Monday, August 20, 2012

The religious habit... it's history and why would anyone...? Never mind.



"I could never be a monk/priest - I never liked the clothes." - My paraphrase of Flannery's famous line, "She could never be a saint..."

I'm not much on habits, as most of my readers know.  I even asked my Bruderhoff friends if they really had to dress like that to belong to their community.  And when they left, I asked if they still dressed like that - and evidently the wife does.  Then there are those Amish.  When it comes to Muslim dress, I'm just as opinionated, no way do I think burkas or turbans are a nice look.  It doesn't matter though, because it is just my personal opinion - which means nothing.  I believe people can wear whatever they like, or feel obliged to wear.  I don't care so much about it any more - in heaven we will be clothed in light, and we'll look good.  Obviously some of my readers and religious people do care - a lot - about what people wear.  My one friend asked me about sexy lingerie... I know!  Or I should say - I don't even want to know.  But I digress.  Quick shoulder hunch and sheepish smile...

That said, I came across a possible defense, and or excuse, why some contemporary women religious do not wear old fashioned religious torture-habits as they once were obliged to do.  (You know of course that Pius XII asked women religious to modify their habits to be able to adjust to modern necessities, such as driving.)  But first I must tell you that when some orders were founded, the founding mothers did not necessarily adopt a habit, likewise, in orders such as St. Elizabeth Seton's Sisters of Charity, the women essentially wore the 'widow's weeds' of their day - which became their habit.  The bonnet is a dead give away that it was the fashion of the time, or at least, from that epoch's recent past.  Therefore, one may imagine how the pastel pantsuits and flowery blouses so many women religious wear today could be seen as the 'new' religious habit - with a little lapel pin of course.  

There may be precedence BTW.  There still exists the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded at Rennes, France.  If I recall correctly, they were founded during the French Revolution.  The women wore secular clothes from the beginning, for obvious reasons, and later were permitted to retain secular dress, some even living at home.  I've met some of these sisters who once operated a retreat house in St. Paul.  I mention these sisters because some people believe a silly maxim, "No habit, no vocation."   

Of course the Church desires consecrated religious wear a distinct sign of their religious consecration and commitment, as has been the norm since the earliest days of religious life in the Church.  In his exhausting extensive Post-Apostolic Exhortation, Vita consecrata - a document all candidates for religious life should read BTW - John Paul II speaks to the issue here:
… The Church must always seek to make her presence visible in everyday life, especially in contemporary culture, which is often very secularized and yet sensitive to the language of signs. In this regard the Church has a right to expect a significant contribution from consecrated persons, called as they are in every situation to bear clear witness that they belong to Christ. 
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.  - Vita consecrata

The last two bullet points provides the wiggle room, if you will.  Like all documents, elements in our great big Roman Catholic Church interpret these types of exhortations according to their particular interests and needs: 'suitably adapted to the conditions of time and place.'   With the approval of the local ordinary and legitimate superiors - they are 'good to go' - and none of us mere mortals know where they will end up either, nor are we competent to discern if they have a vocation or not.  The situation - or rather, the fluidity of interpretation of such documents, is very much in keeping with Catholic tradition.  It's not unlike the continuing ordination of ssa men as priests and bishops:  Officially, they aren't supposed to be admitted to ordination, but there are always exceptions, 'Where valid reasons of the apostolate call for it...' - and such discernment is left to the proper authorities - not to the laity or com-box inquisitors.  (I lifted that term from Mark Shea.)

So there you have it!  And you know what they say, "Judge not, and you will not be judged."  And, "Let them wear cake!"

Bonus factoid:   The 12th century the German abbess Hildegard von Bingen, advocated a style for her nuns that included extravagant and lavish white silk habits worn with golden head pieces designed to present the nun to Christ in her most beautiful form.  I know!  I think she was weird anyway. - Source

Bonus link:  This is for women's-religious-habit-lovers everywhere!  Nuns and Sisters

23 comments:

  1. The habit of my order- the Secular Franciscan Order- is, at least in the United States, a simple Tau cross. I like that a lot. Even though most of the time people think I'm wearing my initial, or am a Tennessee fan.

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    1. The habit of my order is jeans and a t-shirt with a jacket.

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    2. I'm very jeans a tshirt, too, although sometimes I dress it up with khakis or a scarf. If I'm feeling froggy, a bracelet.

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    3. I wish third order tertiaries would still have the option of wearing their order's habit. I think this was a big loss.

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    4. Depending on the order, some do.

      We Franciscans are a bit different. We aren't "tertiaries" in the same sense that Benedictine oblates or Carmelites might be. We are a distinct order within the Franciscan family.

      We have the option to be buried in the full "habit," and some regions allow it at meetings, etc.

      I think that the Tau is a step forward from where we were pre-reform-- thenit was only a cord worn under the clothes, and a scapular worn under the clothes- no visible sign whatsoever. So in our case, we made a great improvement.

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  2. That's all very anachronistic and all, but religious habits aren't exclusively related to clothing and religious orders which don't wear uniforms are fairly recent and often adopted street clothes for understandable prudential reasons related to persecution, but you'd turn such a prescription into a normal and acceptable mode of living.

    I'm sure you'll resort to justifying LCWR in similar terms, deploring anyone who points out the flaws in your reasoning as "combox inquistors".

    Neither you nor Mark Shea are ones to talk, however, since you act like Combox Commissars when you're on the warpath.

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    1. At last! Thanks for revealing your identity Anonymous.

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    2. Rip - remember when you wrote this?:

      "Yep, I instructed you that I desired no contact with you and that I would construe future attempts to contact me or refer to me as hostile."

