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A cassock, which is also known as a soutane, is an item of clothing that is traditionally worn by members of the clergy. It is a long robe that reaches to the ankles. Although it is a robe, it is close-fitting and not baggy. Cassocks are most commonly worn by clerics within the Roman Catholic Church. However, some clerics in the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches also wear cassocks.
It is possible to distinguish which church a cassock belongs to based on some minor tailoring differences. Roman Catholic cassocks, for example, are often outfitted with thirty-three buttons down the front, to symbolize the number of years in Jesus’ life. An Anglican cassock, which is often called a “sarum,” is often double breasted. The Jesuit cassock often has a fly that fastens with hooks rather than buttons.
Cassocks are most commonly black in color. However, they may be trimmed in other colors. Red and white are the most common colors used at the collar, cuffs, and closures of the garment. Cassocks are almost always worn with the white clerical collar. The garments also generally have a band, or “fascia,” about the waist. This band may be uniform in color with the rest of the garment, or, it may be done in a trim color. Furthermore, the band may be accompanied by a sash that is worn about the waist.
The same color options apply for the sash as the band. Some churches outfit their choirs with cassocks. These robes vary in color, but are often red, cream, or white. Today, some members of the clergy opt for nontraditional cassock colors. In some churches, the colors of the cassock denote rank within the clergy. White is an acceptable color for cassocks worn by clergymen in tropical areas.
The word “cassock” most likely comes from the word casaque, which means “cloak” in French. The cassock was once referred to as vestis talaris in Latin. In classical antiquity, the cassock was a kind of tunic that was worn beneath a toga. This original version of the garment was translated to meet changing requirements and styles to become the modern cassock.
The cassock was originally a kind of universal garment for members of the clergy. However, many churches and congregations have abandoned the cassock. For some, the abandonment of the cassock signifies the abandonment of other traditional elements of the church. For others, wearing a cassock signifies adherence to traditional ways.
The modern day cassocks look very refined on the clergy. It looks to me like the fabric used to make them is very expensive and long lasting. I have never seen a wrinkle in them.
In contrast, I would like to see the cassocks worn centuries ago. I imagine the material they used was much more rustic and not so form fitting. But as far as style goes, it has remained about the same for many hundreds of years.
I'm sure the Catholic and other churches, that have a tradition of formalities, will continue to have the clergy wear cassocks for years to come.
The pastor at my church only wears a cassock on special religious days. Otherwise, his clothing is quite informal. I like that.
Wearing a cassock makes a clergy member easily identifiable. This is helpful to visitors to the church who want to pay proper respect to them or who may have questions to ask them.
When I went with my husband to his Catholic church, I knew right away who the clergy members were by their different colored cassocks. I did not know which colors corresponded to which rank, but other guests may have found this sort of color coding helpful.
I think of it as a work uniform. Just as colored vests with name tags help store customers identify the employees, cassocks help church members recognize the officials.
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