This article describes the forms of dress of the secular clergy of the Roman Catholic Church according to current ecclesiastical law and custom.
As part of the reform following the Second Vatican Council, the Church desired to simplify clerical dress and to foster consistency of external forms by eliminating too much variation and particularity. It has been the expressed hope of the Church that "attention should be paid to what is determined by [liturgical law] and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice".
Unfortunately, this desired uniformity has not yet been realized. On the contrary, contemporary practices very often differ from what is laid down in the Church's law, and especially from the Church's legitimate custom (the "traditional practice of the Roman Rite" mentioned above). A great amount of misinformation is disseminated, both orally and in writing, so that, since the changes, some errors which have crept into the practice of clerical dress (customs of fact, which have no legal weight without approval when contrary to the law) have been solidified in the minds of a great many ecclesiastics.
Part of the reason this problem remains is that few contemporary authors have taken up the subject of clerical dress from an academic perspective. Some who have written on it have replaced legitimate law and custom with their own preferences and opinions, and, to the extent that these works are relied upon, they have only exacerbated the problem. The most notable contemporary work is Noonan's The Church Visible, which has been criticized by many for its biases, its acceptance of any and all contemporary Roman practices, and an overuse of Italian names for items of clerical dress. Noonan's work remains a popular resource, however, largely because there is virtually nothing else available.
It is the hope of the present writer that this article will not be just another presentation of an individual author's preferences and opinions, but a scholarly resource based solely upon legitimate law and custom that will be useful to individual Roman clerics, to tailors, and to others interested in this aspect of the Roman Church's visible life. The subject of clerical dress is here dealt with systematically and synthetically, by applying the prescriptions of the Church's post-conciliar law to the pre-conciliar practices and customs. While the use of many words from Italian remains necessary, the present article returns to the terminology used consistently by the earlier English-language authors. The intended result is a comprehensive exposition of the current proper forms of dress for all the secular clergy of the Roman Rite.
The simplification of clerical dress for the Roman Church following the Second Vatican Council has been promulgated in three documents, which together comprise the current body of ecclesiastical law on this question. The first is the Instruction of the Secretariat of State of 31 March 1969 Ut sive sollicite (hereafter USS), on the dress, titles, and coats-of-arms of Cardinals, Bishops, and lesser Prelates. The second is the Circular Letter of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy of 30 October 1970 Per Instructionem (hereafter PI), on the reform of choir dress, which applies the prescriptions of USS to Canons, Beneficiaries, and Pastors, and by explicit extension to all other categories of ecclesiastics. Neither of these documents sets out synthetic schemata of the forms of dress of all secular clergy of the Roman Rite, but rather they amend the pre-existing paradigms. A more systematic list of the forms of dress, relying on these two previous documents and augmenting them in part, is given in the first appendix of the new Caeremoniale Episcoporum (hereafter CE), on the dress of Prelates. However, even the last named document does not give every detail, as it presupposes the sartorial customs of the Roman Church and does not treat those ecclesiastics under the rank of Prelates and Canons.
The full Latin texts of all these documents with English translations are given in the links provided.
For the pre-conciliar paradigms amended by the above documents, and for the perduring sartorial customs of the Roman Rite concerning details about which these documents are silent, older works must be relied upon, the best of which is Nainfa's Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church.
The three Church documents and Nainfa's book are the sole sources of the prescriptive information provided below. Since the full texts of the ecclesiastical law are already given, the individual reader will be able to find for himself the source of each rule, so that this page will not need to be further cluttered with citations. He will likewise be able to distinguish, from these documents and from Nainfa's work, what is prescribed by present Church law and what is given by legitimate custom.
In addition to determining which items of vesture are allowed to which ranks of ecclesiastics, the present law gives three forms of dress for the secular clergy of the Roman Rite, as follows:
Choir dress (Latin habitus choralis) is the dress of Prelates, Chaplains of His Holiness, and Canons required for all public liturgical celebrations. It is worn when going publicly to church or leaving from it, when present for liturgies or other sacred actions and not in vestments, and in other cases as prescribed by the Ceremonial. Clergy below this rank do not have a choir dress properly so-called, but have an established dress which they wear on these same occasions.
