ASK FATHER: The mantelletta and other clerical gear were “abolished” but under Summorum Pontificum can they be used? Wherein Fr. Z rants.

mantelletta and cappaFrom a reader…


I am writing with a follow up question to your post yesterday (16 November) on the subject of the mantelletta. HERE In your response to the reader, you mentioned the (dolorous) decision, issued motu proprio, of the blessed pope, Paul VI, that white washed Catholic liturgy by flattening out the hierarchy and their attire.  Alas, think of what a papal procession may have looked like, in various times of the year!

In any case, my question is this, although the law of Pope Paul concerning mantellettas is in vigor, how is it now to be understood in light of Summorum Pontificum and, even more, of Universae Ecclesiae.  That is to say, since the liturgical laws in force in 1962 are to be followed by Bishops , would it not be the case that a Bishop outside of his own Diocese (and the other occasions on which it is to be worn) and Cardinals in Rome would be required to wear a mantelletta when engaged in anything connected to the more ancient form of the Mass?  Is it not also so, then, that every Bishop should have a mantelletta tailored so as to “be prepared for every good work”?

When you read the 1969 Instruction on the “Dress, Titles, and Coat of Arms of Cardinals, Bishops and Lesser Prelates,” approved by Paul VI, you often find the word “abolished”: the mantelletta is “abolished”, as is the sash with tassels, the red tabarro, the galero and the red plush hat, the colored hose and shoe buckles for lesser prelates, the red tuft on the biretta for prelates of honor, the mantellone for lesser prelates…. All “abolished.”

What does it mean to abolish or suppress an article of clothing?

What is being abolished is the necessity of wearing them. They are not forbidden. In the instruction, nowhere is it stated, “Cardinals may not wear…”.  It simply states that certain articles of clothing are “abolished” or sometimes “suppressed”.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are squealing like piglets. “The Pope clearly wanted to get rid of all this … this… frippery!  This is proof that you hate Vatican II!  And you hate the poor too!  And mercy!”

Some may find this pedantic, but we must ask:  What does the author of the Instruction really say about the motivation behind abolishing the obligation of wearing such things?

Having referred to “spiritual values”, the author of the document writes of the sensitivity of the modern mentality to avoid extremes, to bring decorum into harmony with simplicity, practicality, and a spirit of humility and poverty,

“which must always and preeminently shine forth in those who, by their investiture in ecclesiastical offices, have some special responsibility in the service of the People of God.”

The committee which was given the task of studying this issue prior to the promulgation of the this instruction was cautioned to “take account, at the same time and in just measure, tradition, modern needs, and deeper values implicit in certain forms of living, exterior and contingent though they be.”

Thus, the motive for the “abolishing” of certain articles of clothing had in mind the need to keep things simple, to demonstrate humility and obedience, and to attend to the needs and mindset of the modern mind.


The modern mind of 2015 is not the same as the modern mind of 1969.

In this last half century, the world has moved beyond some of the assumptions of the 1960’s. While modern dress has arguably gotten more casual, great attention – even obsession – is paid to presentation, grooming, and appearance.  Watch TV commercials.

Furthermore, individuality is king! Those who shun those trends and overarching individuality and put on a regulated uniform now stick out.

I think that the counter-cultural “sign value” of clerical dress is even more important today than it was in 1969.  This goes for choir dress, too.

Summorum Pontificum does not seek to create a sort of “Colonial Williamsburg” liturgy.  It does not intend to recreate a moment in the past merely for historical curiosity. A central point of Benedict’s reform is to recapture and reintegrate the spirit of the ancient liturgy of the Church, our heritage, which is ever sacred and valid.  This is vital for an effective renewal of every sphere of the Church’s life and mission.  In all our endeavors we begin with and return to our liturgical worship of God.

Therefore, obedience to the liturgical dress – and that includes choir dress – required at the reference year Summorum Pontificum designated, will again today instill a proper sense of humility and order.

It’s not “What I want to wear”, but rather, “What do the books require that I wear?”, and subsequently “Will I subjugate myself own desire to the requirements of that spirit and decorum?”

The use of a mantelletta was a mark of humility for those greater prelates who wore it. Whereas the mozzetta demonstrated jurisdiction, the mantelletta showed a humbling of that jurisdiction before the greater jurisdiction of the local bishop or, in Rome, the Holy Father himself.

In this time radical individualism, clerical dress is a powerful counter-cultural sign.

