26 July 2018

Word of the Day: Habit, Religious

HABIT, RELIGIOUS. The distinctive garb of a man or woman religious, its use dating back to the beginnings of monasticism. The habit was prescribed for religious by the Second Vatican Council: "The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming. In addition, it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved" (Perfectae Caritatis, 17).
Father neglects to mention two things that I think are important. First, the total abandonment of any real 'habit' by most Orders immediately after the Council. I remember going to a party with some Catholic friends shortly after the Council. I wasn't yet a Catholic, but I was a young man with an eye for an attractive woman. I noticed a very good looking young lady, fashionably attired in a mini-skirt, the calf high, block heeled boots that were popular at the time, her hair perfectly coiffed, and her makeup tastefully done. 

Angling for an introduction, I asked my Catholic friend who she was. Her reply? 'Oh, that's Sister so and so. She teaches in our Parish school'!!! Her 'habit' consisted of a lapel pin!

Habits have been returning in the intervening years, tho' some Orders still wear 'habits' that are little different than conservative 'business clothing'. However, there are those Orders which have gone back to the full, traditional habit. 

Almost twenty years ago, I lived across the street from the Cathedral of St Peter, in Kansas City, KS. Just a few blocks away was the Provincial Mother House of the Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick. The Sisters had their own chapel of course. It was open to the public during the day, and I used to walk over there for Adoration. But, on major Feast Days they would hear Mass at the Cathedral. They only had one car, so they would process on foot to St Perter's.

It was a beautiful sight! The older Sisters wore a 'modern' habit, black skirt, white blouse, with a 'veil' perched on top of their hair. The younger Sisters and postulants wore the full habit given to Mother Maria Soledad and her Sisters by His Eminence, Juan José, Cardinal Bonel Orbe, on the Feast of the Assumption, 1851, at the founding of the Order.

Here are two examples of what I mean. Here are pictures of Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Mount Carmel, of which I have been a Tertiary for over 30 years. You can see the large brown Scapular that hangs to the bottom of their habits, which leads me to the other, somewhat less important, thing Father didn't mention, but something that is very important to me personally.

The Third Order of Carmel, and the Third Orders of those other Orders that have Tertiaries, are juridically and in reality part of the Order. We also wear a habit. In the case of Carmel, which is the only one I'm intimately familiar with, it is a smaller Scapular based on the large Scapular of the First and Second Orders. Mine is about 6"x8", or approximately 15 x 20 centimetres. It is of brown cloth, worn under my clothing, suspended by two cords. For centuries it was required to be made of wool, but now it can be of any brown cloth. The only time I take it off is to shower. If I go swimming, I wear a T-shirt over it. And when I do take it off, I'm still wearing my Scapular Medal.

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