Should Priests Dress Like Priests?

Image by kollynlund from Pixabay

Many of us tend to judge priests who dress in civvies as being embarrassed of their faith. They’re afraid of the world and this is why they go around looking like everybody else. I would say there are times when priests should look like priests and times when priests should look like civilians.

Take the case of Archbishop St.Oliver Plunkett, an Irish martyr. He arrived back to Ireland from Rome disguised as Captain William Browne with a sword and two pistols. His aim was to avoid the hostile powers that be who had banned Catholicism and Mass in Ireland.

Priests caught saying Mass would be imprisoned and sometimes put to death. They eventually got St.Oliver. They hung, drew and quartered him, then burning his body they planned to send his body parts to the four corners of England as a warning to the rest of those Catholics who dared to practice their faith. His head was rescued and to this day remains incorrupt in a nearby Cathedral beside me. I go often to honor his relics.

Today Mass is not banned, but the Irish people are now incredibly hostile towards the faith and the sight of any kind of religious imagery can be off putting for them. St.Oliver was far from a coward and simply used the disguise as a means to get his work done without any hassle. I think some priests today feel the same. Wearing civvies provides them with the opportunity to evangelize a new generation who have returned to their pagan roots and find this priestly image off putting.

The apostles didn’t have a dress code and would have simply blended into their local society. The very first priests had to preach to a very secular world and so being distinct from them or standing out from the crowd would not have been a profitable strategy. Today, a priest dressing like a priest is important to someone who really loves their faith and religion as a whole. But for someone on the outside who doesn’t care for spiritual things it elicits negative vibes of clericalism and authoritarianism.

Many of us feel that a priest looking like a priest means he can be identified so someone can ask for a blessing or have their confession heard. They make a legitimate point here but what it boils down to is in certain situations is wearing priestly clothing for the remote chance someone will ask to have their confession heard or for a blessing worth the sacrifice? I think so. It’s incredibly unlikely someone is going to walk up to a priest enjoying a coffee somewhere and ask for either a blessing or have their confession heard.

I say it’s a matter for the individual priest, but for goodness sake if you’re a priest and want to wear civvies at least be fashionable and blend in. Some priests wear civvie clothes that still makes them look like priests and worse they wear SOCKS WITH SANDALS. UGHHHHH. That’s worse than dressing like a priest in a hostile environment.

No, a priest does not have to dress like a priest when circumstances or the culture requires it be better suited he doesn’t. If he doesn’t wear it because he’s afraid of how society will judge him then that’s a matter for the Lord to judge, not me and you. Let the Lord look into his heart and you busy yourself with your own sins. Also, learn to have compassion for the priest who feels this way and offer him lots of encouragement.

There are times when priests have worn their habit because they had to and had been spat upon by the general public. Good for them. But those same priests also wore civilian clothes and helped convert the secular pagan type and so good for them also. There’s a reason, season and time for everything. As long as the means to an end is a righteous one, I don’t see the issue.

I had a priest call to interview me for the diaconate. When I opened the door he apologized for wearing the civvies. I told him not to worry, in this blistering summer heat I can’t blame you for the light shirt and shorts, now get in and lets get down to business. The Lord had him dress that way that day to disguise him from my nosy pagan neighbour’s that’s the way I looked at it. God orchestrates everything.

Now a priest who wears civvies in confession is wrong. I’ve seen that happen. A priest who wears civvies in the context of the Church he is in is so wrong I don’t have words sufficient to describe this type of behaviour. That’s like playing dance music over the Lord of the Rings Trilogy instead of the music that was written for it. It’s ugly, don’t do it. If someone asks you to come to their house for confession or a house blessing and you turn up in civvies? Not a good idea at all unless the weather simply wouldn’t permit it.


As Catholics I don’t think we should get too hung up on this issue of clothing. Try and get your head out of the small world you live in and realize the culture and times are very different, or rather similar to what they were 2000 years ago when the apostles were first sent out to preach. Give some of those priests a break and work out your own salvation.


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