Should Priests Wear Clerical Collars All The Time?
Mar 5th 2022
Clerical collars are making a comeback in many churches, and garments aimed at the ordained clearly reflect this. The popularity of collar shirts for men and women is growing every year reversing a regrettable trend that still affects many congregations.
The 20th century was marked by a continuous secularization of every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, this included our temples and even church services with priests progressively dropping traditional and ritual elements in order to "get closer to their flock".
Some think that wearing clerical clothing (or at least the collar) reinforces the notion of an exclusively ordained ministry. This notion assumes that clerical collars are a uniform worn by an impenetrable elite and that it allows the wearer to lord over a group of subjects.
Others believe that merely following a custom or tradition is no reason enough for wearing clericals. Among these are religious historians and theologians who only focus on the origins of clerical collars and consider them a product of the evolution of fashion. The historic approach usually leaves out the ontological aspects of religious aspects and transforms the argument into a mundane discussion about style.
On the other hand, it is also common to see bishops and pastors wearing the collar only when officiating in church. This is usually associated with a vision that ministerial life should be separated from personal affairs, effectively placing priesthood in the same category as a job.
In this piece we will address these three conceptual errors and attempt to clarify the importance of wearing clerical collars all the time.
Religious Garments As Uniforms
While clericals can be thought of as uniforms for the ordained, they work in a different way than, say, a work uniform. More than trying to elevate the priest above the parishioners, clericals are meant to express the adherence to the Lord´s example of frugality.
Moreover, clericals also serve as equalizers. Those not used to attending church might find roman cassocks and clerical collars to be very noticeable in most settings. But as you attend church more often, those wearing religious garments tend to become less conspicuous. This ultimately reveals the true nature of clericals and garments as a sign of servitude instead of expressing lordship as some speculate it to be.
This enters in stark contrast with the idea that priests are somehow constantly looking to be recognized or undeservingly praised. Many go as far as asserting that the ordained wear their uniforms in certain settings in order to get “clergy discounts” or special dispensations.
The opposite is in fact true. The clerical collar should prevent a pastor from behaving inappropriately as it would reflect badly on his church and faith. Moreover, it prevents the priest from sending a mixed message when visiting an area that would put him or her under compromising circumstances. For example, a priest that abandons his clerical collar to visit an area known for being a spot for unsavory activities might spark idle speculation and undermine his authority.
So, clerical collars actually serve as a literal yoke that puts us under constant scrutiny.
Clerical Collars As Mere Accessories
As we mentioned earlier, this vision comes from the notion that clericals and church vestments are a product of fashion evolution, and that the fact that they are in constant change makes it inconsequential to wear them. It is true that even defenders of this notion might obediently wear the collar everyday, even outside the limits of the church. However, their rationale deviates from the true purpose of clerical collars.
While it is true that clerical collars are a relatively modern invention, their raison-d-etre is not.
The origins of what we now call holy clothes goes back to the book of Exodus, where God specifically commanded to keep certain robes separated to observe the Sabbath. The point was not to create a new attire or to buy expensive garments just to please Him. It was simply to give things their rightful place. In fact, the word "holy" means "separated", not divine or superior as many tend to believe.
Church clothes are meant to be clean and unadorned, unlike working clothes or colorful and elegant attire. But they should also help signal the solemnity of the occasion. Moreover, they must also serve as reminders of our vocation.
We might argue that neither God or the Apostles commanded the use of clerical collars specifically, and this is true. However, many vestments were created in order to keep religious orders separate and distinct, or holy.
A priest is never not a priest. His call is not a nine-to-five job that allows us to switch goals once we get out of the office. We must remember that clericals make us instantly recognizable and available for everyone who wishes to engage in spiritual discussions or needs urgent assistance. It is not uncommon to be suddenly summoned by authorities when visiting airports, hospitals, or even at home, to administer the Sacraments or mediate in a situation. Do not expect the lost sheep to make appointments.
Moreover, today's world is in open rebellion against the Creator so wearing our clerical collar serves as a way to counter this reality and signal those who feel lost that there is still light in this world.
Finally, the same way a wedding ring signals the commitment of a married couple to their union, and usually dissuades them from conducting themselves inappropriately, clerical collars serve as potent reminders of the holy mission of the ordained. If a priest feels they must remove their collar to do a certain activity, maybe they should not entertain the idea of participating in the first place.
A devout priest should always keep his wardrobe sufficiently stocked with high-quality clericals for all occasions. Our selection of collared shirts and formal attire is specifically designed with comfort and functionality in mind. Browse through our store and check out our collection.