The Politics of the Habit

The Politics of the Habit

Faint voices floated from behind the faded drapes that separated the nuns’ portion of the parlor from their visitors’. On my side, an armchair was stationed in front of the curtains, like a theater set for an audience of one. I could only wonder what was waiting on the other side. And then, with a quick thrust, mother superior opened the curtains to reveal a steel grille. Behind the bars stood several women, swathed in black and looking like a row of Grim Reapers. Their eyes glowed like neon from shrouded faces, and from beneath the folds of their habits, pale arms reached through the bars to shake hands. Sisters in visiting parlor – sister Marie Michelle Dziubela, right.

These were the strictly cloistered Passionist sisters and their garbs were, by far, the most dramatic I had seen on a year-long venture to convents and monasteries all across North America. Surprisingly, the habit has taken on a new popularity among younger nuns and a renewed disdain among an older generation of feminist sisters.

Thank you for sharing this. I nice to see that there are those who are care about the symbols of their religious heritages.

Sheesh, so much bickering--from BOTH sides. :mad:

Clothes DON'T make the, woman; the heart and the mind and the dedication do. I can see why a traditional habit would be cumbersome to an order that does work outside in the community. But, I can see why a Sister would be comfortable in a habit if she belonged to a more contempative community, or did works that didn't involve much need for unrestricted mobility.

I'll be in a period of discernment for the next 5 years or so, and the LAST thing I care about is whether the order wears a habit or not. I'll know the right order when I find it; if they wear a habit, fine, and if they don't, fine.



**God Bless you for discerning the religious life!

You should care about the “habits” of those orders you are considering!

The more authentic, the more humble, the more sacrificial, the closer to Jesus they are!**

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis Peccatoribus!


I agree, the habit is important.

The habit is a transforming thing. It is a visible sign to make people think of God. People of faith and even those with little faith are always moved when they see a nun in habit. It makes one think for abit and it makes them take a moment to think about Him. It makes one happy and hopeful to see women so dedicated to God. The habit is also important to bring people to the faith and convert sinners. I’m convinced that if people saw more religious men and women in habit and tunic in public, more people could be converted through it. Half the problem in evangelising the faith today is the lack of coming into contact with the religious, who can move us through their wearing the habit. I also think it is an important sign to God that you are very serious in your complete devotion to Him.

Now, of course their are nuns that don’t wear the habit and they are very devout, pious and holy. But how can they convert and bring God to the people if nobody knows they are a nun?:shrug:


I can not understand a person going through years of religious formation, and then not
wanting to wear the habit, TBH.

Being said well:thumbsup:

[quote="jimcav, post:5, topic:199097"]

But how can they convert and bring God to the people if nobody knows they are a nun?:shrug:


Hopefully by their actions--which should be true of all Christians. :)

I do rather like the idea of habits, and I only mean to say that for orders that are more active "outside" in the community (rather than contemplative), the traditional habit can be physically constricting, it not outright dangerous. If my duty was, for example, to dig a garden or tend to animals or work in a soup kitchen, I'd be far more comfortable in "normal" clothes.

But again, I wouldn't be swayed one way or the other once I find the order where I fit in. If I should get the chance to serve God as I am called to do, I won't much care what I wear.

I'm devout, but I'm also practical (and clumsy!) ;)


Originally Posted by jimcav
But how can they convert and bring God to the people if nobody knows they are a nun?:shrug:

Originally Posted by jimcav
But how can they convert and bring God to the people if nobody knows they are a nun?:shrug:

It is always the Grace of God that converts and brings people to Him, while sighting a habit for one only could be one of the channels He may use for such Grace.
The essence of religious life is not the habit, rather it is incidental to religious life per se, while in some religious orders the religious habit may be intrisic to a particular religious order and mandatory in their way of life. Undoubtedly, the religious habit can be a wonderful witness with God's Grace - as can the witness given by a particular person out of habit and, indeed, perhaps not even in religious life - with God's Grace always.
I was at weekday Mass one day and there was a Carmelite nun there in traditional habit. Walking home, she stopped in her car and offered me a lift. It turned out in conversation she was not at a nun. Another time and on Carmelite grounds, a Carmelite priest came up and spoke to me, turned out he was not a priest at all nor a religious. It is by our fruits that we are to recognize each other "By their fruits, you will know them".
I really think it is up to each religious order to determine re the habit or lack of it and that their decision should be respected.

