Since we started the blog in July, we’ve had some queries regarding our habit, specifically on the question of veils. I apologise that it has taken so long to answer – I’m new to the blog scene and not as proficient at answering questions as many of the more experienced bloggers. Also, as you can imagine, we’re kept very busy. However, now that things have quietened down, I wanted to respond.
Firstly, as a new community (founded in 2000) with our main apostolate of crisis pregnancy care and the spreading of the Gospel of Life, we decided right from the very beginning to wear some form of dress that was recognisably religious. This we have always done, albeit with a few variations along the way. What we currently wear (and have done for the last four years) is our final choice and consists of a simple, long black tunic dress worn over a plain white round-neck top. Over this is worn a simple black cardigan for warmth. We wear sensible black shoes in the winter months and equally sensible black sandals in warmer weather.
Around our neck we wear a long silver chain with a crucifix (the one associated with Pope John Paul II) and on our ring finger we wear a simple silver rosary ring, which will be replaced with a wedding band when we take our final vows.
It is in our constitutions that we will receive a long black veil as a mark of our consecration when we take our final vows. This veil we will wear in the majority of situations, removing it only when pastoral concerns dictate otherwise. To help you understand what this means, let me explain a little bit about our working environment.
When we start working with a pregnant woman, one of the first things we assure her of is complete confidentiality. If we go to visit the woman, in her own home or in hospital, we generally wear a jacket over our habits so as not to be quite so conspicuous, thereby not breaking our promise of confidentiality.
In future, when we hope to take the veil following our final profession, we will wear it primarily as a mark of our consecration, and secondly as a witness to the world.
I am afraid there is no possibility of the “real nuns” habit some have mentioned: we are an active, dynamic young community doing what we believe to be the most important work of our time – protecting the lives, rights and dignity of all human persons from conception until natural death – against great odds and a society that has been corrupted by the “culture of death”. No one who meets us is in any doubt that we are religious sisters – our dress and, please God, our lives, demonstrate this in abundance.
We do as the Church requires in wearing a simple form of dress which is distinctly religious, ‘a religious garb that distinguishes us as consecrated persons’ (Vita Religiosa, 34). This habit is however ‘suited to the time and place and to the needs of the apostolate’ (Perfectae Caritatis, 17).
With regard to whether or not we will attract vocations if we don’t have a “real” habit, I must confess that I’m not sure we would want any young woman whose main marker for following God would be that she got to wear such a habit.
We love and admire our contemplative sisters who wear a full habit and it is right and fitting for their way of life. We recently spent our retreat with a wonderful community of enclosed nuns. We sat in choir with them, we ate in silence with them, we worshipped God at Mass with them and they had no problem with our mode of dress – in fact, except for the veil, one could hardly tell the difference.
As a community, we wear a discernible habit. Every day we say the full office, have a holy hour, attend Mass, say the Rosary and Divine Mercy, and eat our meals – all of this we do together. We participate in the life of the local Church, we fast when the Church fasts and we feast when she feasts. We have an annual community retreat, spiritual direction every six weeks and Confession at least every two weeks. In addition, we try our very best every day to save unborn babies from being aborted and their mothers from making the biggest mistake of their lives. To paraphrase the great St Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, if this be not enough to keep a man alive or, in our case, to prove that we are “real” religious sisters … We just long to get on with the task the Lord has given us.
This has been an epic response, but one I felt I had to give. I will not, however, be getting into a debate about habits/veils since, frankly, there are more important things to do. So please feel free to comment, feel free to pray for vocations to our community and encourage anyone you know who may feel called to our way of life – but please do not expect any more comment from me.