Enough With the Reaction to the Reaction to the Reaction Already!

Sherry Anne Weddel, co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, has written a fascinating essay on generational acrimony in the Catholic Church: “Enough With the Reaction to the Reaction to the Reaction Already!

Weddel has been meditating upon “the nearly complete break-down of trust between generations of Catholics, between left and right.” She writes:

I can’t tell you how wearying living with the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction is getting. Now that I’m seeing (as I knew was inevitable) the first signs of reaction by the very youngest seminarians to their trad “elders”.

The cycle of reaction and rejection keeps speeding up and now it only take 5 – 10 years or so for a “new generation” to take the required stance against the failures of its “elders” (who may still be in their 20’s).

Each group sees itself as the inevitable wave of the future and each group can’t grasp that their unique take on the world won’t triumph forever in a climate where contempt between generations is normative.

Is this really true? Are the youngest seminarians really starting to react against their “elders” (in their 20s and 30s) in cassocks and birettas? OK, I admit, I really want it to be true. I wonder if it really is.

Be that as it may – I like Weddel’s conclusion:

We can put an end to the cycle of reaction. … We can see what love will do – if we have the guts and imagination to answer Christ’s command to forgive our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us and after having done so, begin to see a future beyond the trauma of the recent past.

awr

71 comments

  1. Culturally the reaction to the Evangelical Right’s reaction to the Sixties has been for young people to become fed up with institutional religion of all kinds period. Hence the rise of people giving None for their religion even though they often believe in God or say they are spiritual.

    The cultural wars are giving religion a bad name, and may only have temporarily benefitted some Republican politicians and the coffers organizations on the right and left (which is probably one of the main reasons they continue so that organizations put out more propaganda to get more donations).

    And of course in the blogosphere they generate endless comments, as if the whole world is interested in the topic. Time after time here we have endless cultural disagreements that have no relationship to anything that goes on in our parishes, that most Catholics would even comprehend let alone care about.

    More than love is lost, religious beliefs of all kinds are being lost, and all the temporary gains in political office or money are not only wiped out in the long run, they are often negative in the long run.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #2:
      Time after time here we have endless cultural disagreements that have no relationship to anything that goes on in our parishes, that most Catholics would even comprehend let alone care about.
      ——————————————–
      How true Jack. The order of the day is still the 1970s style parish liturgy. Complete with Marty Haugen , guitars and folk tunes. Like stepping into a time machine carrying you back to the 1960s or 70s.
      The TLM and the “clown Mass” are still the exception to the rule and have never been as popular as advertised. I sense a reaction by younger people is beginning to set in.

      Appreciation for tradition yes, but some wistful return to the good old days of Pius V as the benighted right-wing hanker for, no.
      Despite the claims of extreme trads that the seminaries are filling with the young fogies in their lace surplices and birettas, it just aint’ true.

  2. Without meaning to call anyone’s testimony into question, presuming that there are indeed young men entering who want nothing to do with the cassocks and birettas, where are they coming from? Given the current situation, what gives these men any hope at all in the institution?

  3. I’ve not seen a reaction against the “trads” develop yet. Indeed, those following me out of the seminary make me look left of center because it took me almost two years to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. There is, however, a reaction against the “neo-conservatives” who like the smells/bells/birettas but for decidedly non-traditionalist reasons. (Liturgy can become a performance even for a conservative.) This generation is coming into power, at least in some seminaries. The “evangelical” side of this cohort tends to be loud, overly optimistic, and because of that optimism find themselves threatened (in an insecure way) by both traditionalist and progressive critiques.

    1. @Fr. John Naugle – comment #4:
      I agree — as a late-20s sem, the youngest sems (18-20) are even traddier than me. I went into seminary feeling like a conservative who needed to broaden my views; after a year, I feel like a left-wing radical for only wanting to say the Extraordinary Form Mass once-per-week if I should, by God’s grace and the bishop’s pleasure, receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

  4. When we refer to “cohort”, how many men are we talking about? I suspect not more than a dozen at any one location. One way or another, the numbers may be so small that what we see is not a “trend” but rather just a couple of guys who think alike.

  5. I have a strong suspicion that a number of priests who received ordination not out of a considered and multifaceted conviction but rather out of an infatuation with liturgy will eventually have a head-on high-speed collision with the brick wall of agnosticism. Thankfully, I collided with this wall as a layperson who does not have to face the possibility of a life-altering vocational change to realign their beliefs with their expectations.

    Liturgy, the poetry of any language, or sacred music cannot alone sustain. All must be built on a solid foundation in the paschal mystery, in the pilgrim Church, in a charitable and flexible mind and heart. Not a few, but certainly not many, priests with an interest in the “traditional” often strike me a running from the hard bedrock of stark belief and radical charity we all must collide with or be crushed upon. Rather, I often have thought that “traditionalism” serves as an emotional insurance policy against the very difficult, and intensely human, questions of ministry and personal development.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #6:

      Yes, I would agree that aesthetics is a pretty poor grounding. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you mention elsewhere you replaced the mass with Anglican services for a stretch of time?

      As long as the preaching is faithful, I’ll accept nearly any valid liturgy and do not give scandal about it, and my part of the country has not heard of the reform of the reform yet. It is painful for me to know that there is a beautiful, sacral high church Lutheran service literally a block away. But I humbly submit that this is the safe guidance of the Church and the mind of scripture; we may not worship the Son outside the Father’s house.

      Humorously enough Fr. Leonard Feeney himself wrote a biting parody of the “liturgy critic” who was already roaming the land in search of the picture-perfect Mass in the 1950s!

      1. @Hereward Wake – comment #41:

        Yes, I attended Anglican services at an Anglo-Catholic church for two years. At that time in my life, liturgical aesthetics was important. Regardless of my motivation for worshiping there at the time, I’m glad I did. Certainly, I’m not afraid of women priests now. I’m more than convinced that women can be and often are excellent preachers and pastoral leaders, regardless of the Vatican position. The Anglican communion in general has many internal conflicts that I’m sure Rome would rather avoid. Still, it was a healthy experience to leave the cradle faith for a while — helped me to grow emotionally and intellectually.

