Why the separation between clergy and laity?

Why do priests and clergy wear robes and special clothes in Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches? Why not wear what everyone else is wearing? I used to hear this was the clergy’s way of putting themselves above the laity.
Again, I am not saying I believe this now, this is what I was told by fundamentalist preachers.

See if this answers your question.

In the Old Testament, you will find the passage where GOD dictates the complete wardrobe for the Priests. As GOD has declared such a wardrobe, it is not to place themselves above and higher than the laity, but to distinguish themselves as being set apart with a special mission and message. They act for GOD, with GOD and through GOD to bring HIS sacraments to the laity. Their dress helps assist the laity with focusing on and realizing that what they are about to receive, is sacramental and not average every day.

Would a priest dressed in sneakers, t shirt, and shorts inspire much confidence in the laity when giving the sacraments?
I do not believe it would!

As others have pointed out today’s priests, now use pretty much the same way the priests of the Old Testament did when performing their priestly duties.
Their day to day dress may have changed in accordance with the customs of the era in which each one lived.
I am certain that St. Paul dressed with the tunic that was in vogue during his lifetime.

But I am also certain that when he celebrated “the breaking of bread” = “Mass” he wore the required dress to signify the importance and sanctity of the sacraments.

And another point perhaps that should be made is that the priest is NOT above the laity.
He is a SERVANT of the laity. The Pope is the SERVANT of the SERVANTS of the Lord.

Jesus did not say to Peter. “Peter lord over my sheep”. HE said “Feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my sheep”.

I wonder if black suits and red ties are the vestments of fundamentalist preachers.

In the OT it was an absolute necessity to have a separate priestly class to offer sacrifice and do spiritual things for the common believers for the simple reason that sin blocked their way to God. But now, we recognize that the Cross has forever changed the way we relate to God. Sin has been completely taken out of the picture. Every believer now has complete and direct access to God and all his blessing because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. This is a fundamental difference from the OT. If we still follow OT regulations, then our actions are not in accordance to the truth.

The link from Marty is excellent. The Mass and Divine Liturgies evolved from worship in the Jewish Temple. From the Sacrifice of the Lamb to the Holy of Holies. Remember, Jesus didn’t abolish the old Law, he fulfilled it.

Further more, let’s remember that many of the first Masses / Divine Liturgies sometimes took place inside Jewish synagogues until the final split between the two after the Council of Jerusalem.

So naturally, the liturgy would evolve from the Jewish liturgy.

God Bless

I can’t remember on what topic someone brought up the fact that protestants have an easier time than do catholics because their knowledge is limited. I don’t agree with this. Protestant people I know happen to know their faith well.

I would like to understand better what you mean by “Sin has been completely taken out of the picture.”

I understand that the Cross has paid for our sins and Jesus has freed us from different things, eternal damnation, waiting around in paradise (pre-heaven), also sin - but it is still part of the picture.

Do you care to answer?

God bless you

Remember, Christ was a Jew. Study the Old Testement. Study the Levitical priesthood. Study the ancient Temple.

It’s all there.

Christ was Jewish

Yes,we need to study Hebrews, especially ch.10. It lays out for us exactly what the cross has done for us. It could be compared to going from beggars (old covenant) to billionaires (new covenant. V.19 says we have “boldness (!) to enter into the holiest”. Why? Because sin is no more. God doesn’t even remember it! (V.17) Nether should we. V.2 says we should have no more conscience of sins. V.14 says "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. " It is permanent! We can now draw near to God with full assurance by a new and living way! (I’m preaching better than you’re listening)

1 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (Act 6:1-6)

I’m sorry. What does this have to do with wearing special apparel to do the Mass and other liturgical functions??

God bless

Okay. I understand. I’m listening just as hard as you’re preaching. Why did you think I wouldn’t listen if I’m the one asking what you meant??

I agree with everything you’ve said. I’m familiar with Hebrews and every other book in the N.T. and the O.T.

“God doesn’t even remember sin” - okay. It’s justification.

You lose me on the statement “we should have no more conscience of sin.”

Are you of the grace movement? I can’t see your religious designation right now.

I mean, I DO believe catholics concentrate too much on sin; much of this has to do with confession. Can we go to the other extreme and not think of it at all?

