Ignatian Uniform

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Ignatian uniform: “Blackrobes”

The Ignatian uniform, worn in community and for all liturgical and preaching activities, is an austere black cassock, the uniform that was worn for centuries by the members of the Society founded by St. Ignatius Loyola.

Thus the Ignatian, while adorning the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the maximum of beauty – architecture, lighting, stained-glass windows, altar, chalice, and of course, chasuble – helps focus his attention on the divine through personal austerity in clothing.  Likewise, for the Mass he wears underneath the chasuble a plain white alb.

The plain black cassock bonds the Ignatian to the proud heritage of the “Blackrobes”. Although St. Ignatius of Loyola stated that there was to be no official uniform of the Compania de Jesus, the members wearing the uniform typical of the diocesan clergy in the region they worked, as the centuries passed by a simple black soutane (cassock) came to be the distinctive uniform of the Society. Thus they came to be known and venerated as the “Blackrobes” to the Iroquois and other Native Americans. The Ignatians will thus remind themselves of their bond with their spiritual forefathers; they will don their uniform with a certain reverence ‒ we  wear the uniform of heroes and walk in the footsteps of the great.

There is, however, one notable distinctive to the uniform of the Society of Ignatians. On Marian feasts, to the black cassock Ignatians add a dark blue sash. This addition is a recall of the chivalric devotion of Ignatius to Our Lady, the Heavenly Queen. It recalls the ritual whereby medieval knights, before setting out to combat, asked the lady they loved to tie her scarf to their upper arm. It served as a pledge of love, of singleminded devotion. Blue is traditionally the color attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and indeed the color of her sash during the apparitions at Lourdes. Inigo de Loyola was well aware of this: on his sickbed, after reading The Life of Christ, he made extracts into a notebook, writing the words of Our Lord in red ink and those of Our Lady in blue.  The Ignatian thus recalls that his heart is given to Her and through Her to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ignatian wears his uniform the way a soldier wears it – with distinction, constantly, and with an awareness of its symbolism. “The Visible is the Shadow of the Invisible” (Plato) When you see a man in uniform,  whether its military, medical or academic, you no longer see just the individual but an institution – and you expect to see everything associated with that institution. A uniform, whether it be priestly, medical or military is a symbol: you represent something important that is greater than you as an individual.  The Ignatian wears his uniform alert to the fact that he is called to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ; that as a priest he no longer belongs to himself; that he has a responsibility of leadership for his people. As General Hans von Seekt in Thoughts of a Soldier stated: “Self-respect and esprit de corps demand some form of outward expression.”

Look Like, Feel Like, Act Like: that’s the reason for the uniform anywhere anytime. “For the apparel oft proclaims the man” ( Hamlet). The Ignatian is aware of the symbolic importance of a distinctive uniform for souls consecrated to God. It goes back to our honored Jewish forefathers. “The high priest,” states Leviticus 21:10,  “the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes.” In the first millennium of Christianity, when the young St.Benedict was leaving Rome to consecrate his life to God, he met a monk who clothed him with the monastic habit. Commenting on this fact, Cardinal Schuster wrote: “Let not the canonists….tell us of novitiate, admission to vows, profession, and so on.  These legal formalities come later. According to the custom then in vogue, if one received and put on the monastic garb, it was understood that he also professed the essential vows. Among the ancients it was truly the habit that made the monk.” (Saint Benedict and His Times)

The uniform therefore is also an excellent ascetic practice for each time you don the priestly uniform you can rightly echo the words of St. John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30) It will make you if you allow it to make you by recalling to mind when you put it on what it symbolizes. It conveys the sense of seriousness.

The Ignatian wears his uniform not as a dinner jacket but as a battle jacket : always in public no matter the temperatures for if military and police do as much, should not the officer of the Ecclesia militans ?  Why did the violently anti-Catholic laws of the anti-Christian revolutions in France,  Mexico, the Soviet Union and elsewhere  forbid priests to wear the uniform in public? In August 1792 the  French revolutionary government  hurriedly passed laws intended to exile Christianity from daily life in France. Among the various laws ranging from the melting down of the Church’s  gold and bronze objects to the forced deportation of priests loyal to Rome there was a law forbidding the wearing of ecclesiastical uniforms in public. Let us therefore not abandon our public presence through the uniform to any new more subtle persecutors.

The Cassock: Clear Symbol of Priestly Identity

The following is an excerpt from the insightful article, “The Devirilization of the Liturgy in the Novus Ordo Mass” by Father Richard G. Cipolla, Ph.D., D. Phil.(Oxon.), an article exclusive to https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-devirilization-of-liturgy-in-novus.html 

“We turn from the banal and sentimental music of the Novus Ordo that is the sickly fruit of the functionalism that underlies the rite to something that may seem trivial in comparison, but is yet part of the evidence for the devirilization of the priest: the dress of the priest outside of Mass.

“The dress of the priest when not performing a liturgical function has become in a sense, to borrow a secular adjective recently in vogue, metrosexual.

“That means that his masculinity has been blurred in his outward appearance.

“The abandonment of the cassock as the normal dress of the priest outside of the liturgy is part of the devirilization of the priest.

“The dropping of the distinctive dress that is the cassock and its replacement with a black business suit worn with a clerical collar, or, increasingly more common, with a shirt having a white tab collar that can be removed and stuck in a pocket, is part of the shedding of the liminality [defined distinctiveness] of the priest.

“He is no longer he who stands at the threshold, the limen, of earth and heaven when offering Mass. Religious dress modeled after secular dress tames him down to become a mere clergyman, with “-man” now meaning “person” and not “man”.

“The nineteen fifties and sixties saw a more radical approach to the dress of the priest by those who were seen to be and thought themselves to be on the cutting edge of reform especially in Europe.

“They wore coat and tie or black turtlenecks, even further blending in with the secular dress of those around them. Many European priests still dress like this, either in continuity with their romance with secularism or as an attempt to fit in with their flock.

“The fact is that the cassock, as the traditional dress of the priest, at least among his people, reminds them that he is not just a “clergyman” but a priest, not just “a religious leader”, but the one who offers Sacrifice for them, whose life is centered on this offering of the Sacrifice and who can never be totally secularized.

“The cassock is an affirmation of the manliness and the virility of the priest.

“This is in contrast to the world’s notion of manliness as a grunting football player or an unshaven model for Armani in tight jeans, or some sort of “stud” that exudes sexual power.

“The wearing of the cassock is the priest’s taking on the mantle of the prophet; it is the outward sign of his taking on of that aloneness and detachment that is such an integral part of what it means for a man, vir, to be a priest.

“The cassock is a symbol of that detachment that marks the relationship between the priest and his people.” (Father Richard G. Cipolla, Ph.D., D. Phil.(Oxon.), an article exclusive to https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-devirilization-of-liturgy-in-novus.html )