Cassock: Wikis


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Roman Catholic clergy of various ranks (cardinal, bishop, priests) in cassocks.

The cassock, an item of clerical clothing, is an ankle-length robe worn by clerics of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church and some clerics of the Reformed churches. Ankle-length dress is the meaning of the corresponding Latin term, vestis talaris. In Western Christianity the cassock is generally close-fitting, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church the outer cassok is quite loose.

The cassock derives historically from the tunic that in ancient Rome was worn underneath the toga and the chiton that was worn beneath the himation in ancient Greece.

The word "cassock" comes from Middle French "casaque", meaning a long coat. In turn, the old French word may come ultimately from Turkish "quzzak" (nomad, adventurer - the source of the word "Cossack"), an allusion to their typical riding coat, or from Persian "kazhāgand" (padded garment) - "kazh" (raw silk) + "āgand" (stuffed).[1]

In Ireland and in several other English-speaking countries, it is also known by the French-derived word soutane.

Although the cassock was formerly the universal everyday clothing of the clergy, except in English-speaking countries, it has largely been abandoned in the West many in favour of a conventional clerical suit, generally black.


Western practice


Roman Catholic

A Roman Catholic priest from Belgian Congo wearing the Roman cassock.
Note the 33 buttons, symbolizing the 33 years of the earthly life of Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wearing the white cassock approved by indult for tropical regions, which for a cardinal is trimmed in scarlet.

The cassock (or soutane) comes in a number of styles or cuts, though no particular symbolism attaches to these. A Roman cassock often has a series of buttons down the front – sometimes thirty-three (symbolic of the years of the life of Jesus). In some English-speaking countries these buttons may be merely ornamental, with a concealed fly-front buttoning, known as a Chesterfield front, used to fasten the garment. A French cassock also has buttons sewn to the sleeves after the manner of a suit, and a slightly broader skirt. An Ambrosian cassock has a series of only five buttons under the neck, with a sash on the waist. A Jesuit cassock, in lieu of buttons, has a fly fastened with hooks at the collar and is bound at the waist with a black cincture knotted on the right side.

The ordinary Roman cassock worn by Catholic clerics is black except in tropical countries, where it is white. Coloured piping and buttons are added to the specific cassock of chaplains of His Holiness (purple), bishops, protonotaries apostolic and honorary prelates (amaranth red), and cardinals (scarlet).[2]

The 1969 Instruction on the dress of prelates stated that for all of them, even cardinals, the dress for ordinary use may be a simple black cassock without coloured trim.[3]

A band cincture or sash, known also as a fascia, may be worn with the cassock. The Instruction on the dress of prelates specifies that the two ends that hang down by the side have silk fringes.[4] The black faille fascia is worn by priests, deacons, and major seminarians, while the purple faille fascia is used by bishops, protonotaries apostolic, honorary prelates, and chaplains of His Holiness, when wearing a cassock with coloured trim. The black watered-silk fascia is permitted for priests who are attached to the papal household, the purple watered-silk fascia is permitted for bishops attached to the papal household (for example, Apostolic Nuncios), and the scarlet-watered silk fascia is for cardinals. The Pope wears a white watered-silk fascia, with his coat of arms on the ends.

In choir dress, chaplains of His Holiness wear their purple-trimmed cassocks with a cotta, but bishops, protonotaries apostolic, and honorary prelates use (with a cotta or, in the case of bishops, a rochet and mozzetta) cassocks that are fully purple (this purple corresponds more closely with a Roman purple and is approximated as fuchsia) with amaranth trim, while those of cardinals are fully scarlet with scarlet trim. Cardinals have the additional distinction of having both choir cassock sleeves and the fascia made of scarlet watered-silk . The cut of the choir cassock is still a Roman-cut or French-cut Roman cassock.

In the past, the cardinal's entire choir cassock was made of scarlet silk moiré along with a train as well (some twenty-six inches which was later abolished by Pauline Motu Proprio in 1969)..

The general rule of the Roman Catholic Church is that the elbow-length shoulder cape, open at the front, worn with the cassock is permitted only for bishops and cardinals. But at the time of the restoration of the hierarchy in England and Ireland, Pope Pius IX was understood to grant this privilege to all priests in these countries. Since then, the wearing of the elbow-length shoulder cape with the cassock has been a sign of a Catholic priest in England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The cassock of a bishop or cardinal with this shoulder cape is also called a simar.

