A Field Guide to Identifying Catholic Clergy?

For reasons that are obvious, I’ve seen quite a few Roman Catholic of widely varying ranks in the media recently. This recent thread discussed the hierarchy, and in a thread from 2000, Bricker set out a detailed explanation of the subject. The recent thread also has a long discussion of the liturgical colors used in the vestments for masses and services on particular days and seasons.

However, when most Catholic clergy are seen in the media, they are not in liturgical vestments, but rather “everyday” clothing of varing degrees of formality. For instance, I’ve noticed American Cardinal-Archbishops wearing (1) a black robe-like garment, buttoned up the front with red trim and a red sash across the waist (sometimes with a short, black cape-like garment across the shoulders); (2) a black “clerical suit” with a black suit coat and a black tunic with roman collar underneath (perhaps with the gap in the collar apparently bigger than an ordinary priest’s); and (3) a full set of red robes, with a short, red cape-like garment across the shoulders.

Likewise, I’ve seen Catholic clergy of other ranks in varying outfits. For instance, the priest (monk?) who was advising Terri Schiavo’s parents wore a hooded robe, rather than the more usual clerical suit or black shirt with roman collar. The web searching I’ve done either discusses liturgical vestments or what various ranks are entitled to based on techincal names of the garments they can or cannot wear (without clear illustrations of those garments).

I’ve figured out that the guy dressed in white is the Pope. However, if I see a Roman Catholic clergyman on the street (or in the media), what clues in his outfit can I use to determine his rank, position and other distinctions.

A priest in the street would likely be wearing a black suit jacket, black trousers, socks, and shoes, and a black shirt with the Roman collar. This is also what a bishop and a cardinal would wear; the only difference is that a bishop also wears a pectoral cross: a cross around his neck on a heavy gold chain. Most bishops tuck the cross in the suit pocket for convenience; all you see, then, is a hint of the gold chain around their neck. “Good morning, Father,” is always appropriate at a greeting of an unknown clergyman, even if you’re speaking to an archbishop; he is first and always a priest. If you see if the pectoral cross, and realize he’s a bishop, then, “Good morning, Your Excellency,” is a fine greeting.

A priest may also go about in his cassock. The black cassock is worn by priests; a black cassock with red trim down the front is worn by a monsignor. A bishop’s cassock adds a wide purple waistband and purple trim to the basic black cassock. The bishop also may wear a purple skullcap, similar to a Jewish yarmulke, called a zucchetto.

The analgous outfit for the cardinal is red: shown here, complete with a red zuchetto.

Anglican bishops are likely to wear a purple shirt, also with Roman collar. I’m not aware of any Catholic bishops doing so, though it would be legitimate streetwear for them as well.

It’s probably worth adding that a priest or bishop leading a prayer service, funeral, etc., will probably do it in the cassock, but if celebrating Mass he’ll wear a whole different set of vestments, which may or may not be appropriate for this thread.

Is the zuchetto significant because it covers the head (the function of the Jewish yarmulke) or for another reason?

Note that in the tropics, the lower ranks may also wear white. A better indicator of liturgical rank is the aforementioned zuchetto. Only the pope wears a white skull cap. Cardinals wear red, bishops wear purple.

So the zuchetto simply signifies rank?

The abbot at the monestary that ran my high school told us all that the function of the zuchetto was so that everyone could see how to line up at parades. I suppose that’s somewhat facetious, but I think that identification of rank is the only purpose, since regular priests don’t usually wear one (or any other headcovering).

I haven’t seen any TV coverage of the Schiavo case, so haven’t seen that particular priest. But the various religious orders (not all of whose members are priests) each have their own uniform, many of which consist largely of a hooded robe of some sort. One can generally identify the order by the style of habit worn; for instance, Franciscans generally wear a brown robe of some coarse cloth, with a length of rope tied around the waist as a belt. Jesuits, Benedictines, and Augustinians all wear black, but I don’t remember how to distinguish between them.

The zuchetto and yarmulke look very similar, but they don’t share much functionality. The function of the yarmulke is, in fact, to cover the head; it’s an ancient eastern sign of respect to cover one’s head, and so Jews cover their heads during prayer - and, in some cases, always. For the observant Jew, this is not a mitzvah - a commandment - but a minhag, a custom that is so long-standing it has attained the force of halakhic law.

The western custom is to bare one’s head as a sign of respect – tipping one’s hat, for example. For this reason, although bishops and cardinals wear their zuchetto at Mass, they remove it during the Canon. The zuchetto is sometimes called a submitrale, because it’s worn under the bishop’s miter. They became common as part of ecclesiastic wear in the Middle Ages.

Behold: the compleat Guide to the vestments – both liturgical and non-liturgical – of the Roman rite.

It’s perfectly acceptable (though uncommon since Vatican II) for ordinary priests to wear a black zucchetto as part of their street wear. As well, priests are theoretically supposed to wear birettas while in choir dress, though again, this has passed in popularity since Vatican II.

The bishops are easy to spot: they’re the ones who always move diagonally.

Thanks for pointing out that site (corrected link), yBeayf. After studying it for a while, I think I understand what I am seeing. I’d appreciate it if someone actually knowledgable would tell me if I’m right.

