Update: no collars for deacons in Brooklyn

Returning now to a favorite topic of debate on The Bench: deacons wearing the collar.

I sit on the diaconal council for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and during our most recent meeting last week the subject was once again broached.  Some men were wondering about wearing the collar while engaging in some ministries — notably when serving as chaplains at hospitals or prisons, or when presiding at wakes.

Once again, the bishop said no.  It’s too confusing, he said, and we’ve been getting along fine without them for 40 years.  The policy now in place will continue.

And so it goes in Brooklyn.

Last year, I was a speaker at the diaconate convocation in Atlanta, and as I stepped before the podium, I was surprised to look out and see a sea of priests.  Then I realized: in fact, those are deacons wearing the collar.  I was bemused to realize that I was one of the few deacons in the room without one.

It remains a confounding conundrum of the diaconate.  Unlike the priesthood, in the United States there’s no uniformity in how deacons dress, or even how we’re addressed.  (In some places, it’s “Rev. Mr.,” in others “Deacon.”)   In some places, deacons receive the faculty to preach at ordination, in others they don’t.  In some places, you get a Master’s at the end of the program, in others you don’t.   Even the length of formation can vary from diocese to diocese — as can the extent of the wife’s involvement in her husband’s formation.

Wouldn’t a little more consistency be helpful?

UPDATE: I found this in the vault…Bill Ditewig’s treatise on the subject over at my old joint.  I’d recommend giving it a once-over.

A snip:

The USCCB, since the first Guidelines on Formation for deacons were promulgated in 1971 (the “Green Book”) has adopted the position that, nationally, the preference is that deacons should dress in a manner “resembling the people they serve.” Obviously, this means dressing like lay persons (at least one person has joked that since we serve bishops, we should start wearing collars and pectoral crosses!), but it was never promulgated as PARTICULAR LAW. This position has remained throughout the three documents which address the issue (the 1971 Guidelines, the 1984 Guidelines, and the 2004 National Directory), and the US bishops are in agreement: THEY DO NOT WANT A NATIONAL LAW ON THIS ISSUE, because that would tie the local diocesan bishop’s hands. They have reviewed this decision several times; they even considered a proposal to pass a law that each of the 14 episcopal regions could have their own policies — this proposal also went down in flames. The bottom line: the bishops want the ability to deal with this issue in their own dioceses, and don’t want some other supradiocesan authority to dictate it to them.

So, let’s move on to the diocesan bishop. We have 196 dioceses and eparchies in the United States, and the pastoral situation in each is unique, and that affects how bishops deal with this. Many, many dioceses have policies in which deacons wear clerical attire. The policy in Washington, DC (my home diocese) is quite good: “If, in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so.” Under previous archbishops, this meant wearing the same kind of (black) clerical attire as the presbyters. Archbishop Wuerl decided to adapt the practice, and directed what I call the “St. Louis option” (because this is where I first saw this practice): deacons would wear grey clerical shirts, while priests would continue to wear black. This offers a measure of distinctiveness. Not all dioceses worry about the color of the shirts. Still other dioceses absolutely FORBID the wearing of clerical attire by deacons, and this is the right of the bishop. They do this for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s over concerns of confusion. But probably by far the MOST COMMON PRACTICE is that deacons may wear clericals on an “ad hoc” basis with the bishop’s permission. In other words, the deacon calls the bishop and explains what he wants to do and why he feels he needs to wear the collar; more frequently, of course, the bishop himself will communicate those situations in which he wants deacons to wear the collar. Again, in Washington, even WITH our policy, Cardinal Hickey used to REQUIRE that we wear collars whenever we served in hospitals and prisons; it was no longer up to us. The bottom line here: Each bishop wants to have this flexibility. By the way, I can’t give specific numbers on which dioceses follow which policies for the simple fact that these policies can change from bishop to bishop. So, as in Washington, while one policy is followed under one bishop, it may change or be modified by a successor bishop. 

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/deaconsbench/2008/09/should-deacons-wear-the-collar.html#ixzz1vWT3jrAp


  1. Chick O'Leary says:

    I’m just curious as to how a deacon wearing clerics can be more confusing to people than it is for non-ordained seminarians wearing clerics from the first day class. Pretty limp argument.

  2. deaconnecessary says:

    I agree, Chick.
    I serve in a diocese whose bishop believes that all clerics should dress like clerics.
    It’s not really confusing if you catechize your people.

  3. I think that use of the collar does cause confusion, with deacons and with non-ordained seminarians as well. No disrespect but no collar is better from where I sit. And I am around many deacons. (And few who wear the collar, although it is done.)

  4. Max Lindenman says:

    Why not compromise? Deacons could wear collars with “D’s” embroidered on them.

  5. Diakonos09 says:

    I agree 100% with Chick. Theology seminarians from Day 1 (many of whom will never go on to become clerics) wear the collar, cassock, etc. and come to our parishes for weekend and summer ministries. Yet we do not have a sea of terribly confused laity running around wondering who is who. To me, in my experiences, this issue of the collar has seemed to revolve around two basic outlooks:

    1. Confusion from the beginning of the restored diaconate in the Roman Church over just who and what a deacon is/would be. And, importantly, we cannot forget that this was happening at the same time that priests and religious would abandoning clerical dress and distinctive habits. How could they require or even simply promote clerical dress for deacons when they themselves were not wearing it? And additionally, in my experiences, most diaconate programs were in the hands of those who were themselves proponents of this “renewed” clerical/religious lifestyle. Along with this candidates were taught that they shouldn’t want to dress differently even for ministry and in some places I witnessed some rather cruel ridicule for those who did wear the collar or candidates who supported the idea. The otherwise “tolerant” and no tolerance at all for a diverging opinion in this regard.

