Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Cassock and the College

Having just experienced the generous hospitality of the Venerable English College, at their villa on the other side of the lake from Castel Gandolfo, I feel a little reticent about this post.

Let me begin by telling of a nightmare a priest friend of mine told me about, until recently he had been studying in Rome.

"I had this nightmare two or three nights running about turning up at the English College wearing a cassock and being met by a member of staff and being forced to take it off, and then having to con-celebrate Mass and go to dinner wearing nothing but a collar and my underpants".

The English College students are allowed to wear a cassock for ceremonies outside of the college but not in it. Guests at the recent ordination received instructions not to wear one. When I go to Rome I always wear a cassock and I will go anywhere in the City wearing one, except to the English College. If I want to see a member of staff or a student I always arrange to meet them outside, but never ever in the English College.

Talking to a couple of junior students, I asked what will happen about the Extra-Ordinary Usage they intimated that everything possible will be done to circumvent it, indeed they even suggested that a meeting had already taken place to discuss how this could be done. I think this is highly significant for us in England as most of the English and Welsh Bishops are regular visitors to the College, the staff have their finger on the pulse of the Conference of Bishops and the vast majority of Bishops are former students of the English College. There seem to be questions and issues which are never seriously addressed, except by dictat.

A few years ago a student, who was subsequently ordained a priest by his bishop, says he was dismissed for attending Vespers in choro at the seminary of the Institute of the Christ the King.

The North American College seems happy to embrace all that comes from Holy See, to me as an outsider, it always seems that the English College needs to be kicked into doing so, I get the same impression about the Bishops their product.
It would be very sad if this institution watered by the blood of the martyrs really does feel unable to embrace the fullness of Catholic Tradition and is stuck in the mindset of a few decades ago.


Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Yes, a truly excellent description of the prevailing culture of The English College, Rome.

The Venerabile seems to be stuck in a 1970s time warp.

The cassock has been more or less banned there since Vatican II.

But step outside into the Via di
Monserrato, and enter the real world.
Rome, the eternal city, where the cassock may freely be worn.

Discover the Church of the 21st. century.
The Church of Pope Benedict XVI,
of "Summorum Pontificum", of two millenia of Tradition.

They thought "all that stuff" had been swept way by Vatican II ?
Well, it wasn't.
Come outside and see.

Look at the crowds of people attracted to Pope Benedict.
Listen to what the Holy father is saying.
No, I mean REALLY listen.
And learn.
Look at the opportunities to tap in to the enthusiasm of the young people of the Church throughout the world.
Look at the liturgical and doctrinal treasury of the Church.
See the people of all ages who hunger for these spiritual riches.

The Church is on the threshold of a spiritual renaissance.
Doesn't that excite you ?
Doesn't it inspire you ?

I feel very sorry for the (small remaining number of) students in the English College.
I honestly understand their plight.
God help them.
Let us pray for them.

Anonymous said...

It may be of some, little or no comfort to know that at S. Stephen's Oxford, the extreme Anglo-Catholic seminary the same sort of norms apply. Cassocks may only be worn when taking part in liturgical events, not daily in the House and NEVER around Oxford.
When the Seminarians are ordained they have however the distinctive 'Staggers' cassock for life, to wear as they will.

Anonymous said...

That's horrifying! The Miles Jesu Priests & ratorians are clearly exceptions..Deo Gratias!

Anonymous said...

Father ~ sorry about the bad experience at the VEC. I confess that I visited about 10 years agao and things seemed even worse back then in terms of the moral climate of the institution.

It must be tiresome for our young students to have to endure this 1970's culture. A culture which is mocked mercilessly elsewhere.

I partcipated in a retreat for prospective candidates for the priesthood and was struck by a few points:

1) The discusting food (even the Emperor Napoleon understood the importance of feeding the troops well).

2) The depressing and humourless atmosphere generated by the English priests running the event (why are "liberals" so grim faced?).

3) The excessive drinking by said miserable priests (presumably they have other problems also ...)

4) Patronizing and condescending attitude of "liberal" priests (at one point we had a gruesome 6th form style "break out" group for example).

5) Shoddy liturgy

Anonymous said...

Haven't they got a priest living there who boasts he hasn't stepped foot in St Peter's since the Coronation of Paul VI?

Says it all doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Father, your description is spot-on and it really is time it was changed. The students at the VEC for the past ten years at least have been mostly orthodox young men who have been driven to all sorts of hi-jinx to get round the system.