A second form of dress is described in the documents as for "solemn occasions outside liturgical celebrations," which has colloquially been called Pian dress (Italian abito piano) because Bl. Pope Pius IX extended its use in 1870 for papal audiences and other public solemn occasions. It is used on very formal occasions, whenever gentlemen are asked to dress in white-tie or black-tie, but also on other formal occasions when Prelates are expected to appear publicly in their official capacity in circumstances and places which allow them to wear the formal dress of the Church. The wide range of circumstances when Pian dress is appropriate—including banquets, audiences, delegations, entertainments, official calls and even receptions, dinners, concerts, etc.—will be determined by the social conventions of the place. A less solemn form of Pian dress was formerly used as house attire, and although it may still be worn for daily use, it is now more usual for the following form of dress to be used instead. Strictly speaking, Pian dress is only used by Prelates and Chaplains of His Holiness, but lower ecclesiastics have an established dress which they wear on the same occasions.
A very simple form of dress is given to Prelates and Chaplains of His Holiness for common, daily use in non-formal occasions, and it consists principally of the plain black cassock of a simple priest. This dress was formerly allowed only at home, in private, but is now commonly used in place of Pian dress for daily business in places where the cassock is often worn. This form of dress makes up the habit of the secular clergy of the Roman Church, at all ranks, according to the universal law and custom. It is not formal dress, but quotidian.
In particular regions, the Church now entrusts to each Conference of Bishops the duty of establishing norms for "suitable ecclesiastical dress," which all clerics are obliged to wear. In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following particular law is in force for all secular clergy: "In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric". This establishes what is given in the universal law for choir dress as of obligation, and what is given for Pian dress and daily dress as an option at the cleric's discretion (and only his, according to the provision) in addition to the option of the black clerical suit. In other regions other particular norms are in force, and colors other than black are sometimes permitted for clerical dress. For example: in Australia, clerics are to dress so that they are "identifiable as clerics," and the diocesan Bishop is permitted to make further determinations; in Canada, clerics are to dress "so as to be identifiable as clerics"; in England and Wales, "the existing customs … are to be continued"; in Italy, a black, gray, or dark blue clerical suit is to be used in place of the cassock; etc.
No ecclesiastical law prescribes, or can prescribe, how the Roman Pontiff is to dress. The Pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, and can be bound by no merely ecclesiastical law. An outline of papal dress, therefore, would be merely descriptive, whereas everything laid out here is prescriptive.
The following dress is used by all Cardinals, whatever holy Orders they may possess, whatever their rank in the College of Cardinals, and whether they are from religious orders or the secular clergy:
The following dress is used by all Latin Rite Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops, whether residential or titular, whether they are from religious orders or the secular clergy, and also by Territorial Prelates, Territorial Abbots, Apostolic Administrators, Vicars Apostolic, Prelates Apostolic, Personal Prelates, and Personal Ordinaries even if they lack the episcopal dignity:
The following dress is used by the Auditors of the Roman Rota, the Promoter General of Justice and the Defender of the Bond in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, Protonotaries Apostolic de numero, and the Clerics of the Apostolic Camera:
For choir ceremonies priests wear over this an unpleated surplice and use the biretta. On more solemn occasions, when Pian dress is worn by Prelates and Chaplains of His Holiness, priests may wear a black wool ferraiolone.
Pontifical Legates of all categories dress as above for Bishops, whether they posses the episcopal dignity or not, except that they use purple watered-silk for their sash, ferraiolone, skullcap, and biretta.
Formerly each chapter of Canons had specific privileges of dress that often varied considerably. These are all abolished by the current ecclesiastical law and replaced with a uniform dress, however in practice many chapters have unlawfully retained their former dress. An exception is the chapters of those basilicas in Rome, such as the Papal Vatican Basilica, whose Canons retain the privilege of dressing as Protonotaries Apostolic de numero, above. All other Canons, unless they are Bishops, now wear as choir dress a black or gray wool mozzetta trimmed in purple silk (or a purple wool mozzetta trimmed in purple silk if explicitly allowed for the chapter by the diocesan Bishop) over an unpleated surplice and the (choir) cassock to which they are entitled. This choir dress is used only when they are in the cathedral/collegial church or when accompanying the Bishop. For all other forms of dress, and for the remainder of their choir dress, they wear what is proper to their rank.
A decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments dated 9 November 1989 allows rectors or priests in charge of minor basilicas to wear as choir dress in the basilica itself a black wool mozzetta trimmed in red silk over an unpleated surplice and the (choir) cassock to which they are entitled or religious habit (IV.4). For all other forms of dress, for the remainder of their choir dress, and when outside their basilica, they wear what is proper to their rank.
Clerics holding benefices dress according to their rank, except in choir dress they wear over their unpleated surplice a black or gray wool mozzetta trimmed in black silk. Benefices are now extremely rare, since the law of the Church forbids their creation and orders that they be progressively suppressed where they still exist.
Transitional deacons dress as priests, above. Permanent deacons likewise dress as priests whenever they use ecclesiastical dress, according to the provisions of their region. The universal law does not oblige them to wear clerical dress as other clerics.
Seminarians dress as priests, above, whenever they use ecclesiastical dress, which will be determined by their Ordinary or seminary. There is nothing about admission to candidacy for Orders or institution into the ministries of Lector or Acolyte that changes the status of seminarians in this regard according to the law.
Some pontifical seminaries still use distinctive house cassocks for their students.
The greca, also known to tailors by the French name douillette, is a long, black, double-breasted overcoat which is common in Rome in the winter. It may be used by ecclesiastics of any rank and over any of the above forms of dress. Many Roman Prelates have also a very light greca which they wear over their choir cassock when traveling publicly in it, so as to hide the brightly colored choir cassock from view.
While the tabarro is abolished by the current ecclesiastical law, it does allow a "suitable black cloak … to which can be added a shoulder-cape," which may be used with Pian dress or daily dress. The traditional cloak of this style is made of black broadcloth, lined in front with two wide bands of silk, finished with a cape that falls a little below the elbows, and with a velvet rolling collar. The clasp is of gold for Cardinals, silver for other Prelates, and black metal for the rest of the clergy.
In daily life all ranks of ecclesiastics may wear gloves made in the same style and used in the same circumstances as any lay gentleman. There are also official gloves formerly used to complete the costume of an ecclesiastic (Pian dress) and now seen on those seldom, very formal occasions when academic or court dress is still used (see immediately below). They are uniformly made of silk, but vary in color according to the rank of the ecclesiastic, always matching the color of his stockings. The ring is worn over this glove.
Doctoral Biretta and Ring
The elaborate academic costume worn in the United States comes from the practice of the British universities, and is not seen on the Continent. As such, it should not be surprising that the Roman Church has no tradition of using academic robes as the Anglican Communion does. At academic solemnities, Roman clergy are to wear Pian dress, although Cardinals and Bishops have a particular academic dress, described below.
There is, however, a doctoral biretta and ring which may be used by Roman clergy below the rank of Bishop who have received the doctorate in one of the sacred sciences from a pontifical university (only). The doctoral biretta is notable for having four horns instead of the usual three. Its material and color is established by the university that grants the degree. Nainfa reports that in his day the Roman universities gave a doctoral biretta in black silk, Louvain gave a biretta with a colored tuft according to the academic discipline in which the doctorate was awarded, and the Catholic University of America gave a velvet biretta with red tuft and trim to doctors of theology. The individual practices of the universities should be followed. But this biretta may never be used with choir dress; it may only be used when teaching and for academic solemnities.
The doctoral ring used to be given by the universities and is now rarely seen. In Rome it was usually a gold ring with the word "ROMA" engraved on the bezel, but other rings, even more elaborate and with gems, could also be used. The doctoral ring may be worn with daily dress or Pian dress, but not in choir dress and never during the celebration of any liturgy, even private ones.
