It's that time of year again when convents across the U.S. field calls from hopeful partygoers: "Do you have an old habit that I can, um, borrow for a few days?" That's right, folks. Nothing like having a "nun" at a costume party to bring out the, um, best in people.
So what's the nun's take on this?
I suspect that most of our callers think of the habit merely as a (somewhat peculiar) uniform: nothing more than a general sort of identification of membership in some sort of association. They don't realize that the habit was blessed when it was given to us: that it's a sacramental, in other words (making it really inappropriate as the butt of jokes). Our habits are also consecrated by their history: the lives of the dedicated women who wore them before us (some of them saints, and some of them....women whose human weakness disappointed and hurt us). Anyway, our habits have a heritage. And when we wear them, we are reminded to make the best of that heritage available to people here and now.
Costume-party nuns (especially those who make hyper-sexual alterations to the dress) don't seem to realize that they are ridiculing very real people--and the values that motivated them to enter the religious life. I suspect that in great part this is because most people have not seen sisters in habit. We are almost like fictional characters from an imaginary world.
Then there are sisters and communities that do not wear a determined habit. How many people would go to a costume party dressed as a Sister in a plain skirt and blouse (perhaps purchased from a thrift store a few years back), with a community cross on a thin chain around her neck? Where's the fun in that? The costume-party queries seem to say that the habit makes the nun "real."
Then there are the devout people, like one secular Carmelite I met through Twitter. She just wanted to be sure there would be nothing untoward about her dressing in a nun costume to give candy to the children who came to her door. (Personally, I can think of few things more charming.)
I'd be very interested on getting other sisters' takes on this.