Q Why does a priest always wear black?

A First of all, not all priests wear black. Priests in certain religious orders wear the color of their order. Franciscan friars wear brown or grey robes. Dominican priests normally wear robes that are mostly white. And, many priests in tropical climates wear white to decrease the heat from the sun.

Most diocesan priests in the United States, however, do wear black, but this is not required at all times. During their days off or when not involved in liturgical functions, priests do not have to wear all black.

Hooper, George color.pdf

Canon law states that priests “are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs.” The USCCB (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) states that outside of liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. Simple black clothes indicate that the priest is giving up the comforts and glamours of this world in preference to what is to come.

Black is a sign of spiritual symbolism. It is a sign of mourning and death. It symbolizes dying to oneself to rise and serve the Lord, as well as giving witness to the kingdom of God. Black symbolizes the priest taking up his cross, dying to sin so that he may rise in the life of grace. Black is also a sign of authority, similar to a judge in court who wears black robes.

Wearing all black, along with a Roman collar, is intended to be distinctive, to set a priest apart from others. It makes a priest easily identified as a witness to Christ. It should remind those who see him of Jesus’ message of love and mercy; it can be a mini-homily. Just wearing black becomes an evangelistic tool.

Q Why does the pope wear white?

A The pope’s daily dress includes a white cassock and zucchetto </span id=”0″>(skull cap), a white short shoulder cape and a white sash embroidered with his pontifical coat of arms. This is accompanied by a pectoral cross of his choosing. Depending upon the cross of his crossing and supplemented by a hat and full-length red cape (although I don’t think Pope Francis wears the red cape). Popes also used to wear red shoes but the color of shoes is up to the pope; there is no rule that defines the color of shoes. Pope Francis has shunned wearing red shoes; he wears black shoes. The pope’s all white wardrobe makes him immediately recognized worldwide.

Guillaume Durand, in his 1286 treatise on liturgy “Rationale Divinorum Officiorum,” offers what some consider the fullest interpretation of the color of the papal robes: the white robe refers to the purity and holiness of life, while the red accessories symbolize the blood of Christ and his sacrifice for us.

Tradition has the wearing of white going back to at least the papacy of Pope Pius V, who was elected pope in 1566. He was a Dominican friar who did not want to give up the distinctive white robes of his Dominican order. Another tradition reflects that the white robes of the pope comes from the appearance of a white dove at the time of the martyrdom of Pope St. Fabiano in the year 250.

Deacon Hooper is a deacon assistant at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs. Questions may sent to hooper@cox.net.