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What is the meaning of the little bonnet some clerics wear during Mass? And does the color mean something? I believe I have seen red and white versions.
Your terminology is a bit lacking. So I am not sure what kind of ecclesiastical head wear you mean. I presume you are referring neither to the miter nor to the biretta but rather to the zucchetto. Nevertheless, just a few words about the two former before I discuss the latter.
The miter or mitre, from the Greek mitra for headband, is the pointed hat worn mostly by bishops during liturgical celebrations. The miter more than likely evolved from the headdress worn by officials of the Byzantine Empire.
A biretta is a square “bonnet” with three peaks and often with a tuft in the center that is worn by clerics during liturgical functions. The color of the biretta is reflective of the ecclesiastical rank of the person wearing it: red without tuft for cardinals, purple with purple tuft for bishops, and black with purple or black tuft for priests. Though not abolished, it is rare to see a priest wear a biretta these days. Bishops and cardinals are often seen wearing the biretta during liturgical events when they are not presiding and on other more ceremonial occasions.
The small, round skullcap worn by certain clerics is commonly referred to as the zucchetto. The official name is pileolus. Pileolus is the diminutive of pileus, which was the name of a cap worn by ancient Greeks and Romans. And just to satisfy your curiosity, some other names are berettino or small biretta, subberitum (meaning under the biretta), submitrale (meaning under the miter). The zucchetto is part of the liturgical vesture of certain ecclesiastical dignitaries and comes in different colors: white for the pope, red for cardinals, violet for bishops, and black for abbots and priests, though priests rarely wear a zucchetto. Franciscan friars may wear a brown zucchetto. During the celebration of the Eucharist, the zucchetto is removed from the preface till after Communion.
The origin of the zucchetto is somewhat unclear. It most likely does not predate the thirteenth century, when it starts to appear in paintings. Some suggest that it might be a smaller and less functional version of the older camauro, a skullcap that covered the ears and the back of the neck.
I know you did not ask about this, but since I made mention of it I feel like I need to expound on the camauro. It was intended to keep one’s head warm during long services in cold and drafty churches. If you are not familiar with the camauro, just look for a picture of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during winter. The camauro is made out of red velvet lined with white ermine. The color red dates back to the time when red was the papal color, instead of today’s customary white. He also wore the matching red velvet mozetta.
The mozetta is the short cape covering the shoulders similar to the pellegrina. The difference between the two is both in use and in style. The pellegrina is white and worn directly over the white cassock. This comprises the ordinary dress or house dress of the pope. For more ceremonial occasions the pellegrina is replaced with the mozetta. While the pellegrina is open in the front, the mozetta is buttoned and has a small hood in the back. It is worn over the rochet rather than directly over the cassock. The summer mozetta is made out of red satin, while the winter mozetta is made out of red velvet lined with white ermine to match the winter camauro.
While the custom of wearing the red satin mozetta was continued, both the camauro and winter mozetta were retired during the process of papal simplifications in light of Vatican II. Pope Benedict XVI brought them back. He also brought back the Easter mozetta, which is worn only during the Easter octave. It is made out of white damask trimmed with white ermine. It appears that Pope Francis has done away with the mozetta, among other traditional garb, altogether.
© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.
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