    2. The other dynamic I have witnessed (and to a lesser degree than #1but very present) was a kind a “protecting the turf” mentality. WE are priests (ahem)….YOU are deacons. Stay in your place. Preserving position, prestige and power and been part of church history since Day 1 (and not just priests). Again, I witnessed a deacon or two who would attend a official function in collar and suit being treated in a very uncharitable manner and made to feel “less than” for simply following canon law and the permissions granted by the bishop (whose position is that each deacon decides when and wear the make use of clerical dress).

    I personally find it insulting (even if not intended) that as a mature men with leadership responsibilities in secular occupations and husbands/fathers who shepherd families, we are treated as children when it comes to dress. The message seems to be that we simply cannot make a good and wise decision as to when/where the collar is best worn and when/where it shouldn’t be. I think that at this time in diaconal history in the USA is the decision was to be made by a national diaconate council the collar would lose out as the vast majority seem to have been formed with the idea that it is not appropriate to the permanent deacon.

    I am aware that the US Bishops at some point said it’s best for deacons to dress like the laity they serve, however, canon which gives the deacon the choice to opt out. I believe that if canon lawyers were to give their interpretations to this canon most would agree that the canon does not give the Ordinary the authority to deny this clerical right to any deacon (except by penalty) but it DOES give the Ordinary the authority to decide WHEN the deacons of his diocese may NOT opt out. Reread the wording of the canon and its opt out clause and I think you will see what I am trying to express here. The popular blogger Fr. Z (with whom I do not always agree) has a very well reasoned post on this topic and canon law. http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/12/quaeritur-permanent-deacons-and-the-roman-collar/

  6. I’m in the no collar group–for both deacons and seminarians. 99% of the Catholic population doesn’t get it. A distinctive “look” for the diaconate makes sense to me. I would love to see what people come up with. Could be an interesting project.

  7. Collars for priests and bishops only. No cassocks outside of liturgy. I’ve served in dioceses where no deacons wore collars–for about 25 years now.

    One’s state in life should be evident without the dressy accessories. It should be about how one conducts oneself with others–a 24/7 undertaking.

  8. IntoTheWest says:

    Many Catholics are still confused as to who and what deacons are. We attended my husband’s father’s funeral this past week, and the local deacon came to the funeral home to conduct a short prayer service at the wake. Not one of my husband’s six brothers and sisters knew what a deacon was, and it certainly didn’t help when the deacon himself told them it was okay for them to call him “Father”. He remained “Father So-and-so” for that prayer service and again at the cemetary, where he also led the prayer service. Adding clerical collars to the confusion certainly wouldn’t have helped. However, if Catholics understood up front who deacons are, and what their role is in the Church, then a collar wouldn’t make any difference, as long as deacons themselves are clear on who they are when they introduce themselves. I don’t think deacons should be encouraging people to call them “Father”.

  9. Well said, Todd!

  10. Diakonos09 says:

    100% agreed that one’s life should proclaim one’s faith. But the Church consistently holds that those in ordained and consecrated life are to wear an external identifiable form of this vocation (despite this clear norm being ignored by some and knowingly rejected by others). For the permanent deacon, whose vocation is lived in both the secular and ecclesial realms, the choice should be left up to him. Pro-collar deacons by and large seem to know that its best worn in formal ministry and best not-worn in secular works and family life. If a man is not mature and trustworthy enough to make this decision then why in the world was he seen mature and trustworthy enough to be an ordained clergyman?

  11. are they CLERGY or NOT?

    The archdiocese of LA also doesn’t allow deacons to wear collars—the parish where my husband celebrates the 6:30 AM Mass (he has bi-ritual faculties) has 5,000 families, 2 priests and TEN deacons- all married, all forbidden to wear clerical collars (baptizing, marrying, etc, etc- for not a penny)

    about the word “Father”- we trouble-making Byzantines call deacons “Fr Deacon”- but always with the “deacon” in there- the real confusion is for simple monks- they go by only “Father_____” and Byzantine nuns- all of them- go by “Mother_____”

    To take care of the confusion- ASK “are you a Catholic priest with faculties for this diocese?”

  12. Deacon Jim Casa says:

    Bishops and priests who do not want to see us wear clerical collars are guilty of two things:
    1) They don’t ‘really’ regard us as clergy.
    2) They would rather maintain their own “empire building” in the Church.

  13. A maybe not so minor clarification:

    The faculty to preach is granted to ALL deacons at their ordination (Canon 764). However, a deacon’s bishop may restrict or remove that faculty. This is done on a case by case basis, at least according to canon law, and should be for just cause.

    There are still some bishops who have decided to restrict the faculties of all newly ordained deacons (presumably for just cause). However, in the eyes of the law, what he is actually doing is granting them the faculty to preach (when he ordains them) and then immediately restricting the faculty. It may seem like semantics, but it is significant.

    Furthermore, the faculty is universal – meaning that a deacon does not need to get faculties to preach if he travels to a different diocese. While he may need permission to exercise the faculty, in most cases permission is presumed unless otherwise informed.

  14. I am in my final year of formation, and we have been informed that, once ordained, the bishop EXPECTS to see us in a clerical collar. We have specifically been told not to show up to diocesan events in ‘civilian’ clothing.

    Most deacons in our diocese have interpreted this to mean that when acting in a liturgical/sacramental role (or attending any event in the presence of the bishop) they always wear a clerical collar. Outside those parameters, most deacons opt for ‘civilian’ clothing.

  15. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Joe.


  16. Diakonos09 says:

    Sweet. May your bishop be an influence upon his brethren.

