Nuns, Habits, and Disobedience

I was reading Father Peter M.J. StravinskasThe Catholic Answer Book a few weeks ago and on page 173 I was surprised to read that all religious are required to wear their religious garb as a symbol of their vow of poverty.

I looked up and found in Canon Law that Father Stravinskas is absolutely and clearly correct on this:

Canon 669 §1 As a sign of their consecration and as a witness to poverty, religious are to wear the habit of their institute, determined in accordance with the institute’s own law.

§2 Religious of a clerical institute who do not have a special habit are to wear clerical dress, in accordance with canon 284.

In fact the Holy See, specifically the Sacred Congregation for Religious, routinely reject religious constitutions that do not have this requirement.

As the late Pope John Paul II said of the religious garb worn by religious is “keeping God on the streets” of the secular city.

_._

Further study:

[1] Article 1. Whether Disobedience is a mortal sin?, The Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

49 Responses to Nuns, Habits, and Disobedience

  • People who do Gods work will earn eternal Life. Praise the Lord

  • Stefan,

    Only God knows who is and isn’t in Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.

    Tim Shipe said it very eloquently.

  • When my current pastor realized that a good friend of mine is a priest who always wears his cassock or the black suit with collar, he pointedly told me that he is not required by cannon law to wear clerical clothing. He seemed to feel that he had to defend himself to me, even though I had not said anything to him about the fact that he never dresses like a priest when not at the altar. I know it may be uncomfortable for some priests in this day and age, but isn’t that part of being a priest? I believe a priest who does not wear his clerical clothing misses out on many opportunities to minister. A priest should be set apart so the people know who he is.

  • Susan,

    I believe a priest who does not wear his clerical clothing misses out on many opportunities to minister.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    We don’t want to be of this world, we want to be in this world to evangelize the culture.

    What better way than to be a witness to Christ!

  • What about Vita Consecrata? JPII doesn’t seem to be in agreement with what you claim.

  • Paul,

    JPII can say that the Koran is the sole authority in the Church and it still doesn’t make it right.

    Church teaching trumps one man’s opinion.

    ie, your argument is a straw man.

  • Let’s not be too hasty or get crazy here. JPII is not merely “one man’s opinion.”

    Amen to priests out of their clericals missing opportunities. I encountered a priest who sincerely agonized over whether wearing his collar publicly was the equivalent to ‘lording it’ over others (one can pooh-pooh the thinking, but he was truly sincerely torn and such a twisted perspective is widespread). I urged him that I loved seeing priests in the collars (and nuns in their habits) because when I saw them (even if I didn’t speak to them) I immediately felt our kinship and was strengthened in my faith and witness. To wear the collar/habit (humbly!) is to give a very special kind of witness to the world that is so desperately in need of Christ.

  • Paul,

    In Vita Consecrata, JPII writes:

    Since the habit is a sign of consecration, poverty and membership in a particular Religious family, I join the Fathers of the Synod in strongly recommending to men and women religious that they wear their proper habit, suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.Where valid reasons of their apostolate call for it, Religious, in conformity with the norms of their Institute, may also dress in a simple and modest manner, with an appropriate symbol, in such a way that their consecration is recognizable.Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.

    (Article 25 – Witnesses to Christ in the World, 2nd para.)

    Where’s the disagreement?

  • Tito Edwards: “JPII can say that the Koran is the sole authority in the Church and it still doesn’t make it right.

    Correct as stated. But it’s very unclear what you are attempting to show by stating that in the current context.

    Tito Edwards: “Church teaching trumps one man’s opinion.

    And I have much the same reaction to that.

    The situation you have described is one in which we have Canon Law requiring a particular behavior, whereas the Pope subsequently and publicly requires a lesser standard.

    As far as I can tell, you think that Canon Law trumps the Pope. Why do you think that? And have you looked at what Canon Law itself says about the Pope? Canon 333 might be interesting.

  • Paul,

    You’ve provided evidence that either reinforces the post are has nothing to do with the post.

    I’m not sure what you’re attempting, but disobedience is still disobedience.

    Michael N.,

    You wrote a conflicting comment.

    You applaud disobedience and then you go around and affirm canon law.

    That’s called cognitive dissonance.

    That’s called holding to conflicting ideas simultaneously.

    You don’t make sense.

  • Phil: “Where’s the disagreement?

    For example, as quoted by the original post, Canon 339 states that “Religious of a clerical institute who do not have a special habit are to wear clerical dress”. But in Vita Consecrata, JPII requires a less specific standard: “Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.”

    So long as religious members abide by JPII’s request, I do not see a problem.

