blues.(I'm eccentric too!)

    I enjoy seeing religious people in their "uniforms" and think it sad that it has grown out of favor with some.

  28. I wonder whether "clerical garb" could be worn when the habit would be inconvenient. I think this is a mildly more equitable solution, at least in my eyes, to merely wearing civilian clothing.

  29. (possible duplicate comment. sorry.)

    "O God, kindly save us from our folly with a dress code." :)

  30. OP Sister,

    I stand admonished!

    One big difference btw the friars and the sisters is that the friars have always worn the habit off and on. The sisters (traditionally) never took it off. Often this difference is pointed out as the reason so many modern sisters have abandoned the habit altogether. There was no flexibility in when and where the habit was worn.

    I need a really good, breathable habit! I have two: one is polyester and hot and the other is wool and VERY hot.

  31. I am much like Fr. Philip in the mode of wearing/not wearing the habit. Part of the problem with the habit is that they cost us just under $500 (we have a contract with a lady who makes our province's habits). So, I try to stretch out the wear and tear and not use it for everything. It's not chintzy or cheap material -- it's good and solid, but if you wear something white everyday, the washer and dryer WILL take their toll.

    I'd add one thing about the habit (tagging on to CPE): patients and their families in hospitals tend to see the habit as less "deathly." The black clericals make too many people think of Last Rites right away. They equate the man in black as their ticket-puncher to the next life. The habit is a little "softer" psychologically, for some reason. They *know* I'm a priest with the habit, as much as if I were in clericals, but don't seem as afraid. Go figure.

  32. Fr. Dismas,

    $500!? My last habit was just under $200. Maybe we need to talk...

  33. When the priests and nuns wear their habits, they remind us about God. Or at least for me personally, it reminds me to think about God whenever I see a religious person in her/his habit.

  34. Br. Robert, OP5:12 PM

    I think the question of when or whether to wear the habit is much less important than the question of what color socks to wear with it. White socks? Black socks? Red socks with blue stripes?

  35. From the point of view of a mother: the presence of religious in habit brings about the opportunity to talk to young ones about being open to God's call to the religious life. (this is not to say we do not discuss this already; seeing one in habit brings the discussion to life.) Simply put, I believe wearing the habit = more vocations. Period.

  36. CarpeNoctem9:43 PM

    I'm a diocesan priest in the military, and in that role, I do not wear the 'blacks' while on military duty. I do wear a uniform for just about all other functions you can imagine when I am on duty, which might seem strange to my civilian counterparts who seem to gravitate to the plaids and Dockers during the 'duty day' at the parish.

    The profession of arms and the priestly 'profession' are different activities, but I think that the wear of the military uniform would be an instructive exercise for priests. Here's some random points, in no particular order:

    1) The military uniform and its distinctive pieces are only worn by members of the military and cannot be worn or even purchased (legally, at least) by non-members-- one can be imprisoned under federal law for impersonating a member of the military. There are special allowances (with pretty tight restrictions) for retired members, cadets, actors, and some other special groups.

    Clerical attire should only be worn by those who are priviledged by ordination or their status as seminarians only when the discipline of their bishop/rector/superior allows.

    2) The military uniform (ineed, a "uniform of the day") is worn when a person is engaged in official duties, unless there are specific orders to the contrary-- which would normally be when personal safety or organizational security is compromised. Obviously, when in quarters one sleeps in... whatever, just so long they are wearing something when the fire alarm goes off or some other emergency arises.

    Clerics who are 'on duty' should always be properly attired to allow for their identification in the 'battlefield', to maintain a standard of professionalism (no jeans and tie-dyes), to build comraderie within the ranks, and to inspire potential recruits (among other reasons). Obviously there are times when clerics are not appropriate, when personal safety or organizational security are compromised... which can be a concern! Obviously when in quarters sleeping... whatever, again as long as they are wearing something so they can respond to emergencies.

    3) The military uniform needs to be in good repair, properly buttoned/zipped/etc, with appropriate rank/badges/nametag/ribbons/etc, and otherwise 'serviceable'.

    The priestly uniform should be treated in the same manner. No plastic collars hanging off to one side with the top button down, no faded shirts with a hint of a lunch stain on it. Shoes shined, matching socks, no facial hair.

    4. Wouldn't it be interesting for priests to have a 'uniform of the day'? Sunday the "Class A's" - a full soutane. Meetings at the bishop's office, "Class B's" - a clerical suit. On the road or in the trenches, "BDU's" - tab shirt. PT, a "PT" uniform - hmmmm... don't know many priests who can do a single push-up... this is a whole other discussion.

    5) Officers purchase their uniforms.

    Well, I guess priests do too.

