Why a Habit?
The Police wear uniforms. The staff in a shop have badges. Construction workers have orange vests. Doctors have coats and stethoscopes. A Monk too wears a habit as his work uniform, but a habit is so much more. Like a the paschal candle shining out the light of the resurrection or holy water reminding us of our baptism, the religious habit shows forth an inner consecration. Religious profession sets a monk a part. He becomes a consecrated person. He belongs in a very particular way to God. Although the Habit does not make the monk (St Basil), the habit expresses fundamentally that the Monk is different. He lives a different life; He is not supposed to live like everyone else. He is called to live a life totally dedicated to God. He becomes a walking visible sign of the future life of heaven. He becomes a living reminder that God exists, there is something more.
Aren’t you Dominicans?
Many people mistake us for Dominicans. Our habit indeed is very similar. There are many religious orders in the church that wear a similar habit. It shows how popular and effective it is as a habit. It has a real quality about it and it has stood the test of time. In fact, the Dominicans did not invent the habit. Both St Dominic and Blessed Eusebius were canons regular before they founded their respective orders. They merely kept their old habits and changed the rochet for a scapular. Norbertines to this day keep this original habit.
Diocesan priests and other monks wear black. It is a very practical colour. It represents penance, death to the world and a certain sombreness. It does show stains. White on the other hand is all about joy, glory and purity. At Baptism, we all are clothed in a white baptismal robe. Our habit reminds us of this grace of baptism that we have all received. By wearing white all the time, we are reminded of the new life we have received at baptism and how important it is to us. The white habit gets dirty easily and needs to be well cleaned and looked after, just like our souls. When I get my habit dirty, I need to clean it as soon as possible. When I sin, I need to clean my soul in confession, before it sets. Paulines are called to live the life of Angels, which is close prayer alone with God alone, in this life and the white habit reminds them constantly of their high calling.
The Habit itself
Everyone in the order wears the same habit. It is received in the early months of novitiate and it is worn until the very end. Although it doesn’t have to be worn all the time, it is a major part of our lives. It primarily consists of five elements. The following prayers are found in the Caeremoniale seu ritual Ordinis S. Pauli 1. Ermeitae (Cracoviae MCMXXXI) and have been traditional associated with clothing in the habit. These prayers provided insights into the spiritual meaning of each element of the habit. It is a pious custom in the order to put the habit on prayerfully, kissing each piece of it before putting it on.
The Tunic is a white loose robe. It symbolises both the new life of grace in baptism and the new life of religious life. It is the principle element of the habit.
The immemorial custom of the order is to wear a set of mysteries of the rosary handing from the zone of the habit. In novitiate, one usually makes his own rosary to wear. The dangling rosary is inconvenient and has been known to catch on all sorts of things. This reminds the Pauline of the need to pray the rosary. Like the sword of a knight, the rosary hangs on the left side of the habit and serves the Pauline as his spiritual sword by which to fight for Christ and His Holy Church.
A cincture is more properly speaking a rope cord worn as a belt by Franciscans or a liturgical vestment worn with the Alb at Mass. The Zone is a cloth belt. Any belt is always a symbol of uprightness and civilisation. The ancient Romans were famous for deriding barbarians for not wearing belts. Only a Barbarian goes ungirded.
It is believed that originally the order used a leather belt. When Hungary felt to the Turks and most of our monasteries were destroyed and pillaged by the invaders, the order decided to adopt a cloth belt. It is far less convenient to hang monk with he does come with a noose wrapped around his waist.
The Scapular is a venerable symbol of monasticism. Originally, the scapular was an apron worn over the tunic to protect it. Over time and particularly after the apparition of Our Lady of Mt Caramel to St Simon Stock, the Scapular became the holiest part of the habit, symbolising the protection and care of Our Lady. Now it is thrown over the shoulder to keep it from getting soiled or damaged when work is required.
The capuce is the small shoulder cape that covers the shoulders and has a hood attached. The 1930 Constitutions of the order tell us that the shape of our capuce differentiates us from other orders. It is supposed to cover the shoulders, cover the top part of the chest in the front and not be longer then the belt in the back.
The hood itself is the ancient mark of a monk. Our hood is stiff and pointy, unlike the floppy round hood of the Dominicans. The custom of the order is that we cover our heads with our hoods when we process from the refractory to the chapel or vice versa. At other times, the use of the hood is at discretion of the monk. It is useful to cultivate recollection during prayer, as well as to shield the head from the elements or the sun.
The hood was once frequently and still can be used at Mass or during liturgical functions. It may be left up when vesting in the Alb and vestments and retracted over the them so that it is visible when fully vested. Traditionally a specially shaped amice was put on over the hood when vesting.
Solemnly Professed monks of our order receive an ankle length mantle at solemn profession. This mantle is officially part of our habit and is used at solemn liturgical and non-liturgical functions. It is worn over the scapular but under the capuce. It is used as solemn choir dress, during processions, when preaching and at solemn meetings.
The order has the privilege of using a white skullcap. Any clothed member of the Order may make use of it. Although not universally popular, it is a distinctive part of our habit, which sets us apart from other orders. Our seminarians in Rome have to forgo this privilege in the city of Rome, as there is another who has this privilege. (Although nothing prevents them from using black ones) It was once said that a Pauline without a skullcap is like an “i” without a dot.
It is a part of the protocol of the Catholic Church, that the colour of socks matches the rank and garment of the wearer. Priest wear black socks, Bishop’s Purple, Cardinal’s Red and the Pope quite famously would wear White socks with Red shoes. Religious who wear a white habit would properly wear white socks with it. Although many Paulines choose not to wear white socks, it is a tradition of the order that when they lay in their coffins after death they wear their habit, with white socks and are shoeless. White socks are worn by all Paulines sooner or later.
All elements of the habit are white, but hats, cloaks, coats and shoes ought to be black. The Order makes use of two types of black cloaks with the habit. These cloaks are not formally part of the habit. One is generally light and thin, to protect the habit from dirty and the elements in the streets of Rome or the dusty outback. The other is thick and warm, used to keep the Pauline warm in the winters of the Southern highlands or the snows of Poland.