The Priest in Cassock is a Living Sermon

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For the past three years the good people of St. Joseph, Missouri have been treated to an unusual sight in this day and age: a priest in cassock walking their city streets. As recently reported by Our Sunday Visitor:

Walk the streets of St. Joseph, Missouri, and you may have a memorable encounter with a tall young priest wearing a black cassock and Saturno clergy hat, a rosary in one hand and large crucifix in the other. The priest is Father Lawrence Carney, ordained for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, who for the past three years has devoted much of his time to street evangelism: strolling down inner city streets, praying the Rosary and sharing the Gospel with those who approach him.

Father Carney says that the idea of donning the cassock and making himself a visible witness to the Gospel came to him while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain several years back. Along the “Way”  Fr. Carney opted to wear his cassock. He estimates that he spoke with over 1,000 fellow travelers during his 32 day pilgrimage.

The attraction of people to a priest in a cassock, both for Catholics as well as non-Catholics, is explained by Fr. Carney this way:

“There’s something mysterious about the cassock; it acts like a magnet, drawing people to you…It is a sacramental that has a special blessing that the suit does not have.”

One friend of Fr. Carney’s who has seen his evangelizing first hand described it as follows:

“It was beautiful and amazing. Young and old, rich and poor, and men and women would come up to him and immediately start talking to him about their problems. Teenage girls and young women were crying to him about things going on in their lives. It was like they thought he was God walking the earth.”

For those in the Church already blessed with a personal, experiential, knowledge of the truth and beauty of tradition, the efficacy of Fr. Carney’s efforts is not surprising. Catholicism attracts. A priest in a cassock attracts.

It should also come as no surprise that Fr. Carney’s continued formation and sanctification has come through an embracing of tradition.

Currently “on loan” to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Fr. Carney serves as chaplain to the traditional order of nuns, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. If that name sounds familiar, it should. In recent years the sisters have released their beautiful recordings Advent at Ephesus and Lent at Ephesus; both have been bestsellers.

He visits the community daily to celebrate Mass according to the extraordinary form (yes, the Latin Mass!), hears their confessions, and offers spiritual guidance.

Writing over thirty years ago from an aggressively secular, post-Christian, France the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre noted the visible witness given to the Catholic faithful by the priest in cassock:

“The great boast of the new Church is dialogue. But how can this begin if we hide from the eyes of our prospective dialogue partners? In Communist countries the first act of the dictators is to forbid the cassock; this is part of a program to stamp out religion. And we must believe the reverse to be true too. The priest who declares his identity by his exterior appearance is a living sermon. The absence of recognizable priests in a large city is a serious step backward in the preaching of the Gospel…”

While many bishops and brother priests today view the cassock, the biretta, or the Saturno as being rigid, nostalgic, or prideful, nothing could be further from the truth. The faithful are drawn to this visual expression of the sacramental priesthood. When we see priests in cassocks, we see our faith. We see a Catholicism, bold and unafraid to share the Gospel truth.

Let us support, through our prayer and words of encouragement, those priests who wear the cassock. May God send us more of these faithful priests!

Posted on March 19, 2017, in holiness, liturgy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Many good and holy Catholic people will forever be skeptical about all Roman Catholic priests and bishops. They feel that they’ve been let down by THE group of people who, they believed, were most like Jesus. The goings-on in our Church-the past 20/30 years-and the reports of the detestable conduct of an incredibly large number of our clergy, has sullied the image of priests. This is probably one of the reasons why clergy vocations are down: who would want to be associated with a group who did such things? IMO, the good and holy priests have got to re-establish the trust and confidence in those of us who are initially hesitant about “the new guy” in the pulpit.

  2. It is beautiful to see indeed! And to read the story of Father Carney, a “living sermon”

  3. Yes our FSSP priest is great example of holiness for us in his cassock. Sadly, just as the cassock was abandoned, so many other Catholic traditions were abandoned bringing with it a destruction of the faith, among some priests the loss of virtue, even to the point of expressing their homosexual desires toward young boys. The vast majority of priests are neither homosexual or pediphiles, yet satan is using homosexual priests and hierarchy to further his desired destruction of souls. I pray that God will remove these evil men from his holy Church and replace them with holy cassock wearing priests who are not too proud to show reverence and love to our Lord through the ancient Tridentine Mass.

    • That’s just nonsense. The % of those perverts is small. Bad enough without exaggerating it.
      Re the paraphernalia, I’d drop the rosary and the crucifix and just walk and be available to people.The cassock itself will draw attention and interest and his personality and openness will be enough.

  4. Catholicism gained converts by example. What example do non-Catholics now see which would attract them to convert? Not much I would guess.

  5. The Modern Medievalist

    To this, I’d add that deacons should also wear the cassock, at least on church grounds. Sadly, many bishops forbid their deacons from wearing clerical dress in any circumstances out of some sense of “presbyteralism” which is, frankly, disordered.

  6. What a courageous witness at a time when so many “consecrated souls” cannot go far enough to hide their true identity from the public square. God bless you Father, and may your witness serve to lead others to Christ Jesus, even those hiding from Him!

  7. Tess van Ommen

    Fr. Hugh…this is one of the nicest stories I have read in a long time. Beautiful. May God and St. Michael protect Fr. Carney as he follows His footsteps.