    6) In the military, you watch out for each other to keep everyone in line, particularly seniors to juniors, officers to enlisted.

    Priests' responsibility to watch out for each other is frequently is ignored or is taken as offense... whether it is in basic attire or even hygiene, behavior, or language.

    7) The military uniform is not worn in places that would bring disrepute to the services... bars, strip clubs, protests, etc. One must be cleared by a 'public affairs' branch to be cleared to appear in newspapers, tv, etc.

    Both should apply to priests. I was taught both in basic and in seminary that if it is a place where you would not be comfortable attired as a military member or as a priest, you probably shouldn't be there in the first place. On being cleared to appear on TV, that's not a bad idea to keep chumps like Fr. Reese and his off the air.

    8) In a way, the uniform means more than the person who is wearing it. It is a symbol to everyone who sees it of service, sacrifice, heroism, duty, honor, tradition, professionalism. Those who put it on should do so with all these things in mind and with the intention to make good on these attitudes in his own life, out of respect for those he works with, those who have gone before, those who will come after, and especially those who have paid the ultimate price while wearing the uniform.

    Priests? Ditto.

  37. Anonymous4:11 AM

    This has become a very interesting post. I live in community with you, Father Philip Neri, and whereas we typically agree on most topics, I do not share your custom of the infrequent use of the holy habit, as I've told you. This is not, of course, between you and me however; I believe I can add to the broader dialogue.

    There is a highly significant reason for frequent and regular use of the holy habit that has only been mentioned once in this entire string (by Anonymous): Sacrifice. The habit is intended, among many other things, to be an instrument of penance. Accordingly, comments like "It gets hot..." "It's hard to clean..." "It costs so much... (is the secular clothing worn in place of the habit available to us free of charge?) usually don't move me. However, I must say that I think I can figure out the identity of some of the authors of some of these comments as men with whom I have lived in community over the years, and every one of them is a very fine Religious and a man of sacrifice. So there you go. We are coming out of a period of enormous confusion regarding religious life, so much so that there is sometimes difficult disagreement over substantial issues among the most fervent members themselves. I believe the ingredient essential to a reclamation of the enduring values of consecrated life for all of us is a recommitment to penance. The Thursday night Holy Hour with the Sacred Heart is an excellent place to start. Fasting is also fundamental, but as we age, our medicines require certain intakes of food, liquids, etc., so that fasting gets beyond our abilities. By the way, do read CarpeNoctem on this post carefully. I've come to see that anyone with military background usually makes an excellent candidate for vows or ordination, and their insights into the relational dynamics operative in communties of men are highly and dependably applicable to communities of priests and Religious.

    Father Michael, O.P.

  38. Timothy3:06 PM

    I had an interesting moment of reflection on this issue once when I went to see the opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites" by Poulenc a few years ago.

    The opera is based on a play about the true story of the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne, who were martyred during the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution. The opera dramatized quite effectively the gradual way in which the ascendant state took away their rights slowly, piece by piece, until in the chilling and powerful final scene the nuns, utterly innocent of any crime, are led to the guillotine singing "Salve Regina", their voices dropping out one by one as the blade falls over and over again, until there was nothing but silence.

    The road to this brutal conclusion is a tale of incremental incursion of state power against the church. First public liturgies are prohibited outside the convent walls. Then priests are prohibited from preaching in public. Soon the Mass is made illegal and the nuns must hold services clandestinely. Then the convent is nationalized and its property taken over by the government.

    Then, any outward religious garb is banned, and the nuns must give up their habits, which are forcibly removed by the police, leaving them behind in nondescript gray clothes.

    Later the nuns are placed under house arrest. Then they are taken away to prison. Finally they are executed in public.

    I was truly struck by the scene when they were forced to give up their habits. It was nothing short of a moment of...violation. Their distinctiveness, their beauty, their elegance, it was all forcibly stripped from them as part of an ongoing process of state-sanctioned oppression and marginalization. It was truly horrifying.

    I couldn't help but think of so many nuns in our time who have voluntarily done just the same thing...many no doubt with the best of motives, but undertaking by themselves what the secular spirit wants to do to them anyway -- an ultimately demeaning process of de-valuing and de-legitimizing, a way of making them conform to the world rather than point beyond it. How very sad the whole thing is.

    I'm not presuming to tell anyone in religious life what to do but I think seeing a dramatization of something like this can really bring home how valuable, unique, and essential the habits of our religious orders really are. And sometimes, perhaps, thinking about historical moments like this can help to identify the source of that little whispering voice which we all hear, lay or religious, which seems to offer so many reasons to "not stand out" in today's culture or to "not draw attention" to our Catholic faith or to the truths it teaches.