        My falling out with “traditionalism”, liturgical and otherwise, stems from a relative disinterest in the text of meaning and its import among not a few who are interested in the EF and the “reform of the reform”. Ceremony flows from the political, social, and theological implications of religious philology, and often not the other way around. An interest in liturgical aesthetic and procedure without an interest in Greek and Latin textual study is cart-before-horse. Since relatively few in “traditionalism” are willing to place language and liturgy in order, I have to excuse myself for the time being.

  6. Um… is there supposed to be something wrong or bad about cassocks and birettas? I am certainly far removed from any ultramontanism and do not associate the attire in question with undue reactionary tendencies. Why is the cassock and biretta and those who wear them being singled out here for implied and stereotyped undesirablility? Is this an example of intelligent, lucid, objective thinking??? (Actually, as an Anglican Use Catholic I much prefer the Canterbury cap to that funny-looking Roman pom-pom.)

    And, I disagree with Jordan in his #6 comments. I do not believe that ‘untraditionalists’ and lax liturgists have a monopoly on living and experiencing the mountain-top splendour or earthly passion of the Gospel in all its joyful and painful fullenss. With respect, I think that this is unkind, unhelpful and subjectively judgemental. Saints are and have been drawn from Christians of all liturgical stripes, as are those who have a long way to go.

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #8:
      Not intrinsically wrong or bad – but when they’re not the common use and someone revives them out of context, it can come off quite wierd to many people. But not all – witness you.

      I picked the colorful example because of my sense that, if anyone is going to mock a cohort, this is a likely target they’ll pick. Whether that’s right or not, I’m pretty sure it’s the type of thing that would become a target.

      awr

    2. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #8:

      MJO: I do not believe that ‘untraditionalists’ and lax liturgists have a monopoly on living and experiencing the mountain-top splendour or earthly passion of the Gospel in all its joyful and painful fullenss.

      No school of liturgy has a monopoly on either positive or negative liturgical experiences. I can’t speak personally of a “liberal/postconciliar/progressive” liturgical philosophy (whatever those are) because for the past fifteen or more years I immersed myself in a liturgical world many would call “traditional”. Also, the observations of the “traditional” clergy I offer are liberally hedged with qualifiers, as I have never been clergy. I am very open to the possibility that my understanding of the clerical state is also deficient and warped because I have serious doubts about the actions and policies of institutional Catholicism. Perhaps what I perceive as clerical dysfunction is instead the proper and even salutary life of clergy according to the temporal Church.

      MJO: With respect, I think that this is unkind, unhelpful and subjectively judgemental. Saints are and have been drawn from Christians of all liturgical stripes, as are those who have a long way to go.

      The battle against judgmentalism is a lifelong struggle for me. At this early juncture, I can say that perhaps a “traditional” liturgical worldview might lead a number of the faithful, clergy and lay, towards a deeper belief, faith, charity, and sanctification. I have not found “traditionalism” to be a place where I can grow in these areas. Without detail, I have found that in my case “traditionalism” can be an impediment towards self-acceptance and the humanity towards others which is based in self-acceptance. I am completely open to the possibility that either spiritual growth or decay can happen in any “school” of Catholicism.

  7. So I am curious. How is that in the 1960’s sweaters and the other ridiculous clothing that clergy pulled out of thin air is not considered to be the “weird” dress? For hundreds of years priests wore cassocks, and now its been what, forty years since they have been done away with? And now the weird priests are the ones bringing them back? I don’t buy that at all. 40 years is not enough time to say that cassocks are being revived out of context. The problem is, that the Mass has been taught improperly for forty years now, and the liberal clothing goes along with the bad theology. That is my two cent opinion anyways.

    1. @Matthew Bellisario – comment #10:
      Matthew, I think I understand what you’re saying.

      My response would be to make a methodological point about how one goes about answering such questions as “why is this clothing considered wierd?” or “why is this clothing not considered wierd”. The methodology is this: one says that things happen for a reason, and that reason is found within a cultural context. There is a history, and that tells us something about why people act and think the way they do.

      I suspect you already know that, but it is the type of thing that bears repeating – especially to someone like you who say you don’t like the history or the cultural context. That is to say, you probably already know why sweaters aren’t considered “ridiculous” or “wierd” by some people, and you probably already know why cassocks and birettas are considered wierd by some people – you just don’t want to accept the answer.

      There are many questions in our Church today for which a methodology of taking cultural context seriously is important. I’ll give just one more example, hoping that it makes my point a bit clearer. Someone might ask, “How can anyone dislike Latin chant, when Vatican II explicitly said that… etc. ?” How? Look at the history. Look at the cultural context. Look at what some people experienced in the 1940s, in the 1950s, in the 1960s. That will give you your answer – but it won’t guarantee that you like the answer.

      I don’t share your optimism that better teacher will solve things, or even change things that much. History and culture are powerful forces, and top-down teaching has rather limited power to counteract them.

      So many of our theological disputes could be hashed out better, I think, if we could all remind ourselves that thinking and acting always happens in a context, and things happen for a reason.

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #12:
        Hi Father, thanks for your response. My only concern is that there is really no “tradition” for priests not wearing cassocks, etc. We have not even gone one full generation yet with priests not wearing their clerics in public, to wearing sweaters and hot-pants instead, etc. In other words, in the grand scheme of things, if every priest tomorrow returned to classical clerics, it would not be nearly the shock that we experienced 40 years ago when priests began to shed any outward appearance of being a priest. I am curious as to what you think is better suited for clerical dress? Perhaps just black pants, and a shirt with collar? Or do you think that their should be no outward appearance at all which the priest wears? I am just curious as to your opinion.

        As far as theology goes, I think an argument can be made that one influences the other. For example, how a priest views the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the priesthood, can greatly affect how a priest acts and dresses in public. If a priest does not view himself in ‘persona Christi’ standing before the altar entering into the sacrifice of Christ, or acting as Christ in all of the Sacraments, then he may not put any emphasis on the special role he has in the Church. Hence, his status of being an ordained priest does not come to the forefront in his outward appearance. For me, when I see a priest in his clerics, I am overjoyed, even if it is not a cassock, for a variety of reasons. One, it makes people think about God. Two, if the priest has time, and I have the need, perhaps he can hear my confession. Finally, by the priest wearing his clerics, especially the cassock, this also has an effect on how the laity see the priests and understand the priesthood. These are just some thoughts that come to my mind Father. Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Priests wore cassocks and various sorts of headgear: whether Canterbury cap or Biretta or Roman galero because official ‘clerical dress’ was and is a hang over from a previous age — whether Medieval or Renaissance (or maybe 19th century). It became, and still is, a sort of ‘uniform’ like the ‘uniform’ of the doormen at fancy hotels. And it became rather expensive.

