ASK FATHER: Must the priest wear the cassock to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass

priests cassock surplice jpgFrom a reader…


Is the cassock required for a priest to wear a cassock under his vestments when celebrating the Extraordinary Form Mass?

I did not think so, and I know other priests who celebrate the 1962 Mass without it, but I was kindly told the other day it was a defect to go without it. I could not find an official determination of this question. Obviously a thorough-laced alb would look funny over anything but a cassock, but my question is about what is actually required.

I am a newly ordained priest, still figuring many things out and I appreciate your help!

First, congratulations for your ordination.  Be brave and be prudent. Ad multos annos.

The Ritus Servandus in the front part of your traditional Missale Romanum has a section entitled De Præparatione Sacerdotis celebraturi… “Concerning the preparation of the priest who is going to celebrate (Mass).    In paragraph 2 of that section we read:

Quibus ita dispositis, accedit ad paramenta, quæ non debent esse lacera, aut scissa, sed integra, et decenter munda, ac pulchra, et ab Episcopo itidem, vel alio facultatem habenti, benedicta; ubi calceatus pedibus, et indutus vestibus sibi convenientibus quarum exterior saltem talum pedis attingat, induit se, dicens ad singula singulas Orationes inferius positas.

That is…

Once these things are arranged, he goes to the vestments, which must not be ripped or torn, but undamaged and decently clean, and beautiful, and also blessed by the Bishop or by another having the faculty; whereupon, his feet being shod, and having dressed himself in appropriate attire which outwardly reaches at least to the ankle, he vests himself, saying with each (vestment) the individual prayers given below.

Latin talus means “ankle”.  One Latin term for the cassock is habitus talaris.  In Italian we say “talare” for a cassock.

So, from the Ritus Servandus we see that it is foreseen that the priest should wear the cassock for Mass.

However, I admit that I often dispense myself from the cassock when it is hot.  In that case, I always use a plain alb with no lace.  Even when I do have the cassock on, I usually wear a plain alb unless it is a feast, but that’s another matter.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    But to continue the discussion (good naturedly, of course), trousers “reach[] … to the ankle.” So why would they be excluded by the instruction?

    Shorts? Yes. Tunics? Yes. But a garment that outwardly reaches to the ankle . . . sounds like trousers.

  2. Andrew1054 says:

    I am not trying to be a smarty pants (pun intended) but wouldn’t black dress pants fulfill the requirement of wearing appropriate attire that at least reaches to the ankle? It would seem that what matters is the alb and amicr which covers the priest’s “street wear”. Or am I wrong?

    [Okay… that works for me. However, we also have to consider the clothing at the time the directions were written – I assume at the time of the 1570 edition. Take a look at paintings by Giovanni Battista Moroni to get a feel of the fashions in force in the 16th c. However, are we originalists? Given the principle of interpretation of law “odiosa restringenda et favoribilia amplianda”, I’m also good with trousers, though there were no such things in 1570. Frankly, I am pretty sure that the rubric does intend the cassock.]

  3. Fr. Kelly says:

    Andrew 1054
    “what matters is the alb and amicr which covers the priest’s “street wear”. Or am I wrong?”
    With respect to the law, you are not wrong (apart from the spelling of amice ;-))

    It seems that the expectation would be that the priest wear the _vestem talaris_ (cassock), [ummm… vestis talaris or vestem talarem] but the law says he is to be dressed in _vestibus convenientibus_ which extend to the ankle — (so no shorts.) Incdientally, it mentions _calceatus pedibus_ so sandals are out too. [Calceatus, “shod” can include sandals, which I am sure is a relief to some Franciscans who say the traditional Roman Rite.]

    In short, there really is no doubt that a well fitting cassock is appropriate attire, but black dress pants might be appropriate too.

  4. Unwilling says:

    I don’t doubt the expectation would now be closed-toe dress shoes. But Latin calceus is a broad enough term to include open or closed or even nowadays sandals, even a horse-shoe can be calceus. See

  5. The rubrics of the Dominican Rite Missal also prescribe that the (white parts) of the habit be worn when saying Mass. And it is specifically noted that the capuce is not to be removed—although lots of priests did that in the old days. But, when traveling for Mass supply in the old days, Dominicans did not take the habit with them, but simply wore a black suit and put the alb over it. They did, however, wear the amice on their head—otherwise they could not have been able follow the rubrics about lowering and raising it.

