By Elizabeth Scalia, from First Things, who observed a Sister remove the customary “habit” only to observe it was not a step in the direction the Sister thought:
Does the same apply to pastors/priests wearing a collar?
Perfectae Caritatis, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, wisely counseled in favor of adapting religious habits in practical ways, but never decreed that habits should be discarded.
The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved. The habits of both men and women religious which do not conform to these norms must be changed.
The “outward mark of consecration” was meant to be a sign, but the habits were also a means of self-effacement. They were paradoxically meant to obliterate a sister’s uniqueness and make her one of many, one part of a collective hive. In truth, religious life is socialism the only way it can truly work: on a small-and-voluntary scale.
Taking off the habit may have (in the parlance of the day) helped sisters “celebrate their individuality”—and that is not a terrible thing, in and of itself; we are each fearfully, wonderfully made—but the embrace of ordinary dress over the religious habit also made the ordinary world more ordinary. Suddenly, there were no daily outward indications that anyone was praying at all, no reminders that we could and should pray, too. Suddenly, there was nothing to make a workingman remember Christ, and share some frozen sugar-water in gratitude.