Monday, 20 May 2013

Choir Dress, When not celebrating Mass

Choir dress is the traditional vesture of the clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches worn for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments except when celebrating or co-celebrating the Eucharist. It differs from the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Eucharist, being normally made of fabrics such as wool, cotton or silk, as opposed to the fine brocades used in vestments. 

It may also be worn by lay assistants such as acolytes and choirs. It was abandoned by most of the Churches which originated in the sixteenth-century Reformation.

Like eucharistic vestments it derived originally from the formal secular dress of the Roman Empire in the first centuries of the Christian era which survived in church usage after fashion had changed.

Choir dress also differs from "house dress" which is worn outside of a liturgical context (whether in the house or on the street). House dress may be either formal or informal.

Choir dress in the Roman Catholic Church is worn by deacons, priests and bishops when presiding at or celebrating a liturgy that is not the Mass, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, or when attending Mass without celebrating or concelebrating the Eucharist. 

It is worn by seminarians, instituted lectors and acolytes, and altar servers and choir members at Mass or other liturgical events.

The basic components of choir dress are:

the cassock, with or without fascia (fringed sash worn around the waist),
if the person is a brother or priest in a religious order that has its own habit (Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.), the habit is worn in place of the cassock,

the surplice (or rochet if the wearer is a bishop, cardinal, or canon), and

the biretta (optional for secular priests unless their bishop requires its use, otherwise mandatory).

Choir Dress 

Priests, Deacons & Seminarians

The cassock is exactly the same as their normal cassock: a black cassock with black buttons, girded with a black fascia.

Chaplains of His Holiness

In choir dress, chaplains of His Holiness wear their purple-trimmed black cassocks with a cotta.

Honorary prelates and protonotaries apostolic

Honorary prelates and protonotaries apostolic wear a purple cassock with scarlet piping and buttons with a purple faille fascia.

Higher Prelates of the Roman Curia
and Protonotary Apostolic de numero

Bishops & Archbishops

Bishops and Archbishops wear the above mentioned purple cassock with scarlet piping, and add a pectoral cross suspended from a green and gold cord, a mozzetta over the rochet, and a purple zucchetto under the biretta. 


A cardinal wears a scarlet cassock with scarlet trim, pectoral cross on a red and gold cord and a red mozzetta over the rochet, with a red zucchetto. The cardinal’s cassock is fully scarlet with scarlet trim. Cardinals have the additional distinction of having both choir cassock sleeves and the fascia made of scarlet watered-silk.

The Pope  

The Pope's choir dress includes a white cassock, rochet, red silk mozetta, red brocade stole and his pectoral cross hangs from a golden cord. 


The biretta (Latin: biretum, birretum) is a square cap with three or four peaks or horns, sometimes surmounted by a tuft. 

The biretta is used by all ranks of the clergy from cardinals to priests, deacons and seminarians. 

The liturgical biretta has three peaks, with the "peak-less" corner worn on the left side of the head.

Cardinals: Scarlet Red and made of silk. After the Second Vatican Council the ceremony of giving the galero to cardinals was replaced with giving the biretta. Cardinals bear no tuft or "pom"

Bishop: Amaranth in color. Archbishops wear the same biretta. Bishop’s biretta bear a purple pom.

Priests, deacons, and seminarians: Black

Diocesan priests and deacons wear a black biretta with or without a black pom. It is often asserted that seminarians are only entitled to wear a biretta without a pom-pom, but there would seem to be no formal ruling on this point. Priests in monastic and mendicant religious orders that have their own habits (Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.) do not generally wear birettas: in most circumstances, even liturgical, the monastic hood took the place of the biretta.

Clerks Regular (that is, post-Renaissance religious orders primarily dedicated to priestly ministry, for instance the Jesuits and Redemptorists) generally wear a black biretta with no tuft. Other priests who belong to various forms of community life, as the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri for instance, generally also wear birettas, but without a pom.

Priests who have been appointed as prelates to certain positions within the Vatican wear a black biretta with red pom.