    Good to note, as Fr. Kelly does, that the celebrant wears black shoes. Among discalced orders they used to keep a box of shoes in various sizes in the sacristy, which were used to replace the sandals when a priest was celebrating. Of course, Dominicans are not discalced. In fact until the 1970s, we were strictly forbidden to wear anything with the habit other than black leather shoes—something always observe.

    [Interesting about the shoes! Thanks for that.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. Peter in Canberra says:

    I wonder what pre-V2 history tells us. Obviously in Rome the cassock was the ‘street clothes’. But in other countries, for a variety of reasons, the cassock was not the daily street wear (as is my understanding for Australia). I will have to ask my father if when he served (in the 40s) if the priest wore a cassock for the celebration of Mass in any case (of course back then Mass would always have been in the (cool of the) morning).

    [Even in countries where the cassock was not the street dress of the priest, it was still the priest’s proper dress in church for sacred liturgical worship.]

  7. Poor Yorek says:

    Lace or no, a simple linen alb drapes best (as per intention) over the sturdier and fuller-cut (and “darted”) cassock. The so-called cassock-alb is/was an attempt (cough) to have a alb designed & implemented so as to provide the same drape and shape in one garment that could be worn over trousers (socks & shoes unless one is discalced).

    In my opinion, a linen alb, even one lacking lace, simply doesn’t present the right “lines” or shape unless worn over a cassock. But what do I know? I don’t wear shorts and flops (or a green golf shirt) to Sunday Mass, so I’m clearly uptight and reactionary.

    [This post isn’t really about the alb.]

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I think the reference here is Scriptural. Priests in OT times wore a special robe that went down to the ankle, when they were serving in the Temple. It was particularly important not to expose your hunkers to the altar of God, because somebody could get smote by God for it; so they wore linen breeches too. (Exodus 28:42-43)

    Furthermore, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is shown in the first chapter or so as wearing a priestly garment “down to the ankle” (Rev. 1:13) while doing priestly stuff in the heavenly Temple. So it’s not just an OT thing.

  9. Joy65 says:

    It looks very nice when a priest wears a cassock. I appreciate that they appreciate the more formal clerical clothes.

  10. wolfeken says:

    Regarding hot weather, it can be argued that the cassock is actually a cooler option, as trousers are not traditionally worn under it.

    Sorry if that is TMI for anyone!

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    I think that even prior to the Second Vatican Council that allowance was made for practical reasons. For example, St. John Neumann, after his ordination, was posted to the then mission territory of western New York State. His area required him to ride circuit to bring the Sacraments to his parishioners. Under the circumstances I cannot believe that he included a cassock in his saddle bag.

  12. TonyO says:

    I’m also good with trousers, though there were no such things in 1570.

    Fr Z, there are multiple sources that suggest otherwise: [Okay. I exaggerated. Of course there were variations of pants before the 16th c. However, that has little do with this discussion.]

    In the Roman world, the toga was the typical wrap garment for men on formal occasions. Casual wear consisted of a tunic. Earlier members of the military didn’t wear trousers, seeing them as effeminate like their Greek predecessors – however, the combination of being defeated by the trouser wearing Teutons, continued northern exploration, and increased usage of cavalry. The spread of the Romans also helped in spreading trousers throughout much of the area where they conquered. Many of these areas were at that point still wearing the separate leggings with a tunic and mantle – normally made of heavy wool.[6]…

    After pants were accepted by the Romans they became a more standard mode of dress across the Western world.

  13. Andrew1054 says:

    I agree with you Father. I also prefer the cassock. Before I became Catholic, my Anglican priest always wore one. I always thought he always looked dignified in it. It’s odd that wearing a cassock in some Catholic circles has become so controversial. In one nearby diocese it’s grounds for getting booted out of the seminary. Sad.