God bless you

Interesting question. Never thought of this. I’ve taught why the colors of the garments are different but never thought of the reason for wearing the different “robes”.

So I looked it up and Professor Google had the answer. Here it is:

There’s nothing unscriptural about vestments. God commanded that they be used in the Old Testament. Look at Exodus 28:2:

“For your brother Aaron you will make sacred vestments to give dignity and magnificence. You will instruct all the skilled men, whom I have endowed with skill, to make Aaron’s vestments for his consecration to my priesthood. These are the vestments which they must make: a pectoral, an ephod, a robe, an embroidered tunic, a turban, and a belt. They must make sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons, for them to be priests in my service. They will use gold and violet material, red-purple and crimson, and finely woven linen.”

The rest of the chapter gives details on each garment.

Nothing in the New Testament requires abolition of priestly vestments. Our Lord attacked the Jewish leaders for a number of sins, but he never condemned their priestly garb. It’s true the early Church didn’t use the Old Testament vestments, but this is because Christians didn’t want to identify their leaders with the Jewish priesthood.

Part of the problem for Fundamentalists is that vestments set priests apart from the laity. Fundamentalists object to a ministerial priesthood in the Church. They see vestments as a way of expressing a distinction between clergy and laity.

On this they’re right, but there’s nothing wrong with such hierarchical distinctions. The New Testament is full of them (Acts 20:28; Eph 2:20, 4:11; Phil 1:1; 1 Tm 3:1-13; Ti 1:5).

Within Fundamentalism there’s also an unhealthy opposition set up between the spiritual and the material realms. There is an anti-incarnational attitude which views the use of anything material as superstitious. The distaste for vestments is but one example of this.

Fundamentalists who say Catholic priests adopted distinctive dress in the fifth century to put themselves above the laity have got it backwards. Actually, it was the laity who changed their attire, not to distinguish themselves from priests, but to keep up with fashions.

Catholic priests simply retained their manner of liturgical dress. Priestly vestments are no more than stylized secular Roman garments which have accrued symbolic, liturgical significance over the centuries.

Answered by: Catholic Answers Staff

God bless you

The answer begins in the Book of Exodus…28 - 29…recalling off top of my head these chapters.

The priest is set aside because his work is the Sanctuary and the Word of God…

Christ alone is the High Priest…who began His ministry when He entered heaven on the Feast of the Ascension.

Priests are set aside for this holy work. They are the intercessors of Christ.

It is Christ alone Who ministers to us in His Word and Sacrament. I cannot make Eucharist, I cannot make the Mass…I can get a missalette and read all the words and copy the priest’s gesture…but that is my own form of private prayer and nothing more.

Christ ministers to us through Baptism, confession, Holy Communion, healing. The Lord Himself is the bond in Holy Matrimony, we ‘married to Jesus’ so to speak…Christ ministering to us in Holy Orders.

We have Christ present among us in the tabernacle. We have His Presence because of our priests.

Where God alone was present in the ancient Temple on the Mercy Seat with two cherubs facing Him…He now comes to us in the Sacrament and remains with us in the tabernacle.

When we receive Holy Communion, we are receiving the same God Who separated the Red Sea, Who became the Pillar of Fire, Who fed His people Manna from heaven…Who became Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ given to us through the hands of the common priest.

We as Catholics do not pray enough or do penance enough to protect our priests from the Evil One…as Satan seeks out to destroy priests more than any other souls. The mystics have seen the souls of priests in hell, and they always know who they are because of the crosses on their hands.

I went to a Baptist wedding yesterday. The minister was wearing a certain kind of robe, no one else wears anything like that. The bride was in a white gown, no one wears anything like that but when they marry. The groom and wedding party wore outfits totally different from anyone in church. There were 2 members of the Armed Forces, who both wore their uniforms, part of the wedding party, with encouragement of the church. My friend told me that at other times they have other people with distinctive clothing - their choir members, their scouts and other youth programs, they sometime honor police, all encouraged to wear uniforms. So much for clothing.

Re: distinction in general, one might say at least a third of the gospels consists of Jesus separating his apostles from others, for special training; separate special formation, above and beyond the message given to all listeners. There is no hint of a generic church where everyone is an apostle, in the gospels or later New Testament.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.