Proper choir dress reveals a spirit of humility.  Submission to the ordering of seniority and hierarchy and jurisdiction is a spiritual value that clerics need to foster.  For example, the place of clerics in processions and in seating in choir followed certain rules.  They are followed loosely, but they are known.  Furthermore, this humble ordering is a value that seminarians and young priests should experience, for the sake of their own priestly identity which includes the service of the Church in humility.   (As an aside, study your average Novus Ordo entrance procession with a lot of clergy these days.  Not terribly edifying, is it.  But I digress.)

In sum, the obligation to wear these old things is no longer in force.  They may be worn, but it is not obligatory. (On a side note, the obligation that women once had to cover their heads in Church is no longer in force, but that doesn’t mean that they must not now wear hats or veils.  Maniples and birettas were once obligatory for Mass.  Now they are not.  They may be used, but they aren’t requirements. But I digress.)

In the context of liturgical celebrations with with Extraordinary Form, the older gear may be worn, but it is not obligatory.  The newer rules for choir dress may be followed as well, though it would probably be better to follow the older rules.

francis_benedict_election_MozzettaRemember, Fathers and seminarians, that a mantelletta or a certain kind of fascia or a buckle, or a mozzetta, in themselves, are not going to get us to heaven on their own.  For example, bishops and popes – even the Pope of the current parenthesis – don’t have to wear the mozzetta all the time.  There are, however, occasions in which such trappings and signs of office, solemn and traditional, have their proper place.  They send signals.  The non-use of these symbols also sends signals.  Frankly, I think it is wrong for the Pope to dress down in certain formal occasions, such as audiences with heads of state, or consistories, or the Urbi et Orbi blessings, etc.  I don’t see it as “humble” at all.  I see it more as that radical individuality that I mentioned, above. Other Popes did it, all his predecessors did, but he doesn’t? Sometimes we have to conform and put on all the gear as a sign of respect for office and for others.  But… enough of that.  He’s Pope and I’m not and this isn’t the pressing issue we face right now.  I’ll conform to my style of dress, suited to my station, in choro and on other occasions.

People who say that these things are not important, or are bad, or that they should be eliminated are just plain wrong.  That is a naive, shallow, approach to who we are. Liberals have a spittle-flecked nutty over these things. I say that Catholics are not “either/or” when it comes to the dynamic interplay of the humble and the lofty.  We are “both/and”, in proper measure, time and place.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “…when it comes to the dynamic interplay of the humble and the lofty. ”
    this came to mind!!
    “O magnum mysterium” Tomas Luis de Victoria, 1572.

    “O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum,
    ut animalia viderent Dominum natum jacentem in praesepio.
    O beata Virgo,
    cuius viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Jesum Christum.

  2. gretta says:

    “As an aside, study your average Novus Ordo entrance procession with a lot of clergy these days. Not terribly edifying, is it. But I digress.”

    I’d like to make just one comment about your comment if I may. I grew up in a part of the country where Catholics make up 2% or so of the population. I will never forget the day that our diocese had a diocesan Mass where the whole diocese was invited, and for the first time I saw a large auditorium full of Catholics and a very long procession of our priests coming in to concelebrate with the bishop. I was a teenager at the time. That first “and also with you” response from the congregation was so loud it rang throughout that auditorium. It was the first time I had any idea that there were that many of us Catholics, and it was so moving that I almost cried. It was a feeling of, wow, we are not alone!

    I know that for many people in Catholic-heavy places that sight may be a such a familiar one that it does lose any meaning. But for those of us for whom seeing lots of clergy celebrating together is a rare sight, it actually can be quite moving.

  3. TWF says:

    I was most pleased to see the Cappa Magna, for the first time in my life as it happens, when Bishop Athanasius Schneider was here in Vancouver a few days ago. It was also most inspiring to see a pontifical high mass with all the traditional “gear” on display.

  4. Polycarpio says:

    The Holy Father Pope Francis’ choice to “dress down” should be read as submission to a tradition of simplification that has been carried forward over several pontificates rather than a sign of “radical individuality.” Paul VI gave up the tiara, John Paul I gave up having a coronation, John Paul II gave up the sedia gestatoria, Benedict XVI gave up the tiara on his shield and the “Patriarch of the West” title. In addition to this pontifical policy, Francis seems to conform to the style of his order which eschews outward signs of grandeur. Recall that it was Innocent V’s ‘individualistic’ decision to continue to wear the white garments of his Domican order which gave us a great tradition of popes wearing white that we all now take for granted.

  5. Michelle F says:

    I think vestments and clerical clothing with all of the trimmings are in keeping with always giving our best to God. They are also in keeping with what the Lord required of Aaron and his sons in Exodus chapter 38:

    “And thou shalt make a holy vesture for Aaron, thy brother, for glory and for beauty.”