  17. i think the issue is that after ordination deacon’s can preach when they preside at a sacrament (baptism) or a prayer service (wakes; liturgy of hours etc) but it is not automatic at the eucharist that is the specific ministry of bishops and priests and deacon only on occacion? after ordination each deacon should receive a document of his faculties in the diocese from the diocese and those ONLY faculties are in effect in any diocese he is visiting. if would be helpful to have some reference Joe to your statement that deacons have this “universal” faculty in other dioceses.
    for sure in this diocese the canon lawyers would say you are wrong, so some actual documentation would be helpful.

  18. ah you are in your final year of formation. maybe a little more research on this? and maybe what diocese are you in?

  19. or maybe they think that the order of diaconate is a SEPARATE order that needs it own identity?

  20. Notgiven says:

    Well, if not “D” then some way of making the distinction. There should be some differentiation just the same as there ought to be a difference for seminarians…just the same as there is a distinction in appearance between priest and bishop wearing clerics. Those who know these different guys, know their status. But, to the majority of the world out there, they look the same as the next priest…but they aren’t. It IS confusing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to explain that the guy in the Roman collar was not a priest but a deacon…and then have to explain what a deacon is and what he can and can’t do as a cleric. And, as confusing as it can be to Catholics, just think of how much more confusing it is to non-Catholics.

  21. Our bishop encourages deacons to wear clerics (with a deacon cross). My husband wears it at Church, for diocesan events, funerals, and hospital visits. At first he was about uncomfortable wearing clerics. But he has found that wearing clerics helps to remind him that he belongs to Christ and not the world. He has found it to be profoundly humbling. Wearing clerics is not about power; it is about submission.

    Of course he does not wear clerics to his day job.

  22. I don’t buy the “It’s too confusing” argument.

    Every instance of confusion is a teaching opportunity, and it takes no more than fifteen seconds to explain clearly what the permanent deacon is. I have spoken to people who start with a lack of understanding, but all that means is that the role has never been explained to them. I’m happy to have the opportunity.

    So who is being confused? The congregation at Mass hear me identified by name (Deacon Don) every time they see me. Some of them still call me Father, which is easy to straighten out.

    People on the street aren’t confused. Frankly, they’re involved in their own daily lives and don’t care. When my wife and I are together in public we do not act in appropriately, so there’s nothing to even draw attention.

    If I do a prayer service at a funeral home I introduce myself. The people there aren’t confused.

    When I do a house blessing there is even more time to talk about the diaconate, which I love to do. They’re not confused.

    When I go into prison, while I’m cooling my heels in the waiting room, all that people can think is that there is some kind of clergy type there, and I’m largely ignored anyway. Once I get through the gates and scanners, the men I meet with are interested in my ministry and ask questions about it. They’re not confused.

    The only people I can see who seem to be confused are people in positions of power in the Church, and I believe they should know better.

    If that’s not the case I would love to hear who – specifically – IS confused.

  23. Father Wilson says:

    Back when the permanent diaconate was restored, a prominent bishop exulted that “they will be a great bridge between clergy and laity.” We also heard the phrase “lay deacon.” But the deacons ARE clergy. I don’t think we’ve ever really come to grips with that fact.

    Start with the way we refer to it. “Permanent Diaconate” is about as graceful as “non-reversible colostomy.” How about “Vocational Diaconate?”

    The Vocational Deacons are clergy. They should have the use of the cassock, collar and the title “The Rev. Mr.” We are a sacramental Church; signs and symbols are integral to what we do, how we understand the Gospel and ourselves, and how we witness to others. I would suggest that the deliberate withholding of the use of the symbols of office to one particular group is itself a very effective symbol of an entrenched attitude, and I wish we would carefully reflect on what it says.

    The use of those symbols should be as the Vocational Deacon deems appropriate. That is how I use my cassock and collar; the Vocational Deacon is not a child (a point ably made above by Diakonos09). I really wonder to what extent the fact that many Deacons are married affects this conversation. If it does, let’s get over it. If we decided to ordain married clergymen, then we have married clergymen, not altar boys decked out with stoles. We already have many married Catholic priests, among the Eastern churches and the Anglican Use. I have many good friends in the latter group. To know these men, their ministries and their families is instructive; it is easy to see that this is just not a big deal.

    But what IS a big deal, a very big deal, is reverence for the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Our Tradition imparted to us symbols which in and of themselves speak profoundly to people about the Sacrament. Withholding these from one group of the ordained creates two classes of Deacons. It’s unhealthy.

    And, by the way, I love this: “I am aware that the US Bishops at some point said it’s best for deacons to dress like the laity they serve.” (thanks again, Diakonos09!). What does THAT mean??! Who do their Lordships think their Priests are serving?? (Hmm. Perhaps the Bishops think the Priests are serving the Bishops? Logically, then, Priests should dress as Bishops. Oh, well, I don’t like that. Fuscia is NOT my color).

    If a distinctive form of clerical dress for Deacons were thought necessary, that could be managed. Religious Brothers sometimes wear a collar in which a thin black line runs vertically through the white collar. In the Anglican Use parish in San Antonio, the two Deacons wear gray while the Priest wears black. Personally, I would think that wearing the diaconal-stole-draped cross lapel pin on blazer or cassock would do the trick.

    But I respectfully disagree with the comment that we’ve been getting along fine for twenty five years. The past forty years have been a dismal saga of disintegration, in catechesis certainly. We haven’t been successful in conveying central truths of the Faith like the Eucharist; what would lead us to imagine that we’ve effectively taught Holy Orders? If we removed from daily practice the many customs of reverence with which we surround the Eucharist, and celebrated Mass without vestments or sacred vessels or candles or gestures of reverence, that would be harmful to our Eucharistic witness. Withholding the symbols of ordained service from Vocational Deacons obscures their sacred character. Regarding the Vocational Deacon, let us take our sacramental-symbolic tradition seriously.