It seems that there are four different levels of dress: Liturgical Vestments, Choir Dress, Academic Dress and everyday dress. I’m not so concerned with Liturgical Vestments or the dress of the Pope

Starting with everyday dress, the basic garment is a black cassock. For priests and below, it is all black, but bishops (including archbishops) get violet piping and buttons and cardinals get red piping and buttons. (I’ll leave out the monsignors, because I’m sort of confused by the different types).

As an alternative to a cassock, in everyday wear any level of cleric can wear a shirt/suit with roman collar. Bishops and above get to wear a pectoral cross and episcopal ring. Zuchettos may be worn as described above.

Academic Dress is the next higher level of formality. Instead of a cassock, bishops and above wear a simar, which is like the cassock but has an integrated shoulder cape. Everybody gets to wear a fascia, which is the sash across the waist, red for cardinals, violet for bishops, and black for the lower clergy. Headgear is the biretta, the squareish hat, with color appropriate to rank.

Choir Dress is the most formal. The cassock worn is now entirely the color of the wearer’s rank, red for cardinal, violet for bishop, and black for the lower clergy. Over the colored cassock, cardinals and bishops wear a white rochet, and over that a mozetta (shoulder cape) in the appropriate color. Lower clergy wear a white surplice over the cassock. The headgear is the biretta.

So, when I see the cardinals marching about all in red, they’re in choir dress. When I see them in the black cassocks with the red trim, integral shoulder capes and red sashes, they’re in academic dress. Ditto for bishops and archbishops, except they’re in violet. The men in black, they’re lowly priests, unless they’re bishops or cardinals who’ve decided to go colorless for the moment (check for the big cross in the middle).

Do I have it right?

Fixed link.

And in the thread from 2000 Billdo linked to, Bricker was just a newbie. How time flies!

in the effort to confuse you further at about 5am, there will be orthodox metropolitans attending this funeral. they typically wear white cassocks and very cool white hats. they would be the ones standing or sitting down.

when the pope was moved from one location to another you were able to spot the eastern rite clergy very quickly. the black robes and hats stand out amoungst cardinal red.

when did cardinals stop wearing the nifty huge red sombrero type hat?

Okay, Metropolitans are “Orthodox [and Eastern Rite Catholic] archbishops,” check? What about Patriarchs? Any of them showing? And how do you recognize them? (And by the way, what’s the title for the chief honcho [senior or president metropolitan] of a national church who is not a patriarch?)

Metropolitans wear black riassas (cassocks). Orthodox clergy at the rank of deacon or above wear two cassock-like garments: the undercassock/rasson/podriasnik, and the outer cassock/exorasson/riassa. The former has close-fitting sleeves, and the latter has large, bell-like sleeves. The undercassock can be any color for married clergy, while monastic clergy must wear black. The outer cassock is always black.

The monastic headgear, also worn by bishops in formal non-liturgical dress, is a kamilavka/kalimavka, which when combined with the veil in the back is called a klobuk (I forget the Greek term). It’s black for monks and bishops, black with a cross for archbishops, and white for metropolitans. The Patriarch of Moscow wears a white klobuk with a domed top, surmounted with a cross and adorned with two seraphim.

If the attending hierarchs at the funeral are wearing the Orthodox equivalent of choir dress, they will be wearing the mantiya, which is a long rectangular cape closed at the feet, with various symbols embroidered on it. Bishops and archbishops wear a purple mantiya, metropolitans wear a blue one, and patriarchs wear a green one, although any bishop can wear a purple one if they so choose. If the hierarch has a protodeacon (which most high-ranking ones do – the protodeacon is a deacon who is essentially the personal valet of a hierarch, and travels with him to assist him), that deacon’s headgear will be the same color as the bishop’s mantiya.

It varies. Some are called Archbishops, some are called Metropolitans. The head of the Church of Georgia is a Catholicos-Patriarch, which shows that church’s origins in Oriental Orthodoxy and their kinship to the Armenians and Syrians.

As far as I can tell, yep.

And what was wrong with the link? It works fine on my system(s).

One more thing…

Members of an order are often seen wearing that order’s habit. Most of the Western orders have some sort of cowl, which can be of various colors and which I know little about, alas. The Catholic Encyclopedia might be able to help you out if you really want the gory details.

there are bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs.

bishops have a city or area ie phila. and pa. they are in charge of. metros have a country or church area they are in charge of ie usa and canada. pats have a large area, ie alexandria and all of africa.

so far i’ve spotted 4 eastern rite cardinals. 2 with an antiochian style hat, 1 with a klobuk, 1 with jeweled mitre.

ortho. clergy i’ve spotted are wearing various hats and klobuks, 2 are wearing purple mantiyas, with white klobuks. it is lent in the ortho. church right now, so purple is the church colour.

Why do I have a monty pythonesque image of startled clergy darting through the woods, and some dry english voice doing a voice over identifying the different ones by their ‘protective coloration’?

In the big procession at the beginning, I saw a few more – one with a red Coptic-style cap (like this but red, and a few cardinals wearing the monastic/episcopal cowl of the Coptic and Syrian rites.