ASK FATHER: House cassocks

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. moon1234 says:

    Clerical dress is something that really should be paid more attention suit. A priestly suit just does not make a Catholic cleric stand out as a CATHOLIC. Almost all protestant “ministers” dress this way now. You don’t know if you can rightly call someone dressed this way “father.” Since they may just be a protestant lay man.

    This article from esquire about a man who dressed up for a day in the clothes of people of different professions really shows how the public reacts. This man was NOT a cleric, but he DRESSED like a traditional Catholic priest. It was a very interesting read:

    I long for the return of priests that weak cassock with fascia and all of the appropriate dress that goes along with it. It is a visible witness that the person you are seeing is truly a Priest and not just a minister.

  2. Robbie says:

    The question of clerical dress is one that always interests me so I enjoyed reading this. Maybe it’s because I’m legalist promethean neopalagian, but I would love to see the cassock mandated once again. I think it symbolizes dignity and reverence, but that’s just me. And while I have no evidence to support this opinion, I think more concern for dress (cassocks and the like) would force many clerics to reassess how much is done. On top of that, cassocks just look sharp. Dress for success right?

    And by the way, I love the mantelleta. Bring that back as well.

  3. kekeak2008 says:

    I always thought the disdain for proper clerical garb that’s held by some priests and bishops to be odd. I was in the military for several years: decorum and proper dress was always expected. The uniform of the day was always prescribed for all events. When you join, one of the first things they teach you is how to wear all of your uniforms correctly and under what circumstances you’d wear them. I was in the Navy, and there’s even a standing order that if you check into a new command or duty station and are unsure of the uniform, you wear your dress uniform by default; no questions asked.

    I didn’t wear my uniform to make myself look good; I didn’t even like how I looked in some of them. But I did it out of obedience, duty, and respecting all the tremendous history behind my uniforms. All of us are part of the Church Militant, right? Militias and militaries imply a certain sense of uniformity and conformity, right? The uniform (or cassock) ultimately isn’t about the person.

  4. PapalCount says:

    We have a monsignor here of the Chaplain rank and he uses a biretta with a purple pom. We don’t mind. Catholic clerical dress has surely been influenced by our current age where anything goes it would seem. Sad.
    Seminaries should make a point of educating clerics on proper decorum.
    Thx for this post.

  5. kbf says:


    “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”

    Leaving aside the former Anglican prelates who have been given this rank as an honour as part of the orindariate, I was led to believe that if a Vicar General of a diocese was not a bishop that he is appointed as a Monsignor by default in the rank of P.A. de numero for the duration of his appointment whch he either retains at the request of the Bishop on leaving that appointment or otherwise reverts to being an Honorary Prelate (or after the Pope announced that he would only appoint priests as Chaplains more likely that this would be the case pro tem). So there should be a fair few of them kicking about, even if you wouldn’t necessarily see them outside of the Diocese Chancery, surely? [I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the case.]

  6. departing contestant says:

    “They enter and exit in their white gunny sacks looking like the end of the shift at the Tasty Bakery.”
    perfectly good coffee came out of my nose. shame on you

  7. gaudete says:

    Are we really sure the reader didn’t inquire about the various houses’ cassocks, houses meaning the various seminaries/colleges in Rome? Cf. description and pictures here:

  8. Adam Welp says:


    What are your thoughts on permanent deacon’s wearing clerical attire when assisting in liturgical services? [They are clerics. Right?]

  9. Ferde Rombola says:

    “evenings with truly formal dress.”

    Take pictures and post them. :-)

  10. ocleirbj says:

    In our parish, when there are two priests available, the one who isn’t saying Mass will often come out for the distribution of Holy Communion, and then leave the sanctuary after the tabernacle has been closed. Both are usually dressed the same, in the “standard” (if I can use the term) N.O. vestments. However, our pastor has recently begun fulfilling this duty in a black cassock, with a stole of the proper colour. Is this correct? NB, he always celebrates a quiet, reverent N.O. Mass, but has recently been saddled with Fr Jolly Extempore as an assistant. Could this be a new influence?

    [Cassock, surplice, and stole.]

  11. Animadversor says:

    With regard to what kbf had to say regarding the rank of diocesan vicars general, the Rev’d. John F. Sullivan wrote in 1918 in The Externals of the Catholic Church: Her Government, Ceremonies, Festivals, Sacramentals, and Devotions at pp. 16–17 the following:

    The Monsignors. This title denotes the rank of Protonotary Apostolic. These are Prelates of a lower order than Bishops. Prelates properly so called are the Pope, the Cardinals, the Patriarchs, the Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots; but the name of “Domestic Prelate” is also given to certain o?icials who have received this dignity from the Pope. They are commonly called Monsignors, and are of three grades; and the same name is given also to a fourth grade of Protonotaries who are not Domestic Prelates. The grades are as follows:
    1. Protonotaries Apostolic “de numero participantium ” (of the number of the participating), of whom there are only seven, forming a College of Notaries to the Sovereign Pontiff. 2. Protonotaries Apostolic Supernumerary—Canons of certain Roman basilicas. 3. Protonotaries Apostolic “ad instar participantium” (resembling the participating), who are either the Canons of certain cathedrals or have been raised to this dignity by the Pope. The clergy who are known as Domestic Prelates in this country belong to this third class of Protonotaries.
    4. Titular Protonotaries Apostolic, called also Honorary or “Black” Protonotaries. These are not members of the ponti?cal household, and enjoy their rank as Prelates only out side of Rome. Since 1905, Vicars General, by virtue of their office, belong to this class of Protonotaries, unless they are of a higher rank.

    Members of the ?rst three classes of Protonotaries have the right to use and wear some of the insignia of Bishops, and are addressed as “Right Reverend.” Those of the fourth class wear black, without any red or purple, and are addressed as “ Very Reverend.” Protonotaries of all grades are addressed as “Monsignor.”

    Although the above obtained only a hundred years ago, the Roman Pontiffs have provided otherwise in several respects with regard to those honorary prelates known as monsignori, and it is possible that diocesan vicars general may no longer enjoy automatically the rank formerly attributed to them.

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