Knickerbocker cassocks and the TLM: mortal or venial sin, fault, defect? Is there virtue in trousers?

The following is from Catholic News Live. You can tell who the author is by the tell-tale “Ask Father” format with the intro to the question using the word “Quaeritur.” Just sayin’…

  • ASK FATHER: Must the priest wear the cassock to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass – Oct 18, 2017 at 11:47 am
  • QUAERITUR: Is the cassock required for a priest to wear a cassock under his vestments when celebrating the Extraordinary Form Mass? I did not think so, and I know other priests who celebrate the 1962 Mass without it, but I was kindly told the other day it was a defect to go without it. I could not find an official determination of this question. Obviously a thorough-laced alb would look funny over anything but a cassock, but my question is about what is actually required. I am a newly ordained priest, still figuring many things out and I appreciate your help!

The Ritus Servandus in the front part of your traditional Missale Romanum has a section entitled De Præparatione Sacerdotis celebraturi… “Concerning the preparation of the priest who is going to celebrate (Mass). In paragraph 2 of that section we read:

  • Quibus ita dispositis, accedit ad paramenta, quæ non debent esse lacera, aut scissa, sed integra, et decenter munda, ac pulchra, et ab Episcopo itidem, vel alio facultatem habenti, benedicta; ubi calceatus pedibus, et indutus vestibus sibi convenientibus quarum exterior saltem talum pedis attingat, induit se, dicens ad singula singulas Orationes inferius positas.

That is…

  • Once these things are arranged, he goes to the vestments, which must not be ripped or torn, but undamaged and decently clean, and beautiful, and also blessed by the Bishop or by another having the faculty; whereupon, his feet being shod, and having dressed himself in appropriate attire [[um… it’s “convenient attire” that is, customary…]] which outwardly reaches at least to the ankle [[That’s referring to non-Mass-vestments.]], he vests himself, saying with each (vestment) the individual prayers given below [[That’s referring to Mass vestments]].

Latin talus means “ankle”. One Latin term for the cassock is habitus talaris. In Italian we say “talare” for a cassock. [[But that’s reading into the law, not interpreting it as is, using other customs of other countries in other legislative times. See below…]]

So, from the Ritus Servandus we see that it is foreseen that the priest should wear the cassock for Mass. [[That’s not what it actually says, is it?]]

However, I admit that I often dispense myself from the cassock when it is hot [[because he sees this as at most being a defect, and not a mortal or even venial sin. I gotta wonder if some priests go that far…]]. In that case, I always use a plain alb with no lace. [[Kudos. His is a good instinct, as expected, seeing the reasoning behind whatever “appropriate attire which outwardly reaches at least to the ankle.”]] Even when I do have the cassock on, I usually wear a plain alb unless it is a feast, but that’s another matter.


Interesting. Let’s see what’s happening in other legislative times in other places where lawful custom has reigned. Let’s take a look at the commentary on the Code of Canon Law by the USCCB:

Canon 284 – Clerical Garb — On November 18, 1998, the Latin Rite de iure members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved complementary legislation for canon 284 of the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States.

The action was granted recognitio by the Congregation for Bishops in accord with article 82 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus and issued by decree of the Congregation for Bishops signed by His Eminence Lucas Cardinal Moreira Neves, Prefect, and His Excellency Most Reverend Franciscus Monterisi, Secretary, and dated September 29, 1999.

Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 284, hereby decrees that without prejudice to the provisions of canon 288, clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling. [[That refers to both “street wear” and liturgical rites.]]

In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books [[referring to liturgical vestments]].

Outside liturgical functions [[not referring to liturgical vestments]], a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric. [[And obviously one is not going to wear a suit-coat under liturgical vestments.]]

In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit. As President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I hereby decree that the effective date of this decree for all the Latin Rite dioceses in the United States will be December 1, 1999.
Given at the offices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, on November 1, 1999.

Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza -Bishop of Galveston-Houston -President, NCCB

Reverend Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr – General Secretary


Mind you, this is after there are legitimate celebrations of the TLM and the Novus Ordo going on at the same time in the same bishops conference. The law for both street wear and for that which is worn under liturgical vestments is covered.

The intent of the law of yore and presently for the TLM is that what is worn under liturgical vestments be of ankle length. Period. Why? I mean, I’ve seen the so-called “talare” be commonly worn in the style of a house-dress, reaching only just below the knees, not at all to the “ankles” as the name would imply, and whatever about “shod feet” this looks very, very, very odd indeed. It’s typically a French thing but I’ve seen this in other countries. Put a lace alb over that lack of cover, as mentioned above… just… no…

But surely, you might be saying, a priest would be wearing trousers under all that. No. Priests I know wear knickerbockers under their cassock. You know what knickerbockers are, don’t you?

Actually, I’m not relating that quite rightly. They wear knee length gym shorts. And because that was a custom and because wearing a very short cassock was also a custom, and because all of this looked so incredibly utterly stupid under a laced alb, legislation refers merely to that which goes down to the ankles, which neither cassock nor even talare nor even trousers necessarily did, as most wore / wear knickerbockers with short cassocks.

So, I say, with the actual wording, the intent of the legislation is about whatever convenient (customary) attire there is (see USCCB for our time in our place) is about vesture going down to the actual ankles. Trousers which cover the tops and sides of “shod feet” fit the law, fittingly. It’s not a mortal sin, venial sin, fault, defect or insult to the Sacred Mysteries to be wearing ankle-length trousers under the Sacred Liturgical Vestments. Indeed, it can be more virtuous, more law abiding, to wear ankle-length trousers without a short cassock called talare only by custom not reality.

lourdes traditional mass chaplains

It’s not that I never wear a cassock (and it’s ankle length). That’s a picture of a much younger me while TLM chaplain in Lourdes to the right and my successor TLM chaplain at Lourdes to the left (and now district superior of FSSP).

Sometimes it is difficult to wear a cassock:

wp-15821688638097328851821088227426.jpg

The ballistic vest says: POLICE CHAPLAIN.

So, alright, I admit it. The only cassock I have, while ankle length, is appropriate only for the northern stretches of Norway, a “winter cassock”, very heavy, lined, the works, the only thing offered by many ecclesiastical tailors as that’s what makes them money. A summer cassock, more like a servers cassock, or what the French call a “gooney cassock” along the lines of the great don Camillo, is something I may be able to get now that I’m stateside. I’ve been negligent. Just don’t tell me I’ve been in mortal or venial sin for not wearing a cassock, a talare, either on the street or in liturgical rites. It’s not a even a fault or defect to not wear that particular ankle length attire. Trousers that are ankle length and not knickerbockers are are even virtuous. Think virtue.

By the way, I think it is still a law on the books in Boston (from centuries gone-by) that one can legally shoot a priest who wears a cassock in public. That’s one of those laws that is not only not a law in view of natural law, but is also not a law because of it not being received by the populace. We are a for, of and by the people constitutional republic here in these USA.

3 Comments

Filed under Liturgy

3 responses to “Knickerbocker cassocks and the TLM: mortal or venial sin, fault, defect? Is there virtue in trousers?

  1. Nan

    What you’re telling me is that the priests at a big church in Minneapolis, one that has an umbrella in it, are incredibly wrong to wear their liturgical underwear in public for daily Mass. I’m sure there are proper vestments in the Sacristy but they don’t bother – Spirit of Vatican II or something.

  2. elizdelphi

    From having known him years ago, I can confirm the priest who uses that Ask Father/Quaeritor format is a plain alb kind of guy, and that he does not wear a cassock constantly for Mass.

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