  8. I recall not that long ago that it was not unusual to see a priest, nuns out in public wearing habits. Yes, they turned heads everyone I knew in my central Massachusetts city loved seeing them.
    I hope that vocations increase, that whoever wants to wear their traditional habit is allowed too or wear whatever they are most comfor table in.
    Religious communities should not restrict the attire of their members. As long as it appropriate
    I know some have forbidden the original habits, making all adhear to the modern modified habits.
    The 3rd order Franciscan are forbidden to wear the habit given by St Francis. It’s seems it is a great sin to do so? Not even to a meeting or event such as a funeral.
    Here’s to being free to to wear them again!

  9. Gerald Silberbauer

    wearing a cassock it brings a certain kind of reverence and holiness when you see a priest in robes. I would like to see all our priets wearing their cassocks.I belong to St Luke’s Anglican Church Salt River Cape Town South Africa.We are a traditional church where we have high mass every Sunday, and the first sunday of every month we have mas from the book of common prayer.

  10. I experienced this this weekend … a priest in public in a cassock … yes, a living witness …

  11. Franciscus Duarenus Minor

    While I gladly submit to the opinion of the Blessed Archbishop, I would rather see priests wearing their cassocks in public under specific circumstances, such as while doing the parish rounds, visiting the sick with the Most Blessed Sacrament, in processions, in official ecclesiastical functions and, naturally, in the Liturgy. Outside of these occasions, I like to see them wear clericals: a decent clerical suit with waistcoat and collar for everyday usage, while in business on civil matters, etc., and a clerical frock coat and double breasted waistcoat for formal occasions. I’m concerned here with secular priests or priests in institutes without vows.

  12. The cassock itself only dates from Trent. The traditional identification of a Catholic cleric was historically the tonsure. Note that the 1917 Code of Canon Law would automatically laicize any cleric who let their tonsure lapse after failing to heed the warning of their Ordinary.

    That said, I love the cassock. Too many protestant heretics wear the clerical suit for it be at all distinguishing… yet few others wear cassock and none but Catholics wear the Roman Cassock. All clerics (to include bishops, priests and deacons) in any area not under persecution, as so identified by the competent Vatican dicastery, should be required to wear the cassock. Regulars should be required to wear the habit.

  13. Fr. John Meyers

    Here in Philly I remember being told that one of the statutes of the Baltimore Council limited the use of the cassock on the streets was limited to liturgical processions. Can anyone confirm or disprove this? I use the cassock on Sundays and other solemn occasions. The history of clerical garb for diocesan priests, as oppposed to the religious orders, is relatively recent in its development. I wonder if the same it true anomg the Eastern Orthodox.

  14. Father Lawrence Carney

    Dear Fr. John Meyers, I like your question about the Councils of Baltimore. I did a short study on the several years ago and found that the cassock is actually promoted in the United States. If someone can show me otherwise I would be grateful to be made aware of that. Here is my research:

    Some have said that the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore has outlawed the cassock in the streets since we are a Protestant country as opposed to a Catholic country. A short study of the council reveals the flaw in this myth. In the Second Council of Baltimore numbers 148-150, it states, “As for a priest’s general attire the Provincial Council urges that the cassock be worn as much as possible.” It continues by giving permission for the black suit. America was the first country in the world to allow the black suit. “The Third Plenary Council in #77 repeats verbatim this decree of the Second with the exception that in speaking of the length of the coat…”1 For the clergy in the United States the…of Baltimore commands all ecclesiastics to keep the law of the Church…”2 “…We wish, therefore; and we command that all [ecclesiastics] keep the law of the Church, and, whether at home or in the church, always wear the cassock, which is the proper garb for clerics.”3
    As it is shown above, the cassock is not outlawed outside the Church property. In fact the Councils of Baltimore “urge that the cassock be worn as much as possible.” In my observation when something was strictly legislated at one point, then a new law abrogated the strict law and a more liberal law is promulgated with options; the original object of the law is sometimes forgotten or in practice outlawed. This is what happens when Modernism is embraced. An example would be abstaining from meat on all Fridays as is given in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The 1983 Code relaxes abstaining on all Fridays by:
    1) Abstaining from meat or
    2) Doing a penance in its place.
    Abstaining from meat on Fridays of Lent is mandatory. In practice most people do not even know about the law for all Fridays of the year. Or take the example the use of Latin in the Mass. Before Vatican II, Latin was virtually the only language used in the Latin Rite. Sacrosanctum Concilium relaxed that law, although slightly, however one interprets; stated that Latin is to be retrained although the vernacular may be used. (my emphasis) Depending on the translation, the word may is key. In practice it seems that in some places Latin is forbidden.
    At any rate, the above shows particular law for the cassock in the United States from almost 200 years ago. What are the current universal law and the current particular law with regards to wearing the cassock?

    Following are my foot notes:
    Fr. Barrett, John Daniel Mary, AM, JCL, Society of St. Sulpice. “A comparative study of the Council of Baltimore and the Code of Canon Law.” CUA Washington, D.C., 1932, p. 48.

    Rev. McCloud, AB, Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1948.

    Fr. John Nainfa, S.S., Costumes of Prelates of the Catholic Church: According to Roman Etiquette, Baltimore, 1926, p. 40.

  15. Deborah Seiter

    I live in St. Joseph, Mo. and attend the parish that Fr. Carney is in residence at. He is truly a gift to our parish, city and to our beloved Benedictines of Mary. I pray for all our priests, cassock and Roman Collar suit wearing ones, both. A priest friend of ours was in his clerics at a restaurant and was actually spit on by a customer. This was at the height of the sex abuse scandal. Pray for our priests.

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