    The wearing of this ‘uniform’ has little to do with theology itself or the theological preferences of the wearer (though it must be admitted that in recent times it has become a ‘badge’ of ‘traditionalism’ — with a small ‘t’ — linked with the same tendency of some people who wear ‘Victorian style’ clothing and lard their furniture with ‘antimacassars’.

    The classical distinction noted by Yves Congar op must be emphasized, namely, that the ‘T’ Tradition is what the Lord gave us and not for us to change; and the ‘t’ traditions are the accumulation of the centuries of theological and devotional souvenirs which need to be judged against the Tradition — and discarded &/or altered if they cloud the Tradition or mainly add ‘mystifications’ to the Mysteries we celebrate.

  9. I’m sympathetic to Ms Weddell’s comments. The Catholic infighting does damage evangelization, though not so much as bishops mangling administrative responsibilities.

    That said, people feel strongly about things, be it important principles of theology or the externals like sweaters and cassocks.

    In real life, we can forgive eccentricities a bit more because we like the person’s smile or–more significantly–we sit next to them at Mass or in choir and are obliged to put up with them.

    The internet, with the impersonal milieu, and the low risk of calling someone a meaniehead (or worse) and getting punched out, has occasioned a rather bold type of speech. I note conservatives and traditionalists seem to regard highly the “virtue” of truth-telling. But not so much when the truth is told about them.

    Aside from giving up the internet and convening ourselves in some sort of worldwide Catholic congress to get to know one another, I don’t see an easy solution.

    I do think this falls within the realm of the responsibilities of pastors and bishops. They, as well as the pope, govern and oversee Catholic unity. And if unity is being damaged, it’s time for the persons responsible to step up and do something. Unless, of course, they want to concede that this is a matter for the baptized. In which case, we can probably use all the good advice we can get.

  10. I’ve only wore a cassock when I was the MC and now for some liturgical services; have never worn one as street clothes on Church property and certainly not off property. However, our Polish Parochial Vicar does wear his as regular clothes and everywhere and this in the south were we as Catholics are a minority in a city of about 150,000 people and there are only five Catholic priests. I go with him to various places and have gotten use to him wearing it. No one and I mean no one makes a comment, stares at him in an odd way or even asks what is he wearing. In fact, I think they like for him to wear it even if they don’t know him and this applies to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It’s no big deal. But no, I won’t wear one on the street.

  11. Jordan – you stated well: “….have a strong suspicion that a number of priests who received ordination not out of a considered and multifaceted conviction but rather out of an infatuation with liturgy will eventually have a head-on high-speed collision with the brick wall of agnosticism.”

    F/U to Fr. Ruff’s excellent point about context, culture and history’s impact…..my experience in formation echoed what you say Jordan. The formation team always had serious concerns when candidates would adopt *dress e.g. cassock/biretta or EF only* and were not open to other, more current methods. We did psych testing every two years for each class and compared to the same psych results from a comparable size and period class at St. Louis University. In this way we implemented the Vatican/USCCB guidelines to insure better psycho-sexual development. For whatever reasons (they are multiple, complex, and, in some cases, highly individualized), candidates who exhibited or were comfortable only wearing dress such as cassock/biretta in all circumstances and seemed to go out of their way to only dress this way, eventually were confronted (either personally or by staff/classmates) by behaviors that were strange, insular, and not conducive to living/working with teams, folks in assignments (who also raised serious concerns/questions), fellow peers. Psych results trended toward family of origin issues manifested by Axis II diagnoses e.g. OCD, Narcissism, Histrionic behaviors, etc. When confronted, some were able to be supported/helped but many sublimated until they hit a wall. Unfortunately, if a bishop ordained them anyway, this experience would happen in a range of 5-7 years after ordination. As I have stated before, pastors in some large dioceses have had to contend with many of these *cassock/biretta* newly ordained creating negative impact on parish services. (not the same as the *next* generation idea of this post)

    Haven’t heard much about this *next* generation – this will only change when bishops change. (Allan – your associate is Polish, foreign, thus, his culture. Same with your small town in Georgia but can guarantee that he would get stares (not necessarily nice ones) in most big city venues).

    Also, look at what many European priests have worn for years – suit, tie, sweater when teaching……this was standard. IMO, what is important is your service and witness by your service, commitment, and loving relationship to your community – not your dress. Thus, my concern when a candidate chooses a dress that gets in the way of witness, serving, or alienates him from his community.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #15:

      I cannot (for I am unqualified to) dispute with you the findings and experience you have laid out as to the psychological implications or dimensions of what you might term the ‘cassock and biretta syndrome’. But I DO see, runiing through your statistics and reasoning an inherent bias against and intolerance of those individuals who prefer to wear cassock and biretta. These men cannot but be aware of the undeserved negatvity and un-Christian judgmentalism which is calously cast their way, and they do not deserve the consequences that it may have upon them; particularly allowing as how their message is best and most intelligently perceived as a positive one. Perhaps some psychological study of those who find this attire weird would be in order??? It might be revealing. Why not just accept this, at the very least as a respectable option, rather than target and label these seminarians and priests as abnormal according to some rather blatantly subjective criteria. To me, for one, a priest who is never seen in a cassock, or any form of clerical attire (let alone a biretta), is far more weird than one who is. Whatever statement he is trying to make is remarkably unimpressive.

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #18:
        Perhaps “the weird” has become the new normal. Go to Rome, Austria, or Germany sometime. One rarely finds a cassock in the street or even in church. Blue or grey shirts with collars and perhaps a crucifix on a cord. In Germany a black tie and suit with a religious lapel pin has been standard for over 30 years.