The saddest thing about this is that it is no preparation for priesthood. The seminary should give a man a proper sense of obedience and discipline. If he has good reason to circumvent the authorities, his spiritual life will be that much harder.

Barry Hughes is right: the priest concerned is a senior official in the Secretary of State. He is one of the key links between the English Bishops and their allies in the Vatican.

Mulier Fortis said...

The English College students are allowed to wear a cassock for ceremonies outside of the college but not in it.

I can't believe how ridiculous this rule for the seminarians in the VEC is. The late Pope JPII instructed all students in Rome to wear clerical dress when they go around Rome, how much more should they be allowed (note I say "allowed" and not "forced") to wear traditional priestly garb for major ceremonies in the College (or anywhere else)!

I note that middle-aged female altar servers at Westminster Cathedral are permitted to wear cassock and cotta for ceremonies there...

Guests at the recent ordination received instructions not to wear one [a cassock]

I cannot believe how crass and ill-mannered this instruction is. If a priest normally wears a cassock for celebrating Mass, then why should he not wear one to an Ordination? I would be interested to know whether the people who thought up this "dress-down" code also issue instructions to ladies who wear either unsuitably short skirts, indecently low tops or very little around the midriff (or occasionally a combination thereof) to dress more appropriately for Sunday Mass? Somehow I doubt it!

Anonymous said...

How incredibly rude of the VEC authorities to instruct clerical guests on how they may or may not dress!

English seminaries, or rather those who are put in charge of them, seem to have a huge problem with just about anything 'clerical'. I well remember the 'cassock wars' that broke out every now and again at the one I was sent to over a quarter of a century ago. Absurd drag acts during student reviews caused hardly a raised an eyebrow, but wearing the cassock to Mass could indicate an overly clerical attitude that could render one unsuitable for orders in the eyes of some of the faculty (my guess is that they were the ones who didn't wear cassocks or religious habits). Perhaps the appropriate dicastery should issue universal instructions on the proper dress of seminarians and take it out of the hands of rectors.

Of course, it probably has its roots in some of the more liberal governor/trustee bishops' childish attitude to all things episcopal, e.g. almost taking pride in not wearing the mitre or carrying the crozier ("Gosh, it is just not me!"). Their reluctance to dress according to the dignity of the episcopal office and to follow the rubrics in the 'Ceremoniale Episcoporum' suggests that to them it is Tom, Dick or Harry who is important - not the office of Bishop.

re 'Summorum Pontificum' - priests who are able and willing should just get on with offering the extraordinary form...and let the bishops get on with having a committee. They like committees.

Anonymous said...

Father, this is just awful! Is this the prevailing attitude at other Colleges (I am thinking of the Pontifical Scots with trepidation)?

How can we right this situation, where a more competent authority (e.g. the Pope) issues one instruction or prefers a certain thing which is proper, and a lower authority resists it and even denies it? It seems this happens about so many things now, e.g. stupid Dioceses misunderstanding Summorum Pontificum and banning Priests from using the 1962 Missal.

Anonymous said...

" middle-aged female altar servers at Westminster Cathedral ... "

I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. The female "servettes" at Leeds Cathedral are strikingly young and uncomfortably attractive. Indeed one particularly fine looking lass wears heavy make-up.

Anonymous said...

The Scots, at least in my time there, proudly sported their special purple cassocks every time they could - including serving Mass in the Scots College and for receiving ministeries (and this wasn;t too long ago).

Anonymous said...

Outraged of Basingstoke suggests that 'the appropriate dicastery should issue universal instructions on the proper dress of seminarians'. It should be noted that as far back as the pontificate of John Paul II, Cardinal Poletti, then Papal Vicar for Rome issued an instruction for seminarians in the Eternal City which has never been revoked and decrees that 'the use of clerical or religious garb will be taken up again also in the period of formation at seminaries and colleges beginning with the rite of admission to the priesthood...' The Cardinal specifically states that 'The cassock or religious habit is obligatory in liturgical celebrations, in the administration of the sacraments, in the exercise of preaching. It is heartily recommended in the ambit of one's pastoral ministry.' Lastly, Cardinal Poletti referred to Pope John Paul's personal wish that the seminarians in Rome be a visible witness in her streets with these moving words: 'Dear brothers, from our Father and Bishop an act of love is being asked of us: also in this is measured the generosity of apostolic witness'.

