The Roman Collar

Someone presented the (difficult) challenge of talking about the history of the Roman collar worn by diocesan priests, well here goes:

The Roman collar was unknown as an article of ecclesiastical attire, in its present form, prior to the sixteenth century. And even at that time, it was irregular for religious orders to adopt the practice. It is an embroidered imitation of the turndown shirt-collar of ordinary dress.

In fact, what we now think of as the Roman collar isn’t Roman at all! The singular linen ring is only half of the package, since its original design included two cloth lappets which hung over the shirtfront. By the 18th century, we can even see secular “clerics” wearing the collar (its a clerical collar after all).

But I like what Pope Celestine once said regarding the matter: We [the bishops and clergy] should be distinguished from the common people by our learning, not by our clothes; by our conduct, not by our dress; by cleanness of mind, not by the care we spend upon our person.”

Sources: Ecclesiastical Vestments: Their Development and History, R.A.S. Macalister, M.A., 1896. ; A History of the Mass and its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church, Rev. John O’Brien, A.M., 1886.

A diocesan priest wears the “Roman” collar with a rabat.

A rare instance of a religious in a clerical collar.

St. Marcellin Chapagnat shows us a variant of the old collar with lappets:

An example of an 18th century clerical collar (linen lappets):

The Redemptorists wear a cassock with a modified form of collar:

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8 Responses to “The Roman Collar”

  1. Dan Darmanin Says:

    …so there called “lappets”. Good to know, thanks!!

    I do agree with what Pope Celestine said. However, the clothes and how a priest represents himself cannot be played down as un-important.

    Consider…:

    “In a secularized and tendentiously materialistic society, where even the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to be disappearing, the necessity is particularly felt that the priest-man of God, dispenser of His mysteries-should be recognizable in the sight of the community, even through the clothing he wears, as an unmistakable sign of his dedication and of his identity as arecipient of a public ministry. The priest should be recognizable ABOVE ALL through his behavior, but ALSO through his dressing in away that renders immediately perceptible to all the faithful, even to all men, his identity and his belonging to God and to the Church.”

    -The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, prepared by the Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Pope John Paul II on January 31, 1994.

  2. cathcandy Says:

    I have a confession to make. The collar in the second to last picture belonged to John Wesley, founder of the Methodists!

  3. Judith Le Baron Emde Says:

    would a young man attending the seminary in1793 inFrance have a distinctive dress or would he have dressed as any young man of the age?

  4. cathcandy Says:

    Judith thanks for the rather interesting question. In France after 1792, almost all seminarians would have been forbidden to wear the Roman Collar and the cassock. It was the middle of the French Revolution, and anti-clericalism was everywhere. The National Assembly banned the use of all clerical dress April 6, 1792.

  5. Marie Regina Says:

    Does anyone happen to know if the white collar around the throat of the priest has any symbolic meaning? I heard Fr. Mitch Packwa on EWTN, say that the Roman collar represents the Holy spirit directing the speach of the priest? Is this true?

    • C. Whitty Says:

      I highly doubt that. A theory like that reeks of sentimentality. It’s more likely that, much like with other liturgical and paraliturgical vestments, a meaning was attributed to this or that clerical item well after that item had become customary.

  6. isaac Says:

    Can seminarians (religious candidates for priesthood as well as diocesan seminarians) wear the roman collar or is it exclusively for priests?

    • C. Whitty Says:

      Yes a seminarian could, if he wanted to show off the vestiges of the clerical state even though he is no cleric. If his vanity was so great that he would want to take on the clothing of an office above him, sure. And if the people in charge of his formation approved, why not?

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