Academic or Court Dress
A fourth form of ecclesiastic dress is not mentioned in the ecclesiastical law, either before or after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but by custom was in use in previous centuries and can be seen rarely today. It was called by older liturgists either academic dress, because of its use by Cardinals and Bishops at academic solemnities when lay graduates are in academic costume, or court dress, because of its use in the courts of sovereign princes. This dress consists of: the choir cassock, with its usual rabat, colored stockings, and shoes; sash; mozzetta; pectoral cross suspended from a chain; ferraiolone; skullcap; plush hat with cords and tassels; silk gloves; and ring. Other clerics below the rank of Bishops use Pian dress on these occasions, but always with the ferraiolone and plush hat with cords and tassels, and with the addition of silk gloves.
In addition to being the principal color for Prelates, purple is also the color of livery. It is the color used by the whole Pontifical Household, no matter their rank (and so, even the altar servers at the Papal Vatican Basilica wear purple), but it is also the color of episcopal livery. While this latter use is not seen now as frequently as it once was, it remains the legitimate custom of the Roman Rite. According to this custom, "the Master of Ceremonies of the cathedral church, the train-bearer of the Bishop, the cross-bearer of the Metropolitan, all the members of the diocesan seminary, as well as the employees of the cathedral, namely, sacristans, ushers, chanters, etc., all should wear purple cassocks".
The purple wool cassock used for episcopal livery is trimmed in purple silk, which may be of a lighter hue. It is worn with black stockings, black shoes without buckles, and the purple silk sash. Chaplains of His Holiness, simple priests, and lesser ecclesiastics use the rabat proper to their rank. Laymen of course wear their lay collar under this cassock. Prelates do not wear episcopal livery but their proper dress.
By custom the train-bearer has a form of dress particular to him. He wears a purple wool cassock trimmed in black velvet, black stockings, black shoes without buckles, and the purple silk sash. If he is a cleric or seminarian he wears a purple silk rabat, regardless of his rank. When he accompanies the Bishop in cappa magna he wears over this a black silk ferraiolone, but changes it for an unpleated surplice when the Bishop is in sacred vestments.
Dress for the Celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite
The indult for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy according to the liturgical books in force in 1962 has always been an exception of liturgical law only. Therefore, all ecclesiastics who participate in these celebrations are to use the liturgical vestments called for in those books, but use choir dress, Pian dress, and daily dress as it is laid out in the current ecclesiastical law. A reply from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in 2000 (Prot. N. 851/2000) makes clear that even for choir dress the current form is always to be used and not the form of choir dress in force in 1962. While the occasions on which choir dress is used is determined in part by the liturgical books, it is the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Clergy that determine of what choir dress consists.
 General Instruction of the Roman Missal no. 42 (trans. International Committee on English in the Liturgy, 2002). On the desire for a simplification of dress based on the principles of the Second Vatican Council, see the opening paragraphs of Ut sive sollicite.
 Code of Canon Law, can. 23-24 (trans. in Code of Canon Law Annotated, Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2004).
 James-Charles Noonan, Jr., The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church (New York: Viking, 1996).
 John Abel Nainfa, S.S., Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church: According to Roman Etiquette (Baltimore: John Murphy Company, rev. ed. 1926).
 cf. CE no. 1202.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 233-34.
 Code of Canon Law can. 284.
 Code of Canon Law Annotated p. 1791.
 Code of Canon Law Annotated pp. 1649, 1655, 1675.
 The ecclesiastical law speaks only of black, purple, and red. By custom the Cardinals' red is very brilliant (scarlet), and the red used in the trimming of lower Prelates' dress is more dull. The latter is either amaranth red, so-called by authors after the flower of that name, or crimson. Amaranth red is used in the trimming of the black dress of Prelates, crimson in the trimming of their purple dress.
 All cassocks, simars, mantellettas, and mozzettas are made of "wool or similar cloth" (USS no. 1). Formerly members of the Pontifical Household (Cardinals, monsignori, etc.) used silk for these items in the summer, which is still sometimes seen even though the ecclesiastical law clearly forbids it. A lighter woolen material, such as merino, can be used in the summer, and a heavier material, such as broadcloth, in the winter.
