Archive for May 6th, 2006

A question from SUZANNE:

Father Joe, once upon a time, all priests wore a black shirt and black pants. Is there a special name for that costume? In French, we call it a soutane but that’s not the right name, because it refers to the dress-like costume they used to wear.

I’m asking because my husband and I are disappointed that most priests don’t wear black any more (not in Canada, any way) and we don’t know what to call that get-up.


Clerical clothing has changed over time and still varies from place to place. Back when men wore hats, priests were required to wear a black dress hat (although not the Roman variety) in the Archdiocese of Washington even into the 1970’s — by mandate of the late Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle.

At fancy or solemn gatherings priests would wear a dress cassock, as opposed to their work cassock (usually worn) and if it was cold they wore a cape over it. You still might find such things today, and my priest friends in Lincoln, Nebraska even wear the Biretta on their heads.

What do you call the black pants and black clerical shirt a priest wears (with a white collar tab)? They are simply called clerics or clerical clothing. The shirts actually can come in various colors and sometimes Norbertines, Dominicans and others might wear a white clerical shirt. Bishops in some of the hotter climates have permitted this to ease the problem of heat absorption by black clothing.

PRIESTS ARE SUPPOSED TO WEAR CLERICAL CLOTHING. If the priests you know are not doing so, then there is a serious question of disobedience. Church law insists that the priest wear “suitable clerical clothing, according to the norms issued by the Episcopal Conference and according to legitimate local customs.” (Canon 284)

We recently had a change of policy in Washington because our permanent deacons also wore the black clerical shirt and people were confusing them with priests. As of last year, in this archdiocese, priests must wear black clerical shirts and deacons are to wear a gray clerical shirt.

I do not know what the local regulations are in your part of Canada, but they could not supercede the universal law.

Having said all this, if a priest goes jogging or swimming or lounges on his mother’s couch, he would probably feel comfortable in wearing civies. This is permitted. But when performing his duties and out in public generally, he should dress as a priest.

I have not worn a dress tie since the day I was ordained. If a man is embrassed to wear his clerics somewhere, then it might be a place where he should not be.

Here is a quick list of traditional clothing worn by priests and bishops, both at and outside Mass:

ALB – An ankle-length white linen vestment with sleeves which the priest wears at Mass.

AMICE – A rectangular, white linen cloth, stamped or embridered with a cross, which the priest draws over his head and wears around his neck and shoulders. It is the first vestment the priest uses for Mass.

BIRETTA – A stiff, square hat with three ridges on the top and a pompom or tassel in the center.

BROAD STOLE – A very long piece of cloth about ten inches wide which the deacon wears over his left shoulder and under his right arm diagonally across his chest and back. It is worn by deacons.

BUSKINS – The stockings worn by the Bishop when offering Pontifical Mass. They are the same color as the fabric of the sandals and vestments which the Bishop wears.

CAMAURO – A red velvet cap edged with ermine. It is worn at non-Church functions by the Pope. [see Pope Benedict XVI in the news lately!]

CAPPA – a long cape-like grament worn by the clergy; a cloak. [worn in preference to a top coat, and over the cassock]

CAPPA MAGNA – A long vestment with a hood, the latter being lined with silk or fur. It is worn by Cardinals and Bishops as a cape. Cardinals wear a red cappa magna; Bishops, a purple one. [have not seen these in a long time]

CASSOCK – A long-skirted close-fitting, black garment worn by clerics and priests. It is also called Soultane.

CHASUBLE – The most important Mass vestment. It is a large, full vestment, made of rich cloth. They came in various liturgical colors and shapes, fiddleback, gothic, etc.

CINCTURE – A long cord which the priest ties around his waist to hold the alb in place.

SURPLICE – A large-sleeved, linen tunic of half-length, which is worn by clerics over the cassock at the administration of the sacraments and various Church services. Today, its use is tolerated for lay altar boys.

DALMATIC – Large vestment worn by deacons. It hangs down full from the shoulders and has large broad sleeves.

FANONS or LAPPETS – The two small narrow strips of cloth which hang from the back of the mitre which the Bishop wears on his head on solemn occasions.

FERRIOLA – A short, elbow-length cape attached to the cassock.

FERRIOLONE – A full-length cape raeching to the ankles.

MANIPLE – A long narrow strip of silk worn by the priest on his left arm when he celebrates Mass. [now only worn by priests saying Mass under the indult and those of the Fraternity of St. Peter]

MITRE – The pointed folding hat which Bishops, Cardinals, and the Pope wear at official church services.

MOZZETA – A short cape which reaches to the elbow and buttons down the front. A small hood is attached at the neck. It is worn by the Pope, Cardinals, and Abbots.

PALLIUM – A narrow white woolen ban worn around the shoulders, having two short woolen pendants, one hanging down teh front, the other down the back, and ornamented with six black crosses. It is worn by the Pope and Archbishops
as a sign of their authority.

RABAT – A black shirt-front which extends from the neck and covers the chest of the priest and to which the Roman collar is attached.

ROCHET – A linen surplice-like vestment with narrow sleeves. The bottom, the shoulder-pieces, and the ends of the sleeves of the rochet are ornamented with lace.

ROMAN COLLAR – The stiffly starched band of white linen (or plastic today) which is attached to the rabat and worn around the neck of the priest. It may also be a tab in a clerical shirt. It must be worn by a priest in public.

SCAPULAR – Monks wear it as a piece of cloth about the width of the shoulders and long enough to reach to the ankles both front and back when worn around the shoulders.

SIMAR – A black cassock edged in purple with a purple cape, sash and buttons, which the Bishop wears informally in his residence.

STOLE – A very long narrow strip of cloth. Priests today wear the stole around the neck and hanging straight down in the front. Bishops at Mass will wear the stole crossed over the chest.

ZUCHETTO – The skull cap worn by the Pope and Bishops.



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