Why do Cardinals and Popes wear skullcaps?

Why do the upper heirarchy of Catholism wear skull caps?
Why do they wear cassocks?
Why do all men not wear skull caps?

Priests and deacons have the option of wearing the zuchettos, however, the rules governing when they can wear them during the Mass are different than Bishops. You will rarely see either wear one. The color proper to their Orders is black.

Priests and deacons also have the option to wear cassocks, but seldom exercise this option.

Why do they wear skull caps?
Why are the colours so definintly categorised?
What is the significance?
What is the significance of th Pope wearing a skull cap?
Why is this practice not for all Catholics?

I have heard the following; don’t know how true it is, but it seems reasonable.

Formerly, * a man received Tonsure, the shaving of a spot on his head, as the first step in introduction to Holy Orders. In medieval monasteries this made the head rather cold at times; so they wore a skull cap to cover it.*

The zucchetto was first adopted for practical reasons — to keep the clergy’s tonsured heads warm in cold, damp churches — and has survived as a traditional item of dress.

All ordained members of the Roman Catholic Church are entitled to wear the zucchetto but its rarely worn by priests and deacons. The colour of the zucchetto denotes the wearer’s rank or office.

] Pope - White] Cardinal - Red/Scarlet*]Bishops/territorial abbots - Amaranth*] Priests and Deacons - Black (rare except for abbots) [/list]


I understand that the upper echelons of the clergy wear skull caps.

My question is WHY do they wear them?
What is the reason for wearing them?
WHY are they differentiated?
Because one is a Bishop and not a Deacon, does this make him a more ‘holy’ person?

the wear them so that their glass covered skulls arent exposed which would show the nightmarish mini-aliens that control their cyborg bodies.


Actually, the inside story is they are helpful landing pads for the Holy Spirit when descending in the form of a dove to bring new insights and revelations. Apparently the slick, bare & bald heads were too slippery for good traction to warrant the risk of skidding off and so shiny they presented such a navigational hazard that there were too many diverted approaches, diversions and flybys. :stuck_out_tongue:


Could it have something to do with Jewish men wearing them, so the tradition carried over? I know that Jews wear them, in part, to remind them to be submissive to God’s will and work in their lives.

Does this make him a more ‘holy’ person?
Of course not, and they admit this each and every time they appoint a new saint who are often just ordinary religious laiety or ordered religious with no eclesial ordination.

I suppose we could have all our priests and bishops going about in dungarees and flip flops like the rest of the population but it is not as reverent. Ask yourself this, on your death bed when you were about to meet your maker would you feel inspired to confess your sins to a person wearing street clothes who looked like an ordinary person with no eclesial authority to forgive sins?

Would you be inclined to listen to a college professor who did not dress professionally or to recognize the authority of a police officer who dressed in street clothes and wanted to see your ID?

You seem to have a particular sensitivity to signs of authority and extending respect and recognition. Why is that?


Hi James

I do not have a problem with “particular sensitivity to signs of authority and extending respect and recognition.” I am merely curious as to what the significance of skull cap wearing is and why it is only restricted to certain members/hierarchy. I like to know WHY.:confused: I know the names and the colour differenation for each level of heirarchy, but still not the WHY, SIGNIFICANCE or ORIGIN. From what I can see on this site, no one seems to actually know WHY. If questioning why something is done, what the origion and significance is constitutes a resistance to authority, then perhaps there is a problem with such system. and this is the reason there are no answers to the WHY question.:confused:

Why a zucchetto? Because Roman Catholic clergymen of medieval times had tonsured heads (That is, heads that were shaved at the center of the top) and needed something to keep warm. So, a little cap was created to provide this warmth. This is the origin and purpose of the zucchetto.
What is the significance of the zucchetto in the modern world, where tonsure is an uncommon practice? It no longer serves its originally intended practical purpose, but has been adopted into the clothing and apparel of the clergymen, in the same manner that all other clergy-related clothing has come about over the course of the milleniums. Today, it identifies the wearer as a member of the Roman Catholic clergy in the same manner that a Roman collar does.

So far, I’d say you’re right (that “no one seems to actually know”).

Speaking for myself, I don’t know the answer because it’s not a question I ever wondered or thought about. My guess is the same reason applies to most Catholics on the forum here. It is one of many traditions (small “t”) we have in the Church, that originated long before our births!

If questioning why something is done, what the origion and significance is constitutes a resistance to authority, then perhaps there is a problem with such system. and this is the reason there are no answers to the WHY question.:confused:

Questioning out of a desire to know and learn most certainly does not constitute a resistance to authority. The Catholic Church encourages its members to learn more about their faith. And, we also like it when non-Catholics have a desire to learn about Catholicism.

But there is another type of questioning stemming from a different motivation - questioning in an attempt to trip someone up, to find some reason to discredit them. This type of questioning is motivated by malice, not a desire to learn. (eg. Mt 22:25-28)

I’m presuming you’re asking out of a desire to know, so I’ll see if I can locate any information.


Michelle, posts 4 and 5 already answered as to the why, as did William’s recent post. Welcome to CAF. :slight_smile:

I did not know clergy needed a reason for all their attire. I realize much of it has a meaning to it, but I did not know there had to be a reason for any of it.:shrug:


From above Catholic encyclopedia site:
*…It cannot be said positively when the zucchetto became customary, but it was probably not before the thirteenth century. It appears on the cardinals in the fresco, “St. Francis before Honorius III”, painted about 1290 in the upper church of St. Francis at Assisi. *…

OK Michelle, I thought we had answered the question completely numerous times.

The answer in review is: 1) Originally it was a practical thing to keep their heads warm and 2) it became a traditional aspect of the religious garment to signify their office.

You kept asking about “rank” and “holiness” in a way that suggested dissatisfaction with the concept of differentiating the different levels of office. I only wanted to emphasize that the distinguishing effect is to not differentiate holiness but rather to differentiate the level of authority of the wearer.

It is however quite common, but not in the general sense a rule, that many cardinals and bishops, being more senior and generally much more developed in faith and theology will have achieved to a higher level of spirituality than a priest for example. So there is a certain implicit assumption of higher level holiness with the office of bishop over the office of priest - but not in the absolute sense. So this is certainly NOT a general case since the opposite case is that we often can have a common lay member like you or I with more more personal time (without having to attend to daily administrative affairs and burdens of the office of bishop etc.) to commit to prayer and charitable works and become through God’s grace quite Holy.

But no matter how holy a person is in God’s eyes a person can not perform certain spiritual things without proper authority. And this is why we make the distinction in the Catholic Church. For example only a bishop may consecrate a priest or another new bishop so its important to make the distinction of authority apparent by what they wear - especially in formal rites where authority is exercised. Also note that the idea of authority in the Catholic Church is one of SERVICE and teaching it is not an an authority of power and privileged like in the secular governments etc. The higher the office the more authority and the more obligation to serve and set the proper example.

Our current Pope Benedict XVI prayed that he would not be elected pope since its a tremendous responsibility and requires complete devotion of time and talent to serve The Church. God holds those in higher offices to much higher standards of conduct and expectation. This too is a reason why we extend high respect to our leaders since we know that “to much that is given much is expected” and God will judge our priests, bishops and popes to a very higher standard of expectation. In a sense they take on much more personal risk and accountability just to serve us.

Hope this helps,

Why do they wear cassocks?

**The Cassock developed from the tunic that EVERYBODY wore when Christianity started.

It’s part of the clerical dress in ALL pre-reformation churches.**

Or to quote *Tevye - *TRADITION!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.