 The choir cassock now differs in form from the ordinary cassock in that it has cuffs of the material (i.e., silk) and color of the trimming. The ordinary cassock, referred to throughout just as "cassock," is also sometimes called a "house cassock" from the days when Pian dress was worn by Prelates at home. Since the 19th century, all secular clergy have by custom used only the French-cut Roman form of the cassock, which requires no cincture but to which an ornamental silk sash may be added. Neither the law nor legitimate custom prescribes a certain number of buttons down the front. Since the early 20th century one occasionally sees five buttons on each cuff of the ordinary cassock and simar, but the older practice is not to have them.
 The "trimming" of a cassock, simar, mantelletta, or mozzetta means its buttons, buttonholes, piping, stitching, and two small strings in the back (of the cassock and simar) designed to support the sash. The lining frequently matches this color and material (i.e., silk), but some tailors by established custom use a lining particular to their brand.
 Whenever silk is mentioned it is plain silk unless watered-silk is specifically said. It should be noted briefly that watered-silk is allowed only to Pontifical Legates, Cardinals, and the Pope, and is never lawfully used by anyone else.
 These three items are always required under the cassock or simar. It is the older Roman custom to wear stockings, traditionally made of silk, that cover the feet and legs up to the knees and worn with "knickerbockers," the stockings usually held by a garter above or below the knee (cf. Nainfa, p. 120). In the United States of America and many other countries, it is more common when wearing a black cassock or simar (even if it is trimmed in color) to wear under it long black trousers and socks of the same material and color. The ecclesiastical law stipulates that the shoes be without buckles, black, and usuales (cf. CE no. 1201), which would exclude the red border and heels formerly worn by Cardinals. By custom the shoes are of patent leather.
 The rochet is to be made "of linen or similar material" (USS no. 11, CE no. 1199), which may include lace at the shoulder-pieces and sleeves. By custom these places with lace may have a silk lining the same color as the trimming of the choir cassock worn under it. The two ribbons of silk used to tie the rochet at the neck may always be white or may be the color of the lining. The rochet may, and by custom should, be pleated.
 By custom there is a distinction between the ordinary pectoral cross, worn from the chain in ordinary daily life, and the pontifical pectoral cross, worn from the cord in choir dress and sacred vestments. Even at the beginning of the 20th century this distinction was not often observed (cf. Nainfa, p. 132). The ordinary cross should be simple, without precious stones, and the pontifical cross should be gold, adorned with precious stones, and contain the relics of martyrs. Both crosses are by custom always Latin in form, except the Archbishop of Armagh and the Patriarch of Lisbon use a pectoral cross with a double traverse. However, Greek crosses are now often worn.
 The ecclesiastical law does not define what is meant by "on very solemn feasts" (USS no. 12, CE no. 1200). Context suggests that it should be understood liturgically, not according to the formality of the occasion. In the most liberal application, therefore, it would include all Solemnities in the liturgical calendar (nos. 1-4 in the Table of Liturgical Days).
 The lining of hats is a trifling matter, to be sure, but it is regulated by Roman etiquette (cf. Nainfa p. 112). The colors given here (in parentheses) for the lining of the plush hat, biretta, and skullcap should not be seen as absolutely obligatory, and in fact many tailors prefer to use a lining proper to their own brand. It may be of any appropriate material, although for the first two it is traditionally silk, and for the last named leather (which also helped in times past to maintain the natural tonsure).
 Cardinals now generally wear only the ring they were given by the Pope at the time of their creation, but by custom, like all Bishops, they also use the pontifical ring, ornamented with a large stone and used at Pontifical Mass, and the ordinary ring, adorned with a simple gem and worn habitually. Other styles of rings are now often used besides these three that are given by the legitimate ecclesiastical law and custom.
 The simar is not so-called in the ecclesiastical documents, but English convention has come to adopt this word, from the Italian zimarra, for the garment that is described in them. It is in form like the ordinary cassock except that it has an elbow-length, unclosed cape adhering to the collar.