Oh I agree with that!

But it is an important channel that is being lost on people today. When I was a kid, all the nuns wore the habit and it brought an instant sense of respect, reverance and seriousness to them that seemed to be lost when the nuns began to dress in secular clothing. Not that the modern nuns weren’t great, but I have to say that they didn’t get the same sense of respect that the older nuns in habit did. They were pretty much treated the same as any teacher was, not as a religious person should be. That attitude might have been wrong on our part, but it was the typical human reaction to their secular dress code.

In a society going more secular almost by the day, we desperately need to see the habit in public and young children in Catholic school should certainly see it. It gives people pause to think of their own spirituality and where they are with God and their faith and it gives us hope to see people so dedicated to God. Personally, I can hardly remember the last time I saw a nun in public in a habit. :frowning:

Thank you for the response. Personally I am very much in agreement with your comments as my personal awareness and conclusions.

A few observations are that firstly, I think our attitudes need to be addressed if a person needs to wear a religious habit to get absolute respect from us. I feel that the religious habit does add that little extra something almost commanding respect at least for us Catholics anyway and which secular clothing does not have. Be this as it may, I think a person no matter what they wear should be given absolute respect. And something is amiss in attitudes and understanding of The Gospel if this is not so. It alerts us to an area that needs attention and work.

In a society going more secular almost by the day, we desperately need to see the habit in public and young children in Catholic school should certainly see it.

I do tend to agree with you and that the religious habit can trigger questions and perhaps especially from the young, but not only them. It can also alert to Christ and His Gospel in our midst and give us pause to reflect too possibly as you point out here:

It gives people pause to think of their own spirituality and where they are with God and their faith and it gives us hope to see people so dedicated to God.

The religious habit can of course have these affects and effects but not necessarily so. Some indeed have had really nasty experiences in their past that the tend to connect sadly to the religious habit.

Personally, I can hardly remember the last time I saw a nun in public in a habit

We do have them of course, but not out and about as once did see them.

I think that the issue of the religious habit and amongst lay people is a journey for us within the overall journey taking place post V2. It does remain an issue for religious themselves to sort out within the context of their particular religious order. And their decision should be respected I think either in habit or not. It is not about what we want, or what we think and conclude, reason. It is about what God wants for His Church which of course flows out to us from Rome. I dont think we are ever, thankfully, going to see the religious habit disappear altogether. In two places re religious life that I think are Post Synodal Exhortations (to memory) for sure the Holy Father has spoken and on religious life and has come out firmly on the issue of the religious habit for religious in some cases and stating what exemptions might apply etc. and religious wear secular clothing. Certainly there are plenty of religious orders around that are in religious habit.

We do not know what the future holds - I do tend to think that religious in habit and others in secular clothing will tend to unfold side by side. But then again, I may be wrong. God of The Surprise. Those of us lay people who did live with the full religious habit pre V2 probably have something that we loved but did not wear, the religious habit, to detach ourselves from as an attachment and something that we find hard to detach from perhaps.
It is only a personal wondering of mine - but I wonder if all the fuss being made about the veil of Moslem women may trigger re interest in the religious habit. For just as the Islamic female veil speaks to us of the Moslem faith in our midst, the religious habit always said without speaking “Catholic now present” usually. While I am not saying that my personal wondering should apply. Certainly from what I do know personally of some religious in secular clothing, they do have valid issues for adopting secular clothing within those terms that Rome has laid out for religious to adopt secular wear, for some it might be a question of their vow of Obedience and their particular Order’s decision for all members and only many Graces can flow out to themselves, The Church and the world from religious valuing as an important and valued concern their vow of Obedience I think.


Our pp spoke to us exceedingly well on the Feast of The Ascension about "between times". Most effectively indeed and we are sure blest in our new pp.