        When I first went to Rome in 1961 you saw priests in cassock, habit, and a beret cycling all over the city. A freshly shaved tonsure was commonplace. Today, outside of Vatican City, you’ll see very few priests with this mode of dress. Even the most conservative parts of rural Spain and Portugal have few clergy wearing cassock/habit. Suit and Roman collar or a tie is the rule now.

    2. Not sure about the logic here, BdH,

      1 – “look at what many European priests have worn for years…”
      2 – “your associate is Polish [European], thus his culture”

      Which way is it? When I lived in Europe (Vienna) I didn’t notice that cassocks were somehow part of their culture. I think the first statement is more apt. Also, a small town in Georgia is ‘foreign?’ Not sure where that was headed. I would expect just the opposite of what you propose – in a big city, with much more cultural and clothing variety exhibited every day on the streets, a cassock would not be as noticeable.

      Then the next pair of statements –
      1- “what is important is your service and witness by your service . . . not your dress”
      2 – “Thus, my concern when a candidate chooses a dress…”

      So…dress is important, or it isn’t? Your post seems to imply that even if a “cassock/biretta” priest were a model of holiness and service, the dress would negate those good qualities. Is it really impossible for goodness/charity to shine through such a hideous garment as a cassock? If what is really important is the character and formation of the person in the clothes, why the instant rush to psych screening and judgment based on clothing preferences? You seem to imply that all such candidates needed help, categorically.

      And on top of that, the idea that psych analysis is objective scientific truth just rubs me the wrong way. Are we to suppose that the political/theological implications of the cassock/biretta clothing statement played absolutely no role in the evaluation of the candidates? That absolutely all of them ‘needed help?’

      But then, I am the child of an Engineering professor. Concerned as he is with objective facts (will the bridge stand? will the plane fly? will the oil rig explode?) he always gets a hearty laugh when psychology is called ‘science.’ My cousin has a Ph.D in psychology – they are fun to put in a room together.

    3. @Bill deHaas – comment #15:
      [I] can guarantee that [a priest wearing a cassock] would get stares (not necessarily nice ones) in most big city venues).

      Why un-nice stares for wearing a cassock? Because it’s different (from pants and a shirt)? Because it looks old-fashioned? Because it looks foreign? Because it evokes a particular image of Catholic priests?

      I wonder what those un-nice starers would do if they came across an archimandrite at an intersection!

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #24:
        I don’t know what he’s referencing, but the only un-nice stares we got (I was once in the cassock/biretta crowd) were from priests of *that* generation (wink-wink, cue sinister music) and laity who had adopted their self-conciously affected “Progressivism”.

    4. @Bill deHaas – comment #15:

      Bill: In this way we implemented the Vatican/USCCB guidelines to insure better psycho-sexual development. For whatever reasons (they are multiple, complex, and, in some cases, highly individualized), candidates who exhibited or were comfortable only wearing dress such as cassock/biretta in all circumstances and seemed to go out of their way to only dress this way, eventually were confronted (either personally or by staff/classmates) by behaviors that were strange […] [my ellipsis]

      I don’t know what you mean here Bill by “psychosexual”. I don’t know how these tests were designed and normed, or what the studies truly set out to discover. Not any of my business, really. Still, I strongly suspect that the Vatican equation of homosexuality with dysfunctional personality, though quite false, nevertheless contributes to behavioral strangeness in the clergy.

      It’s clear to most mental health professionals that homosexuality, like any sexuality, can be egosyntonic and accompanied by a well-formed personality, or quite the opposite. As is well known, the Vatican thinks that homosexuality is always egodystonic and necessarily indicative of personality issues. The latter view, when carried to a conclusion, fulfills itself in endless cycles. Not only are gay candidates and seminarians not allowed to discuss their sexuality, they’re not supposed to be “normal” because official ideology says they’re not. (What is normal, anyway? In this case, I mean men who not only have pastoral sensitivity and interpersonal acumen, but also aren’t afraid to display healthy personal idiosyncrasy.) Ask for weird, get weird.

      Do note that I am not implying that all “traditional” Catholic priests are gay. I know this is not true both from personal experience and common-sense. Still, I’m convinced that the on-high obsessive focus on sexuality as the prime clergy selection criterion contributes to the phenomenon Bill has outlined.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #30:

        Jordan, this is not about homosexuality but about latent transvestitism. That’s where the psychosexual thing comes in, hence my comment about “dressing up” further up the thread.

        A priest friend of mine (who happens to be gay, but it makes no difference to the story) once tried his vocation as a Franciscan. In those days the students would walk along the streets from their residence to the house of studies wearing the habit. When he had been there for about a month, he one day heard a little girl shouting to her mother on the other side of the road, “Look, Mummy! There’s a nun!” At that point he decided that this vocation was not for him….

  12. FWIW, I like cassocks but I’m not convinced about birettas. AWR’s initial post made sense to me – I understood what was meant by the “cassock and biretta” seminarians. The ensuing discussion about judging people by their dress makes no sense to me in a Christian context. It’s kind of like saying “the Prius and windmill crowd” – it makes sense as a very general (and casual) group description in certain contexts. It does not follow that a detailed character judgment is implied about every single Prius driver in the world.

    1. @Jared Ostermann – comment #22:
      Its just an aspersion cast against the Other-*those* people…wink, wink, You know what I mean…

      Your example of “the Prius and windmill crowd” is apt. Everyone knows the aspersion cast by something like that-it implies those tree-hugging hippies and maybe their even more useless suburbanite pretenders that everyone knows suck at life and have nothing valuable to say. Of course, objectively considered, such a stereotype has little relation to actuality or loose connections in a guilt by association sort of way.

  13. We need to distinguish between the use of clothing such as the cassock tradition in the Orthodox Church, where priests and subdeacons and everyone around them just accept it without thinking, and the use and the non use of the cassock in Roman Catholicism here in the US where it makes a statement that identifies oneself as being similar to some priests and seminarians and not like other priests and seminarians.

    I have been reading a lot of history of women religious recently and the “habit” issue was absolutely tragic for all concerned, of religious in habits sitting next to religious in shorts (each crying) or women religious seeing their best friends wear a slightly more dressy look or more makeup or longer hair and knowing that their friends were likely preparing to leave the order.