The pope does not make use of the biretta, instead wearing the more ancient camauro, which Pope Benedict XVI has brought back into use.

The use of the biretta has not been abolished as a result of changes in the regulation of clerical dress and vesture following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and still remains the correct liturgical headgear for those in Holy Orders whilst "in choir", but its use has been made optional.


The mozzetta is a short elbow-length cape that covers the shoulders and is buttoned over the breast. It is worn over the rochet or cotta as part of choir dress by some of the clergy of the Catholic Church, among them the pope, cardinals, bishops, abbots, canons and religious superiors.

The colour of the mozzetta, which is always worn with a cassock and sometimes other choral vestments, represents the hierarchical rank of the person wearing it. Cardinals wear a scarlet mozzetta, while bishops and those with equivalent jurisdiction (e.g., apostolic administrators, vicars apostolic, exarchs, prefects apostolic, territorial prelates, and territorial abbots, if not bishops) wear a purple mozzetta. 

Rectors of basilicas and some canons wear a black mozzetta with red piping and buttons. The mozzetta is not worn by simple priests. Some religious orders have a mozzetta as part of their religious habit: the Canons Regular of the Austrian Congregation wear a purple mozzetta; their confreres in the Congregation of St. Maurice wear a red mozzetta; the Congregation of Holy Cross, the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception and the Lateran Canons wear a black mozzetta.

The pope wears five versions of the mozzetta: the summer mozzetta, which is of red satin; the winter mozzetta, which is of red velvet trimmed with white ermine fur; the red serge mozzetta, which is worn during masses for the deceased; the red clothed mozzetta, which is worn during the Lenten and Advent season; and the Paschal mozzetta, which is of white damask silk trimmed with white fur. The Paschal mozzetta is worn only during Eastertide.
Pectoral Cross

A pectoral cross or pectorale (from the Latin pectoralis, "of the chest") is a cross that is worn on the chest, usually suspended from the neck by a cord or chain. In ancient and medieval times pectoral crosses were worn by both clergy and laity, but by the end of the Middle Ages the pectoral cross came to be a special indicator of position worn by bishops, and the wearing of a pectoral cross is now restricted to popes, cardinals, bishops and abbots.

The pectoral cross used for choir dress is suspended on top of the Mozetta by a threaded chord instead of a metal chain used with a cassock. The chord differs in colour to represent the cleric’s rank. Only bishops and archbishops may use a pectoral cross.

Bishops & Archbishops: Green & Red Chord with cross of own choice
Cardinals:                     Gold & Red Chord with cross of own choice
Pope: Gold Chord


A rochet is a white vestment generally worn by a Roman Catholic in choir dress. The rochet is similar to a surplice, except that the sleeves are narrower. 

Cardinals, Bishops and certain other dignitaries use a rochet, it is worn over the choir cassock for non-eucharistic functions.

The Catholic rochet is a tunic of white, usually fine linen or muslin (batiste, mull) reaching about to the knee, and distinguished from the surplice mainly by the narrower sleeves which make its arms tight-fitting, and is frequently trimmed with lace. The lower edge and the sleeves may also be garnished with lace, lined with violet or red silk in the case of prelates, or more rarely with embroidered borders.

The rochet is proper to, and distinctive of, prelates and bishops, but the right to wear it is sometimes granted by the pope to others, especially the canons of cathedral churches. It is not a vestis sacra, and cannot therefore be used as a substitute for the surplice, e.g. in the administering of the Sacraments (Decree of the Congregation of Rites of January 10, 1852). Nonetheless, since it is used at choir services and is ordered to be worn over the everyday dress at Mass. It may be included among liturgical vestments in the widest sense. It is worn instead of a surplice by Canons Regular as part of their habit for liturgical use alone.


In the Roman tradition, the surplice (or "cotta") sometimes features lace decoration or embroidered bordures, but is most typically plainly hemmed. The lace or embroidery, if present, will often be in the form of inserts set a few inches above the edge of the hem or sleeves.

