A few weeks ago the story emerged of a group of seminarians who after attending an ordination Mass took themselves off to the pub where they were refused service because the staff thought that men dressed in cassocks could only be part of a stag night celebration which they didn`t want to serve. The pub relented when the truth was discovered and went so far as to name one of their ales after the incident.
I belong to a group of priests who meet for lunch on a monthly basis. In May we chose a new pub. I said to the waitress as the six of us walked in that we were a stag do but clearly that was too ridiculous to be true and no upset occurred. We are a bit old for that kind of thing.
However what struck me as interesting about the story was that if in my day, in the 80`s, a group of seminarians had walked into a pub wearing cassocks their biggest problem would not have been whether the staff would serve them but what would be said to them when they got back to the seminary. Although there was a custom at Ushaw that seminarians from second year up could wear a cassock on a Sunday it was much frowned upon by the staff and I remember my interview for diaconate with the President of Ushaw was mainly devoted to asking why I chose to wear a cassock on a Sunday. I imagine if in the 80`s seminarians had gone for a drink in cassocks it would have been considered a formation issue with dire consequences. So things are more relaxed nowadays it seems. At least I hope so. The English College in Rome was very down on cassocks, apart from a few special occasions, in my experience in the 90`s and I`m not sure things have changed much although I`d like to hear otherwise.
I have always worn the cassock for Mass in the parish. One of my favourite incidents came while I was a curate in Morpeth. Bishop Ambrose was on visitation and stood at the door greeting parishioners after Mass in his cassock. When I turned up in mine he asked me why I was wearing mine. I said I always did and he replied "How extraordinary!"
So well done to the seminarians. Here`s something else about cassocks.