    When you have seminarians concerned over matters like cassocks (either finding them desirable or undesirable) this is solid evidence not only of the deep insecurity of their own vocation but of the deep insecurity of the seminary and the priesthood of that diocese. When dress is the issue it is a sure sign that the issues are far deeper for both persons and institutions and will not be solved by a dress code.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #24:
      You’re right Jack, we do have to distinguish between the RC use/non-use of the cassock and that of the Orthodox. The difference is they didn’t have a Vatican II, they had no reason to throw them off, they have never stopped wearing them. Even my former Greek Catholic eparch whenever he came to the parish, was indistinguishable from a RC bishop, and in fact, forbade the clergy to wear a cassock outside of the church. Even when the priests came to bless the house at Theophany, they’d carry the cassock in and put it on in the house. Can’t be like those Orthodox!

    2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #25:

      “When you have seminarians concerned over matters like cassocks (either finding them desirable or undesirable) this is solid evidence not only of the deep insecurity of their own vocation but of the deep insecurity of the seminary and the priesthood of that diocese. When dress is the issue it is a sure sign that the issues are far deeper for both persons and institutions and will not be solved by a dress code.”

      I would also say that the persons who choose to make the wearing of a cassock a source of conflict are expressing their deep insecurities too; it would be better to thank God for the service of these priests and spend less time making war on their choice of clothing.

  14. I can’t say much about a new reaction to a reaction but from my own experience as a displaced midwestern boy living in an extremely large city, I would say the cassock would be absorbed into ‘normal’ with incredible speed. Many in big cities are used to diverse religious dress, to say nothing of all the styles of clothing worn for style or necessity. I would think a cassock would get no more confused looks than many an Orthodox Jewish man, a hijab wearing Muslim woman, or vowed Catholic religious walking the streets.

    One thing that deserves some critical analysis in these discussions, and of liturgy in general, is the idea of time being divided into clear ‘ages’ so that something that has a temporal provenance in say, the middle ages, is ‘out of place’ at a later point in time, say today. The present is littered with at the minimum the material presence of generations which preceded us – to say nothing of their less tangible presence. However much we might like to think that cultural contex’ is something like a integral whole, our actual cultural context is entirely porous to what preceded us.

    That is not to say we ought not critique certain practices or to try to understand cultural and historical context. We might need to. But ‘it no longer speaks to us [i.e. me and those who agree with me] because its out-dated’ is almost bullying.

    1. @Brendan McInerny – comment #25:
      Amen!

      And, a few other thoughts:
      Actually, we see every day people whose attire is ‘different’ in some way or another. If we like such a person our mind smiles with approval. If we don’t like him or her our mind frowns and we repudiate. So: what is it that some people don’t like about the cassock (outside of choir) that makes it acceptable to harbour rejectionary and sinfully un-loving sentiments about the wearer. What, after all is the message in the garb? Is it not a positive one about one’s vocation? By what insecurity does it need to be interpreted as leperous? Does it say something which we do not wish to affirm? What is it and why? If, as Mr Harding has illustrated above, there are places and countries in which a very casual attire is the accepted norm does this mean that we cannot respect someone who wishes to dress otherwise? (I am not known for being a great democrat, but it seems to me that there is a deep-seated problem regarding basic democratic respect for all at work here. Who is it who Needs to repudiate the religious habit of others.

  15. Sorry – but some of you (Jared) have misread and taken what I stated out of context – I assumed, possibly, a common level of background/experience.

    In order:
    – my comments to Allan were in response to his usual, let’s take my Macon, Georgia experience and globalize it. His associate is newly ordaineded from Poland. You have to make a distinction between western europe catholics and eastern europe, more specifically, Polish catholics especially when you examine dress, pieties, etc. That is all I was saying (a couple of you went on a real tangent on this one)

    My essential insight was best captured by Jack in his follow up statement: “When you have seminarians concerned over matters like cassocks (either finding them desirable or undesirable) this is solid evidence not only of the deep insecurity of their own vocation but of the deep insecurity of the seminary and the priesthood of that diocese. When dress is the issue it is a sure sign that the issues are far deeper for both persons and institutions and will not be solved by a dress code.” But, then Jack and I have spent 20+ years in the behavioral health/community health field.

    Would add that I tried to extend beyond dress – you do get EF only folks which also raises concerns. When I started in the 1970’s we had other issues i.e. excessive pieties; extreme focus on Mary; Jansenist tendencies; etc.

    JP – your usual sarcasm……but, yes, because the cassock/biretta on a man that is obviously in his twenties raises many negative cultural ideas in the society e.g. stuck in the past; museum piece; abuse images; etc. Not saying this is fair – merely a statement and you would find this reaction even among catholics. Go back to your Rome tour.

    MJO – see my summation and read Jack’s clarification of my initial comment. You say: “…..these men cannot but be aware of the undeserved negatvity and un-Christian judgmentalism which is callously cast their way”. Actually, some of them are proud when they get this type of reaction; almost as if it is a badge of honor. Keep in mind, as a formation director you have multiple responsibilities in forming candidates (yes, you do make judgments but only in terms of how they reflect what this candidate believes, how this will help him serve, etc. You have promised to help develop a *well balanced* candidate for priesthood. It would be remiss to not question and be concerned about a candidate in his twenties who only dresses in cassock/biretta and sees those who question/wonder to be the problem. This raises lots of internal questions about the candidate’s suitability in terms of his personality; ability to read, receive, and act on normal feedback; etc.
    Sorry, you went too far in saying that I targetted and labelled these candidates as abnormal (behaviors run the gamut from one extreme to the other. Abnormal to one person may be normal to another. That is also why you work in teams – balance, different views, etc.. No, their choices and decisions are part of the formation process – it was their decision. Yes, you can provide an option within reason, boundaries, acceptable occasions to wear/use for good reason, etc.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #28:
      JP – your usual sarcasm

      I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was genuinely asking why the cassock would be greeted with un-nice stares, and wondering what sort of reaction an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox might cause.

      raises many negative cultural ideas in the society e.g. stuck in the past; museum piece; abuse images; etc. Not saying this is fair

      Thank you for the answer.

      Go back to your Rome tour.

      Alas, my week in Rome has ended.

