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Cassock considerations, continued
December 13th, 2016
By Father William E. Brown

My friend Denis Nolan (“Cassock considerations,” Dec. 8) expressed his distress about young seminarians and priests wearing the black cassock, seeing it as a sign of royalty that distances the priest from the people. His letter prompted me to do some research, in which I found that in the early centuries of the church, the cassock “reflected a stress on modesty. From the sixth century onward, many local synods passed regulations forbidding clerics from wearing richly styled clothing, tight or skimpy clothing, bright colors, and extravagant ornaments and jewelry” ( This article reminded me of other religious cultures (e.g., the Amish, the Jews, the Muslims) who often have a dress code meant to promote modesty.

Too, in the past few years I’ve been blessed to work with newly ordained priests here in Tiburon, and of course their formation was different than mine was in the 1980s. We often talk about our experiences and differences, and while I haven’t worn a cassock since seminary, I see these men choosing it as part of the uniform at times (much to the delight of many parishioners), but then blue jeans when they are helping set up tables in the hall.

For me, the major thing is the person’s soul, rather than the clothing they wear. There was a priest during my seminary days who used an earthenware chalice for Mass, always wore old jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt, but drove around in a brand-new luxury car that must have cost a fortune. His clothing might have suggested “solidarity with the poor”’ or something, but his car made a statement much louder than any cassock or religious habit.

Father William E. Brown
Pastor, St. Hilary Parish


From December 15, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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