  14. Andrew1054 says:

    Thanks Father and yes I noticed the typo on “amice”. Sadly iPhones and big fingers don’t always go together. ;)

    I once was at a Mass in a friary chapel where the Franciscan priest celebrated Mass barefoot. I guess according to the rubrics Fr. Z posted this wasn’t kosher. Nevertheless this Franciscan was very orthodox, always wore his habit, had a huge beard and said Mass with such reverence his bare feet didn’t seem odd but more like he had removed his shoes because he knew he was on holy ground. He really is a true Franciscan. He didn’t do it in the parish, just in the friary. He says only the ordinary form. I wonder if the Novus Ordo has any stipulations on what to wear.

  15. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Is there any information on how the Latin Mass may have been celebrated by chaplains in war zones and foxholes?

  16. Fr. Z,

    Thanks for the star (totally unmerited). I should have mentioned that my source for the shoe box is my father, who served Mass almost every day at the Capuchin Monastery of the Sacred Heart in Yonkers NY in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I have also heard about the shoe box many times from (now very very) old “discalced” order priests.

    My father commented that most of the friars wore socks with their sandals, but he thought it a tribute to their obedience to take when those with bare feet put on shoes worn by so many other priests . . .

  17. Pingback: THVRSDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

  18. Fr. Kelly says:

    Fr. Z.
    I humbly accept your correction on the agreement of cse for the vestis talaris, but with regard to calceatus, IK have to point out that although the dictionary meaning id, as you said, “shod”, [Thanks for making my point for me.] at least according to the discalced Carmelites, the wearing of sandals does not constitute being shod.
    In all the habit-wearing Carmelite houses I have visited, the O Carms wear shoes and the OCDs wear sandals

    There is a legend from the early days of the OCD reform that sisters would look at the feet of the confessor when he arrived to see if he was wearing shoes or not.

  19. Latinmass1983 says:

    According to Roman practice/law, the cassock is required for Mass — most “approved authors” mention that in their descriptions/explanations of the preparation and vesting for Mass. Many of them cite *Canon 811 n.1* as support of it (the Popes always wore the Cassock for Mass — it is my impression that it is very likely that they kept the fascia on for Mass as well, but that’s a slightly different matter).

    The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore mentions the wearing of the cassock, too, for liturgical functions — it says the cassock is the attire “proper to the clergy” (and refers to it as the “habitus clericalis”). For traveling, relaxation, etc., it allows for civil attire that is “shorter” (to the knees), but it still requires that it be black in color (for regular priests).

    [The fact that priests began to ride bicycles, eventually, led to some “relaxation” or modifications to the “civil” attire as well, but that has nothing to do with Mass … well, except that one time over a year ago when the Archbishop of Palermo entered the Sanctuary to celebrate Mass riding a bicycle! Anyway, we can be sure that he was not wearing a cassock]

    Historically, given that the “vestis talaris” has different colors and shapes depending on countries and cultures (also seen by the different types and colors of cassocks and sashes worn by seminarians from different nations in Rome), the Church tended to regulate it only with the aim to avoid scandalizing others (it could not be too fancy [silk or some other precious fabric], it could not be too colorful, and it had to be different from what the laity wore, etc.).

    In “Le Sacre Ceremonie” (by the Papal MC, Giovanni Battista Menghini, book later updated by the unforgettable Papal MC of more recent memory Monsignor Enrico Dante), it is stated that it does not really matter what color the cassock of the altar servers in a given church is, as long as they all use the cassocks of the same color, and the variety of colors of the cassocks of seminarians in Rome is given as an example of the Church’s tolerance. Nevertheless, the priests do not enjoy such liberty in the color of their cassock, given that clerical and prelatical attire is governed by very strict ecclesiastical/ceremonial law. While the Roman Congregation in charge of regulating and enforcing the proper attire for clerics would insist that priest should wear the cassock to celebrate Mass and would encourage the bishops to insist on it as well, whenever the bishops wrote to them asking what to do with those who did not obey that law, the Congregation(s) would simply respond: “proceed with moderation,” or something like that.

