Looking for a comparison of Habits

Friends, I believe very strongly that a person discerning a vocation must consider the totality thereof: not just the spirituality, and not just the Rule, but all together. Since every religious order has a specific habit which fits its transcendental ideal, I would like to ask around for a graphic comparison of the orders’ various clothing. Does any such thing exist in article-form on the internet, or in a pictorial book? I’d just love to see large illustrations of each Habit, along with detailed descriptions of the varying symbolism in each. A well-suited Habit radiates an angelic light when worn by a truly holy man, and the visual component is important in converting heathens (like me)! Though it isn’t as important as the theology, of course, the public nature of the religious habit always invites questions; ideally, if this habit is coupled with a joyous nature, some very good consequences may come… :slight_smile:

Here is a simple example of what I am looking for: saints.sqpn.com/religious-habit/

Each Habit seems to glow like a separate peak in the mountain range of Roman Catholicism. Some mountains are subdued old monuments, and others seem to reflect the glory of the Sun upon their brows; yet more are glorious peaks capped with snow all-year round, in perpetual joy and innocence. We all know Carthusians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictines, Redemptorists, and Premonstratensians keep their own ‘public image’. How far does the variation in habits go?

I only ask because I am an unbaptised Catechumen (the redundancy is for clarity’s sake), but I feel drawn to serve in the Church right now. The local Franciscans have already said they’d love to have me altar-serving in cassock and surplice (I am male) a few months after I’m baptised. There is such a holy, golden light shining from this Church, and I know God is thrusting me toward it. There are two long years to wait after this Easter, of course, but I want to start exploring every last avenue this very second.

Let the flower of God’s joyous love open up into the fresh morning air. The horizon blazes with the new dawn of faith, after the dark night of atheism. Please pray for me.

I would suggest that you get a spiritual director and then explore the charisms of the religious orders/communites that appeal to you.

When you find a connection then you contact that order/communities vocations director to start a discussion which should include a come and see time where you will see their habits, that is if they wear them.

That is the problem I see here, you might get a listing of all the habits but not all of them are worn or they are not worn all the time or the individual gets to make the choice as to wearing it, such as when to wear it and when not to wear it.

IMHO the habit should be one of the lowest things on the mind when discerning religious orders/communities.

The biggest ones should be their charism and how they live out the communal life.

Well yes, of course, brother. :slight_smile: You are echoing my sentiments when you say that the charism is most important. Naturally the habit is not very high on the list, but remember that I must wait 1-2 years before even considering a vocation. I’d at least like to see the habits presented professionally, side-by-side, so I might learn them and identify them. God made me a visual person first and foremost, so if that’s the door into deeper spirituality, it must be opened.

Your wisdom is appreciated!

I have never seen such a catalogue. There may be several reasons for that too.

Not every community of religious men wears a habit. Some never had one. For example, Jesuits have always worn what is worn by Diocesan priests. They are not alone, many others have too. The Passionists wear a cassock, with a pin. Without the pin, you would not tell the apart from a Jesuit.

Another reason is that most religious communities of men did not set out to wear a habit per se. It happened accidently. For example, you mentioned Franciscans. Let me ask you, do you believe that you really know what the Franciscan habit is? Did you know that there are over 100 variations on the Franciscan habit? Francis wrote that the the novice should be given two tunics, one with a cowl and one without a cowl, drawers and a chortd. That was it. He did not describe the tunic. We have no idea what color, what fabric, how long or how many pieces it had. You will find Franciscans wearing: black, blue, brown, grey and white. Brown is the most popular, because it was the easierst fabric to find. Some have scapulars. Others have a caperone and others a shoulder cape reaching to the waist. Most are long to the floor, but some go only to the kneeds and are worn with pants. Most are worn without pants. Most wear sandals, but some are not allowed to wear sandals. Some may have a side rosary while others are not allowed to wear one. Crucifixes over the chest are not allowed by most Franciscans communities of men, because this was traditionally the sign of a bishop or an abbot. The designs were accidental, not theological or spiritual. Most of us follow the guidance of St. Clare on this issue. She said that the habit was to be comfortable, appropriate for the local culture, climate and work. She also said that the superior of the house was to decide what was best. As friars and nuns spread and opened new houses in different settings, the habits were changed. The distinguishig trademarks of the Franciscan habit is the chord. Everyone wears the chord and the cowl, because it’s in the rule. The rule cannot be changed. Nothing else is in the rule.

The Carmelites and others who wear a scapular, began to wear it as an apron. There was nothing theological about it. It later took on a different meaning and became a standard piece of the habit.

The cowl was adopted for very practical reasons. Religious houses did not have heating. The cowl was worn to protect you from the drafts. The skull cap was often worn too. Many religious found that the cowl not only protected them from the elements, but also served as blinders that blocked out distractions from the sides. When you put it on, you can only see what is directly in front of you.

The colors were a matter of convenience. Most communities wore whatever was the cheapest fabric available. The early Dominicans wore unbleached white wool. That’s how their habit came to be a off-white. That’s also how the pope’s habit came into existence. Pius V was a Dominican. He introduced the whtie habit to the papacy. After his death, his successors were not Dominicans, they kept the Dominican white, but wore a cassock instead.