      I never initiated contact back then either - you did - and you did so again this time too. What up with that?

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    3. Rip - you are getting more hostile. Calm down - or I'll use your real name...

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  3. I like elasticated waists.

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    1. Works for some people.

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    2. It works for apple pies as well! ;)

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  4. i'm waiting for the freestyle bowtie order to come about.

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  5. I go on hiatus, come back, and Terry is a fashionista - who woulda' known?

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    1. I knew you needed a laugh.

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  6. Terry, if you see someone in a turban they are probably a Sihk.
    Most muslim men who sport headgear wear a form of scullcap, apart from Shi'ite clerics of high rank ie Ayatollahs and most Sunni muslims dont think their muslim anyway..you think Christians are schismatic? the world of Islam has plenty of its own.

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    1. You are right of course. Thanks!

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  7. We have a traditional group of sisters (who defected from a schismatic group) in Spokane and they don't seem to be hindered by their habits. They are very active in the area and have become quite popular.

    The nuns in Cottonwood, ID dress in polyester.

    That being said, it falls into the category of "their choice" and it's none of my business.

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    1. None of mine either - I was just trying to get Rip Taylor to come out of his shell. It's all good! ;)

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  8. "Since the conciliar decree in 1965,there have been numerous changes in religious habit including some in which the habit was discarded altogether.

    A year later, in 1966, Pope Paul VI published a motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae implementing certain conciliar decrees, including the one on religious life.

    This later document allowed the introduction of some experimentation for a trial period, permitting, according to the needs of time and place the change of existing norms of Religious institutes, provided always that the purpose, nature and character of the institute are maintained.

    What has happened? In a matter of months such flurries of changes and counter-changes were introduced that in some quarters CONFUSION BECAME THE ORDER OF THE DAY.

    As might be expected, ROME WAS NOT SILENT. Private letters to the individual heads of women’s religious communities, public statements to the Church at large and all the means of communication available have been used to call for balance, prudence and discretion along the whole gamut of experimentation with special attention to the religious habit.

    I quote at length from a statement made this year by the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Religious. This congregation is under the direct supervision of the Holy Father and as I know from working at the Vatican, is the Pope’s authentic spokesman for religious throughout the world:

    In her wisdom the Church confides to the chapters the task of studying (after consulting with the members of their institutes) what changes are necessary in their constitutions.
    It must be noted, however, that THE MOTO PROPRIO ECCLESIAE SANCTAE DOES NOT AUTHROIZE EXPERIMENTS THAT WOULD OBSCURE THE MEANING OF RELIGIOUS LIFE AND ITS FUNCTION IN THE CHURCH (17) OR THAT WOULD CREATE CONFUSION OR DISORDER IN THE SAID INSTITUTES OR GIVE SCANDAL.

    Caution is therefore necessary in introducing changes and it is worthwhile to consult competent authority in order to obtain pertinent orientations. Institutes that have acted thus have assured themselves of an invaluable assistance that enabled them to take definite constructive and beneficial decisions.
    The reference just mentioned demonstrates and explains why CHANGES AFFECTING THE FORM, NATURE, OR CHARACTER OF THE INSTITUTE ARE FORBIDDEN.

    ACCORDING TO THE NORMS OF THE MOTO PROPIO ECCLESIAE SANCTAE THE CONSTITUTIONS CANNOT BE ALTERED SO THAT RELIGIOUS CONSECRATION APPEARS SUBORDINATE TO APOSTOLIC ACTIVITY. SUCH A SHIFTING OF VALUES COULD HAVE EXTREMELY GRAVE CONSEQUENCES BECAUSE RELIGIOUS CONSECRATION SHOULD BE , ON THE CONTRARY, THE PROPELLING FORCE OF EVERY ACTIVITY AND HENCE OF EVERY APOSTOLATE.

    To cite a particular instance, THE CHAPTER IS NOT EMPOWERED TO DECIDE, FOR EXAMPLE, AS AN EXPERIMENT, ON THE SUPPRESSION OF COMMUNITY LIFE IN THE INSTITUTE, OR THE SUPPRESSION OF THE RELIGIOUS HABIT, AND THE USE OF SECULAR CLOTHES.

    With reference to THE RELIGIOUS HABIT it seems necessary to point out that it MUST CONFORM TO THE NORMS OF THE DECREE PERFECTAE CARITATIS. IT MAY BE CHANGED (BUT NOT SUPPRESSED) AND MAY NOT BE LEFT TO THE FREE CHOICE OF VARIOUS PEOPLE OR THE CAPRICE OF CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS.

    The laity who venerate and respect those consecrated to God, expect that MODESTY AND RESERVE, that edifying note of AUSTERITY and that EXTERNAL PROOF OF POVERTY that enhance the service of Religious and render more attractive their vocation to virtue and goodness. [13]
    NO RELIGIOUS WHO IS SERIOUS ABOUT HER LOYALTY TO THE HOLY SEE CAN AFFORD TO IGNORE THESE DIRECTIVES. THEY ARE NOT A FREE OPTION BUT ARE MEANT TO BE EMBRACED WITH CHRISTIAN GENEROSITY.

    Servus Dei John Hardon SJ


    How bout that? Nothing about pink lipstick or pearls. WHAT?

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  9. Just say no to "Sister Mary Pants-Suit" !

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  10. I went through a long skirts trad phase err..

    my mom worked for 30 years in the muslim community - v interesting what lingerie the young er women wear under their burkhas!

    Makes me realise appearances aren't everything!

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Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.