Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Catholic Priest Humor and the Clerical Collar

The other day I came across a cute joke about a Catholic priest (at least I hope no priest I know will be offended).
A priest was invited to attend a house party. Naturally, he was properly dressed and wearing his Priest's Collar. A little boy kept staring at him the entire evening. Finally, the priest asked the little boy what he was staring at. The little boy pointed to the priest's neck. 
When the priest finally realized what the boy was pointing at, He asked the boy, "Do you know why I am wearing that?"  
The boy nodded his head yes, and replied, "It kills fleas and ticks for up to three months".
Though the little attempt at humor above is cute, it is, of course not true.  The Clerical Collar is in fact an important article of clothing for male clergy.  In the Catholic Church, the Clerical Collar is worn by bishops, priests, deacons, both permanent and transitional, and by some seminarians.

The Clerical Collar is at once a statement of faith in a vocation, and a reminder to the wearer of one's own vocation. 

Roman Catholic Vocations blog has a copy of an article from another blog, since discontinued, that speaks to the Clerical Collar quite well here.

The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, prepared by the Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Pope John Paul II on January 31, 1994 has this to say, which is quoted from the above referenced article:
In a secularized and tendentiously materialistic society, where even the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to be disappearing, the necessity is particularly felt that the priest-man of God, dispenser of His mysteries-should be recognizable in the sight of the community, even through the clothing he wears, as an unmistakable sign of his dedication and of his identity as a recipient of a public ministry. The priest should be recognizable above all through his behavior, but also through his dressing in a way that renders immediately perceptible to all the faithful, even to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.
If I wear a business suit, as I did in my past life, I am conveying a message, either knowingly or inadvertently.  When I managed a staff of 50 information technology consultants years ago, I instructed them that although the world was getting more casual, and our clients had dress down Fridays, which eventually became dress down days that end in "y", we were to dress appropriately, at least as well as our clients.  Staff were prohibited from wearing blue jeans, t-shirts and other overtly casual clothing.  We were being paid to operate professionally, and so how we looked was an impression we were giving to each other and to clients' staff.

It is the same with priests.  The Church speaks of sacraments in the old Baltimore Catechism as "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."  The Clerical Collar may not be a sacrament, nor was it particularly instituted by Christ, though the vocation for which it stands clearly was, but the wearing of it by a man of God provides opportunities for that man of God to partake in the dispensing of grace to any individual that he meets.

In a world that ridicules faith in anything that is not able to be touched, or at least pretends to, we need signs that faith matters.  We, the faithful need these signs to encourage us along our journey of faith, and as I said above our religious need the signs of their own vocation to remind them of that responsibility that they have undertaken.

Let us pray for all priests and deacons particularly, that they will continue to grow in holiness, and to help us along our path to holiness as well, by their prayers and the living out of their vocation.

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