The Traditional Penitential and Mourning Dress of Cardinals of the Roman Church

While there is an increasing awareness of traditional vesture such as the cappa magna and pontificals such as sandalia, gauntlets and so forth, one area that remains still relatively unknown to many today is the penitential and mourning dress of prelates. To help simplify this treatment, I want to focus in specifically on cardinals.

Now many will be familiar with the red cappa of a cardinal and others will be familiar, in sight if not in name, with the rochet -- a piece of vesture traditionally embellished with lace in its normative state.

 If, however, you aren't familiar with these, here is that to which I refer:

Franc Cardinal Rode in traditional traditional prelatial dress
You can see that the cappa is coloured the same here as the scarlet red traditionally associated with a cardinal. The rochet is embellished with lace. This was the ordinary choir dress of a cardinal in times neither penitential, nor of mourning.

However, in times of penance and mourning, the colour of the cappa and cassock would change from scarlet red to Roman purple -- the colour usually associated with bishops. (What would bishops wear in such an instance? They would trade their traditional purple for black.)

In addition, the normative rochet with lace (shown above) would likewise be exchanged for a plain rochet without lace in times of mourning -- specifically, at the death of a pope until the election of his successor as well as on Good Friday.  At all other times, including penitential times, the rochet would include lace.

So what does this look like comparatively? Here is the traditional mourning dress of cardinals which shows both the exchange of their scarlet for purple, as well as their use of the plainer, mourning version of the rochet:

One can see the difference in colours between the scarlet red birettas and the purple cappa.
While the very plain rochet is frequently used today by prelates in the English speaking world especially, this was traditionally what distinguished the ordinary rochet from the mourning version of it. 
Here is a closer look at these distinct forms of the rochet:

As for what was done in times that were not of mourning, but simply penitential, the main difference was that while scarlet was exchanged for purple, the rochet would still include lace as shown here:

Cardinal Be a wearing the penitential, not mourning, dress of a Cardinal of the Roman church
Do these sorts of things matter? Well, there is a difference between asking whether something is the very most important thing and whether something matters (a distinction lost on many today). In point of fact they do 'matter' precisely because symbols matter. (This translates into our day to day lives from how we dress at a wedding versus how we would dress for a funeral; or how we would dress professionally versus privately.) Regardless, my purpose today is not to argue for the importance of these vestural elements, but simply to draw our readers attention to these distinctions.

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