The Rose Coloured Vesture of Cardinals for Laetare and Gaudete Sundays

There was a time not so very long ago when rose vestments were a relative rarity -- being worn on only two occasions of the liturgical year, Gaudete and Laetare. In recent years, as the liturgical minimalism of the 20th century has been gradually erased, this has became not so rare once again. But if rose vestments were rare for a period of time, even more rare to see was the fabled rose vesture of cardinals. Aside from the fact there were only two occasions to wear it, there are also only so many cardinals and, even within Rome itself, the occasions for its use must have been extremely limited. As such, while mentions of it existed in texts, examples of it were all but non-existent. 

Only just recently this changed as the collector Luca Pavan Bresciano -- who hails from the north of Italy -- shared his recent discovery and acquisition of precisely just such an example. Having shown his acquisition to Gammarelli's of Rome, it was their thought that this particular example may well hail from prior to the 1870's. Whatever the case, it is the very best insight we have yet into what the rare rose dress of a cardinal looked like. The only two pieces missing from this particular puzzle are the rose colour mozzetta and fascia -- though it is easy enough to picture these now that we seen the rest of it.  

How then was this used? For this we here, once again, turn to John Abel Nainfa, the trusty author of the Costumes of Prelates of the Catholic Church, which is considered the definitive guide to  clerical vesture in the English speaking world. In that work he mentions how this would be used on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays, similar to how rose vestments would be used on the same two liturgical occasions. 

If this strikes the reader as "odd" since they are not vestments, it should be remembered that traditionally a cardinal's dress would shift from his usual red to purple for penitential times (not to mention occasions of mourning), thereby mimicking the liturgical colour of those times in the liturgical year. By logical extension, if the cardinal's vesture shifted to purple then, why would it not likewise shift to rose for the rose Sundays, reflecting the lightened penitential tone? In that regard, the point here was consistency with the liturgy in lessening the penitential flavour of those days.  The one exception to all of this was the cappa magna; it would remain in the usual penitential purple even when the rest of the pieces were in rose.

As for the material, unlike its red and purple counterparts -- whose material varied depending on whether it was liturgical summer or winter -- all the pieces of this rose vesture would always be made from watered silk (silk moirĂ©) regardless of season. 

A few closer details of this rare vesture:

The amaranth red stitching around the buttons

The fascia shown here would appear to be the usual red one as compared to the rose one, but it nicely shows the difference between the rose and the red.

Where the choir train attaches to the back of the cassock when it is not worn down

Some will object that this seems like a great waste for only two occasions within the year. Taken from a purely material and pragmatic point of view, perhaps this is so, but surely these matters should not be taken purely from these points of view any more than rose vestments should be. Instead, matters such as these should be primarily considered from a symbolic and liturgical point of view. (By analogy, consider the investment a bride will make in her wedding dress, used only once in a lifetime; but the investment relates to the importance of the occasion.) 

That said, it seems likely that, at least in modern times, most cardinals did not own this particular vesture, having little to no opportunity to use it, for we would otherwise have more examples of it than have heretofore been available. I suspect it was primarily manifest in Italy, but most especially Rome itself where cardinals are more numerous and there are more ceremonial occasions that might give opportunity to use their choir dress -- and the inclusion of a rose mantelletta and exclusion of any rose cappa magna would seem to support this idea.

Whatever your opinion on the matter, it is an extremely rare example of a very rare vestural usage. 

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

Share: