An excellent post at Ubi Petrus.
In addition to the normal reason that clerical wear sets the clergy apart and makes them easily recognizable by those whom the priest is to serve, I found some excellent insight in this part of the post in answer to the question, “Why black?”
The color black symbolizes first of all death, a dying to the world, which is part of what a priest takes on himself when he is ordained. The worries, cares and opportunities of the life of a lay person are set aside and he takes up the worries, cares and opportunities proper only to a priest. Further, that death is a reminder of the Sacrifice which they re-present each day in Mass, doing so as alter Christus and participating in a special way in that Sacrifice. It is a reminder to the priest that he dies to the world each day and immerses in eternity. Second, the color black is a reminder that they are to give up the glamor, honor and entertainment of this world in preference for the life yet to come. Finally, the color black also is a sign of authority, such as when a judge wears his black robes in court – this black symbolizes the authority a priest has by virtue of his ordination and incardination.
There is quite a trend, it seems, among many priests–religious and diocesan–to neglect their proper clerical attire. Not a good thing. What’s great about the post I link to and quote above is that it discusses the theology of the standard priestly garb.
As with all things Catholic, there’s a reason for it.
And so there’s a reason that there is a problem when priests neglect to wear their sin-fighter’s suits.
Considering the three major reasons for the black mentioned in the quote above, I wonder if those priests who make it a habit (no pun intended) of wearing normal, casual attire have not died enough to the world, and if said priests have not yet fully taken up “the worries, cares and opportunities proper only to a priest.”
And might they be the same ones who are overly interested in “glamor, honor and entertainment of this world”?
And might they also be the ones who refuse to assert their authority, preferring to give all power to committees and other members of the laity?
Clerical attire matters: it reflects the very identity of the priesthood. And so it should be worn by priests!
I think the pendulum is swinging back–that newly ordained priests are wearing their garb more. Let’s hope and pray this continues.