Radio Show

When Does a Priest Need to Wear a Roman Collar?

A listener named Stephanie emails the show to ask about a common part of a priest’s wardrobe. She asks, “When do priests have to wear the collar outside of celebrating Mass? Is it only when representing themselves as part of the Church? Do they have to wear it to the bank, grocery store, [or] movie theater?” 

Father Dave first clarifies a common misconception about the Roman collar. “It seems like Stephanie’s presumption is that the priest has to wear the collar while celebrating Mass,” he says. “Technically, you don’t have to, and some might even say [you] shouldn’t shouldn’t wear the collar while celebrating Mass. Because the idea is that the vestments that we wear during Mass will completely cover up any inkling of what we’re wearing underneath.”

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However, Father Dave notes that most priests will wear the clerical shirt and collar underneath for practical reasons, since they will often see parishioners immediately before or after Mass. “If you see Pope Francis celebrating Mass, or probably many of your priests at home, they’ll actually wear an extra thing called an amice that intentionally covers the collar.” He explains another alternative saying, “A lot of albs, or the white robe that is the first layer, will actually have that built in so it’ll have almost like a mock turtleneck.”

Father Dave more directly addresses Stephanie’s question regarding when to wear the collar in public places. He explains that there is not a strict requirement to wear it on days off, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would prefer priests to wear it “pretty much all the time.” Father Dave says, “Yes, it’s a uniform, but it’s also my vocation. And my vocation doesn’t end at 5 o’clock, or when I don’t have Mass that day. So this is genuinely who I am.”

He also discusses how the collar is similar to, but not exactly the same as the required attire in other religious orders, such as habits that many nuns wear, or the brown robes worn by Franciscan Friars. “You have the spectrum between a religious habit, like Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, which is worn all the time. And then the other end of the spectrum will be like a police uniform, where you wear it only when you’re on duty. The priest collar is somewhere in between, erring more on the side wearing all the time.”

Father Dave says that he personally wears his collar to the “bank, grocery store, and movie theater” as Stephanie inquires, but not every priest will choose to do that.