What’s with the Gray Habit?
The name of ‘mendicant friars’ was given to several groups of ‘begging friars’ whose origins in Europe date to the 13th and 14th centuries. These friars, in contrast to the monks, moved about freely among the people, especially the poor, preaching the gospel. Recognized by their religious habits they were popularly referred to as Grey Friars (Franciscans), Black Friars (Dominicans), Austin Friars (Augustinians) and White Friars (Carmelites). The Franciscan Friars today are divided into three main groups or branches consisting of ordained and non-ordained friars: the Friars Minor (Brown Franciscans – OFM), the Friars Minor Capuchin (Capuchins – OFM Cap.) and the Friars Minor Conventual (Conventuals – OFM Conv.).
After the year 1517 when the Franciscan Order began to divide into the three major groups which all observe the same rule of life but differ in interpretation, each branch adopted a habit that would distinguish them from one another. The history of the community and their distinctive religious garb is long and involved, but basically the Friars Minor and Capuchins adopted a chestnut- brown habit while the Conventuals gradually changed to black by use, but not by legislation. The Friars of the Community, the Conventual Franciscans, from the standpoint of legislation by virtue of their Constitutions and Apostolic Statues, were still wearing a grey habit until 1932. The Conventual Franciscans were the Grey Friars.
“The habit does not make the monk or friar,” says the old adage, but it does give to others and us a reminder of our religious consecration and bonding to our spirit and tradition. The followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the Grey Friars, were noted for preaching among the poor, simplicity of life and gentleness of spirit. Hopefully, these will continue to be our identifying characteristics always.
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