In cold weather, the manto, an ankle-length cape with or without shoulder cape, or the greca, also known as the douillette, an ankle-length double-breasted overcoat, is traditionally worn over the cassock. For bishops and priests both the manto and greca are solid black in color, while for the pope the manto is red and the greca is white.

Cassocks are sometimes worn by seminarians studying for the priesthood, by religious brothers, by lay people when they are assisting with the liturgy in church, such as altar servers, and by members of choirs (frequently with cotta or, more usually in Anglican churches, surplice).


A priest wearing a single-breasted Anglican cassock.

An Anglican cassock is often double breasted (then more correctly called a "sarum"), fastening at the shoulders on the opposing side of the breast and at the waist with one concealed button. The Sarum usually has a single small stem-button sewn at centre front about 12-15cms/4 1/2-6" below the centre front neck line - forming a triangle with the two shoulder buttons. The single-breasted cassock worn by Anglicans sometimes has thirty-nine buttons rather than the Roman complement of thirty three. This is often said to signify the Thirty-Nine Articles, but may have developed from an older fashion.

In Anglican churches, a black cassock is the norm, but other colors and variations are common. Canons often choose to wear a black cassock with red piping, and, likewise, deans and archdeacons, black cassock with purple piping. Bishops traditionally wear purple cassocks. However, some bishops, particularly Rowan Williams, have recently chosen regularly to wear black cassocks. This is perhaps due to closer ties with Eastern Orthodox churches and a desire to emphasise simplicity and humility over rank. Scarlet cassocks are properly worn only by Chaplains to the Queen and by members of Royal foundations such as Westminster Abbey and some Cambridge college chapels.

Cassocks are sometimes also worn by readers, altar servers and choir members: readers and altar servers usually wear black cassocks, but those worn by choirs are sometimes coloured. Cassocks for the choir, servers and readers usually varies from the clergy version in that the cut of the robe is "raglan" as apposed to "set-in" sleeves and the centre front buttons are not concealed (known as a Chesterfield Front) as is the case with clergy cassocks.

Presbyterian (Non-comformist, Scottish, Church of Scotland) practice

In Scotland, it is not uncommon to see full-length cassocks worn in the blue of the Flag of Scotland, which is also tied to the academic dress of the University of St. Andrews (close to azure. Over this is typically worn a preaching gown or the academic gown of the minister. During the Edwardian and Victorian era, it was common to see a shortened, double-breasted black silk cassock worn under the gown. It generally reached to the knees and was tied with a simple cincture. The American Geneva Gown is often supplied with a cuff sewn into the double-bell sleeve. This innovation is a remnant of the cassock sleeve that was formerly worn underneath.

Eastern practice (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic)

A Greek Orthodox clergyman wearing outer cassock (exorason) and kamilavka
Russian Orthodox clergy near Ein Karem, Jerusalem. Each is wearing a podryasnik and cassock vest. The hieromonk (right) is wearing skoufos and pectoral cross.
Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (in red cassock) and a priest (in black).

In Eastern Christianity there are two types of cassock: the Inner Cassock and the Outer Cassock or Rason. Monastics always wear a black cassock. There is no rule about coloration for non-monastic clergy, but black is the most common. Blue or grey are also seen frequently, while white is sometimes worn for Pascha.

  • The inner cassock (more often simply cassock) is an ankle length garment worn by all major and minor clergy, monastics, and often by male seminarians. The Russian version, called a podryasnik (Russian: подрясник), is double-breasted, closely fitted through the torso and flaring out to the skirt, with a high collar buttoned off-center, and may be cinctured with either a leather or wide cloth belt. [1] The Greek version, called an anteri or rason, is somewhat fuller, gathered at the waist with a narrow cloth belt, and with a high collar buttoned in the front.[2] The inner cassock is usually worn by all clergy members under their liturgical vestments.
  • The outer cassock also called a ryasa or riassa (Russian: ряса), or exorason (Greek εξώρασον or simply ράσον) is a voluminous garment worn over the inner cassock by bishops, priests, deacons, and monastics [3] as their regular outer wear. It is not worn by seminarians, readers or subdeacons in the Russian tradition. In the Greek tradition, however, chanters may wear it in church, usually with no inner cassock beneath but directly over secular clothing. The outer cassock should be worn by a priest celebrating a service such as Vespers where the rubrics call for him to be less than fully vested, but it is not worn by any clergy beneath the sticharion. It may be worn with the bottoms of the sleeves turned back, which are sometimes faced in a contrasting color. The Greek version tends to be somewhat lighter weight and more fully cut than the Russian. It is originally a monastic garment, and in the Russian tradition a man must be explicitly blessed by the bishop to wear it following his ordination to the diaconate.
  • A cassock vest is sometimes worn over the inner cassock in cooler weather. This is a closely fitted collarless vest with patch pockets, usually falling slightly below the waist [4].
  • A cassock coat may be worn on very cold days, with the same cut as the outer cassock but slightly larger and of heavier material. It may or may not have a fur-lined collar [5]. The coat is worn over the outer cassock, although many clerics may wear it in lieu of a coat on colder days.