My history may not be spot on but we are in a "between times" in many ways in The Church now I think. For example, once in The Church a religious had to be enclosed, absolutely no choice about it. With the arrival in history of those women who wanted to undertake religious vows and engage in apostolic works of Mercy in the community it was a time of the cross, of suffering difficulties and misunderstandings as it was a scandalous matter and outrageous concept in The Church then. Religious MUST be enclosed; however, as history now relates all this changed and now we have enclosed nuns and active religious sisters living side by side most happily - but for those women in their own times and for The Church and also probably for lay people it was absolute outrageous and I am sure the subject of many conversations even conflict and divisions.
I think we are living in a "between time" now. What will be the result of our particular "between time" is yet to be revealed and perhaps not even in our lifetime perhaps. It is very true that without change there can be no such thing as growth. For if you think about it growth does mean that something has changed. Hence in The Church we are always going to be somewhere or other in a "between time" as The Church changes and grows into its fulness on earth in Christ - but it is also very very true that we dont particularly like change often sometimes, which can be difficult - even very difficult and will ask letting go of what once was and spoke to us perhaps, gave us a sense of security and identity, who we are. We will in fact be in a "between time" until Christ returns in Glory in His Second Coming.
The Church for one is continually changing - for example, everytime there is a baptism and etc. etc. The Church has changed in that we have another new member and a type of change. Nothing is so sure in human life on earth and in the universe itself and all life as change. I am now older than I was when I commenced this post, hence I have changed and grown on a certain level.
Does this mean that all change is good and in a positive direction. No, because decay also is a type of change meaning that something has changed in a negative direction. Growth can also mean that change is taking place and growing towards a decaying or decayed state.It is deteriorated or is deteriorating - growing backwards as it were. Sometimes for us human beings and our various institutions, groups etc. change in positive direction, forwards etc., means perhaps trial and error. One thing as Catholics we can have no doubts about and be assured of absolutely in Faith. "Thou art Peter, The Rock, and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" Promise that is a guarantee we can invest in with absolute sureness beyond any shadow of doubt, any question.

My mother is a baby boomer, so grew up before VII. She recently made a disparaging comment about a new associate priest she met who wore a cassock. I was shocked and asked here what the problem was.

She replied that when she sees a priest or a nun wear the ‘old stuff’ she assumes they long for the ‘good old days’ when priests were a status above peon lay people and everyone’s focus was on outward appearances of piety rather than genuine conversion of heart.

I looked at her like she had grown another head. I can’t relate at all. When I see a post Vatican II priest wear a cassock or a nun wear a recognizable habit, I perceive it as a statement that says, “I am not my own. I belong to Christ, I have given myself over to him completely and am not ashamed of having done so.” She looked at me like I had grown another head.

The only conclusion that makes any sense to me is that we don’t live in a single culture. She and I have experienced vastly different cultures in our lives and perceive the same thing in different ways. So it’s probably best not to assume my explanation for why religious wear habits is always the correct one. Maybe somebody out there wears it for the reason my mom thinks (though I really doubt it!).

For that matter, perhaps the reason that an elderly sister in a 25 year old polyester pantsuit isn’t wearing IT for the reasons you think either. :stuck_out_tongue:

I sometimes wish us lay persons could wear habits, with permission from a Priest:bible1:

Request granted!

Not every day, mind you. But I have family in this group (not exactly a third order, but not professed religious either) and they wear their habits to mass daily (with permission of their pastor). It’s a simple tunic and necklace, but it IS distinctive.

You are so very welcome!:slight_smile: Now if you have not seen this: the solemn profession of 10 benedectines…awesome and so holy!!!…tles_6503.html

[quote="Shoshana, post:16, topic:199097"]

You are so very welcome!:) Now if you have not seen this: the solemn profession of 10 benedectines...awesome and so holy!!!


That is rather fascinating.

I think that there were eleven, not ten. One sister is in a wheelchair.

I believe that these sisters were ‘overdue’ in taking their vows, waiting until they had a permanent home. Part of the Benedictine vow of stability.