  16. I have a cassock and have no problem or hesitation in wearing it when the situation calls for such attire. My problem/hesitation/concern is when one’s entire identity – whether as seminarian or priest – is found in what he wears, what sets him apart and makes him different – better? holier? – than others, including those to whom and with whom he ministers.
    In the end, I don’t think it makes a hill of beans worth of difference to “the people.” They can see through a cassock as easily as they can see around a sport shirt and slacks. It isn’t what’s on the guy, but who he is and how he lives and interacts with the people. Whose need is being met by wearing a cassock? I have not found that my lack of constant – or even frequent – cassock is a problem for the folks. They seem to grasp that there are real issues and needs in the church and world today. Thank God.

  17. For a century or more before Vatican II, the Church adopted a “besieged” approach to life. The Pope become The Prisoner of the Vatican” when Garribaldi led Italian nationalist forces to unite the fragmented country. In the US there was a “Catholic ghetto” that cut Catholics off from other Christians.

    In 1958 John XXIII became pope, and he wanted to remove that threatened, embattled atmosphere. “Throw open the windows” was meant to contrast with the enclosed and claustrophobic world of Pius IX and X. When Kennedy was elected president, it signaled a more open world for Catholics in the US.

    Traditional religious outfits were seen as attempts at maintaining the closed off world that prevailed before V2. It worked in places like Poland where the Church had reason to fear the government, but it seemed paranoid in the West. (it is not accidental that the Cardinals chose someone from beleaguered Poland as pope) The cassock became a sign of retreat from the impetus of J XXIII, as did the wimple and some other religious garb.

    We should be past all that by now, but clearly we are not. A Fortnight recently passed shows how attractive being threatened is to some Catholics. Others, like the Orthodox or even some Anglicans, never had to deal with the abrupt changes of John XXIII, and so could shift more gradually than Catholics. It is unfortunate that current priests cannot accept the sweaters etc that are now the traditional garb, and insist on something that has not been handed down, but that is how change happens.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #32:

      You haven’t won me over, but you have softened me somewhat. Still, I can’t help but feel that there is a variety of paranoia had by those whose reaction to cassock-wearing priests (whether they be 25 or 80) is really almost comical in its absurdity. But then, we also have the anomaly of Catholics who detest Latin, and chant (even in English!!!) and any number of other things that Are ‘Catholic’, while many Protestants are not at all upset by these things and even like them. There is little logic here.
      As for those you mention who consider their unkind treatment a badge of honour: well, what if no one made a to-do over their attire but accepted them at face value? Both sides might then learn something positive. What is really funny is the polarity which ensues. It may be that SOME of these cassock-wearers have disqualifying problems… but, I would wonder if those who are really negative in their reactions did not, also, have problems of a different sort, starting with a tolerated unkindness of spirit, a basic uncharitableness and lack of compassion (empathy).

      Another historical development, though, to which I believe you have alluded, is the steady reduction in our western culture of profession and trade-related costume. Outside of police and military, and chefs and perhaps a few other instances, few persons outside a formal or liturgical event wear professional garb. Clerical garb in the form of the collar is one of few hangers-on, and even it,in many places seems to be on the way out. Even 150 years ago a baker, a carpenter, a courtier, a wheelwright, an artist,and a priest were instantly known by their costume. Gone are the days when only royalty could wear purple and princes of the blood wore red-heeled shoes. But the Church’s costume for its most sacred rite remains the not-at-all uncommon attire of imperial Roman officials (as everyone knows!).
      (Continued briefly…..

    2. @Jim McKay – comment #32:

      Well, the Church was being threatened until it changed its understandings to those of the non-Catholic mainstream. The Western secular liberal democracy officially sanctions and subsidizes promiscuity, sodomy, profiteering, and usury, just to start off with sins that cried out to heaven in the pre-new springtime understanding.

  18. (Continued…
    WE all know that there are countries in which clerical costume is forbidden outside sacred precincts: Mexico?, France?, China?, Others?. Here, in this great and free land in which nearly all can wear whatever orthodox or bizarre attire they please, we become unaccepting only if a priest chooses to wear a cassock, and, if he is a 24 year-old seminarian we have a battery of psychological labels to hang on him.
    Just don’t forget: John Henry Newmann was weird.

  19. Just as an aside, I thought there was some kind of universal decree for the USA (at least in pre-Vatican II times) that secular priests were not to wear their cassock off of church property and I think this applied to men religious and their habit, but I’m not sure and I’m not sure if my recollection of this was just a suggestion for the USA or something peculiar to our southern dioceses at the time.

  20. Back to the topic of those seminarians…

    Perhaps we reap what we sow. Continual griping and internal divisions, continual revising and “reforming” the liturgical reform, the constant harping on the idea that we are in deep trouble as a church because of Vatican II — all this creates anxiety. How do people cope with the resulting anxiety, the sense that somehow the church is “all wrong” and needs to be set right?

    Well, one way is to pin our hopes on the prospect that some human “savior” is somehow going to rescue us from the morass we’re in, and that this “salvation” is coming in the form of a new generation of priests who will magically set everything right. What a messianic mission!

    And it has been tried! We have heard all about the “biological solution” wherein the older generation must die off so that the young heroes of the drama — the young priests! — will restore the Church’s fortunes. The old liturgy is the answer! Bring back the pre-Vatican II rites, and all will be well! And here is the generation of priests that will do it. Alas, we are still losing members, church attendance continues to decline, institutions that were in troubled waters twenty years ago are now seriously on the rocks. Even the Polish church is imploding.

    The by now not-as-young-as-they-were priests who put on numerous badges of identity to find out who they are, and whose attention to their wardrobe has proved more dramatically effective than either their charity or their ministry, have actually shown they can’t provide the answer. The undeniable fact is that we are not any better off after 20 years of this “reaction.” In fact, we are in worse shape than ever.

    So, the next “class” — or 5-10 year unit — has to take up the challenge. React against the reaction, reform the reform of the reform, be the “answer.”

