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What is the Significance of Clerical Collars?

by Dominic Chandler
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Clerical collars have a lot of significance throughout the history of the church with the traditions and symbolism carrying through to the present day and providing a clear mark or sign of the church to followers of Christianity.

Why do Catholics Wear Clerical Collars?

Some Catholics wear the classic Roman collar to signify their importance and standing in the church, marking them out as trusted and authoritative members of the Catholic community. 

This helps to strengthen the bonds between the church and the villages and towns the priests service, making them easily identifiable for anyone looking for help or counsel. 

The clerical collars also help to give their sermons in church more weight and value as the collar would mark the priest as a member of importance within the church, encouraging the community to see them as trustworthy and reliable when it comes to the Christian faith. It helps make these higher ranking figures in Catholicism to prove their dedication to the traditions of their faith.

Who Wears Clerical Collars?

Aside from priests, who are probably the most famously associated with it, the clerical collar is worn by most other ranks in the Catholic church as well. This includes bishops, deacons, reverends, pastors and seminarians who will go on to become priests.

The clerical collar has also made its way to other branches and denominations of the Christian faith, helping to harmonise the different Christian sects and strengthen the bonds of unity and community in the religion. These denominations include the Anglican Church, Methodism, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Who Invented Clerical Collars?

The clerical collar was invented in the late nineteenth century by Reverend Donald McLeod. He was a member of the Presbyterian faith and his collar was then adopted by Roman Catholics where it has become the norm and tradition to wear them. 

Before clerical collars were invented and before they became widespread throughout Catholicism and Christianity as a whole, priests and religious figures were more often identified by their cassocks. 

Cassocks are still worn today, upholding the traditions and history of the religion and also carry symbolic values that were maintained through the growing use of the Roman collar. The colour black for the cassocks generally represented poverty to symbolise the priest giving up worldly attachments. It also symbolises mourning and death, representing the death of the self so the priest can serve God completely. 

The cincture worn around the waist of the cassock meanwhile often symbolises chastity and represents the willingness of the priest, bishop or other follower to be like Jesus who was chaste himself and thus display their loyalty to their faith above all else.

What do Clerical Collars Symbolise?

Like the cassock, the clerical collar holds a lot of symbolism for the Catholic faith and carries spiritual significance to those already in the faith and for those in seminaries before they become fully fledged members of the Catholic Church. 

One of the classic meanings of the clerical collar is obedience, specifically to God. The priest has become consecrated to God and the collar symbolises their dedication to following the religious path without straying from it. It can also have the darker connotation of slavery, with the priest, bishop or other religious figure making themselves less than God with whom they have the same relationship as a servant does to a master. 

The chastity symbolism of the cassock cincture is translated into the white tab of the clerical collar. The colour white often symbolises purity in Western traditions which links to the importance of following the pure path of Jesus and devoting themselves to the Church, sacrificing the self for the greater whole. 

On a personal level, the collar acts as a reminder to the priest of his God-given mission and purpose, giving him the strength to not stray from the path he has chosen and acting as a clear symbol of his identity as a member of the Church. 

Clerical collars help to keep the traditions of the church strong and strengthen the individual faith of the priests, deacons and bishops who wear them. You can buy clerical collars in our church range in Choralia.


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