Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Note on the Costume of Prelates

Archbishop-Designate Salvatore Cordileone
of San Francisco processing through the
streets of the Bay Area--seriously,  not
making this up!

You may have noticed that I don’t post the comments that come into my blog as it isn’t my intention to hold discussions but rather to present little known aspects of history or to make commentary on current situations in the light of the Church’s previous experience.  When I do get a question or a comment that merits some attention, I do try to respond indirectly.  In my last posting, I showed a picture of François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon,  (1651-1715) Archbishop of Cambrai (1696-1715) and it included a picture of the Archbishop wearing a blue mozetta over his rochet.  I had an inquiry asking if Fénelon were a Sylvesterine Benedictine as, my correspondent (an obvious lover of arcane knowledge) reminded me, until Paul VI reformed the costume of prelates in 1969 prelates  who were Benedictines of this congregation wore blue.  But the answer is no—Archbishop Fénelon was not a religious but rather that the custom of bishops and archbishops wearing amaranth purple (actually a red tending towards the purple) is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Previously this reddish color was reserved for monsignori of the papal household.  The Gilbert Stuart portrait of John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop for the United States, has Carroll in a green mozetta.  Only those bishops and archbishops who, in addition to their responsibilities in their own dioceses, were made honorary members of the papal household wore the amaranth purple habits.  Sometimes people ask why monsignors dress like bishops when in fact historically it was bishops who began dressing like monsignors.  This reminds me of the old joke that while we don’t know when Jesus instituted the priesthood—was it the Last Supper (Do This in Memory of Me) or Easter Night (Whose Sins you Forgive are Forgiven), we do know when he instituted Monsignors.  You can find it in Matthew 6:28.  “See the lilies of the field—they neither toil nor spin; yet not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.”  In any event, in the middle of the nineteenth century it became all but universal that a man, on being made a bishop, was also automatically named an honorary prelate of the papal household and the green or blue episcopal habit disappeared in favor of the red.  The relic left behind, however, is that on his coat of arms a bishop’s (or Archbishop’s) hat is green, not red.  And the cord by which his pectoral cross is suspended is intertwined green and gold, not red and gold. 
Archbishop John Carroll, a man of
more restrained taste
Until the reforms of Paul VI, bishops (and Archbishops and Cardinals) of the monastic and mendicant orders wore choir vesture of the same design as secular prelates but of wool (not of silk) and in the traditional colors of their orders.  Thus most Benedictine prelates wore black; Franciscans grey; Dominicans  and Cistercians, white and black; Carmelites, brown and white and so on.  Prelates who were religious of the various societies and congregations (as distinguished from the “Orders”) such as Jesuits, Theatines, Oblates, etc. wore costumes of amaranth red (bishops and archbishops) or scarlet (cardinals) but of wool or broadcloth in deference to their vows of poverty rather than the silk of the secular clergy.  It made for a more colorful Church and was a bit more fun.  In 1969 however, Paul VI made drastic changes in the vesture of prelates.  He not only standardized the choir habit of all Western Rite prelates in color and design and fabric, but he abolished from papal ceremonies the cappa magna—the great cape with a train of nine yards that bishops could wear in their jurisdiction and Cardinals could wear wherever they wished.  He didn’t forbid prelates from wearing it in their own dioceses or Cardinals from wearing it outside the Diocese of Rome, but the vesture almost died out.  It has received a recent resurgence through the pomposity of such distinguished hierarchs as Raymond Burke, George Pell, Dario Castrillón-Hoyos and now Archbishop-designate Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.  Of course in San Fran Archbishop Cordileone will fit right in wearing a long train of silk.  I’m sure he won’t be alone in his penchant for lots of silk.          

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