The traditional Sister’s habit

Catholic religious are central to my CONCILIAR series. The second book in the series – IN THIS VALE OF TEARS – is about the experiences of religious sisters (as opposed to nuns). The first chapters deal with a group of young women going through the postulancy and the novitiate, stages in discerning whether they have a religious vocation. The clothing ceremony – receiving the postulancy habit – is described. Below is a beautifully written article on 5PETER5 by an order’s superior about a sister’s religious habit.


The Symbolism of Religious Clothing: Why Nuns Wear What They Do

 Peter Kwasniewski, PhD October 7, 2020, 5PETER5

The following text originated as a series of chapter talks given by a religious superior to a community of sisters. The superior shared it with Dr. Kwasniewski and gave him permission to edit it and publish it. The accompanying photos have been drawn from various places online.

The Council of Trent stated: “Though the habit does not make the monk, it is nevertheless needful that clerics always wear a dress suitable to their proper order.”[1] Although the habit is not the cause of being a monk, it is nonetheless, as Trent implies, necessary (“needful…always”) for the monk to wear a habit, because the habit does help to make him who he is.

Taken in isolation, the popular saying “the habit does not make the monk” seems to assert that clothing, being external, does not matter. But this is wrong. Our clothing affects us and forms us. Clothing is much more than protection against the elements. For human persons, clothing is symbolic: it is a sign of who I am and who I wish to be. What we wear forms us.

Our formation in religious life is primarily through doing and being. We learn to be Sisters by being Sisters. Our doing includes what we wear. One learns how to pray by praying; one learns how to be a Sister by doing the things Sisters do and wearing what Sisters wear.

Our habit is beautiful. It is appropriate that it be such, for we are brides of Christ. A bride ought to look the part! Our habit reflects the reality that we are not brides in a worldly sense, but brides of Christ. The beauty of the habit is not the same as the beauty of secular dress; it is an otherworldly beauty.

Our habit helps us to know how a Sister ought to act. You do not need to ask me whether you may climb the pine tree in the back yard: your wearing of the habit makes it clear that this is not an appropriate activity for a Sister. A habit serves to remind all who see us of God (it cannot but do so) and it reminds us of what a bride of Christ has to be. Even the word itself “habit” give us an indication of the importance of the clothing. Aristotle taught us that virtues are good habits. We acquire interior virtue by doing exterior actions. We form our heart and soul by exterior means. If we desire to be generous, we begin by “making” ourselves do generous things. If we persist in doing generous deeds, generosity will begin to grow in our heart. We will become generous and we will begin to love doing generous deeds. The external forms the internal. We become more fully brides of Christ through the habit of wearing religious garb. Many temptations are removed when we wear a habit: we do not tend to think about clothes; we are not so easily tempted to be vain; our external actions are restrained by the habit. If we feel uneasy in being somewhere or doing something in a habit, it is a clue that we probably should not be there nor be doing that. The habit is a tool of discernment!

Read the rest here …