  24. Deacon Steve says:

    Anthony here is canon 764 Without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 765, presbyters and deacons possess the faculty of preaching everywhere; this faculty is to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church, unless the competent ordinary has restricted or taken away the faculty or particular law requires express permission.
    Unless a Deacon is otherwise informed he has the canonical right to preach anywhere, whithin the limits of particular law for each diocese. It is best to ask permission when preaching elsewhere, to be sure that the local ordinary has not generally restricted the ability of deacons to preach in his diocese. We do have to get permission to baptize or witness the marriage of a couple outside our territory. That is mostly to ensure that we are truly ordained so that the sacraments will be administered validly. Generally this just requires a letter being sent from the home diocese to the visiting diocese stating that we are in good standing.

  25. naturgesetz says:

    At St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire in the late 1960′s, when monks were ordained deacons, they began to be called “Father.”

    It seems that clerical garb and the title “Father” are fine for transitional deacons because they’re the real thing, but they’re a no-no for permanent deacons in many places because they’re not real clergy (in the eyes of their bishops and many priests).

  26. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Anthony,

    In answer to your question for more specifics, he gave them to you: it’s c. 764 which says:

    Can. 764 Without prejudice to the prescript of c. 765, presbyters and deacons possess the faculty of preaching everywhere; this faculty is to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church, unless the competent ordinary has restricted or taken away the faculty or particular law requires express permission.
    Can. 765 Preaching to religious in their churches or oratories requires the permission of the superior competent according to the norm of the constitutions.

    Yes, this DOES mean that the deacon can do precisely what the law says: preach everywhere. The consent of the “rector of the church” (pastor) covers the “occasionality” of the eucharistic homily. But since the canon is part of universal law, it does not restrict the deacon to one diocese alone.

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  27. Notgiven says:

    The everyday lay person can be confused if the deacon, or someone else, doesn’t introduce them as such. This is not the case with every lay person…but there are a lot that don’t understand. Virtually every time a deacon visited my parents I had to explain to them who he was. They just didn’t get it. Their personal experience with deacons was with transitional deacons. And, my sense is they couldn’t shake the notion that this deacon was some sort of Protestant man of the cloth because he talked about his wife and kids.

  28. Diakonos09 says:

    I have been reflecting on this topic more and on how some people think “the collar is no big thing” or when a post such as today’s arises some say, “Oh not THIS issue again”…and you know, I agree that in and of itself the collar is NOT such a big think. What IS a big thing and what IS really behind so much of the emotion surrounding the collar is the idea expressed several times in the comments: deacons are not real (i.e., authentic, full, etc.) clergy. Can you imagine what would happen if a diocesan priests council was informed that the bishop was going to let them know what to wear and when to wear it? They would (rightly) be insulted as an affront to their maturity and dignity. I am a huge proponent of the collar (obviously) but you know if it was up to my personal wishes alone I would never wear. I wear it so that those I have come to serve have a visible reminder that Jesus, in and through his Church, has come to walk with them, to pray with them, to be with them. Yes. laity can and should do this too but they are not there as symbols of the Church leadership and this is an important distinction. I could care less if they even know my name…I am there as the Church (Christ’s) ordained and commissioned minister bringing a Catholic service and presence to the needy. The collar says this without words. So what I really want to emphasize in all this is what Fr Wilson so wonderfully wrote: the power, sacredness and importance of symbol and sacrament.

  29. In our diocese deacons are to dress in everyday clothes at their places of work and for other everyday occasions, but may wear a collar while performing their various ministries. A grey shirt is worn instead of black. My two cents as a deacon’s wife – I think the world needs “signs” such as collars, habits, ect. They are great signs unto the world that Christ is working therein through His people. Deacons are clergy and should be a part of that visible sign.

  30. oldestof9 says:

    Max, Max, Max………..Then you’d get those who would think it stood for “dummy”.

  31. I agree with what you say and true, and some older folks will probably never really get it because they grew up and have lived their lives without permanent deacons. To me that simply means that we (writ large) have to take on the responsibility to explain. I see it as a part of being Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth, helping people understand how the Church of today looks and functions.

  32. in our diocese (and a few others i am aware of), after ordination a deacon receives a statement
    that lists his faculties he has received as a deacon. some are given the faculty to preach at the eucharist and some are not. then it states that the faculties granted are in effect in other dioceses granted the presumed permission.

    if this is against canon law, i do not know but it sure seems to be how canon law is applied in one diocese.

  33. Deacon Steve says:

    The reality is that as deacon we can preach at mass, but it is at the discretion of the priest. We as deacon cannot (and should not) try to impose ourselve to proclaim the Homily at mass. We are allowed however to preach when we are the presider at a Baptism, Witnessing a Marriage outside of Mass, leading Liturgy of the Hours, at a funeral vigil or funeral service without the mass, or a grave side service. The Bishop can restrict a deacon’s faculties for any reason, and some ahve chosen to do this as a blanket not allowing the deacons to proclaim the homily at mass, others only restrict individual deacons for particular reasons. All within his authority as the local Ordinary.

  34. Anthony, When the Code of Canon Law of 1983 was promulgated, there was a major shift in how faculties are granted. The faculty to preach is no longer granted by the bishop separate from ordination. Canon 764 (which I cited and Deacon Steve quoted) is the CURRENT, UNIVERSAL law granting all deacons the faculty to preach “everywhere.” Is it possible for a individual bishop to modify the universal law in his diocese? Sure. However doing so is just that – a modification. And he would have to do it by restricting or removing the faculty that was already granted. At least, that’s what Canon 764 says….