  21. I am aware that it is not entirely appropriate, but I can not help upon reading down the list of all these comments to be also thinking about the ‘classical comment’ from some feminists: “this is a discussion between women who wear pants and men who wear skirts!” I know it is not true, but it is what comes to mind — and somehow maybe it is a level in this open discussion concerning things which are more important than mere clothing. For Eastern Catholics and Orthodox the cassock and the rason have a different history than the Western versions of these garments — and even in New York City or Paris you would very rarely see these Eastern churchmen dressed this way on the public transportation. Of course, nowadays one is more apt to see men and women in North African garments in that same form of transport.

  22. With all of this talk about presbyters’ soutanes, one ought to remember what Shakespeare wrote in “Twelfth Night” Act I,sc.v: “Cucullus non facit monacham. [The cowl does not make the monk.]

  23. Rita Ferrone nailed it!

    “Continual griping and internal divisions, continual revising and “reforming” the liturgical reform, the constant harping on the idea that we are in deep trouble as a church because of Vatican II — all this creates anxiety.”

    “this “salvation” is coming in the form of a new generation of priests who will magically set everything right. What a messianic mission!”

    “The by now not-as-young-as-they-were priests have actually shown they can’t provide the answer. The undeniable fact is that we are not any better off after 20 years of this “reaction.” In fact, we are in worse shape than ever.”

  24. “Why asking why the cassock would be greeted with un-nice stares”

    I met a Belgian priest at the Joyce Symposium in Dublin, dressed in a cassock. He was met with bemusement but not un-nice stares.

    In France, the cassock is illegal as public dress, I understand. It would be taken as a statement against the Separation of Church and State.

    1. @Joe O’Leary – comment #48:
      In France, the cassock is illegal as public dress, I understand. It would be taken as a statement against the Separation of Church and State.

      Wow! Is that due to the history of the cassock (and Catholic priesthood) in France? Is other clerical attire forbidden in public (and for members of other religions)?

  25. “The undeniable fact is that we are not any better off after 20 years of this “reaction.” In fact, we are in worse shape than ever.”

    Indeed. The recent Gallup summary of Catholic and Protestant satisfaction with leadership is quite telling. 1975 was the only year Catholic confidence in institutional religion surpassed that of Protestants, and maybe it was only coincidence that was the year of the final bit of MR1 implementation in the US.

    And recently, two years have found Catholic confidence plummet: 2002 and 2007. Any guesses as to what happened in Rome in the latter year?

    Granted, these three years and co-incidence prove nothing. But there is no doubt that Catholics feel less good about their leadership than Protestants, that it’s been sliding for the last thirtysome years, and that no human savior is in sight.

    Maybe it’s time to trust the Holy Spirit, and permit the reforms of the past century to take root before conservatives roll in with their bulldozers and fire alarms.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #49:
      Perhaps “trusting in the Holy Spirit” consists in accepting the older forms, which keep growing back like perennial weeds in the bare earth left by the reformers, answer a genuine human need and that their continually reappearance is a sign of the Holy Spirit filling a void left by the reform.

  26. Thomas, there are time-tested ways of discerning the Holy Spirit. It can be about fruitfulness, but it’s not always about success. I heard a priest preach this weekend on looking for those signs of the Spirit in evangelization, like the Twelve experienced in this weekend’s Gospel pericope.

    Some things in favor of post-conciliar reform: increased Protestant interest in the Eucharist, the strong movement toward a common Lectionary, a greater openness to “Catholic” rites, RCIA.

    Some things that might be signs against the 1962 rite: LeFebvre’s 1988 schism, continued SSPX intransigence, Bishop Williamson’s courting, then outing as a Holocaust denier, an undeniable fudging from Vox Clara and ICEL on the rules of LA vs a fair adherence to CLP.

    It’s important in church matters to examine issues less from politicla success/failure or good feelings, and look to where the Biblical fruits of the Holy Spirit are to be found.

  27. Todd

    I’m far from sure that I would wish to claim the opening of Protestant mainstream denominations to the Mass as a “fruit of the Holy Spirit”, given that those denominations are withering as fast as denominations that are interest neither in sacraments nor lectionaries are growing.

    I would also point to the other fruit of the reform: we have rites that we are unable to attract men to serve.

    I am sorry that you immediately leapt to the 1962 Missal and the SSPX: I had more in mind the pre-Concilliar devotional forms that keep reappearing in communities celebrating the reformed Mass no matter how hard people strive to surpress them.

  28. Rita’s comments are interesting and suggest that the answer is not as simplistic as some would suppose. The ‘liberals’ or progressives or modernists among us think that more liberality of the sort that crashed in after Vatican II is the key to the Church’s future and will preserve us from these reckless and nostalgic ‘traditionalists’. But, the Church continues to decline even though guitars and electronic keyboards far outnumber heritage’s stuff.
    The ‘traditionalists’, on the other hand, think that just the opposite is true, and point out that statistics reveal that the only religions and denominations that are growing are those with both feet planted firmly on the bedrock of doctrinal fidelity and worship which places a high value on received tradition and Tradition.
    Both can’t be right and neither is. There is something else at work in the age in which we live, which makes a foreigner of religious belief or ‘institutional religion’ to the great mass of human beings. Millions are thirsty for what only God can do in their lives and yet are not attracted by Marty Haugen or Palestrina, by Fr Gladhand or Fr Cassock.
    I would be happy if nearly all Catholic Novus Ordo English masses resembled an Anglican Use high mass. Others here would, I suspect, find that intolerable. The bulk of humanity, however, is, I think, hungry for religious Truth but would seek it from neither of us.
    What is it that we are missing?

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #54:
      “What is it that we are missing?”

      I would say that we should take a good hard look at the things that people are embracing in lieu of Catholicism and work backwards from there. I suspect that process would overthrow the prescriptions that all of us (of whatever inclination) have for the Church.

    2. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #54:
      Actually, Pentecostals are growing at an amazing rate in the southern hemisphere, and their worship is hardly traditional — at least by Catholic standards. In fact, I am hard put to think of a place where liturgically conservative groups are growing at a similar rate (unless one counts African Catholics as liturgically conservative).

  29. MJO – just published. Note – strong distinction between faith in God/spirituality and belief in a religious institution:

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/155690/Confidence-Organized-Religion-Low-Point.aspx

    Note:

    “….the decline in confidence does not necessarily indicate a decline in Americans’ personal attachment to religion. The percentage of Americans saying religion is very important in their lives has held fairly steady since the mid-1970s, after dropping sharply from 1952 levels.”

