Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 55:1-14

To be read: April 7, August 7, December 7

Let clothing be given to the brothers according to the circumstances of the place and the nature of the climate in which they live, 2because in cold regions more is needed, while in warm regions less. 3This is left to the Abbot’s discretion. 4We believe, however, that for a temperate climate a cowl and a tunic for each monk are sufficient; 5a woolen cowl is necessary for winter, and a thin or worn one for summer; 6also a scapular for work, and sandals and shoes as covering for the feet. 7Monks must not worry about the color or the texture of all these things, but use such as can be bought more cheaply. 8The Abbot, however, should look to the size to insure that these garments are not too small, but fitted for those who are to wear them. 9Those who receive new clothes should always return the old ones, to be put away in the wardrobe for the poor. 10For it is sufficient for a monk to have two tunics and two cowls, for wearing at night and for washing, 11but any more than that is superfluous and must be taken away. 12So, too, when they receive anything new, let them return sandals and whatever is old. 13Brothers who are sent on a journey should receive underclothing from the wardrobe, which, on their return, they will replace there, washed. 14Their cowls and tunics should also be a little better than the ones they usually wear, which they received from the wardrobe when they set out on a journey, and give back when they return. 

William Shakespeare, in his play Hamlet, said, “the apparel oft proclaims the man.”  How often do we make assumptions about a person by their outward appearance?  If we all wore the same garments then the man himself might have to speak and act for himself.  This is the concept behind the uniform clothing of the monastic tradition.  And interestingly enough, it is the same concept behind the use of vestments in the worship of the Church.  Vestments cover the man.  Whereas a televangelist may wear a $3,000 suit and a Rolex watch, if a priest were to do so (I’d, first, ask where the money came from), it would not be obvious, for the vestments cover the man.  The cowl, tunic, sandals, and scapular of the monks was a common garment of the day.  We look at monks vesture now as unusual, but in Benedict’s day, it was simply street clothing.  Thus Benedict directs that the old, worn clothing “should be returned at once and stored in a wardrobe for the poor.”  They would not look odd wearing it.  Our clothing should not become a matter of pride, rather simple, functional, and common enough to not draw attention.  

Another aspect of the clergy vesture is that it is symbolic for the entire congregation of being clothed with Christ Jesus.  We have died with Christ, in baptism, and now we are incorporated into His Body.  For us to truly be the Imago Christi we must look like Him—be clothed in Him.  St. Paul said, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  But it is not simply a one-time experience.  We are called daily to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14).  Before we walk out the door to greet the day, we need to spend time with Jesus and allow him to vest us in His Being, that we may be His image in the world.  We all belong to one Body.  Our presence in the world should not “proclaim the man”, as Shakespeare said, but proclaim the Imago Christi.

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