Catholic Leaders and Their Fancy Clothes


Does anyone (besides Catholics) ever wonder why Catholic leaders wear such elaborate garments?

Cardinals parade around in their scarlet choir dresses (often with added red cassock, white rochet trimmed with lace (worn over cassock), scarlet mozetta (short elbow-length cape) and scarlet biretta (square cap with three or four peaks or horns).

Bishops are also seen in the choir dress, but often with a purple cassock. They may also wear a purple zuchetto (skullcap). When presiding over liturgical functions, the mitre (a tall folding cap, consisting of two similar parts, front and back, and rising to a peak), along with a stole (a band of colored cloth) may be included, as well as the cope (a long mantle or cloak). Sometimes they carry the crosier (stylized staff).

And there’s more …

Catholic clergy may also be adorned with the amice, alb, camauro, cappa, cappa magna, cincture, chasuble, chimere, dalmatic, farraiolo, humeral veil, maniple, and surplice (see this website for detailed explanations, if interested).

The Pope wears many of the same garments as the other priesthood, but exclusive to him are the Ring of the Fisherman, which is a gold ring decorated with a depiction of St. Peter in a boat casting his net with the name of the reigning Pope around it. (Obviously, the ring is destroyed once the reigning Pope leaves office.) He also carries the Papal Cross (staff topped with a crucifix) rather than the crozier. The Pope alone wears a special type of pallium (different from the one worn by lesser clergymen, his is a thin band of white wool worn around the neck with black crosses on it) and a fanon (similar to a shawl with alternating silver and gold stripes). He even has special clothing when he’s “lounging at home,” which consists of a white simar (cassock with shoulder cape attached) girded with the fringed white fascia (a sash, often with the papal coat of arms embroidered on it), the pectoral cross (usually platinum, gold or silver, sometimes with precious or semi-precious gems) suspended from a gold cord, red papal shoes (usually made by a special cobbler), and a white zuchetto.

(Even the choir and altar boys wear special clothing!)

Obviously, no one knows what Jesus wore, but it would seem safe to say he did not wear the number and style of garments described above. So why does the Catholic Church feel it’s necessary for their leaders to array themselves in such lavish attire? Does it make them more “holy” to dress this way? It would seem so according to the above-referenced website where it says: “Vestments are a sacramental (sic). That means they are set apart and blessed by the Church … to increase devotion in those who see and those who use them.”

Some would say such apparel is prescribed by God in the Bible (Exodus 28), but the clothing described therein is for the Jewish priests. Since the Catholic clergy claim to be representatives of Christ (who never claimed to be a rabbi or any other dignitary in the Jewish faith), from whence does their dress code spring?

Personally, I feel such exhibitionism discredits the humble man who walked the dusty roads of Palestine. But then, I’m not a Catholic.

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