    I should also point out that that Father Stravinskas’ book (Volume 1, relied on by the original poster) was published in 1990, and Via Consecrata came out in 1996, so the original post likely did not take this into account.

  • Paul,

    In their environment.

    So if they are working in southern Sudan with no air conditioning it’s completely fine and understandable.

    But here in the most industrialized, most modern, and most affluent nation and society in the history of mankind, it’s called “disobedience”.

  • Why is do people think they need to tell the sisters and the nuns what they should or shouldn’t wear? Women religious are a bright spot in the church today, and they can wear whatever they want.

  • David,

    Women religious that are obedient are a bright spot in the Church today!

    Not modernist nuns.

  • Tito,

    In your black-and-white zeal for ultimatums, you are burning bridges unnecessarily.

    There was nothing conflicting in my comment. Perhaps you misread it. Nowhere do I applaud disobedience.

    Your summary (quoted below) is both condescending and insulting. In your zeal for being ‘right’, you are sinning mightily against charity. Perhaps you do not mean it to come across so offensively, but I tell you in charity and fraternity that it most certainly came across that way. Be careful, brother.

    In Christ,
    Michael

    You wrote a conflicting comment….
    That’s called cognitive dissonance.
    That’s called holding to conflicting ideas simultaneously.
    You don’t make sense.

  • Michael N.,

    Amen to priests out of their clericals missing opportunities.

    What part of your statement is it that you are not applauding disobedience?

    Many liberals get upset when confronted with facts.

    You are no different.

  • Tito,
    Just as I thought. You misread my statement and then judged me unmercilessly based on YOUR mistake.
    I said “Amen to priests out of their clericals missing opportunities”. That means I was AGREEING with previous posters who had expressed sadness that priests out of their clericals were missing opportunities to witness. I then went on to illustrate my AGREEMENT with an anecdote.
    An ounce of charity would make you hesitate before jumping to such wrong conclusions and insulting people as a result.
    You then insult me even further by trying to label me a fact-averse liberal.
    Jumping to wrong conclusions…insults…accusations.
    You are not acting in Christ.
    You are enamored of this notion of ‘being right’, of being the one who knows the rules and their applications, of being unwavering in your loyalty, and in treating those whom you deem as insufficiently faithful as so many infidels to insult and dismiss.
    There is a word for that: pharisaical.
    Beware, brother. Read Matthew 23. Habits and collars are good, but only as they point to Christ. Do not neglect the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and good faith.
    In your words to me, you have not been just, merciful or in good faith. Be my brother…
    In Christ,
    Michael

  • Michael N.,

    You need to be more careful in how you write your comments.

    And for your behavior you should know better than to be more righteous than thou with your uncharitable diatribes.

    I strongly suggest you stop commenting here at TAC because you have a history of being “misunderstood” in order to make points on your liberal agenda.

    God bless you.

  • Tito,
    So now I’m at fault for you misreading my comment?
    And, of course, no apology for the many insults you hurled at me based on your mistake.
    If I was uncharitable in my response, I beg your forgiveness. I am deeply troubled by your politicizing of the Faith and your dismissive tone with people. IMHO, you will drive many away from Christ and his Church.
    I take note that I am unwelcome at TAC by you.
    You continue to try to label me ‘liberal’ despite my correcting your misapprehension. I am sorry you’re not open to my pleas.
    In Christ,
    Michael

  • Michael N.,

    I apologize and am sorry for misreading your comments.

    Yours in Christ.

  • Michael N.,

    Only Catholics drive themselves away.

    That is called free will.

    You represent those on the margins trying to reconcile your Democratic Party allegiance to your Catholic faith.

    As far as politicizing the faith.

    We are asked to be a witness to our faith.

    If you prefer to cower behind closed doors so as not to “offend” others about what you believe then so be it.

    Your the first one to have ever said that about me and I hope the last.

    But in the end, you make your own decisions not I.

  • Tito,
    Once again, you make statement based on your own mistaken guesses and perceptions.
    You are tireless in your attempt to label and dismiss.
    I have no allegiance to the Democratic Party. My allegiance is to Christ alone.
    Your insinuation that I ‘cower behind closed doors so as not to offend’ is further insult.
    Are you capable of carrying on a civil exchange?
    I am not cowering. I am engaging you in a public forum. Please stop cowering behind labels and insults and engage me charitably in Christ.
    As for “Only Catholics drive themselves away,” that is contradicted by the words of Christ himself: “It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea.”
    Not only are we responsible to nurture and spread the Faith in others, it is our singular purpose in life. We cannot control people, but we must invite and share the cause of our hope…and avoid anything that might scandalize or drive others from Christ.

