Anglican priestly attire – part of the Anglican Patrimony

I have often wondered why our Ordinaries do not wear Anglican episcopal attire rather than the choir dress and streetwear of non-Ordinariate Roman Rite bishops. Similarly I was pleasantly surprised to see one of our young priests wearing a surplice while giving his first blessing after his ordination in April 2012, and also to note priests wearing surplices on photos of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas.

SMM1  (“Silent Majority Member 1”) actually got around to writing the post on this subject before me:

SMM1 weighs in on Anglican Use Ordinariate clergy attire!

Posted on January 18, 2013 by

On the one hand, there is something to be said for Ordinariate clergy dressing the same as diocesan Latin Rite clergy, to emphasize their belonging to the same order and participating in the same priesthood.  But what fun is that?  More seriously, would that really further the aim of an Anglican body within the Catholic Church “united but not absorbed”?  Anglo-Catholics have often dressed like Romans to express thabenson1t they hold the same faith as Roman Catholic clergy.  Now that unity of faith can be taken for granted in the Ordinariates, it would be fitting for them to dress like Anglicans to express their distinct identity within the Catholic Church.

The Anglican double-breasted cassock has been mentioned.  Its actual history is a bit murky (medieval cassocks were a bit different).  Nevertheless, I like it too, not least because, as Percy Dearmer pointed out, there is no risk of accidentally kneeling on a button (and kneeling is a big part of our Patrimony).  And just look, in the photo attached, how well it suits Father Benson (founder of the SSJE, Fr. Roland Palmer’s order).

john_fisher_paintingSurplice and tippet (black scarf), formerly universal in the medieval West, are still the Anglican cleric’s distinctive choir dress, as modelled by St. John Fisher (with optional Canterbury cap, a form of headgear that evolved into the biretta on the Continent, and into the academic mortarboard in England).  If Ordinariate clergy will not dress as he did, they should at least aspire to live (and die) as he did.

I wonder if the pontificalia permitted for the Ordinary even when only in priest’s orders extend to the Anglican bishop’s choir dress of rochet (white sleeved overgarment) and chimere (abbreviated doctoral gown, black or scarlet), as worn here by cranmerArchbishop Cranmer, whose dress (if not theology) was always orthodox.

He is also sporting a furred tippet (descendant of the medieval fur almuce — cathedrals were cold), which was reserved for dignitaries.  I would love to see Mgr. Steenson dressed like this when attending meetings of the USCCB (seeing that he won’t get the chance to dress thus in the House of Lords).

dearmerDearmer further insisted, with impressive documentation, that Anglican priests ought also to wear academic gowns over the cassock (with black tippet) as part of their street dress (pictured below — I would love to lecture like this!).  Perhaps this would be best reserved for more formal occasions; say, ad limina visits.

Dearmer has sometimes been attacked by Anglo-Catholics because he preferred medieval English precedents for church furnishings, vestments, and ceremonial (affectionately known as “British Museum Religion”) to the contemporary Continental Roman Catholic usages that had been adopted by many Anglican Ritualists.  This has been seen as a prejudiced anti-Romanism on Dearmer’s part.  Dearmer, I think, saw it simply as obedience to the liturgical law of the Church of England as illuminated by historical research.  The irony of calling this mode of dress anti-Roman is that Dearmer would go about in public thus attired and would be taunted by passers-by with shouts of “No Popery!”  But then, with characteristic Patrimonial wit, he would retort, “Are you aware that this is the precise costume in which Latimer went to the stake?”  That kind of paradox — that our most traditional “Catholic” clerical dress is precisely what was worn by the English Reformers — perhaps captures the very essence of the ambiguity that must attend an explicitly Anglican identity within the Catholic Church.

As for vestments worn during the sacraments, I care not a whit so long as they are simple, noble, and beautiful, worthy of such awful mysteries.

Of course, it will look pretty silly if there is an army of Ordinariate clergy dressed in a distinctive way with no flocks to shepherd.  The real honorific dress of a Catholic priest will be the invisible garlands bestowed on him by souls he has healed, nourished, and sanctified through Word, Sacrament, and personal sacrifice.  (Or as John Bunyan puts it in the mouth of Mr. Valiant-for-Truth in Pilgrim’s Progress, “My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my rewarder.”)

What kind of priestly dress would most help the effort of evangelization? I recall hearing on the radio years ago an interview with an Anglican priest who had completely revitalized a failing parish in the north of England. When asked what the secret was, he said, “I wear my cassock around the village, and I go into the pubs to meet people and share a pint and a conversation with them. You have to be visible, and you have to go to where people are.” ”

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4 Responses to Anglican priestly attire – part of the Anglican Patrimony

  1. I think I like the Anglican Ordinariate choir dress better than the Roman one. I hope Rome recommend this type of choir dress to Ordinariate priests and an optional type of choir dress for the Roman priests.

  2. Rev22:17 says:


    If I remember correctly, it was St. Gregory the Great who said that the clergy should distinguish themselves by the manner in which they live rather than by the manner in which they dress.


    • Although I must admit that it is nice to know who is the priest or sister by some kind of distinctive clothing. I just returned from France where most sisters do not wear the habit, and it was most offputting not knowing who was who or what.


      • Rev22:17 says:


        You wrote: Although I must admit that it is nice to know who is the priest or sister by some kind of distinctive clothing. I just returned from France where most sisters do not wear the habit, and it was most offputting not knowing who was who or what.

        I understand. It was a bit of a shock, to say the least, when I first got into a situation in which clergy and religious did not wear clerical shirts, habits, or other distinctive attire, and it did take some serious recalibration — but that was thirty years ago. Now, I really don’t care one way or the other.


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