There is nothing mystical about our habits. They take on a spiritual and sentimental value with the passage of time, because they are associated with our specific traditions. That’s why it’s important to study the tradition, not the habit. The habit is to remind the wearer that he’s a Dominican, Carmelite, Trinitarian, etc. It’s pretty useless, if you don’t have an appreciation and love for the tradition.

One must also understand why some founders forbade the use of any disntinctive habit. That has great value as well. For example, when Mother Teresa founder her male Missionaries of Charity, she forbade the use of any kind of distinctive garb, even a Roman Collar, because Jesus had revealed to her that he wanted an Indian congregation. Habits and Roman Collars are European garb, not Indan. The Missionaries of Charity wear street clothes commonly found among the poor of India.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Oh dear! I certainly have a lot to learn about this faith. Thank you for humbling me and showing me how ignorant I am. The overwhelming, joyous love which our Father has for us must be the first precept of a Christian, not his appearance. Perhaps I focused on the habits because I want Religious to be easily identifiable no matter where they go; however, there is likely an element of pride and superficiality in my wishes on this matter. :frowning: Please forgive me.

Thank you for your meticulously-typed information, dear brothers. Now, let us clear this away so real Christians can ask proper questions about vocations!

I love how, in the image that you linked, the Dominican is depicted reading a book.

But then, I suppose that having the nose in a book is an essential part of the Dominican habit… :wink:

Perhaps that’s a sign, Impertinens. I just love Thomas Aquinas (and books!) more than anything in the world! The Dominicans have a pretty nice habit, too… :wink:

Some religious communities were not given a habit by their founder for the very reason that he/she did not want them to stand out from those they ministered to. They later developed a habit but following the reforms of Vatican II and the call to return to the founders vision they have been shedding them.

We should never underestimate the power of the habit, either. Too many people are too eager to do this. The habit serves a purpose, like any other uniform serves a purpose. Each uniform serves a different purpose.

Recently, I was traveling through a nearby city. I was on my way to visit a doctor and saw a church. I needed to go to confession and decided to stop in. The priest did not know me. He saw the grey tunic, the cowl and the Tau over my chest and immediately said, “You’re a Franciscan of some kind.” I was not wearing the full-length habit. We only wear it for certain occasions. We have a work tunic reaching to our knees, held together at the waist with a chord and a Tau over the chest, with an attached cowl. Yes, we do wear grey pants, LOL. We don’t go around showing our hairy legs. We borrowed the idea from the monks. Most monks do not wear a habit for work, because it can be dangerous and is cumbersome at best. They wear a tunic. We avoid wearing a Roman collar, if we can, because it is non-descript. Deacons, priests, bishops and seminarians wear them. Religious brothers and priests also wear them, so do many Protestant clergymen. We wanted something that said, “Franciscan” but was practical for our work and our climate. We’re in Florida. It can get very hot. Moreover, there is a lot of manual labor involved in running our pregnancy centers. We clean bathrooms, stock baby supplies, vacuum floors, wash windows, load and unload supplies from trucks. The life of penance does not include doing the ridiculous. If you can avoid getting sick or burning yourself out, you have a moral duty to do so. If you cannot avoid it, then you have a moral duty to accept it with great humility.

There are people who say that we should wear the full-length woolen habit and put up with it, because our life is to be a life of sacrifice. Poppycock! God builds many sacrifices into the daily life of the religious or the priest, if he lives as he promised to live. He need not make himself sick to prove that he is making a sacrifice.

One of my favorite communities is the Missionaries of the Poor. If you look at their habit, it’s made of very lightweight white cotton, not wool. They live in Jamaica!!! Look at Mother Teresa. She wore sweaters when she came to the West and sometimes a coat. The monks and friars of the Middle Ages wore heavy cloaks to protect them from the elements. They didn’t embrace every opportunity to get pneumonia. However, these men and women made great sacrifices that often cost them their health and their lives.

To close, I’d like to go back to my confession. The priest, who is a secular priest, recognized the Franciscan “look”. This was important. It reminded me that I was approaching the sacrament as a Franciscan. There is something unique in how the Franciscan approaches the sacraments. We are part of a school, with a unique perspective on the sacraments. We believe everything that the Church teaches about them. Our Holy Father Francis and the early friars approached them with a Franciscan attitude. The habit serves to remind me that I’m part of that family and that this attitude is part of my heritage. I’m always reminded of Francis’ statement about the sinful priest and the angel. Even if he is the most sinful priest, only he can absolve your sins. You don’t go into the confessional ready to evaluate everything that he tells you to see if it’s orthodox or not. You leave that nonsense outside. You enter the confessional because you are a sinner and Christ is waiting to absolve you. The orthodoxy of the priest has no import on your reason for being there or on what he can do for you. This is how the sons and daughters of St. Francis approach this sacrament. It’s a childlike simplicity, rooted in a great truth that has been handed down through the Church. The habit, the priest recognizing it and reminding me of who I am, helped me remember who he is and why he’s there.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

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