    Your point about the Eucharist is a valid one, however, you are confusing “faculty” with “right.” You are correct that the deacon does not have a “right” to preach at Mass. The right to preach at a Eucharistic liturgy (Mass) is granted to the presiding celebrant (GIRM #66). The presiding celebrant at a Eucharistic celebration MUST be a priest of bishop. The right to preach, however, can be (and often is) ceded to the deacon (sometimes, as Dcn. Greg occasionally mentions, minutes before the Mass begins!)

    The document received after ordination USED to grant faculties, however after the promulgation of the 1983 Code, such a letter is not needed since the faculties are granted automatically at ordination.

    I am enrolled in our final formation class – Canon Law. It is being taught by our diocesan Judicial Vicar. We covered this very topic last week. If there is an alternative position, I would like to hear from someone with the background to argue it.

  35. IntoTheWest says:

    This was the case at my FIL’s funeral. My brothers and sisters in law all thought he was a priest, and he said he was a deacon, but they could call him “Father”. This is a problem. He took the moment where he should’ve cleared up the confusion and further confused even the people who understood who he was and what the difference between a priest and a deacon is.

  36. I don’t think I need any more research other than following the direction of my bishop. If he wants me to wear the collar, I will wear the collar. If he doesn’t want me to wear the collar, I won’t. I did not pursue ordination for the trappings, but that are an integral part of our ministry – we are a Church of signs and symbols. Deacons are clergy, and there is often value in having them distinguish themselves as such. Often, but not always.

    Hopefully, with the aid of my bishop, pastor, brother clergy and all the laity I minister to and with, I will make prudent decisions – big ones as well as small.

    Also, since I am not authorized to speak on behalf of my diocese, I will not mention it by name. I think that is pretty much standard practice on this blog and others when discussing matters such as this.

  37. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    The right to preach, however, can be (and often is) ceded to the deacon (sometimes, as Dcn. Greg occasionally mentions, minutes before the Mass begins!)

    That sounds so swanky and official. Most of the time, the priest will say, as we’re vesting, “You’re here early. Feel like saying a few words?”

    The only “right” I’ve encountered comes as the second half of my saying, “All right.” :-)


  38. Cassocks can certainly be worn outside of liturgy and often are. They used to be worn all the time.

  39. That’s too bad. Not only an opportunity lost but a step backward. Please understand I’m not looking at the funeral as “an opportunity.” It’s a sad occasion for us even as it is glorious for the deceased who has gone on before us, and sometimes inaccuracies have to be let slide because the needs of the people take precedence. But never should they be compounded. We who carry the role by ordination also carry the responsibility to clarify.

  40. thanks Joe for the information and for your time in responding. your diocese will be blessed to have you as a deacon and i pray your ministry will be fruitful.

  41. Notgiven says:

    That’s true, too!

  42. The irony is that the “non-ordained” seminarian (already wearing a collar) *continues* wearing the collar as a deacon. But, in places in which “permanent” deacons can’t wear the collar, they see their brother deacons of the so-called “transitional” variety wearing the collar.

    Now *that* seems confusing to me! If I recall correctly, the “subdiaconate” was done away with! :-)

    God bless you.

  43. Diakonos09 says:
  44. The bishops are not generally in the habit (pun intended) of consulting my opinion. But I really like the idea of “clearly ministerial dress and yet distinct from priests.” The idea of using grey shirts for deacons and black for priests makes a whole lot of sense to me.

    It does however seem likely to me that a lot of the same people who talk loudly and at length about how terrible it is that many communities of Sisters have decided that secular dress is more appropriate for their mission and charism than a habit is are at the same time saying “no no no, deacons should dress like laity, not like priests!” and this seems wildly inconsistent to me.

  45. As deacons we must consider that it has only been restored for 40 years. Our role seems to continue to evolve. To keep from having confussion and better job of education needs to be done. It will take time before parishers who don’t recongize or know the difference stop calling us father instead of deacon. Wearing a grey shirt with a collar even with the deaconal symbol won’t end the confussion. I have come to prefer a grey shirt with the symbol and a tie. Besides it a lot cheeper and the type of collar does not make the ministry work any less important.

  46. Deacon Steve says:

    I have two polo style shirts that have the Deacon’s cross on them that I wear if I am at a function where my indentity needs to be apparent, but where I am not vesting with Alb and Stole. Mostly I wear these when I teach the pre-baptism class, marriage prep classes, go into one of the classrooms for a reason, etc. When I am performing my duties in a liturgical setting I wear my alb and stole. For other days here in Los Angeles most of the deacon wear a lapel pin of the deacon’s cross. I find that to be enough. I like the polo with the deacon’s cross instead of the collar because it can set us apart when needed, but will not confuse people. Many priests here wear the gray clericals, some even blue.

  47. ron chandonia says:

    Deacon Greg, at that Atlanta convocation you probably noticed that the deacon who serves here as chancellor of the archdiocese (and director of the permanent diaconate) does not wear the collar. Works for him and seems to set an example for most of our deacons.

    I will say, though, that I personally like it when our deacons wear the deacon cross on their lapels. People recognize them as clergy, but nobody calls them “father” except their own kids.

  48. Notgiven says:

    Nice shirts. And, no need to wear the pin either…it’s built in. Thanks.

  49. PaulJames says:

    Sounds to me like the Deacons are “Wannabe’s!”

  50. Q: if the bishops think that wear clerics do will confuse people, then ehy do Brothers of religious orders, like ofm or Christian Brothers. They are not ordain you guys are. I am friend with a lot of Rev Deacon who are awasome.

  51. What would happen if you guys just did it?

  52. Midwestlady says:

    This is true. There needs to be some other form of dress for seminarians and for deacons. Ideally they would each have their own. It’s really confusing.