To my certain knowledge, within the last 3 years, a deacon at the English College was forbidden even to wear his cassock UNDERNEATH his alb while assisting at the altar. Not to mention the other instances cited by Fr Blake.

The authorities of the college deliberately, callously flout the will of the Holy Father, in his own city, in his own diocese.

Fortunately, those who suffer under this relentlessly Modernist regime, and persevere to ordination, often emerge all the more determined to fight for orthodox belief, reverence in worship and for all the traditions of our Holy Church - I speak from experience!

As the noble motto of the Venerabile has it 'Ignem veni mittere in terram'!

Anonymous said...


Good to hear re the Scots College, but still sad news re the VEC.

Useful quotes from Card. Poletti.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the English called 'cassocks' 'soutanes'.

Anonymous said...

The more I read, the more impressed I am. So that is why so many fine young orthodox priests are coming out of the VEC.

The powers-that-be at the VEC must be so warped by their 70's mentality that they do not realise that such adversity can only breed radical orthodoxy. Just what we need.

May they grow even more immature, boarish and unreasonable!

P.S I wouldn't worry about the priest who hasn't entered St. Peters since the coronation of Pope Paul VI. Sounds like he's on the verge of retirement anyway. It's sad to see someone take such great pride in their pride - I sincerely hope he mellows as he approaches the grave.

Anonymous said...

Can't think for a moment how wearing a cassock/soutane gains such interest..........we want holy priests who serve God's people....that's surely what's important.

Anonymous said...

I wrote to Father Headon about this and he claims that Fr Blake (present at an ordination) was dressed casually. I was accused of "taking things out of context".

Anonymous said...

Fr Headon's attitude reminded me of the attitude of the current leader in the Tour de France: it is now revealed that he failed to turn up for out of competition drug testing at time when the race is under serious scrutiny. Already 2 German TV companies have pulled out anyway and their decision now looks further vindicated by events of the last few days.

Fr Headon seems similarly contemptuous of any criticism of the policies of the VEC even though this institution and priestly formation in general are a cause of major concern to the faithful. To these men the events and scandals of the last 10 years simply haven't taken place. Moreover the importance of being seen to be above any criticism is beyond him.

Anonymous said...

Fr Ray

In the light of your post and the comments attached to it, I thought your readers would be interested in the Taxi Driver Writes column of the current edition of the Vatican's satirical magazine De Oculo Occulto. I give it in translation for ease of reference:

"Every week, a well known taxi driver is invited to comment on an issue of topical importance in the life of the contemporary church. This week, cabbie Andrew Headon (Cab No 1962-65) writes on the topic of traditionalist seminarians wearing clerical dress:

Gawd blimey guv! These traddie students, they make yer sick! 'Oo do they think they are? Poncing around in some Gamarelli rubbish when they could be improvising a para-liturgy on third-world debt, or getting in touch with their inner child in a growth group! Wouldn't 'ave 'appened when I was at the VEC, I can tell ya mate! Can't beat a good old bean bag liturgy or feminist circle dance if you ask me. We knew what we was doing in those days, I can tell ya. As I was saying to me old mate 'ans Kung the other day, the trouble wiv students these day - their too bloomin 'oly for their own good. All Fortescue & O'Connell and no knickers. Oi mate! Git aht the way!. 'Oo d'ya fink you are? Annibale Bugnini? I tell ya what guv, if I 'ad my way, I teach these traddies a lesson. String 'em up by their own amices. Its the only language they understand!

I 'ad that Tim Finigan in the back of my cab once. Lovely bloke ... (cont p94)."

Fr Ray Blake said...

tee hee,
What function is this taxi driver applying for at Ecclesdon Square?

Anonymous said...

I hear on the Grapevine that my taxi-driving friend is to be the Director of Catechetics and Liturgical Formation ...

1. Who made you?
Me Mum n Dad of course.

2. Why did God make you?
I jus told ya. It was me Mum n Dad. Wos God got to do with it?

I'm only joking of course. I'm sure that such heretical banalities have no place in modern catechesis.

Anonymous said...

it appears that these dreary lefty liberals are utterly obsessed by clothes: it seems a shame though that our seminarians are being forced to spend six years in a 1970s time warp.
I though 'man at C+A' had closed down. Does anyone remember 'Brentford Nylons'; this seems to be where the profesorato are getting their outfits and their ideas

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