    According to the “Dissertatio a Rev. P. Elia Maria Coccia Ordinis Carmelitarum” from November 14, 1900, the oldest (more ancient) color for the cassock was purple, and black was introduced much later on by the monks of the Benedictine Order (whom some writers referred to as “nigrorum Ordo”) and they made the use of black for the cassock much more common till it became the regular practice for clerics. The same Fr. Elia Maria says that that is why the Papal Household/Prelates (of which Monsignors were a part … are they still under this pontificate?) preserved the color purple — because it was/is the more ancient custom. Finally, this same author of the dissertation refers to the cassock as the “liturgico-civilis” attire, given that the cassock was also expected to be worn as the “street attire” in Catholic countries not under persecution. No mention is ever made of the severity of the weather, except for the use of white for the cassock in hot climates and where black is somehow offensive (like in India).

    Regarding trousers, they would hardly be considered “liturgico-civilis” … although, the black ones worn by the humbly reigning Supreme Pontiff have given much room for discussion lately.

  20. Fr. Kelly says:

    “According to Roman practice/law, the cassock is required for Mass — most “approved authors” mention that in their descriptions/explanations of the preparation and vesting for Mass. Many of them cite *Canon 811 n.1* as support of it.”

    In the current Code of Canon Law Canon 811 n.1 says:
    Can. 811 — § 1. Curet auctoritas ecclesiastica competens ut in universitatibus catholicis erigatur facultas aut institutum aut saltem cathedra theologiae, in qua lectiones laicis quoque studentibus tradantur.

    This speaks of Catholic Universities offering classes to laity. It says nothing about the cassock.

    The appropriate legislation is to be found in the Missal and was quoted by Fr. Z above.

  21. Uxixu says:

    Third Plenary Council of Baltimore REQUIRED the cassock at church and home:

    “All observe the law of the Church, and that at home or in the church they shall always wear the cassock, which is proper to the clergy.”

    It allowed other dress for travel:

    ” When they go out for duty or relaxation or on a journey, they may use a shorter dress, which is to be black in color, and which reaches to the knees, so as to distinguish it from the dress of the laity. They should reject the more elegant and worldly styles of garments, which are found today. We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept that, both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they shall wear the Roman collar.”

    De Vita et Honestate Clericorum (Caput VIII), 77. In Acta et Decreta Concilii Plenarii Baltimorensis Tertii, [1884] (Baltimorae: Typis Joannis Murphy Sociorum, 1886), p. 41. “. . . omnes Ecclesiae legem servent, domique agentes vel in templo veste talari, quae clerico propria est, semper utantur. Cum foras prodeunt muneris vel animi recreandi causa vel in itinere, breviori quadam veste indui licet, quae tamen nigri coloris sit et ad genua producatur, ita ut a laicis distingui possint. Elegantiores vestium formas et mundanas quae novae in dies inveniuntur respuant. Stricto praecepto sacerdotibus nostris injungimus, ut tam domi quam foris, sive in propria dioecesi degant sive extra eam, collare quod romanum vocatur gerant .”

  22. Latinmass1983 says:

    Fr. Kelly,

    I forgot to specify that citation was referring to the *older* Code of Canon Law [1917] … because that was the one in place when all those books on the Liturgy were written.

    Since the post is about the celebration of the traditional Mass, it does help to cite the older Code of Canon Law, even though it has been replaced … we can be sure that the compilers and promulgators of the new Code did not have the celebration of the traditional Mass in mind .

  23. Fr. Kelly says:

    I figured that you meant the 1917 code, but sought to help you to the point.
    The question asked was whether it is now against Church law to celebrate the older form without a cassock. The liturgical books in place in 1962 are governed by their own special liturgical law, and so the Ritus Servandus does still hold force with regard to celebrations of Mass according to the forma antiquior.
    What is true of Liturgical Law is not, however, true of Canon Law. The 1917 Code was abrogated with the promulgation of the 1983 Code, and its individual canons lose force as long as the matters they address are treated by the later law — even if in less detail.
    Accordingly Canon 811 n.1 of the 1917 code may be of interest historically, but it is not helpful in trying to answer the question of what the law allows in 2017. For that we need the 1983 code and the 1962 liturgical books.

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