A big problem of not wearing a habit is that of appropriateness. There can be a lot of vanity in which habit you choose for a religious order but there can be more to be in “normal” clothes and consecrated. I think Opus Dei struggles with this to this day of what is appropriate e,g. Jeans or no jeans; over dressing or casual dressing; earrings no earrings…

Styles change and many fashions just are not Christian. Plus the whole idea of being set aside is the meaning of consecrated life and the symbol of the habit illustrates one that is set aside. Nuns started to wear the habits to warn men in the early centuries of Christianity— “don’t look I belong to God”. It also has the opposite effect of I can’t flirt because everyone knows I am brother/nun. The hair cut of the monk, Roman tonsure, also keep monks from sneaking around to bars and brothels because once they removed their hat or hood all would know he is a monk. ( Maybe priest should return to that hmmm.:wink: )

It also works as a uniform like in the service of unity. A gray Franciscan can meet a blue Franciscan and already have a good idea of their spirituality.

As for the habits being a problem for work-- doubtful. Western farming and wine production owes much to the monks! Nurses uniforms were based on nun habits. Very few orders, if any, have a problem working in their habits and if they do, they have “working” habits.

Plus there is the matter of poverty and simplicity.

The first thing the enemies of the Church got rid of when they took over a country was the ability of clergy and religious to wear habits (e.g. Communists in Eastern Europe; I believe Mexico didn’t allow habits until the 1980’s). The children of this world are more astute to the important psychology associated with habits. Even Hollywood likes habits better than the Church!

BTW before we judge someone too harshly for choosing an order for a habit, St. Padre Pio chose the Capuchin friars because they wore beards.

Not all religious congregations or religious orders allow their members to wear a habit. Some never had a habit and they do excellent ministry. Two that come to mind are the Brothers of the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa did not allow them to adopt a habit. Her logic was that a religious man in a habit was contrary to the culture in which the congregation was founded. She said that the traditional habit of the male religious was of European design and that Jesus had explicitly revealed to her that he wanted the Missionaries of Charity to be an Indian congregation. Therefore the sisters and brothers were to dress as Indians.

The other congregation that also comes to mind are the Society of Mary. The founder did not want the congregation to wear a habit because the priests in the congregation would stand out from the brothers and the congreation was to be a congregation of brothers. The function of the priests was to celebrate the sacraments for the brothers and to disappear into the background. The brothers were not to wear a habit because they were to inspire boys and young men to be gentlemen. Therefore, the brothers were to dress as the gentlemen of the region where they taught. To this day, the Marianists do not wear a habit. The Brothers Superior allow the priests to wear a Roman Collar only when they are doing something that is specifically a priestly function. Other than that they are to take it off and wear what the men of the region wear.

Like these there are other congregations where the founders forbade the wearing of a habit, but they do a lot of evangelical work. We have to remember that a man or woman becomes a religious not to convert others, but to consecrate his or her life to Christ. In the order of charity the primacy of charity for the religious is to his or her brothers and sisters, not the rest of the world. The religious converts the world by consecrating his or her life out of great love for God. What he or she does is not important to religious orders.

Religious congregations are a little different. Religious congregations were founded to do specific ministries and perform specific pastoral functions, conversion is one of them. But this is not the case with the orders. The orders were founded for the sanctification of their members and by association, the sanctification of the Church. As the religious becomes holier so does the world, without the religious having to say or do anything. That’s why many orders have no ministry. They simply move into a neighborhood and live among the people. The idea is to live their lives according to their rule and the mind of their founder, not to convert anyone. God takes care of that part as long as the religious is faithful to his rule and is founder.

Those communities that have a habit, such as mine, do not have it for the benefit of the outsider. The habit was given to us for the benefit of the person who wears it. It serves three purposes: 1) it reminds us that we are all brothers to each other; 2) it reminds us that we are sons of St. Francis; and 3) it reminds us of our 800 year history and grounds us within a family that has a particular vision and charism. Our founders never thought of the outside world when they gave us our habits. They were thinking of how to unite the religious family. In our case, when we see another friar with the white chord it brings us great joy and all the shyness falls away, because even though we may belong to a different branch of the order, we’re sons of the same father. That’s why Franciscans do not have a uniform habit. The only constant is the chord and tunic. The color and style was irrelevant to St. Francis as long as it was a tunic with a chord and a cowl.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

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