Pontifical vestments

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Pontifical vestments, also referred to as episcopal vestments or pontificals, are the liturgical vestments worn by bishops (and by concession some other prelates) in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, in addition to the usual priestly vestments for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments. The pontifical vestments are only worn when celebrating or presiding over liturgical functions. As such, the garments should not be confused with choir dress, which are worn when attending liturgical functions but not celebrating or presiding.


Western Christianity

Pontificals proper for the Roman Rite
Archbishop Jose Palma in Traditional Roman Catholic Vestments.jpg
Archbishop Jose Palma vested in more traditional vestments.
Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke.jpg
Cardinal Raymond Burke vested in more modern vestments.

The pontifical accoutrements include the:

A metropolitan archbishop also wears a pallium within his own ecclesiastical province, once he has received it from the Pope. After receiving it, he is entitled to have an archiepiscopal cross (with two cross-bars instead of one) carried before him. [1]

Today bishops rarely use the following accoutrements, unless celebrating Solemn Pontifical Mass in its pre-1970 form:

These items are no longer even mentioned in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, which has also omitted the description that earlier editions gave of the accoutrements of the bishop's horse.

When celebrating Mass, the bishop wears alb, stole and chasuble, in the manner done by priests. The Caeremoniale Episcoporum recommends, but does not impose, that in solemn celebrations he should also wear a dalmatic, which can always be white, beneath the chasuble, especially when administering the sacrament of holy orders, blessing an abbot or abbess, and dedicating a church or an altar. [2] A tunicle was also worn until the apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972 decreed that, with effect from 1 January 1973, the functions that in the Latin Church had been assigned to the subdeacon should thenceforth be carried out by the instituted ministers (not members of the clergy) known as lectors and acolytes.

When attending solemnly (often referred to as "presiding") at Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated by another bishop, when presiding at Solemn Pontifical Vespers, and when celebrating the sacraments of baptism, marriage, and confirmation outside Mass, a bishop may wear a cope. A cope may be worn also by priests or deacons for liturgical celebrations outside Mass.

At any liturgical celebration, whether wearing chasuble (for Mass) or cope, the bishop may also wear a mitre, pectoral cross, ecclesiastical ring and zucchetto. He may also carry the crosier if the celebration is within his own diocese or if he is celebrating solemnly elsewhere with the consent of the local bishop. [3] If several bishops take part in the same celebration, only the presiding bishop carries the crosier. [3]

Latin Rite clergy other than bishops, in particular any who are abbots or apostolic prefects or ordinary of a personal ordinariate, may wear pontifical items. Mitre, crosier and ring are bestowed on an abbot at his blessing and the pectoral cross is a customary part of an abbatial habit. There are limitations as to where and when abbots may wear pontificalia, for example only within his monastery. The practice of granting other clergy (e.g. the highest level of monsignor) special permission to wear such items as a mark of honour has almost disappeared; it is still practiced, however, for ordinaries of a personal ordinariate.

Eastern Christianity

An Eastern Catholic bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church along with other priests Kanjirappally Bishop Mar Mathew Arackal at Tomb of Mar Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly.jpg
An Eastern Catholic bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church along with other priests
A Byzantine Rite bishop blessing with dikirion and trikirion upon being vested Bishop Blessing with Dikirion and Trikirion upon being Vested.jpeg
A Byzantine Rite bishop blessing with dikirion and trikirion upon being vested

The pontifical vestments in Eastern Christianity are somewhat similar, although Greek terms are used instead of the mainly Latinate forms used in the West. There are also certain vestments which are unique to the Christian East.

In the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches bishops use the following vestments (worn over the priestly sticharion, epimanikia and epitrachelion) and implements:

The distinctive vestment of a bishop is the omophorion. There are two types of omophoria, the "Great Omophorion" which is worn at certain moments during the Divine Liturgy and at the Great Doxology at the All-Night Vigil, and the "Little Omophorion" which is worn at other times (note that the sticharion is worn only at Liturgy, while the epimanikia and epitrachelion are always worn when vesting).

The Sakkos is normally worn only when the bishop is celebrating the Divine Liturgy, or during the Great Doxology at the All-Night Vigil. At other services, or when he is "presiding" but not serving at Liturgy, he will wear the Mantya, a cape with a long train and red and white ribbons ("rivers") running along the sides.

