Article by Sequoia Sierra
Photos by Beverly Stevens
With the changes that came about in the 1960s, for a while it seemed as though religious habits had become a rarity. However, unbeknownst to most Catholics, even in the decades after the Second Vatican Council there were still many Orders which maintained their religious garb, though modified just as the Council actually asked. Most of these are still quietly flourishing.
Today, while not doubting the sincerity and devotion of many of the non-habited Orders, it is clear that for many young men and women seeking entrance to religious life, the habit is a deciding factor. This is because they desire to make a real and radical break with the world and to be a concrete symbol and visible sign in the world today.
There are new Orders springing up, too, all with religious habits patterned after the habits of centuries ago. These usually also have a modern addition such as a different color or function, depending upon the work or charism of the Order.
And it’s a huge success. Instead of pushing people away as some had feared habits would do, today’s habits actually invite the onlooker to approach the religious, sometimes out of mere curiosity.
In my own experience, however, people approach religious in habits more often from a longing to know and to be closer to someone whom they perceive as being closer to God, as a consecrated person. I have often been in public here in Southern California with priests and religious, and it is always so beautiful and amazing to see the impact that they have on everyone around them.
On one such occasion, while out to lunch with one priest in his distinctive Norbertine garb, a man who was working at the restaurant approached us. The man began to tell Father about how he and his children had not been to confession and that his son needed to get married in the Church. Father immediately encouraged him to bring his son to him to get his marriage blessed in the Church. He also set an appointment with the man to hear his confession and the confessions of his family the very next day. How many graces would have been lost that day had Father not been in his religious habit?
While a religious habit is not a magical talisman that spontaneously makes the person wearing it ‘holy,’ it is definitely a sacramental — an instrument of grace both for the wearer and for those who observe. It is a visible sign, where the religious person then becomes a sort of sacramental to the world and a channel of grace for all, as can be seen from these photos taken in March 2015 at the clothing of three new Sisters at the Church of Santi Michele e Gaetano in Florence, Italy.
TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE INSTITUTE OF CHRIST THE KING, a new community of contemplative nuns, the Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest, now reside in Italy. Distinctively garbed in their traditional black habits with blue mantles, the sisters offer their daily prayers and sacrifices, particularly for the priests of the Institute and the souls entrusted to them.
RELIGIOUS ORDERS VARY GREATLY IN THE HISTORY OF THEIR RELIGIOUS HABITS and the traditions that they preserve, as well as the symbolism inherent in their habits. From the Carmelites who wear brown as a sign of humility — a color that ties them to the wood of the cross — to the blue worn by many Orders such as the Adorers to honor Our Lady, the arrangements and traditions are many.
IN JUNE 2004, ENNIO CARDINAL ANTONELLI, ARCHBISHOP OF FLORENCE, VESTED THE FIRST THREE SISTERS WITH THEIR HABIT. Nine years later, the Sisters have convents in Italy, Switzerland and Germany, including three new Sisters, Marissa of Our Lady of Peace, Bernadette-Marie of the Infant Jesus and Claire-Pascaline-Marie of the Holy Cross. Here they are, dressed as brides before they received their religious habits in March 2015 from Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.
THE ADORERS OF THE ROYAL HEART HOLD THREE CO-PATRONS AS THE GUIDING LIGHTS OF THEIR SPIRITUALITY: St. Francis de Sales, St. Benedict, and St. Thomas Aquinas. From St. Francis de Sales’ doctrine of Divine Love, the sisters draw the pattern of their vocation: to be in constant pursuit of growth in Love, which should always be founded on Truth.
THREE PROFESSED SISTERS LEAD THE WAY TO THE CLOTHING OF THREE NEW SISTERS IN FLORENCE IN MARCH 2015. Over the centuries, as Catholic religious garb developed, it became a way of manifesting one’s consecration to God in a visible and tangible way. The habit serves as a reminder –both to the woman wearing it and to those who observe her — that the Sister belongs completely to God.
DRESSED AS A BRIDE, A NEW SISTER ADORER is blessed by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke. Most Orders have their members follow a prayer ritual when dressing in their habit. Often, habit pieces are designed to build one upon another; each piece is typically accompanied with a prayer when clothing.
NEWLY VEILED, THE THREE LEAVE THE CHURCH, BLACK HABITS IN THEIR ARMS. From that day forward, the Sisters when donning their veil might say a prayer like this: “This veil should teach me, Lord, that I should die to the world and to myself so as to live no longer but for Thee. Grant me, therefore, the grace that nothing of this miserable life may remain in me, which prevents my union with Thee.”
ON THEIR WAY TO A NEW LIFE: Punctuating the Sister Adorers’ rich life of prayer are periods of manual labor and intellectual training, including instruction in Gregorian Chant, Latin, Spirituality, Philosophy, and Theology, as well as the learning of crafts such as sewing, lace-making, and the care of liturgical vestments and altar linens.
AS THE COMMUNITY OF SISTER ADORERS EXPANDS, the Institute foresees that foundations will be made alongside the apostolates of the Institute of Christ the King, where the sisters will be able to provide support for the work of Institute priests.
THE BENEDICTINE ASPECT OF THEIR CHARISM IS REFLECTED IN THE CENTRAL PLACE OF THE CHURCH’S LITURGY in the Adorers’ daily life. Holy Mass and the Divine Office celebrated in the classical Roman form, create the rhythm of each day.
SOME RELIGIOUS ORDERS SUCH AS THE INSTITUTE OF CHRIST THE KING add another piece to their habit at Holy Mass or the Divine Office. Canons usually wear a surplice while in choir, whereas the Adorers wear blue mantles.
AS THEY AWAIT THEIR FUTURE IN A HOUSE DEDICATED TO OUR LADY OF GOOD DELIVERANCE, commanding a magnificent view of the entire valley of the Sieci region, the Sister Adorers lead a non-cloistered contemplative life. Building on the foundations established by the teachings of their third patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, they also benefit from time dedicated to study and intellectual formation.