The Traditional Vestments of the Supreme Pontiff as Used in the Solemn Papal Mass

We live in a very visual, image-based culture and, what's more, there is always lots of curiosity around the matter of traditional papal liturgy, so I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers to visually go through the main items of traditional vesture and vestments that would have been worn by a pope in the most solemn liturgical functions.  A number of these items were also worn by other prelates of course (such as the pontifical dalmatic and tunicle for example), and one thing worth noting as well is that some of these items (such as the mantum) were at one time worn by more than just the pope -- but as per the usual conservatism of the Romans, while their usage might have been dropped or modified elsewhere, it was kept in Rome.

We begin our consideration with the choir cassock of the pope. Like choir cassocks for other prelates it utilizes the tasseled "fiocchi" (or tassels) on the fascia and, as with other senior prelates, it is made from silk moiré.  It is worth noting that this piece of vesture is distinct from the "simar" which one usually sees the pope dressed in for audiences and the like -- that amounts to the domestic or 'house' dress of the pope, not his ceremonial and liturgical dress, and includes the shoulder cape and the fascia without the large tassels, generally bearing his papal coat of arms (the present pontiff excluded). 

Papal choir cassock

Next we have the 'falda.' The falda essentially forms a detachable train to the pontiffs choir cassock and was traditionally carried by train-bearers. (A similar usage is also seen for the train of the choir cassock of other prelates in the most solemn occasions). The usual amice would also be put on the pope over his cassock at this point.

The Falda

Next we have alb. The alb shown here is actually that of another prelate and the pope's would not see the coloured lining shown here. This would be girded by the usual cincture.

Alb. (This particular one is for demonstrative purposes only)


This is followed by the stole and the mantum. The mantum is essentially a cope with a long train. The pope would be borne into the basilica wearing these items, carried on the sedia gestatoria with flabaella on either side, wearing the papal tiara. After being received by the cardinal-priest, he would pray before the Blessed Sacrament and then be brought to the smaller throne for the Office of Terce prior to Mass. 

The Mantum

As the psalms are chanted, the pontiff prays the vesting prayers in preparation for the Mass. There he first puts on the buskins, a form of liturgical stocking in the liturgical colour of the day. Popes and cardinals alone had the privilege of having these embellished with embroidered decoration as seen below, though more frequently than not they were simply made of silk lamé and edged at the top with gold trim. 


Next comes the sandalia -- or sandals. Like the buskins they come in the liturgical colour of the Mass being celebrated and, like buskins, only the pope or cardinals could have them further embellished by embroidered decoration -- and the pope alone, according to Nainfa, may have the cross embroidered on them (though this was a rule as much honoured in the breach as it was in the observance it must be noted). 

Liturgical sandalia (sandals)

After the completion of Terce, the mantum and its accompanying stole are removed, the pope washes his hands and the subcinctorium is then put on. The subcinctorium is a vestment worn hanging at the waist from the cincture on the left hand side. It bears an image of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). 

The Subcinctorium - the full vestment would be slightly longer than what is shown here please note.

Next comes the pectoral cross.

This is followed by the fanon (a papal vestment made up of two pieces of silk cloth, creating a lower and an upper half. It is akin to an amice in terms of its function, but the lower portion of the fanon is placed over top the alb and pectoral cross and beneath the stole. The upper portion will be placed outside the chasuble once the chasuble is put on.

The Fanon

Here follows the stole which needs little explanation.

After the stole comes the pontifical tunicle and dalmatic -- vestments made of very thin silk so as to be easily worn on top of each other and not add too much extraneous bulk. These vestments are traditionally worn by all prelates at solemn pontifical functions and symbolically represent the fullness of their holy orders. 

The pontifical dalmatic and tunicle

Next came the pontifical gloves. Similar to the sandals and buskins, they came in the liturgical colour of the day.

Pontifical gloves

The chasuble needs little introduction of course, being worn over top the pontifical dalmatic and tunicle. 

The Chasuble

Returning to the fanon, it is at this point that the upper portion of the fanon is pulled down over the chasuble, forming a kind of large collar that sits over top the chasuble on the pontiff's neck and shoulders.

Next came the pallium which was placed over top the fanon, followed by the mitre. 
The pallium

Shown here is the mitra pretiosa, or precious mitre. This would be substituted at other times of the sacred liturgy for the mitra auriphygiata (golden mitre) which was lighter and made of cloth of gold. During penitential and certain other times the mitra simplex was used, being a white cloth of silver trimmed in gold. 

After the mitre is put on, the pope's ring is then put on his finger, over the pontifical gloves.

The final vestment is the maniple. This was placed on the pope, like other prelates, at the conclusion of the prayers at the foot of the altar.

With this we now see the full vestments of the 'high priest' of the Church -- that is to say, the Supreme Pontiff. 

As noted before, many of these elements are also to be found in other forms of the traditional Pontifical Mass as well with a few exceptions -- namely the falda, fanon and subcinctorium, as well as the papal tiara of course -- and one might also say the mantum, though it was essentially just a long cope so that is somewhat debatable. As noted previously, some of these items came to be reserved to the pope but were, at one time, seen in broader episcopal use. 

No doubt some will consider all of this overly complicated, even 'fussy', formed as they are by a certain contemporary mentality that we can find in certain subsets of modern Western thought (though these are thoughts that are generally neither universally applied, nor consistently so, let us make note). However the reality is that each of these carry a particular meaning and symbolism related to theology, ecclesiology and liturgiology. What's more, they are not the sole prerogative of the Church for throughout the course of human history we find manifest the human need to denote tiers of leadership by means of symbolic ornamentation and decoration. This is manifest not only in the vestments and vesture of popes and prelates, but also civic, military and religious leaders generally, whether within the context of our modern Western societies or within the most remote tribal societies. In that sense, if we divorce ourselves from such symbols, we are essentially attempting to divorce ourselves from humanity and our human instincts.

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