The Formale

The formale, or rationale, is an object you might have seen on various occasions, whether illustrated in art or are seen in papal Masses, but you may not have taken note of it before. Put at its most simple, it is a decorative metallic piece that is thought to have originated in the twelfth century that sits over the place where the two front sides of the cope join at the breast. Most likely where might have most taken note of it, if you took note at all, was in medieval painted works depicting prelates in their vestments.

Sixteenth century bust of Pope Paul III in mantum with formale. 

However in more recent memory we saw Benedict XVI regularly use the formale whensoever the liturgical rites demanded the use of cope and it was also seen under the pontificate of John Paul II. In point of fact, within this papal liturgical context there were three versions of the formale

The first was the precious version, which was more ornate, encrusted with precious stones and used on the most solemn liturgical occasions. Next we had the common or ordinary form of the formale, which was less ornate and typically ornamented with the form of the dove (i.e. Holy Spirit). Finally there was the mourning and penitential formale which took the form of three pinecones ornamented by pearls and set in the form of a triangle -- this particular form had been abandoned since the time of Paul VI until Benedict XVI took it back up again. 

All three papal forms of the formale can be seen here worn during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

The ordinary or common form of the formale

The precious form of the formale

A precious formale used by Benedict XVI on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul which contains images of the same

The mourning/penitential papal formale in its triangular formation

The mourning/penitential formale gifted to Pope Leo XIII

Aside from the person of the pope, use of this liturgical object was restricted to bishops pontificating within their own dioceses and it was also traditionally used by cardinal-bishops in the cappella papale. Here, at the Second Vatican Council, we see Cardinal Eugene Tissertant, a cardinal-bishop, wearing the formale.

It is thought that the origins of the formale link back to the breastplate that was worn by the Jewish High Priest -- also known as the "breastplate of judgement" -- which was worn around the breast, made of precious metal and ornamented by precious stones. 

Here, for your interest, are a selection of some other formalia which were worn by various cardinals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

20th century

An 'ordinary' formale with its dove and also an image of the Virgin Mary.  Mid twentieth century. 

Third quarter of the nineteenth century. This was used by Cardinal Luigi Serafini. 

Formale of Cardinal Mario Mattei, 1870. 

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