Vestments are clothing worn by priests solely for performing a sacred function such as saying Mass. These liturgical items have a history dating back 1500 years and, while the ornateness may have changed, the basic style and function remain the same with the colours and fabrics having spiritual significance.

In the Roman Catholic Church, priests, bishops and other celebrants of the liturgy traditionally wear certain garments known as vestments that serve a few important functions.  Liturgical vestments -- made of special fabrics and embellished in particular ways -- set the celebrant apart from others at the Mass and show that he is acting on behalf of the Church.  Vestments help to establish the atmosphere of sacredness that characterizes the liturgy, thereby encouraging an attitude of devoutness in those present

Types of Vestments

In preparation for celebrating Mass, a Catholic priest puts on his vestments in a particular order.
First is the alb, a long white gown made of linen that signifies the purity one needs to act on behalf of the Church.
The Cincture is a cord used like a tie belt to secure the Alb; this garment can be white, like the alb, or another color that coordinates with the other vestments.
A Cassock is an ankle-length garment, fastened down the front with 33 buttons for each year Jesus lived. The traditional color for a cassock is black.
The Stole is a long scarf-like garment worn by priests to signify they are on official business. A Priest wears the stole on visits to hospitals and nursing homes in addition to daily Mass.

The stole is a narrow piece of fabric worn around the neck, with embroidery that has significance for the time of year in the Church calendar as well as for the priest's stature.
The Surplice is a white garment often decorated with lace or embroidery and worn over a cassock by alter boys, seminarians and clerics. This garment is shorter than the Alb, falling mid-calf, with wide-cut sleeves.
The chasuble - the largest vestment the priest wears to celebrate Mass - is worn over the alb and cincture and is capelike in shape and style.  The term Chasuble is Latin meaning "Little House" and resembles a long poncho in it's shape.  Its colour and embroidered decoration typically signify the nature of the Mass being celebrated.

Others who may be assisting the celebrant - deacons and other priests - wear slightly different vestments to indicate their less central role in the liturgy.

Vestment Fabric

Modern vestments are made of polyester, linen, lace, Duponi silk, satin and brocade woven expressly for liturgical garments.

The Bishop's Vestments

  • The hierarchical nature of the Roman Catholic Church calls for vestments and other outward signs to denote a Catholic clergyman's role and status in the church's structure.  A bishop, therefore, wears vestments that signify his elevated role.  He typically wears a cassock, a long robe that can be purple or black, with a short cape over his shoulders, and may also wear a wide belt made of fabric, tied like a sash at the waist.  On his head he may wear a skull cap or a miter -- also spelled mitre -- a tall, characteristic embroidered hat that comes to a point.

The Cardinal's Vestments

  • Roman Catholic cardinals, who are closest to the pope in the Church's hierarchy, wear distinctive scarlet vestments.  On their heads they may either wear a skull cap or a square red hat known as a biretta.  A cardinal wears a scarlet cassock, similar in style to that worn by a bishop, over which is worn a white garment called a rochet.  Also like the bishop, he wears a short cape called a mozzetta, but the cardinal's is scarlet.

The Pope's Vestments

  • As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope's vestments are more elaborate than those worn by other members of the Catholic clergy to signify his importance.   Perhaps most distinctive among his vestments is the papal miter, worn on formal occasions and larger and more embellished than that worn by a bishop.  Also on formal occasions -- in addition to vestments similar to those worn by priests, bishops and cardinals -- the pope wears the pallium, the fanon and the mantum.  The pallium is an embellished white strip of fabric worn around the neck; the fanon and mantum are worn about the shoulders, the fanon the smaller of the two garments and worn on top of the mantum.


The Colors That Priests Wear Through the Year

In the Roman Catholic Church, the color a priest wears when celebrating Mass coincides with the liturgical color of the season, the colors that the Church has specified for a particular period or day within the Church’s calendar.  The priest’s outer robe--the chasuble--and supplemental vestments, such as the stole, mirror the colors that adorn the church.  Currently, the Church designates black, green, red, purple and white for its liturgical calendar, with rose as an optional sixth color.  Each color has retained some sort of symbolic meaning to the Church.


Black has long been the symbol of death.  Within the Roman Catholic Church, black adorns church altars and priestly vestments during Masses offered for the dead.  Some priests may elect to wear their black chasubles and matching supplemental garments during Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death to atone for the sins of humankind. You will also see black chasubles on the Feast of All Souls honoring all the dead, to portray mourning or sorrow.


Red is the vestment and linen color during Pentecost when Catholics believe the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles to nurture and aid them in their mission to spread God’s Word to the world.  Priests also don red vestments during Masses that honor the feasts of the Apostles and martyrs of the faith.  To help Catholics recall the pain of Christ’s suffering, Catholic churches exhibit red drapery while priests put on their red robes on Good Friday.  Appropriately, red vestments accompany the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the blameless deaths of the children King Herod killed during his search to eradicate the infant Jesus. The color red identifies with blood and fire.

Red is used on Pentecost and Palm Sundays, and the feasts of the martyred because it symbolizes fire, blood and the Passion. Catholic Cardinals wear red as their non-liturgical colour.


Purple represents a period of waiting or preparation in Church history.  Priests wear violet chasubles during Advent, a period of between 21 and 28 days before Christmas when Catholics worldwide await the birth of Jesus.  Another time of waiting in the Catholic Church occurs during the season of Lent where Roman Catholics prepare and make themselves worthy for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as the ultimate penance for the sins of humanity.  During Lent, Catholics all over the world fast, sacrifice and pray.  Priests put on stoles--not chasubles--of violet when administering the Sacrament of Penance when a person receives forgiveness from his or her sins after confessing them privately to a priest.  During the Sacrament of Extreme Unction--also called Last Rites--the priest again dons his violet stole while he spiritually prepares a dying person for the afterlife.

Bishops and Arch Bishops wear purple for their non-liturgical dress.


White hues symbolize a time of celebration and joy for the Church.  Priests don chasubles of white to match church draperies and the white Easter lilies that line the altar during the Easter season.  Priests don their white chasubles--also a symbol of purity -- when celebrating feasts of the Virgin Mary such as the Assumption, when the faithful believe God conveys Christ’s mother, body and soul to heaven.  In addition, the Church honors feasts of the angels and non-martyred saints with white. Priests wear white vestments when presiding over funeral masses.

White is the color of the Pope.


During Sundays and weekdays in which the Church acknowledges no feasts, priests wear their green chasubles.    Historically, green represents a time of hope, as represented by healthy, growing plants and trees.  Green vestments signify a time between liturgical seasons, called Ordinary Time on the Church calendar.  The Church designates Ordinary Time as the period between the celebration of Christmas and the observance of Lent.  You will see priests wearing green again from Easter until the start of Advent.

Green represents the Holy Ghost, hope and life eternal.


You see rose-colored chasubles only two times during the liturgical year: on Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday. Gaudete Sunday occurs on the third Sunday before Christmas during Advent. Laetare Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Easter. Rose, according to Church tradition, symbolizes an anticipatory feeling toward significant events on the Church calendar; rose vestments and decorations are outward displays of the Church’s anticipation of Christ’s birth and His resurrection.

Rose also signifies joy.


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