  • FYI: that includes being condescending, judgmental and insulting. As the saint said, better honey than vinegar. Try a little honey from time to time.

  • Michael N.,

    That passage you are referring to is Christ warning priests, bishops, deacons, nuns, ie, religious.

    But if you feel I have sway from my little room here in Houston on an obscure blog then I am flattered that you have such a high opinion of me.

  • There were no priests, bishops, deacons, nuns, or religious at the time Jesus made his statement.
    He was specifically addressing the teachers of the law regarding children, but given the universal ‘priesthood’ of believers, it quite plainly applies to us all.
    A little room and an obscure blog notwithstanding, we all have full-time responsiblities to spread the Gospel in a true and charitable way. Whether to the public or to just our friends and families, our witness has the potential to attract or repel many from Christ.
    That is a responsibility we should take with utmost gravity.

  • Michael,

    I believe your mistaken.

    You’re falling for the liberal teaching that we are all priests.

    Like you said, Jesus was referring to those that lead us in faith.

    I’m not a priest and I do not have a calling to be one.

    Free will.

    I know that is something difficult for you to understand, but ultimately we are responsible for our own actions.

    If anything your frenetic diatribes may actually be driving out actual believers.

    Just sayin’.

  • There is a universal priesthood of all believers. When we are baptized we all receive s responsibility to spread the Faith. That is not a ‘liberal’ teaching. It is a fact of the Faith. As plain as a pikestaff.
    Do not confuse that ‘universal priesthood’ with the priestly ministry. That is a not uncommon ‘liberal’ fallacy.
    Obviously you agree with that or you wouldn’t be participating in a Catholic blog.
    Again with the condescension.
    As for free will – you seem to hide behind it in order to take no responsibility for your insults and attacks (i.e. ‘If I’m offensive in my defense of the Faith and others fall away as a result, then I’m not responsible because they’re free to do what they want.’).
    That’s devilish thinking.
    Nothing frenetic…no diatribe…but good to know you have a thesaurus!

  • Michael N.,

    You keep charging towards windmills and yet won’t learn.

    So I’ll try a different tact.

    “I love you man!”

  • Perhaps you should change your icon image so it doesn’t look so much like Don Quixote.

  • Michael N.,

    It’s pic taken from El Greco’s ‘Burial of Count Orgaz’.

    El Greco was a Greek.

    Where’s your pic?

  • So…I did skip all the other comments, but here is a question that personally pops in my head. Say I become a sister and wear a habit. I want to go swimming at my grandparents cabin with my cousins, how does that stand? That is something I am trying to discover.

  • Actually, the words of Christ found in the Gospels warning not to drive away his brethren is not merely addressed to clergy and it has not been known to be an admonition exclusive to a certain class of individuals — it has been seen as universal beginning in patristic thought up until this very century in contemporary biblical scholarship. I’m not sure how it can even be read in any other way without necessarily imposing on the text.

    My two cents.

  • Ash,

    I’m no canon lawyer, but my best guess is that’s ok to jump into something modest to swim in.

    Eric,

    Thanks for your opinion.

  • Ash: “Say I become a sister and wear a habit. I want to go swimming at my grandparents cabin with my cousins, how does that stand? That is something I am trying to discover.”

    Ash,
    Religious Orders have Rules. They also have Superiors. And a Vow of Obedience. Check them all out before jumping into the water. They’ll have the answer.

  • Paul: For example, as quoted by the original post, Canon 339 states that “Religious of a clerical institute who do not have a special habit are to wear clerical dress”. But in Vita Consecrata, JPII requires a less specific standard: “Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit should ensure that the dress of their members corresponds in dignity and simplicity to the nature of their vocation.”

    Paul,
    I’m not sure and not inclined to do research right now, but there seems to be a difference between “Religious of a clerical institute”(referred to in Canon Law) and “Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit” (referred to by Pope JPII)

    “Religious of a clerical institute” may mean religious or diocesan priests and deacons (clerical) and nuns (religious) who belong to an Order.

    Whereas “Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit” could mean Third Order seculars, mostly composed of lay people.

    They may be apples and oranges that can’t be compared. If so, JPII’s document does not contradict Canon Law.

  • “religious are to wear the habit of their institute, determined in accordance with the institute’s own law.”

    This may sound like a silly question, but what if the “institute” in question dropped habits back in the 60s or 70s and specifically ADOPTS secular dress (say, skirt or suit of a given color or style) as their “habit”? In a case like that, a Sister wearing secular garb, as long as it meets the rules of her order, is wearing the “habit of their institute,” whether we find it appropriate or not, so how would they be breaking canon law?

    Also — another silly question — wouldn’t a “clerical institute” be an association of CLERGY, which by definition would only apply to men? So how could nuns be affected by that requirement?

  • Marie: “Whereas “Institutes which from their origin or by provision of their Constitutions do not have a specific habit” could mean Third Order seculars, mostly composed of lay people.

    I see no reason to interpret those words in such a highly specialized and very unobvious way. It would also disregard the ordering of that text — which first covers those institutes which have a norm, and then covers what to do in the case where an institute has no norm.

    On doing some research, I have found people who clearly take the words as applying to any institute of religious, and no one who takes the words in the sense you suggest.

    Elaine Krewer: “…what if the “institute” in question dropped habits back in the 60s or 70s and specifically ADOPTS secular dress…”

    Are there any such institutes which have that in their laws, and have had such laws formally approved by Rome?

    Elaine Krewer: “…wouldn’t a “clerical institute” be an association of CLERGY, which by definition would only apply to men?

    That seems right to me. On that supposition, the first clause of Canon 669 (“Religious are to wear the habit of the institute, made according to the norm of proper law, as a sign of their consecration and as a witness of poverty.”) applies to both male and female religious, whereas the second clause (Clerical religious of an institute which does not have a proper habit are to wear clerical dress according to the norm of an. 284.)” does not indicate what applies to female religious.

    In which case, Via Consecrata would be indicating what laws would apply to both men and women religious (as the wording of Via Consecrata itself clearly specifies), in the case where there is no specified habit.

  • I looked up Canon 284 and sure enough, it refers specifically to priests. The USCCB’s rules applying Canon 284 in the United States, which have been in effect since 1999, state that:

    “Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric. In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit.”

    So one could argue that a priest who does not wear the black suit and Roman collar (or the habit of his order, if he belongs to a Religious order) is disobeying Canon 284.

    Canon 284 clearly does NOT apply to women religious. The rule for them is simply to wear the “habit of their institute,” which as I explained above, could mean some modified form of secular dress.

    I’m not saying, by the way, that I APPROVE of priests or women religious running around in secular clothing.

    Personally I believe all priests should wear a Roman collar most of the time (even if just in shirt sleeves) and all nuns/Sisters should at least wear a veil or head covering, something to make it obvious who they are, and their habits should be simple and easy to care for (it doesn’t have to be a Flying Nun-type outfit). They should NOT be totally indistinguishable from secular professionals. The only exception should be for priests or religious serving in extremely hostile environments (e.g. Communist China, Sudan) where being seen in clerical or religious garb is likely to get them arrested or killed.

    However, as much as we may dislike priests and nuns in secular dress and consider them symbolic of everything that’s gone wrong with religious life, I wouldn’t play “gotcha” with canon law and jump to the conclusion that their dress is “proof” of disobedience and mortal sin.

  • Elaine,
    Amen, amen, amen to your last statement.
    Playing ‘gotcha’ is a dangerous temptation. We should not be so gleeful to catch others in transgressions and rejoice in condemning them.
    Michael

  • Michael N.,

    No one is playing ‘gotcha’, unless of course if you are paranoid such as yourself, then I can see why you feel that way.

  • Elaine,
    You forgot Mexico, where I am given to understand that the federal law (if not constutution) precludes the wearing of clericals in public outside of specific liturgical, or church related, events (pilgrimages, processions, public open air Mass).

  • Kevin,

    That is one instance where the Church allows religious not to wear their religious garb.

  • I will leave the debate about Canon law to those who are Canon law lawyers.

    I know a priest who was admitted to the Harvard Business School after his ordination. He told the story about his first week at school, which ended with a large reception for all of the new students and their significant others. He said “I’m driving there and I really wanted to just turn around and get a shirt and tie like everybody else. But no, I was admitted as a priest, I’m gonna wear the blacks.” So he walks into this room with, as he put it, 1200 extroverts, and a guy immediately came up to him, exclaiming “I love it! I wish I’d thought about wearing a costume!” He explained to the guy, who became a good friend, that it wasn’t a costume.

    That was Friday. Monday was 9/11. He spent the next two weeks counseling classmates who had worked in the Twin Towers and had friends who had died there that day. And I think he wore the blacks.

  • Patrick,

    Wonderful story.

    Very providential.

  • Michael N.,

    You’re part of the problem of always apologizing for being Catholic.

    Why don’t you crawl back from whence you came and stop denigrating those that defend and uphold our beautiful Catholic faith.

    God bless and good riddance.

  • Jesus’ prayer in John 17 seems to be fitting for the situation. Pax Christi.

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