    When that whisper reaches full volume, it looks a lot like the soldiers in this sad story.

  39. Father, yes, there are certainly OPs left in the Netherlands. For instance, Fr. Schillebeeckx is still alive (I assume you've heard of him). Although he's technically Belgian, he lives in the Netherlands.

    The OPs have stirred up a bit of a mess here a couple of years ago with their "Church and Ministry"-document, in which they argue for parish-chosen lay priests presiding over the celebration of the Eucharist.

    They don't get novices, but do have ties with some people interested in "alternative forms of religious life". The sisters are basically the same but more low-profile. And there are the Dominican Sisters of Bethany, who are OK (and do seem to get a vocation every once in a while).

    I have heard from Someone Who Probably Knows that there are a few friars still faithful to the Magisterium within the Dutch province, who are probably having a very tough time.

    We suspect that the Order is simply waiting for the "biological solution" (horrible, horrible phrase) to present itself here, and I heard from other OPs that there are some Provinces who can hardly wait to send some friars over once that's happened. I don't want to go all girly over this but the idea of the souls that are getting lost in the mean time make me very sad indeed. All in God's hands, I suppose...

    There is an active chapter of Third Order Seculars who do get new members and are very much taught by the friars, and therefore not helping much with the general confusion within the Dutch Catholic church, either.

    In all this doom and gloom I should say that there is a healthy priory of nuns in Ireland and that the English province really is the hope of Western Europe. The silliest thing English friars seem to do is going on walking pilgrimages in full habit ;)

    When I found out, to my joy and despair, that I probably have a vocation to the Dominican order, I had to come to terms with leaving my country, too. There's also a French sister in my future congregation with a related story. Hopefully other young women in both our countries will find they're crazy enough to do the same, so that in time we can make new foundations (and take over the w... er... and walk around in pretty habits)!

    The Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph have two habits each, which they wear in turn for a week straight. I think that if the Friars were as liberal with wearing huge aprons, they'd have less trouble keeping their habits clean :P (Sr. Michelle told me finding the "perfect fabric" took some time - maybe you can mail her to help out with the polyester horrors.)

  40. Anonymous3:07 PM

    Thank you Timothy for your very insightful comments above.

    Speaking as a lay Catholic, I am always so happy to see religious in their habits. Whether it is merited or not, the assumption by many lay people is that if the religious is not in habit, it is because he does not WANT to be known in public.

    I know of one who said to me that he did not want to wear his clericals while traveling (he doesn't wear them any time except liturgically) because he didn't want to be bothered by people coming up to him and asking to go to confession. Contrast that with Bishop Sheen who wore his clericals in public specifically so that he could minister to those very same penitents.

    Dearly beloved priests, brothers and nuns: please wear your habits! You may not realize what an inspiration you are when you do so!

  41. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I don't really have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation, but since I am a HUGE believer in the value of the habit, I thought I'd weigh in anyway.

    But FIRST: DISMAS: I am a tailor. If someone is charging you $500 for a habit, they saw you coming a LONG time ago. I don't think I've ever gotten more than $75 for a habit in my life! Next time you or any of your brethren need a habit, let me know!!! Honest to God, you have been well and truly ripped off!

    Next, I fully agree with the OP sister who suggested that the excuses offered just don't cut it. In my Province, there USED to be a custom among the laybrothers that they'd wear a grey tunic and belt without the scapular when they were doing dirty jobs, just so they'd still be "in-habited", and that makes a good deal of sense. In the new community of which I was formerly a member for 25 yrs. (a community in the OP tradition, so we wore an version of the OP habit) we had a work habit which was a dark tunic with a hood attached, just so we were identifiable as religious to the wandering visitor as well as ourselves.

    Currently, I am pretty much in the habit all the time, except when I go to Tim Hortons (Canada's version of Dunkin Donuts) in the afternoon, simply because I want to have my coffee and read my novel without much sensation. Otherwise, most of the friars in our Province don't recognise me in civvies.

    In my Province, most of the opposition to the habit comes from folks of a "Certain Age" who entered 50 years ago when the ONLY choice was the woolen habit, which in those days involved even the wearing of woolen underwear, as well as the monastic corona. The "rigidity" of the customs at that time have been matched by an equally rigid regime that limits the use of the habit to that point that it has, for many, been effectively transformed into a liturgical garment--to the point that it has, for 99% of them, become a replacement for the Alb!!! The younger friars, who weren't alive during the great Observance wars of the 60s and 70s and early 80s don't understand all that nonesense. They just see the habit as a valid part of the eco-system of the Religious life, and as an equally valuable evangelisation tool.

