Religion Wiki

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

The cassock, an item of clerical clothing, is a long, close-fitting, 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. The cassock derives historically from the tunic that was formerly worn underneath the toga in classical antiquity.

The word cassock probably comes from the word "casaque" which means cloak; or cassaca, which means white. In older days, it was known in Latin as vestis talaris.

Although the cassock was formerly the universal everyday clothing of the clergy, many have abandoned it as in favour of a clerical suit of more conventional design. In current usage, wearing of the cassock may be a mark of a traditional cleric; its abandonment, a rejection thereof. In the United States, the black clerical suit remains the norm for priests in public ministry, though the use of the cassock remains at their personal discretion and when worn is most often employed in liturgical services.

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.

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone wearing the white cassock approved by indult for tropical regions. As a cardinal, his cassock is trimmed in scarlet.

The cassock, also known as a 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); an Ambrosian cassock has a series of only five buttons under the neck, with a sash on the waist; a French cassock also has buttons sewn to the sleeves after the manner of a suit, and a slightly broader skirt. 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.

Generally the cassock can be attributed to the clerics of the Roman Catholic Church. There are two types of cassock: the ordinary cassock and the choir cassock. A band cincture or fascia is also worn with both types of cassocks.

The ordinary Roman cassock worn mostly by Catholic clerics is black. Depending on the country it may be worn with a black fascia. Additionally, for prelates or honorary prelates, colored piping (keeping in mind that the cassock is still black) and the colored fascia are permitted. In the cases of bishops, protonotaries apostolic (e.g., monsignors), and honorary prelates, the piping is amaranth red and the fascia is purple; for cardinals, scarlet piping and fascia are the rule. Despite these distinctions, however, prelates, even cardinals, may make use of the simple black cassock in their day-to-day responsibilities.

In tropical countries, Papal indult has allowed the ordinary cassock to be white. The piping and fascia correspond to the appropriate rank of the prelate (black for regular priests, purple for honorary prelates, amaranth red for bishops and scarlet silk piping for cardinals).

Choir dress cassocks for bishops, protonotaries apostolic, and honorary prelates 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. The Catholic cardinal has the additional distinction of having both his choir cassock sleeves and his fascia made of scarlet watered-silk (also referred to as moiré). 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). It should also be noted that the prelatial choir cassock usually means that for major prelates of the Church (bishops, archbishops, and cardinals) to be in choir they must also don the mozzetta and the rochet and only at occasions of the Church's liturgical life. For honorary prelates and protonotaries apostolic, their choir dress is merely their purple choir cassock and a surplice (unless indult has allowed for a rochet and mozzetta to be worn; in most cases this cannot be assumed).

A fascia, i.e., a wide band with fringe on the ends, is often worn around the waist of the cassock. The black faille fascia is worn by priests, deacons, and major seminarians, while the purple faille fascia is permitted for bishops, supernumeraries apostolic, prelates of honor, and chaplains of his holiness. 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, an Apostolic Nuncio), and the scarlet watered silk fascia is permitted for cardinals. The white watered silk fascia, with the appropriate coat of arms on the ends, is worn by the Pope.

The black shoulder cape over the black cassock is permitted only for priests. At the time of the restoration of the hierarchy in England and Ireland, Blessed Pius IX afforded this privilege to all priests in these countries. Consequently, the wearing of the shoulder cape over the cassock has been the sign of a Catholic priest in England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand since that time.

Cassocks are frequently confused with the simar, but there is a distinction in that the simar has the small shoulder cape without buttons and does not fasten in the front. In previous times, cassocks also had buttons on the upper parts of the sleeves, thus providing another differentiation from the simar, but Paul VI dropped this custom, leaving the Cassock and Simar virtually identical, save for the small shoulder cape with the latter. Furthermore, the simar is garment of jurisdiction and is therefore reserved for bishops.

In cold weather, the manto, the ankle length cape---with or without shoulder cape, or the greca, also known as the douillette, the 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).


An Anglican priest wearing a single-breasted 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. 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.

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, and with a high collar buttoned off-center [1]. The Greek version, called an anteri or rason, is somewhat fuller, gathered at the waist with a cord, 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.

gn:Vatõpuku cs:Klerika da:Præstekjole eo:Sutano ko:수단 (가톨릭) lb:Soutane lt:Sutana hu:Reverenda no:Prestekjole pt:Batina ru:Ряса sl:Talar sr:Мантија sv:Cassock