Whenever he blesses, the bishop stands on an orletz ("eagle rug"), and at certain times he blesses using dikirion and trikirion. The dikirion is a candlestick with two candles symbolising the dogma of the two natures of Christ and trikirion has three candles symbolising the Trinity.

Eastern bishops do not normally make use of an ecclesiastical ring; instead, the lower clergy and faithful kiss the bishop's right hand as a sign of respect.

As in the Latin Rite, an hegumen (abbot) is presented with his crosier by the local bishop. The abbot usually wears a gold pectoral cross, and may be granted the right to wear a mitre. An archpriest may also be granted a gold pectoral cross. Archimandrites and protopresbyters wear jewelled pectoral crosses and mitres. The epigonation and/or nabrednnik may be worn by these members of the clergy, or may even be granted on their own as marks of honour to distinguished priests. The right to wear a pectoral cross or mitre may be bestowed upon other (lower) clergy as a sign of honour due to some outstanding achievement or dedication.

See also

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Crosier Ceremonial staff in Christianity

A crosier is a stylized staff that is a symbol of the governing office of a bishop or Apostle and is carried by high-ranking prelates of Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran, United Methodist and Pentecostal churches.

Vestment Clothing prescribed for clergy performing specific roles

Vestments are liturgical garments and articles associated primarily with the Christian religion, especially among the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Many other groups also make use of liturgical garments; this was a point of controversy in the Protestant Reformation and sometimes since, in particular during the Ritualist controversies in England in the 19th century.

Pontifical High Mass

In the context of the Tridentine Mass of the Catholic Church, a Pontifical High Mass, also called Solemn Pontifical Mass, is a Solemn or High Mass celebrated by a bishop using certain prescribed ceremonies. The term is also used among Anglo-Catholic Anglicans. Although in modern English the word "pontifical" is almost exclusively associated with the Pope, any bishop may be properly called a pontiff. Thus, the celebrant of a Pontifical High Mass may be any bishop, and not just a pope.

Stole (vestment) Long narrow cloth band worn around the neck and falling from the shoulders as part of ecclesiastical dress

The stole is a liturgical vestment of various Christian denominations. It consists of a band of colored cloth, formerly usually of silk, about seven and a half to nine feet long and three to four inches wide, whose ends may be straight or may broaden out. The center of the stole is worn around the back of the neck and the two ends hang down parallel to each other in front, either attached to each other or hanging loose. The stole is almost always decorated in some way, usually with a cross or some other significant religious design. It is often decorated with contrasting galloons and fringe is usually applied to the ends of the stole following Numbers 15:38–39. A piece of white linen or lace may be stitched onto the back of the collar as a sweat guard, which can be replaced more cheaply than the stole itself.

Dalmatic Long, wide sleeved tunic, worn in Ancient Rome and Byzantium, and adopted as liturgical dress by Christian churches

The dalmatic is a long, wide-sleeved tunic, which serves as a liturgical vestment in the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, United Methodist, and some other churches. When used, it is the proper vestment of a deacon at Mass, Holy Communion or other services such as baptism or marriage held in the context of a Eucharistic service. Although infrequent, it may also be worn by bishops above the alb and below the chasuble, and is then referred to as pontifical dalmatic.

Mitre Liturgical headdresses worn by Christian bishops and abbots

The mitre or miter, is a type of headgear now known as the traditional, ceremonial headdress of bishops and certain abbots in traditional Christianity. Mitres are worn in the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, as well as in the Anglican Communion, some Lutheran churches, and also by bishops and certain other clergy in the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church also wears a mitre during important ceremonies such as the Episcopal Consecration.

Cope Religious garment

The cope is a liturgical vestment, more precisely a long mantle or cloak, open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp. It may be of any liturgical colour.

The tunicle is a liturgical vestment associated with Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism.

<i>Omophorion</i> Bishops scarflike vestment in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgical traditions

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgical tradition, the omophorion is the distinguishing vestment of a bishop and the symbol of his spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. Originally woven of wool, it is a band of brocade decorated with four crosses and an eight-pointed star; it is worn about the neck and shoulders.

Papal Mass

A Papal Mass is the Solemn Pontifical High Mass celebrated by the Pope. It is celebrated on such occasions as a papal coronation, an ex cathedra pronouncement, the canonization of a saint, on Easter or Christmas or other major feast days.

