ASK FATHER: Priest’s cassocks with shoulder capes

From a reader…

I was wondering if any secular/diocesan priest is allowed to wear a black mozzetta as part of their choir dress? I have seen pictures of some priests wearing a black mozzetta such as the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.


Ah… finally something truly important… a welcome relief from such trifles as the upcoming brawl at Synod, the undermining of marriage, the silence of bishops about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts, the meaning of prayers for Mass, etc.

First, canons are… canons.  They have their own particular style of dress for their house cassock and for choir.

The little cape over the shoulders of the house cassock was, once upon a time, a mark of jurisdiction.  Bishops use it.  Pastors of parishes could use it I believe (back when there was far more complicated ecclesiastical clothing).  I don’t think it really marks jurisdiction anymore, given the way that it is used or not used, higgledy-piggledy.

These days, I think most priests use it because it looks nice.  I have a cassock with one of these.  I used it because it was warm.  I grew up in Minnesota, but I have never been so cold in my life as in Rome in winter, back in the day.   I shiver just thinking about it.

Paul VI – wrongly, I think – did away with a lot of the things that clerics used to wear.  For example pompoms on the ends of fascias were abolished.  Some priests use them anyway.   Back in the day, priests were not to use black watered-silk fascia.  These days some do.  Why?  They look nice.

“But Father! But Father!”, some will say.  If these things are forbidden, then they shouldn’t be used!  You are antinomian!”

To which I respond: So what?

If using these things makes their black (or purple) socks roll up and down, great.

It was a mistake to simplify ecclesiastical garb to the degree that it was simplified.  We will see that usage, praxis, will –  guttatim – reintegrate the old things back into general use.

I don’t know if this is part of the “gravitational pull” that the older forms are exerting on the new or if this is something else.

One think I do know – liberals hate stuff like this.

All the more reason to use it.

Strike a blow for decorum.

But .. a caution: Don’t fix too much attention on these things.  It’s just stuff.  Array your mind and heart with holy thoughts, study, prayers, and works of mercy and let your outward acts and words ring with charity and truth.

But back to the question.  You were asking about choir dress not the house cassock for everyday dress.

Unless you are a member of an equestrian order, diocesan clerics ought to wear – for choir dress – the cassock and, over it, surplice, having their biretta as cover.  I don’t see any reason for more than that.



From the official WDTPRS parodohymnodist – now Father Tim Ferguson – to the Sound of Music tune “My Favorite Things”:

Dalmatics on deacons and cassocks on priests,
habits on nuns and immovable feasts,
bishops in soutanes with big, gaudy rings –
these are a few of my favorite things.

Devotions to Mary, novenas and stations,
fasting and penance on Days of Rogation,
High Mass and Low Mass and papal blessings –
these are a few of my favorite things.

Rosaries and incense and fiddleback vestments,
BINGO on Mondays with homemade refreshments,
statues of angels with halos and wings –
these are a few of my favorite things.

When RENEW strikes!
When the rail’s gone!
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply pop into a Solemn High Mass
and then I don’t feel so baaaaaad!


When you’ve had a hard day sorting out what fancy gear priests can wear, … nay rather… when you have had a hard day biting your tongue over the shabby way most priests usually dress these days…. for the love of GOD can’t these men put on clerical clothes?  Can we have a little liturgical decorum?   In the name of all that is holy, isn’t about time that clerics start dressing as if both their own role in the Church and what they are doing in church might be slightly Buy some coffee!important, rather than throwing on something they rummaged up from the laundry bag behind the “Tasty Bakery” after the night shift?

It’s enough to make you….

Why not relax with a WDTPRS mug filled to the brim with piping hot Mystic Monk Coffee?

Refresh your supply now! Not just Monk Coffee … Mystic Monk!

It’s swell!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. joan ellen says:

    Nice job with your favorite things, Fr. Z!

    Could your observation re: priestly decorum have had any bearing on the more ‘relaxed’ decorum visible in the laity these past 40 or 50 years?

  2. Robbie says:

    I have question I hope someone might be able to address that’s similar to this question. I like to watch the BBC show “Father Brown” and occasionally he wears a mozzeta style cape over his shoulders that’s fastened across the front by a gold clasp. Is that the same thing except it’s not built into the cassock?

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    haha, “When RENEW strikes…”.
    I really want to see someone’s socks roll up and down, in any color!

    I’m sour, and simmering, about the silence over PP. The bishops and even cardinals seem determined to turn me into a real crank.

