What Dresses Mean in the Church Service

| Updated on March 27, 2024

What am I wearing today? Probably the most frequently asked question every morning – and not just for women. There are also different opinions among the clergy about how elaborate their vestments should be. In Poland last year, a pastor and designer caused a sensation with a fashion show for liturgical clothing – not only because they were particularly colorful.

One thing is clear: a robe signals that a service is something different from everyday life. It’s about God, about a festival with him and for him! The robe also shows that the priest or deacon does not only stand for himself, but for a special office. He wears the robe – and the robe wears him.

Lexicon: Catholic Dress Code

A priest, for example, wears five different items of clothing for Mass alone, all of which of course have different names. But there is more: Our lexicon shows the 17 most important parts and what they mean.


A white, floor-length robe with sleeves that deacons and priests wear under the dalmatic or casel. It is reminiscent of the christening gown. Even laypeople can therefore wear an alb for liturgical services, especially since all the vestments of acolytes, lecturers, or communion helpers are ultimately derived from the alb.


A square hat with three or four arched attachments. Its color shows the rank: red for cardinals, purple for bishops, and cathedral capitals. It is only worn when walking or sitting, never while standing. Priests can wear a black biretta, which is rare.

Four birettes

Four Birettes


The sleeveless chasuble, open on the sides, which a priest or bishop wears over the alb – each in the liturgical color of the day. As the name suggests, the fair robe is only worn for a Eucharistic celebration, but not for devotions and liturgical services or for baptisms or weddings without a mass.

Choir mantle

A floor-length cloak in the liturgical color of the day, which priests and deacons wear over gowns and rochettes for services, processions, or funeral ceremonies.

The choir coat

The choir cloak (middle) is a floor-length cloak.


The upper garment of a deacon during a mass – according to the liturgical color of the day. Unlike Casel of the priest, she has sleeves and is usually shorter.


The headgear tapering to two points, which are worn exclusively by bishops, abbots, and certain prelates during a festive service. In the course of history, it has become higher and higher, since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) it has mostly been smaller again. On the back, two strips of fabric extend up to the shoulder. For many, it is difficult to see why the bishop or abbot sometimes puts the miter on and off in the service. Roughly speaking, he always wears the miter when he turns to the congregation or to an individual (for example at confirmation or ordination); when he turns to the altar, which stands for Christ, he does not carry it.

The miter

The miter is the headgear especially of bishops like Bishop Felix Genn here.


A shoulder cloak that is worn over gown and rochette – mainly by cathedral capitulars (purple), bishops (purple), cardinals (red), and the Pope (white) – as shown in the three photos below.


A narrow white woolen scarf, which is worn over the casel, embroidered with six black crosses. The pallium is a sign of the archbishops. It is awarded once a year by the Pope to all newly appointed metropolitans, i.e. to those archbishops who preside over an ecclesiastical province.

A pallium

A pallium distinguishes the metropolitans, here the Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch.


The little skull cap that usually only bishops (purple), cardinals (red), and the Pope (white) wear. Abbots can also use a black pileolus, for those of the Premonstratensian order it is white – like for the Pope.


A white, shirt-like item of clothing that is worn over the gown or cassock in church services – also by laypeople performing liturgical services in the area of ​​the altar.


It is worn over the shoulders under the alb – as protection and so that everyday clothing does not protrude from the neck of the alb.


A floor-length gown with sleeves: The Pope in white, a cardinal in red or black with 33 light red buttons (one for each year of Jesus’ life), a bishop in purple or black with 33 ruby ​​red buttons, cathedral capitals in purple or black with purple buttons Priest in black.


A shawl-like piece of garment which, when placed around the neck of priests, can extend in two strips to about the knees and which bears the liturgical color of the day. It is interpreted as the “yoke of Christ”, that is, as a sign of his servitude. It is worn at every worship service, including at confession and blessings – in mass under or over the chasuble. Deacons use a cross stole that rests on the left shoulder.

The stole

The stole in different colors (here green) can be worn over or under the chasuble.


A mostly sleeveless undergarment, which clergymen usually wear in black, laypeople also in liturgical colors under a rochette in church services.


A three-tier crown, the sign of the Popes. Paul VI was crowned with it in 1963, but no longer wore it afterward. Today popes are no longer crowned.

Pope John XXIII's tiara

Pope John XXIII’s tiara (1881-1963).


A shoulder-length cloak that clergymen usually get placed over the choir cloak when wearing the monstrance. Sometimes acolytes also wear a velum when they hold a bishop’s staff and miter.


A white fabric belt that is tied around the alb – or in a wider shape and corresponding color around the cassock of priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes.

Last Words

For a long time, wearing specific clothes in the church was common. However, the trend changed with time, still, priests, nuns, fathers, and religious serving people wear these clothes as their uniform. Although common people are no more enthusiastic about wearing such clothes, many still wear them as a symbol of respect for Jesus.  

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