<i>Epitrachelion</i> A type of long loose garment

The epitrachelion is the liturgical vestment worn by priests and bishops of the Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches as the symbol of their priesthood, corresponding to the Western stole. It is essentially the orarion adapted for priests and bishops, worn around the neck with two ends of equal length hanging down in front of the clergyman's body and with the two adjacent sides sewn or buttoned together up the center, leaving enough space through which to place the head. In practice, the epitrachelion is made to be worn only this way, tailored to lie flat around the neck, and is never actually unfastened. The portion hanging down in front is sometimes even a solid piece of fabric. It is usually made of brocade with seven embroidered or appliquéd crosses, one at the back of the neck and three down each side. The epitrachelion is the only required vestment whenever a priest is conducting an Orthodox service; without it, he is unable to perform the service.

Papal regalia and insignia Official items of attire and decoration proper to the Pope

Papal regalia and insignia are the official items of attire and decoration proper to the Pope in his capacity as the head of the Roman Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State.

Episcopal sandals

Episcopal sandals, also known as the pontifical sandals, are a Roman Catholic pontifical vestment worn by bishops when celebrating liturgical functions according to the pre–Vatican II rubrics, for example a Tridentine Solemn Pontifical Mass.

Pectoral cross

A pectoral cross or pectorale is a cross that is worn on the chest, usually suspended from the neck by a cord or chain. In ancient and medieval times pectoral crosses were worn by both clergy and laity, but by the end of the Middle Ages the pectoral cross came to be a special indicator of position worn by bishops. In the Roman Catholic Church, the wearing of a pectoral cross remains restricted to popes, cardinals, bishops and abbots. In Eastern Orthodox Church Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches that follow a Slavic Tradition, priests also wear pectoral crosses, while deacons and minor orders do not. The modern pectoral cross is relatively large, and is different from the small crosses worn on necklaces by many Christians. Most pectoral crosses are made of precious metals and some contain precious or semi-precious gems. Some contain a corpus like a crucifix while others use stylized designs and religious symbols.

Choir dress

Choir dress is the traditional vesture of the clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches worn for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments except when celebrating or concelebrating the Eucharist. It differs from the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Eucharist, being normally made of fabrics such as wool, cotton or silk, as opposed to the fine brocades used in vestments. It may also be worn by lay assistants such as acolytes and choirs. It was abandoned by most of the Protestant churches that developed from the sixteenth-century Reformation.

A gremiale, sometimes anglicized as gremial, is a square or oblong cloth which a bishop, according to the "Cæremoniale Episcoporum" and "Pontificale", should wear over his lap, when seated on the throne during the singing of the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo by the choir, during the distribution of blessed candles, palms or ashes, during the washing of feet in the Mass of the Lord's Supper, and also during the Catholic anointments in connection with Holy orders.

Episcopal gloves

The Episcopal gloves or Pontifical gloves are a Roman Catholic pontifical vestment worn a by bishop when celebrating Solemn Pontifical Mass. They are worn from the beginning of the Mass until the offertory, when they are removed. They can be elaborately embroidered and generally match the liturgical color of the Mass. They are not worn for Good Friday or Requiem Masses. While normally reserved for bishops, other prelates entitled to use pontificals, including abbots, may also use them without a special papal privilege.

Bishops in the Catholic Church Ordained minister in the Catholic Church (for other religious denominations, use Q29182); catholic bishop

In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders and is responsible for teaching doctrine, governing Catholics in his jurisdiction, sanctifying the world and representing the Church. Catholics trace the origins of the office of bishop to the apostles, who it is believed were endowed with a special charism by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Catholics believe this special charism has been transmitted through an unbroken succession of bishops by the laying on of hands in the sacrament of holy orders.

The episcopal or pontifical blessing is a blessing imparted by a bishop, especially if using a formula given in official liturgical books.

The liturgical vestments of the Christian churches grew out of normal civil clothing, but the dress of church leaders began to be differentiated as early as the 4th century. By the end of the 13th century the forms used in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches had become established, while the Reformation led to changes in Protestant churches from the 16th century onward.


  1. Caeremoniale Episcoporum, 62 and 79
  2. Caeremoniale Episcoporum, 56
  3. 1 2 Caeremoniale Episcoporum, 59