    The stripped-down, plain vestments and other articles of clothing seem to me to be part of the belief that the Lord can be appeased with mediocre gifts while we keep the best things for ourselves.

  6. IPSB says:

    I have seen Bishop Athanasius Schneider wear a mantelletta on some occasions, but then again he is an auxiliary bishop…

  7. jbazchicago says:

    Thank you for your brilliant assessment! One question I have regarding the new order of honorary prelates. Since they have been completely renamed with the exception of Protonotary Apostolic (I believe that is correct?) may the “Honorary Prelate” assume the mantaletta since that is equal to the former “Domestic Prelate”? And may the “Honorary Chaplain” wear the attire of the Supernumerary Privy Chamberlain (which I think is the mantellone, but not sure)?


  8. Father K says:

    I find it odd that the document that abolished the items of prelates’ clothing you mention not only retained but also extended the use of the cappa magna. It seems they were being less than consistent. Although I have never actually seen a bishop or cardinal for that matter use it, except in photos of course. It also strikes me as rather precious that a document would be written by the Holy See dealing with such matters as the colour of bishops’ stockings. I know of one bishop who wears purple woolly socks during winter with his suit.

  9. Thus, the motive for the “abolishing” of certain articles of clothing had in mind the need to keep things simple, to demonstrate humility and obedience, and to attend to the needs and mindset of the modern mind.

    This from the era that gave us the Paul VI hall and the giant seaweed monster.

  10. Latinmass1983 says:

    Just in case a Cardinal out there wants to be humble enough to wear all the things proper to his office, we reproduce below (taken from the American Ecclesiastical Review, 1912) a list of what a Cardinal needs.

    Keep in mind that this predates the official list (given in the Norme Ceremoniali per gli Eminentissimi Signori Cardinali) published by the Congregation of the Ceremonial in 1943, in which the Rose robes were determined to be obsolete (by omission). However, if a Cardinal out there is even humbler and decides to wear the Rose ones, may his humility be exponentially increased!

    While the distinctive color of a secular cardinal’s dress is scarlet red, the cardinals belonging to religious orders retain the color of their former habits. Thus the outer robes of a Carthusian cardinal are white; an Augustinian wears black; a Franciscan, gray; a Capuchin, chestnut; a Dominican, black and white. All cardinals wear the scarlet skull cap, biretta, and hat. In the following list there will be frequent mention of purple garments. This color is worn by the cardinals as a sign of mourning, during the penitential season, at funerals, and during the vacancy of the Holy See.

    A cardinal’s wardrobe contains:

    1. Two black cloth cassocks, with scarlet trimmings, i. e. buttons, buttonholes, linings, etc. The lighter cassock is worn in summer, the heavier in winter. They are used on ordinary occasions.

    2. Five choir cassocks for public ceremonies. These are similar in shape to the ordinary cassock with the addition of a train. Two are made of cloth for winter wear, scarlet and purple; three are of watered silk, scarlet, purple, and rose color. This last is worn only on Lætare and Gaudete Sundays.

    3. Two (heavy and light) black simars (zimarra), with red trimmings, for house wear.

    4. Two watered-silk cloaks (ferraiolone), red and purple, for official occasions. Also two large cloth cloaks, red and purple, for winter wear.

    5. Five mozzettas, and five mantellettas to match the choir cassocks. In Rome, the cardinals wear the mozzetta over the mantelletta, except in their titular churches, when it is worn immediately over the rochet.

    6. Two silk cappæ magnæ, red and purple. Also a cloth cappa magna for Good Friday services. In summer, the fur cape of this garment is replaced by a silk cape.

    7. Three silk cinctures, red, purple, and rose color, with gold tassels. These are worn with the choir cassocks. With the ordinary cassock a red silk cincture ending in a red fringe is worn.

    8. Two red birettas, silk and cloth. These birettas have three points with a loop of thread at the junction in place of a tuft or pompon. Also a red skullcap and red rabbi.

    9. Four hats: (a) the red hat received at his elevation; (b) the ordinary Roman clerical hat, black, with a red and gold cord around the crown; (c) a red hat worn with the choir cassock outside the church; (d) a large straw silk-covered hat which is held over his head during an open-air procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

    10. Four pair of gloves, sandals, and stockings. These are made in the liturgical colors, white, red, green, and violet. They are worn only during the celebration of Pontifical Mass and correspond to the color of the vestments. They are not worn with black vestments.

    11. Three mitres: white, golden, and precious; a crozier; pectoral cross; rochet; sapphire ring with the arms of the Pope engraved on the inside.

    12. A cardinal wears red stockings. On ordinary occasions he wears black shoes tipped with red, and gold buckles. When in choir costume, the shoes are of red leather.

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