 By custom the chain is always gold, but now chains of other materials are frequently used.
 The ecclesiastical law does not define what is meant by "on more solemn occasions" (USS no. 7, CE no. 1203), but it must be more restrictive than the "solemn occasions" on which Pian dress is used. The ferraiolone tends to be used now whenever gentlemen are asked to dress in white-tie or black-tie. The social conventions of the place will determine when it is appropriate. It is no longer used for papal audiences.
 By custom the plush hat is made of felt or beaver fur. See above, note 19, about the lining of hats. The ornament of cords and tassels is always optional with this hat, but since the ecclesiastical law now speaks only of this ornament (cf. USS no. 9, CE no. 1203) it would seem that the use of a colored silk band is unlawful.
 The scarlet wool biretta is not spoken of in the current ecclesiastical law, but was used formerly. The law does now stipulate that Cardinals may only use the watered-silk biretta with choir dress (cf. USS no. 6, CE no. 1205, d), and since other clerics may use their biretta as a common head covering, it seems that the scarlet wool biretta may still be used in this way. The plush hat remains the formal head covering with Pian dress, though no head covering is absolutely required with Pian dress as it is with choir dress.
 For daily dress, by custom, all clerics may use any suitable hat or none at all, including the black plush hat or the biretta. But for Cardinals, as already mentioned, the watered-silk biretta may not be used.
 cf. USS nos. 31 and 33, CE no. 1206.
 The current ecclesiastical law does not indicate the material of the biretta for Bishops or lower Prelates, so that used formerly should be continued. For Bishops, this means either a biretta of purple silk (in summer) or purple wool (in winter), however now it is more common to see the silk biretta used year round.
 cf. USS no. 18, CE no. 1207.
 The current ecclesiastical law does not abolish, but is entirely silent on, the skullcap of those ecclesiastics under episcopal rank. They may use, even in choir, the skullcaps to which they were formerly entitled, but are never required to do so as Cardinals and Bishops are. They may never use the skullcap when presiding or ministering at any celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
 See above, note 28. Honorary members of the Pontifical Household use a silk biretta year round.
 The current ecclesiastical law does not abolish, but is entirely silent on, the black plush hat of those ecclesiastics under episcopal rank. They may use the cords and tassels (and lining) to which they were formerly entitled.
 The current ecclesiastical law does not explain what it means by "unpleated" surplice (cf. USS no. 19, CE no. 1208, a), but it seems to indicate that the surplice may not have the accordion-like pleats of the rochet.
 The current ecclesiastical law does not abolish, but is entirely silent on, the ferraiolone of those ecclesiastics under the rank of Prelate Superiors of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. They may use the ferraiolone to which they were formerly entitled.
 The prescriptions of USS are applied to all categories of ecclesiastics, including simple priests, by PI no. 4.
 In most places it was previously understood that the sash may only be worn by those simple priests who exercise a real jurisdiction, namely: Vicars General, Judicial, Episcopal, and Forane; Moderators of the Curia, Chancellors, Rectors of seminaries, and Pastors. Nainfa presents this as the only legitimate custom (cf. pp. 58-59), but even in his day it was not universally followed. It has become more common to see other priests, and even seminarians, use the sash, but this practice is still regarded as incorrect in some places.
 Although black wool skullcaps are sometimes seen, they seem to be abolished by PI no. 4.
 cf. USS no. 32.
 cf. PI nos. 2-3, which in 1987 was reinforced in strong words against such wide-spread contrary practice and slightly modified by a Letter Ut Eminentiae of the Congregation for Clergy (AAS 79 (1987) 603-4).
 cf. PI no. 2, CE no. 1210.
 Code of Canon Law can. 1272.
 Code of Canon Law can. 288.
 USS no. 8, CE no. 1203.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 65-66.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 213, 215-16.
 cf. Nainfa, p. 243.
 cf. Nainfa, p. 143.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 129.
 Nainfa, pp. 36-37.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 49, 59.
 cf. Nainfa, pp. 93-94.
©2007-10 Joseph L. Shetler, S.T.L.