Over the course of the next several days, I will be uploading much of the footage I shot at the Pontifical High Mass, along with several photos and stories accrued along the way.
The first thing I would like very much to share with you is the precious gem of the “cappa magna” worn by one of the bishops whose name escapes me as I write this. It wasn’t Bishop Slattery, and it certainly wasn’t Bishop Clark.
What, you may ask, is a “cappa magna”? It is a special vestment worn by bishops and other high-ranking church officials, and which wikipedia describes as thus:
The cappa magna (literally, “great cape”), a form of mantle, is a voluminous ecclesiastical vestment with a long train, proper to cardinals, bishops, and certain other honorary prelates.
The cappa magna is not strictly a liturgical vestment, but only a glorified cappa choralis, or choir cope. That is to say, it is not used when vested as a celebrant at a liturgical service. It is worn in processions or “in choir” (i.e., attending but not celebrating services). Its colour for cardinals is ordinarily red and for bishops violet. Cardinals and papal nuncios are entitled to wear a cappa magna of watered silk.
The cappa magna is ample in volume and provided with a long train and a disproportionately large hood, the lining of the hood used to be of ermine in winter and silk in summer, and was made in such a way as to completely cover not only the back, but also the breast and shoulders. The hood is functional and in earlier times was often placed on the head and covered with the galero. This used to be the custom when the pope created a new cardinal at a consistory. Nowadays, the hood is normally worn over the head only during penitential rites. Previously, cardinals who were members of specific religious orders would wear a cappa magna in the color of their order. Nowadays, all cardinals wear red.
It is now rarely used, since the 1969 Instruction on the Dress, Titles and Coats-of-arms of Cardinals, Bishops and Lesser Prelates lays down that:
The cappa magna, always without ermine, is no longer obligatory; it can be used only outside of Rome, in circumstances of very special solemnity. (? 12)
However, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem still uses the ermine-lined winter cappa, because he is bound by the complex and unalterable rules of the status quo, an 1852 Ottoman firman which regulates the delicate relations between the various religious groups which care for the religious sites in the Holy Land. This anomaly is most evident at the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. The cappa magna is also still used among groups using the Tridentine Mass.
This is the video I shot of the cappa magna being used in procession before the Mass. I dare say that I had a better vantage for this particular shot than did the EWTN camera crew.
I am certain that certain ones among you may be thinking to yourselves, “Gee, this seems like lavish excess. Jesus wouldn’t wear a cappa magna. In fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even have watered silk in those days . . . ” Consider, then, this counter-question: Does not the United States spare no expense in building and maintaining its embassies world-wide? There will be a new one built in London at a cost of $1,000,000,000. Why? Because it is the representative of the United States in that particular country. We spare no expense because we have the ability to spare no expense – it shows how much we care. And yet, even though we spend money on such things, we are one of the most philanthropic nations on Earth.
The same is precisely true of the Catholic Church. Each church is the house of God – things like this cappa magna lend an air of majesty to it.