    Here's a little quote from a friend of mine which I think helps place the habit in a valid context for future conversation:

    "The point of the habit...is that it transforms the spiritual, courageous and holy significance of the work of the individual sister [or friar] from attributes of her [his] character thatpoint back to her [his] individual goodness, into what has been called "an eschatological sign of the Kingdom" that represents all of her sisterhood [his brotherhood] and is a witness within the universal Church."


    "A religious can't say 'I love my vows' as though they were simply a private devotion between themselves and the Lord. The community is the arena of profession and vows imply 'belonging' as well as consecration. Likewise, if the habit becomes an individual question of personal integrity, it loses the sinificance of denoting community membership. The religious habit is a COMMUNITY question and not a personal question."

    Hope some of this was beneficial.

    Fr. Martin Farrell, op
    Province of Canada

  42. This is pretty interesting stuff. I suspect that there are practical solutions for most of the problems (except maybe the whiteness thing!). Men in medieval recreation groups get used to wearing long, flowing robes in all sorts of situations, including primitive camping and latrines, and there's more and more cassock use. So maybe there needs to be somebody doing columns on practical male robe-wearing techniques and solutions?

    Old joke: "You know you're in the SCA when you smoothe your skirts before sitting down -- and then realize you're wearing jeans -- and you're a guy."

  43. Thank you, Father, for touching on this subject. I don't know if you have time to read all the comments, but I will say that I would prefer religious to wear their habits always (and priests their collars). Easy for me to say, but blessed are you when you are persecuted in "uniform". I know it's not easy to be always on the job, and that you want to fly under the radar sometimes. But the good you do just being seen in uniform is so valuable. Maybe in Rome it's not so important, but other places where habits are a rare sight, you could be such a blessing. Sometimes just seeing a priest or nun on the street or in the airport is a sign of hope for someone struggling with their faith.

    For what it's worth, my wife and I often feel that when we are out with our children, adopted and of a different race, that we are "on display" everywhere we go. Interracial families are becoming more common, but still we get a lot of looks. Almost never rude or mean, but occasionally insensitive and overly inquisitive. This is not a complaint - we knew what we signed up for. But we happen to be walking billboards for adoption 24/7, and we must accept that, and always be ready with a smile, answers to questions, etc. Maybe that makes us something like religious in habits. It's who we are, and we are proud of it, and we wouldn't want to hide it, even if it did make life easier sometimes.

  44. Anonymous6:54 AM

    Father Philip Neri,
    "Dismas" said that habits in his area cost about $500. If he is who I think he is, then I am familiar with that situation. He is correct. I assure you, we looked to the north, we looked to the south, we looked to the east, we looked to the west, we looked up, down, inside out and outside in, every which way we could imagine trying to find someone who would simply make our habits, let alone make them inexpensively. The cost of habit frabic and a just wage for the tailor made $500 the least expensive habit production we could come up with and it seemed just. There was nothing haphazard, quick or incomplete, abbreviated or rushed in our search. This was the best we could come up with cost-wise (and the woman does a superb job on making a wearable and presentable and durable habit). You mention that your habit cost about $200. Of course you did mention that you don't find either of your two habits easily wearable and thus your inclination to put it on is diminished, so perhaps you don't have a useful lead for us. But if you have found someone who makes good Dominican habits for a fee closer to $200 than $500 please post their name and contact information or put the word out through whatever venue you deem suitable. It does worry me that since most of the cooperator (lay) brother tailors of years ago are gone and so have ceased producing new habits for the rest of us, the unavilability of Dominican habits can adversely affect the desire of some our friars to wear it more frequently. If you can help us in some way, please do so.
    It is, however, so very, very, very difficult to find someone today who knows how and who will make habits for us, and then to find suitable off-white fabric, that we're willing to pay quite about for one. And rememeber, one habit takes the place of two or even three suits a year for those who function professionally in secular atture, and a somewhat worn habit takes the place of all manner of casual secular clothing that would be worn outside of "on-duty" time. That means $500 does not sound like a terrible lot to me for a good habit.

  45. The habit is a sign and symbol to the wearer and believer or nonbeliever without that the person wearing it has answered the call of God to be taken fully into His heart before all else on this earth.

    May the habit of the Dominicans remain for the brothers and fathers and all of us that symbol in a world filled with so much less!

  46. Anonymous7:18 PM

    As a poaster on this string who has put time into forming my own comments carefully, I want to say, respectfully to all of my fellow-posters here, that there is a comment on this string from someone named Mery Widjaja that says it all, trumps all our other comments, and sends some of us to the local religious goods store for collars or veils. Mery Widjaja said...
    When the priests and nuns wear their habits, they remind us about God. Or at least for me personally, it reminds me to think about God whenever I see a religious person in her/his habit.