    Maybe deacons should wear a certain sign like a fairly prominent and distinctive insignia that said “Deacon here”. I bet if they took to doing that, they’d be able to get all the bishops to agree to it.

  53. Midwestlady says:

    You know, the permanent diaconate is a DIFFERENT vocation than the priest, even though they’re both validly ordained by the bishop.

  54. Midwestlady says:

    Actually it is confusing. I’m a laywoman. And I can’t tell deacons from priests unless I know them personally, and I think that’s a problem. Permanent deacons and priests have 2 DIFFERENT vocations.

    And what’s really wild is that protestant ministers also wear shirts with collars. You can sometimes figure it out because the collars are a bit different but not always.

    It would be so easy to fix this, but no. Hmmm.

  55. Midwestlady says:

    Bingo. That would make it so much easier to tell. And people would like it and get used to looking for it. Very nice.

  56. Midwestlady says:

    Yikes. Do you keep a sermon in the wings just in case?

  57. Midwestlady says:

    For me and many like me, there’s no teaching to be done. We know what a priest is, and we know what a deacon is. Let’s not insult the intelligence of the laity, please.

  58. Midwestlady says:

    You know, we have priests to do all that stuff. Most parishes don’t have programs to prevent people leaving the Church. Why aren’t the deacons doing *that?*

    Reasons for leaving the Church:
    1. just drifted away, 71% of ex-Catholics say this
    2. stopped believing the teachings, 65% of ex-Catholics say this
    3. spiritual needs not being met, 43% of ex-Catholics say this
    (numbers don’t add up to 100% because some people gave more than one of these reasons for leaving)

  59. Midwestlady says:

    Just as a reminder, about 10% (!) of the total American population has been Catholic at one time in their lives and left the Church. That’s FOUR times as many people as convert to the Church.

  60. I think deacons do have a crucial role to play in doing “that”. And I think a big part of that role is played by preaching in an authentic, relevant way from the pulpit. The deacon IS ordained to preach. Now, preaching should not just take place during the Eucharistic liturgy, and as long as that is what you mean by “we have priests to do all that stuff.” We are in agreement. However, while the deacon is ordained to a separate order within the hierarchy, he receives the same sacrament as the priest and bishop.

    I have come to see how what I will proclaim and preach from the pulpit has the power to connect with those who are separated (or are thinking about separating) in a profound way. However, that is only a first step. The real work is in the parking lot, or the vestibule, or the fellowship hall afterwards. As the official representative of the Church from which they are estranged, I can speak with a voice of compassion and reconciliation (with a small “r”).

    I once heard it said that the priest brings the people to the Church, and the deacon brings the Church to the people. Whatever I wear, and whenever (or wherever ) I preach, I must always be mindful of my sacramental configuration to the person of Jesus Christ, who was always willing to reach out to restore those on the margins of society.

  61. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Excellent points, Joe. You should be a deacon. ;-)

    A man in my parish once described the deacon as “the priest’s helper,” and while that may be a gross over-simplification, it has some merit. We are there, in many ways, to make it easier for the priest to do his job — whether that involves sharing the load of baptisms, wakes and weddings, or preaching for him on Sunday when he’s too pressed for time to prepare, or facilitating parish meetings and activities, or acting as the official face of the church to those seeking prayer or help or hope.

    You’ve obviously done your homework, Joe. I’d give you an A+!


  62. Diakonos09 says:

    Yes I agree with both of you (Notgiven and Midwestlady) yet the funny thing is…I NEVER see deacons wearing them yet these symboled shirts have been on the church market for many years. Maybe this post will help spread the word. I use the clerical collar one for more formal/official things and the polo shirts (in black to keep with the theme) for everyday parish ministry but then, unlike most deacons, I am on pastoral staff of a parish almost full-time.

  63. Diakonos09 says:

    Deacons aren’t “wannabe”s…we are “already there” as full fledged ordained clergymen. Please note that the distinctive garb being talked about is called CLERICAL collar/clothing (not priests or bishop collar, etc).

  64. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I’ve never worn a clerical collar. I don’t even own one.


  65. Diakonos09 says:

    OK, but not surprising for didn’t you say that such is not allowed in your diocese? In my archdiocese the decision is left to the personal choice of each deacon as to when, where, etc. I think this shows a true respect for us as mature men and clerics.

  66. Deacon Steve says:

    Those are nice. Here is a link to the polo shirts that I wear at times.

    The shirts are very comfortable and look nice.

  67. Possibly, by looking at the actual texts of the Church’s law a clearer picture might be attained in regards to the dress of permanent deacons.

    The Code of Canon Law in Can. 284 reads: Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Bishops’ Conference and legitimate local custom.

    Are deacons clerics? Yes. Ordination to the diaconate in the Latin Church enrolls one as a cleric.
    Are deacons to wear “suitable ecclesiastical dress”? Yes but see below for the exemption.
    Who determines the “suitable ecclesiastical dress”? The particular Bishop’s Conference.
    Is there a universal law that imposes a uniform ecclesiastical dress? No.

    What are the norms established by the NCCB?
    The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (US) in its norms for implementing the Code of Canon Law states: 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.

    Must permanent deacons wear “suitable ecclesiastical dress”? No.
    Can. 288 reads: Permanent deacons are not bound by the provisions of cann. 284, 285 §§ 3 and 4, 286, 287 §2, unless particular law states otherwise.
    May permanent deacons wear “suitable ecclesiastical dress”? Yes.

    Can the general law or the particular law, prohibit permanent deacons from wearing “suitable ecclesiastical dress”? Not at present. If a cleric is prohibited from wearing ecclesiastical dress such a prohibition is to be interpreted as a penalty.