  4. Prayerful says:

    This is interesting. I honestly haven’t seen a priest who offers the Mass of Ages outside of his main role, of offering Mass. The parish hall has teas etc, I should take a look. I think the parish priest or administrator of the parish wears something like that. I had a lost property query, but I was more worried about the lost property (my mother’s 1957 missal).

  5. The Cobbler says:

    “The little cape over the shoulders of the house cassock was, once upon a time, a mark of jurisdiction. Bishops use it. Pastors of parishes could use it I believe (back when there was far more complicated ecclesiastical clothing). I don’t think it really marks jurisdiction anymore, given the way that it is used or not used, higgledy-piggledy.”
    It’s a pity it doesn’t mark jurisdiction anymore. Moderns will tell you that people these days don’t want that sort of formalism. They’re wrong. One need only look at the way videogames give characters visual markers of their rank to prove that kids these days still get this sense of hierarchy.

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    Frequently we now see bishops — and popes, and ex popes — adopting an informality with the casual abandonment of the mozzetta. For a church that once was the center of the arts, it is beyond me how any of them could look into a mirror and realize they do not look good in only a cassock. You have to, as they say, “break the line,” particularly when the line takes on planetary aspects around your equator.
    I don’t mean to be rude, but a picture is worth a thousand words, guys — wear your mozzetta. And that includes Benedict and Francis. Think of it as a fight against visual pollution — can liberals be against that? In fact, all priests should wear it. St. John Bosco being the sterling example of a well dressed priest. Can you imagine him without his mozzetta?

  7. IoannesPetrus says:

    The “shoulder cape” itself is called a pellegrina – yes, à la Way of St James – which, as a sign of jurisdiction, spoke to the pilgrim’s nature of the wearer’s tenure-in-office; hence the name. Since however, of course, it isn’t worn apart from the cassock – as such, the two are sewn together – this contraption is known as the simar, according to Nainfa.

    I suspect, with the promulgation of Lumen Gentium (cf. Chap. III), that, having abolished the mantellone for the certain monsignori now-formerly entitled to it, the mantelletta (which had signified being outside jurisdiction, e.g. Bishops outside of their Sees and Auxiliaries even within them) was so re-assigned; whereas the pellegrina was re-purposed to them all in order to emphasise (a new) order over jurisdiction. If Bishops, then, could wear it, Priests, now of a lower order, could not.

    Canons, who were once privileged according to chapter, are now by law all* expected to wear in choir a mozzetta that, if they are not Bishops, is of black or grey wool and trimmed in purple silk (or of purple wool trimmed in purple silk, if explicitly allowed by the local Bishop). However, if they are not in the Cathedral or collegiate church or accompanying the Bishop, they wear what is proper to their rank.

    *Excepting chapters attached to certain Roman Basilicas

    Source (as far as possible): Dress of Roman Catholic Clergy (Shetler) and his own sources

  8. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Optime Pater,

    A mozzetta properly speaking has a small and purely ornamental hood at the back. Without such a hood, this is merely a shoulder cape, which signifies nothing and does not in any way depend on any kind of privilege or rank. A very knowledgeable priest once explained to me that in France, the use of such capes was well-nigh universal before the Simplification; there is no reason per se why an ordinary diocesan cleric cannot wear it.

  9. AlexanderAerarius says:


    It doesn’t sound like the mozzetta (“properly speaking,” as clarified by Mr. DiPippo) was ever worn commonly. The Catholic Encyclopedia says,

    “The privilege of wearing the mozzetta belongs properly to no one but the pope, cardinals, exempt abbots, abbots general, and the four prelates di fiochetti; only through a special privilege may it be worn by other ecclesiastics, abbots, canons, etc.”

  10. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Being an octogenarian, I do indeed remember our pastor (1930s-40s) wearing the mozzetta. We always had two assistants. They did not. Also in those days I never saw our priests on the parish campus or out in public in street clothes. They always wore their cassocks.

  11. jhayes says:

    Robbie mentioned the “Fr. Brown” TV series. That is set in the 1950’s in the Cotswalds. Does anyone who lived in England at that time recall if parish priests wore saturnos, then, as Mark Williams does regularly in the show?

    When Fr. B occasionally appears in vestments (rather than his usual cassock) they almost always look unconvincing to me, as if someone had called up the wardrove department and had said “send us some vestments – whatever you have will do”

  12. NoraLee9 says:

    I am told that I have a nice voice. This morning, while reading the blog at Sunday Brunch/IHOP (after High 11 AM Mass), I saw your song. And I sung it. At IHOP. Hubby was thrilled and the other diners were entertained. Thanks for the opportunity of singing in the New Evangelization!

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