    “Two major findings apparent in Gallup’s confidence in the church and organized religion trend are, first, the long-term decline in Americans’ confidence in this societal institution since 1973, and second, the suppressed confidence among Catholics relative to Protestants starting in 1981, and becoming more pronounced by 2002.”

    Keep in perspective the line……*decline in Americans’ confidence in institutions”
    E.G. think congress’s popularity below 10%; think Wall Street; think European banks, Eurozone, etc.; think current Vatileaks, abuse, Austrian/Irish/Australian/Dutch church scandals to date.

  30. Rita #43 says Alas, we are still losing members, church attendance continues to decline, institutions that were in troubled waters twenty years ago are now seriously on the rocks.

    Bill #55 gives the link to the latest Gallup data which pretty much follows the picture most of the sociological data on religion in America (e.g. American Grace) provides, namely

    1. The period of the 40’s and 50’s was a period of extraordinarily high religious and civic involvement likely due to WWII and the Cold War, a condition unlikely to continue as America become a more consumer oriented society.

    2. While the period of the 60’s and 70’s was a downturn from that period of high religious involvement, it was not nearly the “religious disaster” that conservatives make it. While there was less church going among the young, they still identified with their religion, and came back to it when they married and began to raise children.

    3. All the evidence points to 80’s and 90’s, the period of conservative reaction (the rise of the Evangelical Right and JPII) as the period when religion really begin to loose ground. And the reason for this is very clear, the hypocrisy of religious leaders criticizing the “liberal, hedonistic, materialistic” culture while they themselves were involved in immorality and its cover-up.

    In regard to MJO #54 The notion that Conservative Protestants because of their “strictness” were exempted from this has been long been challenged and discredited. Eighty percent of their advantage was caused by a delay in lowering their birthrates in comparison to Mainline Protestants and Catholics; that has vanished.

    The remaining 20% of their advantage has three likely explanations 1) they emphasize the local congregation and the pastor’s entrepreneurial skills , 2) they have a non-liturgical year which emphasizes church attendance every Sunday, 3) and they have emphasize small groups and personal relationships in the congregation.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #58:

      See my review of American Grace, especially the first chapters which provide a basic outline and understanding the dynamics of the history of American Religion in last half of the 20th Century

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2010/11/05/american-grace-how-religion-divies-and-unites-us/

      See my review of Paul Olson study of Protestant congregations. If we are looking for ways to imitate successful Conservative Protestant church, I would suggest
      1. Emphasize the Lord’s Day as the primary feast instead of the Liturgical Year cycle
      2. Have a sung EP and the choir every Lord’s Day including the winter and summer ordinary Sundays

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2010/07/19/the-liturgical-year-and-average-church-attendance/

      3. Emphasize family, close friends and small group networks in the parish

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2012/05/15/caras-parish-data-the-new-evangelization-a-social-network-approach/

  31. Jack – comment 58.

    I’m not sure all the evidence indicates that the downturn in religious practice was caused by the rise of conservative religious factions and their hypocrisy. The downturn in association with a religious body seems to be across the Christian and Jewish spectrum – not unique to those affected by JPII and the politically vocal conservative Protestant evangelicalism.
    Further, it extends beyond the religious sphere as you yourself (and Mr. deHaas above) indicate. Voluntary association with civic organizations (political parties, local clubs, etc.) are also on the rapid decline. The Nones of the religious world have a political counterpart in that growing amorphous body of Independents. The problem extends far deeper than changes in leadership.
    As Mr. deHaas says above it has to do with a complete lack of confidence in any and all institutions – liberal and conservative, religious and civic. Where that comes from and how we remedy it will entail something radical, and not a simple fix. The solution might very well require naming and fighting this distrust rather than denouncing whatever element in the church(es) we don’t like.

    You make some interesting arguments about the illusion of strict protestant exemption, but where do those numbers come from?

  32. Brendan #61

    Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout, The Truth About Conservative Christians: what they think and what they believe.

    An excellent (2006) book, perhaps sometime I will give an review summary post of it even though it is getting somewhat old. Most of the other researchers are just catching up with it, and often not giving Greeley the credit he deserves.

    The three items which he shows explain the differences of Conservative Protestants with others are his Evangelicalism scale: 1) belief in inerrancy of Bible, 2) born again experience, and 3) inviting others to commit to Christ.

    Lots of interesting facts, e.g. Conservative Protestants watch Public Television more than others.

  33. Todd Flowerday : Some things that might be signs against the 1962 rite: LeFebvre’s 1988 schism, continued SSPX intransigence, Bishop Williamson’s courting, then outing as a Holocaust denier, an undeniable fudging from Vox Clara and ICEL on the rules of LA vs a fair adherence to CLP. It’s important in church matters to examine issues less from politicla success/failure or good feelings, and look to where the Biblical fruits of the Holy Spirit are to be found.

    All those things strike me as being signs against the suppression of the 1962 rite and the overly strict (and frequently abused) indult that followed. I think something like SP should have been issued right away – we would have avoided a lot of bad fruit that has probably undermined the liturgical reform.

    The negative things you ascribe to the EF seem to be just as much a fruit of the post-conciliar reform as the positive things you listed.

  34. “those denominations are withering as fast as denominations …”

    I think that might be part myth.

    “All those things strike me as being signs against the suppression of the 1962 rite …”

    Well, sure. In a culture where people who, when they don’t get what they want, just yell and complain louder …

  35. Todd FlowerdayWell, sure. In a culture where people who, when they don’t get what they want, just yell and complain louder …

    Like those who dislike the new translation and the reform of the reform? How about those who dislike SP and complain about the imaginary problems it caused?

    The suppression of the 62 rite actually did hurt good people, not just whiners.

  36. Isn’t it amusing that a post with no substantiations (whether the next generation of seminarians is getting more/less “conservative”) has generated so many comments? Are people chasing bubbles here?

  37. “The suppression of the 62 rite actually did hurt good people, not just whiners.”

    No doubt. But is hurting people the standard of what we do or don’t do liturgically? How about inclusive language, MR2, and Reconciliation form III?

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