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The cassock, an item of Christian clerical clothing, is an ankle-length robe worn by clerics of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, some of the Oriental Orthodox churches and ministers and ordained officers of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. "Ankle-length garment" is the literal meaning of the corresponding Latin term, vestis talaris. In the Western Christian tradition the cassock is generally close-fitting, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches the outer cassock is quite loose.
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 کژاغند "kazhāgand" (padded garment) - کژ "kazh" (raw silk) + آغند "āgand" (stuffed).
In Ireland and in several other English-speaking countries, it is also known by the French-derived word soutane.
In the West, the cassock is little used today except for religious services; but in many countries it was the normal everyday wear of the clergy until the second half of the 20th century, when it was replaced even in those countries by a conventional suit, distinguished from lay dress by being generally black and by incorporating a clerical collar.
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 because of the heat it is white and usually without shoulder cape. Coloured piping and buttons are added in accordance with rank: purple for chaplains of His Holiness; amaranth red for bishops, protonotaries apostolic and Honorary Prelates; and scarlet red for cardinals.
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.
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, abolishing the sash with tassels. A black faille fascia is worn by priests, deacons, and major seminarians, while a purple faille fascia is used by bishops, protonotaries apostolic, honorary prelates, and chaplains of His Holiness, when wearing a cassock with coloured trim. A black watered-silk fascia is permitted for priests attached to the papal household, a purple watered-silk fascia for bishops attached to the papal household (for example, Apostolic Nuncios), and a scarlet watered-silk fascia 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 black 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 scarlet 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, a cardinal's cassock was made entirely of watered silk, with a train that could be fastened at the back of the cassock. This train was abolished by the motu proprio Valde solliciti of Pope Pius XII with effect from 1 January 1953. With the same motu proprio, the Pope ordered that the violet cassock (then used in penitential periods and in mourning) be made of wool, not silk, and in February 1965, under Pope Paul VI, a circular of the Sacred Ceremonial Congregation abolished the use of watered silk also for the red cassock.
An elbow-length shoulder cape, open in front, is sometimes worn with the cassock, either fixed to it or detachable. It is known as a pellegrina. It is distinct from the mozzetta, which is buttoned in front and is worn over a rochet.
The general rule of the Roman Catholic Church is that the pellegrina may be worn with the cassock by cardinals and bishops. In 1850, the year in which he restored the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales, Pope Pius IX was understood to grant to all priests there the privilege of wearing a replica in black of his own white caped cassock. Since then, the wearing of the pellegrina shoulder cape with the cassock has been a sign of a Catholic priest in England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
In his 1909 book, Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church, John Abel Felix Prosper Nainfa proposed the use of the English word "simar", instead of the word "cassock", for the garment with shoulder cape, which he treated as distinct from the cassock proper. Others too have made the same distinction between the "simar" (with pellegrina) and the "cassock" (without), but the documents of the Holy See do not make this distinction, and use the term "cassock" or "vestis talaris" whether a pellegrina is attached or is not. Thus the 1969 Instruction states that, for cardinals and bishops, "the elbow-length cape, trimmed in the same manner as this cassock, may be worn over it". "Cassock", rather than "simar" is the term that is usually applied to the dress of Popes and other Catholic ecclesiastics. The Instruction also gives no support to Nainfa's claim that the cassock with shoulder cape should not be worn in church services.
Nainfa wrote that at that time the garment with shoulder cape was in Italian called a zimarra, a term, however, that in that language is today used rather of a historical loose-fitting overgown, quite unlike the close-fitting cassock with shoulder cape worn by Catholic clergy, and similar to the fur-lined Schaube that was used in northern Europe. Images of the historical zimarra as worn by women can be seen at Dressing the Italian Way and The Italian Showcase.
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 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).
Apostolic and Honorary
Prelates, but without
of His Holiness
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 12–15 cm / 4½–6" below the centre-front neck line which is used to secure the academic hood, worn for Choir Dress. 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, though it 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 deans and archdeacons, likewise, a black cassock with purple piping. Bishops have often worn purple cassocks since the 19th century, though historically all ranks of clergy wore black cassocks; more recently, some bishops, particularly Rowan Williams, have reverted to wearing black cassocks, perhaps on account of closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church as well as 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 usually coloured. Cassocks for the choir, servers and readers usually vary from the clergy version: the cut of the robe is “raglan” as opposed to “set-in” sleeves, and the centre-front buttons are not, as is the case with clergy cassocks, concealed in what is known as a Chesterfield front.
(cassock colour may vary)
In Scotland, and Presbyterian Churches which trace their heritage back to the Scottish Church, they typically utilize the Anglican style of cassock. In addition, 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. As is the custom within the Church of England, ministers of the Church of Scotland who are chaplains to the Royal family also wear a scarlet cassock. 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. However with the liturgical movement of the 20th century, the classic cassock came back into fashion.
Presbyterians in Canada tend to follow the custom of the Church of Scotland, whereas Presbyterians in the United States typically wear an American Geneva gown over a sleeveless cassock or a non-cuffed gown over a Anglican or Roman style cassock.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).
As is the practice in the Anglican churches, cassocks may be worn by others who are not ministers. Ordained elders and deacons, as they serve as worship leaders, readers, and administer communion may also wear cassocks which tend to be black. Those worn by choirs and other worship leaders are usually coloured (for instance, The Shadyside Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) choir is dressed in red cassocks under white surplices).
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. In the Eastern Churches, cassocks are not dress for any lay ministry. Generally, one has to be blessed to wear a cassock usually in the case of exercising a clerical duty.
The cassock can also refer to a loose-fitting, pullover, hip-length jacket worn by ordinary soldiers in the 17th century. A cassock has attached sleeves and is open down the sides, similar to a mandilion. Such garments are popularly recognized as the formal uniform of the Musketeers of the Guard in The Three Musketeers -- though this is suspect historically.