The surplice is meant to be a miniature alb, the alb itself being the symbol of the white garment received at Baptism. As such, it is appropriately worn by any cleric, by lectors and acolytes, or indeed by altar servers who are technically standing in for instituted acolytes for any liturgical service. It is often worn, for instance, by seminarians when attending Mass and by non-clerical choirs. It is usually worn over a cassock and never alone, nor is it ever gathered by a belt or cincture.

It may be worn under a stole by deacons and priests for liturgical ceremonies or the celebration of sacraments outside of Mass. On occasion, a cope is worn over the cassock, surplice and stole.

As part of the choir dress of the clergy, it is normally not worn by prelates (the pope, cardinals, bishops, monsignori, and some canons) - instead, these clerics wear the rochet, which is in fact a variant of the surplice.

The surplice belongs to the vestes sacrae (sacred vestments), though it requires no benediction before it is worn.


The cope is a vestment for processions worn by all ranks of the clergy when assisting at a liturgical function, but it is never worn by the priest and his sacred ministers in celebrating the Mass. 

At a Pontifical High Mass the cope was worn by the "assistant priest," a priest who assists the bishop who is the actual celebrant.  It is now the vestment assigned to the celebrant, whether priest or bishop, for almost all functions except the Mass when the chasuble is worn by the celebrant instead. 
The cope is used, for example, in processions, in the greater blessings and consecrations, at the solemnly celebrated Liturgy of the Hours, in giving Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the celebration of other sacraments outside of Mass. 

For most of these the celebrant may instead wear simply cassock and surplice or alb, both with the stole, for simpler celebrations. The chasuble, which is properly only worn for Mass, may also be worn during processions and other ceremonies that occur directly before or after Mass, such as the absolutions and burial of the dead, at the Asperges before Mass, and at the blessing and imposition of the ashes on Ash Wednesday, to avoid the need for the celebrant to change vestments.

The Cæremoniale Episcoporum envisages its use by a bishop if presiding at but not celebrating Mass, for the Liturgy of the Hours, for processions, at the special ceremonies on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Lenten gatherings modelled on the "stations" in Rome, Palm Sunday and Corpus Christi. The bishop may use a cope when celebrating outside of Mass the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, matrimony, penance in solemn form, ordination (if not concelebrating), and anointing of the sick. The list in the index of the Cæremoniale Episcoporum continues with several more cases.

The cope usually follows the liturgical color assigned to that day in the liturgical calendar, although white may always be worn for celebrations of a joyful character or before the Blessed Sacrament, and violet may always be worn for celebrations of a penitential character. It may be made of any rich or becoming material, including cloth of gold (which may be used in place of any colour except violet or black). Owing to its ample dimensions and unvarying shape, ancient copes are preserved to us in proportionately greater numbers than other vestments and provide the finest specimens of medieval embroidery we possess. 

Papal Mantum or Mantle

The mantum or papal mantle differs little from an ordinary cope except that it is somewhat longer, and is fastened in the front by an elaborate morse. In earlier centuries it was red in colour; red, at the time being the papal colour rather than white. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the immantatio, or bestowal of the mantum on the newly elected pope, was regarded as specially symbolical of investiture with papal authority: Investio te de papatu romano ut praesis urbi et orbi, "I invest you with the Roman papacy, that you may rule over the city and the world" were the words used in conferring it at the Papal Coronation. In the decade after Vatican II, the use of the mantum nearly fell out of use, but after a brief revival under Pope Benedict XVI, it has again been eschewed by Pope Francis.

Cappa Magna

The cappa magna (literally, "great cape"), a form of mantle, is a voluminous ecclesiastical vestment with a long train, proper to cardinals, bishops, and certain other honorary prelates. It is however a jurisdictional garment.

The cappa magna is not strictly a liturgical vestment, but only a glorified cappa choralis, or choir cope. That is to say, it is not used when vested as a celebrant at a liturgical service. It is worn in processions or "in choir" (i.e., attending but not celebrating services). Its colour for cardinals is ordinarily red and for bishops violet. Cardinals and papal nuncios are entitled to wear a cappa magna of watered silk.

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