    What Can. 288 does is give a general dispensation from ecclesiastical dress to permanent deacons unless the particular law removes the dispensation and requires permanent deacons to wear ecclesiastical dress.

    Neither the NCCB nor the local bishop has authority in law to prohibit a permanent deacon from wearing suitable ecclesiastical dress. Universal law imposes the obligation to wear such dress. The NCCB and the local bishop can determine the type of ecclesiastical dress, which the NCCB has done. They can give dispensations but they cannot overthrow the general law. This is a basic principal in law: the laws at a higher level bind a lawmaker; general laws supersede particular law.

    The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches in Can. 387 reads: Particular law is to be observed in regard to the attire of clerics.

    There is no dispensation for permanent deacons in the Eastern Catholic Churches from ecclesiastical dress at a general level as there is for Roman Catholic permanent deacons. No such dispensation exists at present in the particular law of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, No. 66 reads in part: As for the non-liturgical dress of the clergy, it is appropriate that the individual Churches sui iuris return to the style of the traditional Eastern usage. In this author’s opinion No. 66 implies that permanent deacons in the Eastern Catholic Churches should wear the ecclesiastical dress of their Orthodox brethren.

  68. No cassocks for whom outside of liturgy? For priests and seminarians, the cassock is standard clerical attire; clerical suits are not the norm outside of the English-speaking world…historically anyways. A friend who is a seminarian for the Diocese of Rockville Centre wears a cassock frequently, as he prefers it to a clerical suit.
    Cassocks serve as a reminder of the clerical state. I could, however, support a limitation on cassocks outside of Mass and the Office for permanent deacons.

  69. Bingo. Even deacons are divided, based on misunderstandings (both deliberate and accidentally perpetuated) from their formation directors. I’m sure there is a correct school of thinking, but it hasn’t emerged as such yet.

  70. Deacon Jim Casa, I’m not sure that is an appropriate way to refer to Bishops.

  71. It is only confusing if the deacon is dressed identically to a priest w/ black shirt, clerical suit (or cassock). I would support the wearing of grey shirts, as is the norm in my diocese for deacons who wear a collar. I’m not sure I would like a permanent deacon wearing a cassock outside of the liturgy, since there is not a good way to distinguish him by sight. (To rebut any points about a priest vs seminarian…require priests to wear the traditional headgear such as the biretta or the hats one might see Fr Brown wear in the movie/TV show…I forgot the Italian name). Also, I believe that a deacon with a family would be very out of place if he wore a cassock at a church function if his family was present.
    On the way to refer to a deacon…Rev Mr. should be used formally, deacon informally. Why this is an issue beats me.
    On preaching…evidently this needs guidance from Rome. Personally, I believe the priest should preach, but at a parish, this could be left up to the pastor’s discretion. I would not support a regular rotation though. In my opinion, a deacon should not preach at a Mass said in the EF, since that would not have been the norm in 1962 as far as I know. (Both deacons are excellent homilists at my parish, by the way, but I disagree with our Bishop and pastor’s approach).
    I also believe only a deacon on the path to the priesthood should serve as a deacon in the EF; there a multitude of reasons for this.
    Also, I really dislike the terms permanent deacon and transitional deacon. They fulfill the same role.
    I suspect that many of the divisions re: the role of permanent deacons came about because people did see them as junior-grade priests who would fill in for the priests who were stepping back/away from their ministry.

  72. Most seminarians (with the exception of ‘transitional’ deacons) are NOT clerics, so I am not sure why they would wear clerical attire (talk about confusion!). ‘Permanent’ deacons, however, ARE clerics. Why would you support limiting their ability to wear clerical attire, while promoting its use by those who are not clerics?

    This ‘question’ only comes from the MISTAKEN understanding that most people have – they associate clerical state with that of priest and bishop – not deacon. Deacons, priests and bishops are clergy, most seminarians (regardless of whether they are preparing for the priesthood) are not.

    As someone else has mentioned on this thread, the distinction between ‘permanent’ and ‘transitional’ is invoked far too often. With very few exceptions, there is NO difference in Canon Law. Furthermore, theologically, there is absolutely no distinction. A deacon is a deacon is a deacon. The same rite is use to ordain a ‘transitional’ deacon and a ‘permanent’ deacon.

    For many centuries, there were only ‘permanent’ deacons. The concept of the diaconate as a transitional state – a rung on the corporate ladder – evolved over time. In the early days of the Church, most bishops – and even many popes – were deacons when they were selected. This was only natural because the deacon – not the priest – was the bishop’s “right hand man.” He was an executive officer of sorts.

  73. Diakonos09 says:

    Thank you Protodeacon! This is what I have been trying to logically explain to others. A bishop can tell us what ‘clerical dress” consists of but Canon Law does not grant to him the authority to deny this garb unless by penalty. Why do so many seem to think that a bishop can issue any binding law he wishes upon those under his pastoral care? Even bishops are bound within the limits of Canon Law. A simple reading of the canon just seems to be so clear to me on this topic…but not being a canon (or civil) lawyer perhaps I have been missing something?

  74. DcnBillF says:

    As a follow-up to “Bob’s” question on 5/21: What would happen if we did just go ahead and put the collar on, even though our Bishop told us not to? If what is being said is true; that he doesn’t really have the authority to deny us the ability to wear the collar, what could he do to enforce an already illicit order? Is it possible to petition Rome for a final clarification on the collar? In my diocese, we can’t use the title “Rev. Mr.”, that’s only for the transitional deacons. However, when anything comes from Rome, they address it to Rev. Mr.
    I understand that we swore obediance to our Bishop, but does that include following illicit directions.

  75. Fiergenholt says:


    Over 75 comments on something as pastorally trivial as “collars”? But you want to break your oath to your bishop just so that you can “look the part”? Why?