Non-clerical sixteenth century jacket

A cassock is also a loose-fitting, pullover, hip-length jacket worn by ordinary soldiers in the sixteenth century. A cassock has attached sleeves and is open down the sides, similar to a mandilion.

Cassocks in popular secular culture

In the movies The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the protagonist Neo is portrayed as wearing a single-breasted cassock while in the Matrix.

In the Wizard of 4th Street series of science fiction novels by Simon Hawke, the cassock is described as the professional garment of warlocks, a low-grade classification of magic-user.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CASSOCK (Fr. casaque, a military cloak), a long-sleeved, closefitting robe worn by the clergy and others engaged in ecclesiastical functions. The name was originally specially applied to the dress worn by soldiers and horsemen, and later to the long garment worn in civil life by both men and women. As an ecclesiastical term the word "cassock" came into use somewhat late (as a translation of the old names of subtanea, vestis talaris, toga talaris, or tunica talaris), being mentioned in canon 74 of 1604; and it is in this sense alone that it now survives. The origin of the word has been the subject of much speculation. It is derived through the French from the Italian casacca, which Florio (Q. Anna's New World of Words, 1611) translates as "a frock, a horseman's cote, a long cote; also a habitation or dwelling," and it is usually held that this in turn is derived from casa, a house (cf. the derivation of "chasuble," q.v.). This, however, though possible is uncertain. A Slav origin for the word has been suggested (Hatzfeld and Darmesteter, Dic. gen. de la langue franraise), and the Cossack horseman may have given to the West both the garment and the name. Or again, it may be derived from casequin (Ital. casecchino), rather than vice versa, and this in turn from an Arabic kazayand (Pers. kashayand), a padded jerkin; the word kasagdn occurring in Mid. High Ger. for a riding-cloak, and gasygan in O. Fr. for a padded jerkin (Lagarde in Gott. gelehrte Anzeiger, April 15, 1887, p. 238).

The cassock, though part of the canonical costume of the clergy, is not a liturgical vestment. It was originally the outof -doors and domestic dress of lay-people as well as clergy, and its survival among the latter when the secular fashions had changed is merely the outcome of ecclesiastical conservatism. In mild weather it was the outer garment; in cold weather it was worn under the tabard or chimere; sometimes in the middle ages the name "chimere" was giveh to it as well as to the sleeveless upper robe. In winter the cassock was often lined with furs varying in costliness with the rank of the wearer, and its colour also varied in the middle ages with his ecclesiastical or academic status. In the Roman Catholic Church the subtanea (Fr. soutane, Ital. sottana) must be worn by the clergy whenever they appear, both in ordinary life (except in Protestant countries) and under their vestments in church. It varies in colour with the wearer's rank: white for the pope, red (or black edged with red) for cardinals, purple for bishops, black for the lesser ranks; members of religious orders, however, whatever their rank, wear the colour of their religious habit. In the Church of England the cassock, which with the gown is prescribed by the above-mentioned canon of 1604 as the canonical dress of the clergy, has been continuously, though not universally, worn by the clergy since the Reformation. It has long ceased, however, to be their every-day walking dress and is now usually only worn in church, at home, or more rarely by clergy within the precincts of their own parishes. The custom of wearing the cassock under the vestments is traceable in England to about the year 1400.

The old form of English cassock was a double-breasted robe fastened at the shoulder and probably girdled. The continental, single-breasted cassock, with a long row of small buttons from neck to hem, is said to have been first introduced into England by Bishop Harris of Llandaff (1729-1738). The shortened form of cassock which survives in the bishop's "apron" was formerly widely used also by the continental clergy. Its use was forbidden in Roman Catholic countries by Pope Pius IX., but it is still worn by Roman Catholic dignitaries as part of their out-of-door dress in certain Protestant countries.

See the Report of the sub-committee of Convocation on the Ornaments of the Church and its Ministers (London, 1908), and authorities there cited.

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