From a reader…
What is a house cassock and what is the general etiquette regarding their use?
Clerical decorum has nearly completely broken down. All you have to do is look at a group of concelebrants. There are hardly two vested similarly when it comes to alb, cincture. Let’s not even talk about proper choir dress. What a disaster that is. They enter and exit in their white gunny sacks looking like the end of the shift at the Tasty Bakery.
Most priests and bishops of a certain age haven’t a clue about how to dress.
Furthermore, they would say, “Oh, I don’t go in for all that stuff!”, as if they are somehow to be thought humble. Ironic.. no? They are above all that, and so they are supposed to be humble. I don’t see any virtue in adopting a stance of contempt for your proper dress or vestments or uniform. Humility submits to decorum. Putting on the gear, and putting it on correctly, shows respect for the office and role you hold. It shows respect for the people you encounter.
People don’t want to see their bishops and priests slouching about in shapeless white bags.
House cassocks are worn, well, around the house and also out on the street and in other settings, such as classrooms, most of the time in church, confessional, etc.
Choir dress when participating more formally in solemn liturgical rites.
For garden variety priests, there is no difference between the house cassock and choir cassock. They wear black cassocks with black buttons and trim, black stockings and shoes. They have a black sash or fascia, though once its use and if it could have fringe was more closely regulated. That’s out the window now: they can all wear the fascia with fringe and even poms, for that matter. Why not. In choir the garden variety put on the surplice and use a biretta with a black pom, if there is a pom. There doesn’t have to be a pom. That seems to be a French use. Roman birettas don’t one, which is why cardinals don’t have one. Out on the street, the garden variety can use a ferraiolone, or ferraioletto, or not, the shash, or not, and a practical hat, more secular or the flat, Roman hat lovingly called a “saturno” or even a “padella (frying pan)”. A priest’s cassock can, these days, have a shoulder cape. Also, in hot climbs, priests can have a white cassock with black trim and buttons. Maybe I’ll get one for my jubilee. Hmmm.
Leaving aside the issue of the shoulder cape, for prelates, monsignors and the like, there are different trims and buttons for choir cassocks and house cassocks. The lowest kind of monsignor, a chaplain, has a black cassock, purple buttons and trim, black socks, black biretta with black pom, and the magenta or paonazza sash. This is both his house cassock and his choir cassock. The next rung up, prelate of honor, has for his house cassock a black cassock with red trim and buttons. He can use this as a choir cassock, but more properly his choir cassock is magenta, with red trim and buttons and red cuffs. He has a black biretta and black pom, though sometimes you see him (rightly I think) with a purple pom. Next up is the protonotary apostolic. He has even more gear that he can wear. They are pretty rare now, so I’ll skip them. There are also a few special even rarer monsignors in Rome who can wear the manteletta.
Also, as a curiosity, the Master of Ceremonies for Pontifical Masses in the older form, if a cleric, even if a regular priest, use the magneta, paonazza, cassock with magenta buttons and cuffs with the magenta sash. You can see me in this image in the same:
There are also questions of a priest’s formal wear.
In social occasions lay people dress formally in black tie and the rarer white tie or special ethnic dress. Happily, clerics don’t have to worry about the distinctions of tails, waistcoats, tuxedos, etc. For formal occasion, where dress truly is prescribed, the house cassock is used and, over it, a ferraiolone of the proper color cardinal’s scarlet, paonazza, or black, or silk or wool. Your outwear would be a cappa… not the cappa magna and the flat hat, or plush hat. Alas, in this pedestrian era, often formal wear is the black suit with double-fold cuffs and links, perhaps a clerical vest with the usual Roman or military collar, and… that’s about it.
This is problematic, however. These days it is nearly impossible to prescribe dress. You can put the indications on the invitations and people show up wearing whatever the hell they want. For clerics… that just doesn’t work.
Just as I have Suppers for the Promotion of Clericalism™ from time to time, perhaps I should hold some evenings with truly formal dress. Hmmmm.