    Most of the deacons in my area wear a lapel pin identifying themselves in public when that is important. It is humble and discreet AND there is no standard/required pin design, either.

    IF i heard this correctly, the officials in the Vatican do not want permanently ordained deacons wearing “collars” at all. Which brought up the singularly interesting issue of one specific Papal audience where American women who were Lutheran Pastors did wear their collars but American deacons at that same audience did not — in deference to the local rule.

  76. Ken Ramsey says:

    As one who is still in formation I find this topic fascinating and unbelievably sad. My Diocese currently FORBIDS permanent Deacons from the wearing of clerical attire. The most often stated reason of course is the confusion argument which is specious at best and just outright offensive to the intellect. I am more concerned with why priests and bishops DON’T want Deacons to wear clericals than I am with why Deacons do want to wear them. I can’t conceive of any logical or legitimate argument that can or has been made. I agree most often with Diakonoso9. I have followed many blogs wherein he has expressed his postions most eloquently. I wish he had his own blog. In the final anaylsis we have to just pray for the petty discrimnators in the presbyterate and have faith.

  77. Deacon Kevin says:

    Just love people re-inventing the church at every level, including clerical dress. Canon Law does call for deacons to wear the roman collar for liturgical functions. Until my bishop says otherwise, street-clothes stealth-deacon, I remain.

  78. According to Canon Law, those in MAJOR Orders,bisphops, priests and deacons are to wear thwe clerical collar. The Sacrament of Holy Orders does not distinguish between TRANSITIONAL and PERMENANT Deacons-same sacramental imparted on the soul-but all of the TRANSITIONALs wear the collar. Does not quite make sense to me or my brother candidiates in formation. Would be nice for the bishops to get together and make a universal decision adhereing to Canon Law.

  79. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Similarly, Ed, I find it curious to see seminarians wearing the collar.


  80. Thanks Dcn Greg,,God Bless

  81. How about a new item that would be portable and easily identified? Perhaps a white stole with embroidery such as a D embroidered on top of or near a Catholic symbol. The deacon could take it with him and use it when performing duties.

  82. A few thoughts: 1. In religious orders such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, etc. there is no distinction in the religious habit between priests, deacons and lay brothers. Is there some confusion? Sure, even when their priests often refer to each other and themselves as “brother.” But it’s easy to undo the confusion if needed. 2. The proper clerical dress when participating in liturgical functions without ‘serving’ is choir dress, which for simple priests and deacons is the cassock (or religious habit) and surplice…not really the alb and stole. Unfortunately, most priests and deacons don’t even have a cassock and surplice, so they do the alb-and-stole thing. Check the Ceremonial of Bishops. 3. Deacons are sacramentally ordained which means they are in a league far above that of protestant clergy who are not but are referred to as ‘Reverend’ or even for some, ‘Father’ and that includes protestant ‘bishops’ and others who may wear prelate dress. Shouldn’t deacons be given the honor and respect they deserve? I think so.

  83. Dennis Dolan says:

    While, I’m personally not much interested in looking like a priest after 19 yrs of diaconal ordination. There are, no doubt, situations where the collar would be beneficial to others.

    But what interests me in this issue is the insight into the mind of the Bishops. I mean, the FACT of the matter is that until there were married deacons, they had NO concerns over issues of either dress or address. And the forms were UNIVERSAL in the U.S. (Rev. Mr. and Roman Collar)!

    So, I do believe it speaks volumes about the episcopacy’s feelings toward married men (as that is the only difference here).

    Why? Well, why can seminarians (without a single minor order) wear collars ? Bishop’s have no concern that the faithful will be confused, etc. To say nothing of the multitude of various Protestant clergy wearing the “roman” collar these days.

    And sadly, this problem could be settled to the satisfaction of BOTH sides of the issue in a simple manner- select a non-roman collar for deacons (Paulist, Redemptorist, Christian Brother, Oratorian, Alexian, etc. Or develop a new one! I believe Atlanta uses the Christian Brothers/Oratorian model.)

    It would identify deacon as a cleric in major orders and specifically as such with no problems or confusion, etc. Not to mention deacons (who are not trapped in the parish sanctuary) are photographed doing all kinds of service in the community. It may be just me but I think the Church can use all the good publicity it can get these days.

    We CAN’T figure this out?! Or we don’t WANT to?

    So let’s create our own collar! Get yourself a black shirt with a regular collar and put your deacon cross on the left side of the collar (same side as your stole!). In the summer make it a black polo shirt. Get a nice suit jacket and “Bam!” something new in the great Tradition! Spread the word!;-)

    Just don’t waste too much time on this. It’s not nice to keep the poor waiting ;-)

  84. Strange, must be a local thing that seminarians wear collars. That’s something that’s not-done here. Only priests and bishops wear collars here, I agree that it adds to the confusion if a deacon also walks around with a collar.

    I live in a country where pastoral workers overstep their boundaries acting like priests (including hearing confessions, ‘saying Mass’), so if deacons would be encouraged wearing collars, they will interpret this as a Carte Blanche to act as a priest as well.

    I’m not saying everyone of them is bad, but a fair amount of them got bad education and lack basic knowledge of Catholic teachings.

  85. I fully support Deacons wearing collars – ordained is ordained. That said, I have to be obedient to my Bishop, so I propose that a shirt (or habit-style) be designed, by the diaconate community (North American/International), that would “honor” our ordination, but be distinguished from the priests’ clerical garb. That way, NO one can be confused! And…only Deacons can wear.


  1. [...] I’m bemused to see this sort-of-maybe-not-quite priest bedecked in a Roman collar.  Clerical attire is a subject of no small fascination to deacons.  I’m glad to see the American National [...]

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