The cappa magna, or the great cape, sometimes also called the Roman cape in Poland, is one of few garments of good old days which survived the reforms of Paul VI, unfortunately not in the same form. The cappa has the form of a coat with a five-metre-long train (Pius XII had shortened it to 3m, but it is said that John XXIII restored the ordinary length) and a cape which forms a hood in the back; this is usually fixed near the neck in the centre or on the right arm. On the front of the cappa there is a 25-centimetre-long vertical cut. In the winter version the silken cape was replaced by ermine.
The Holy Father wore a cappa magna made of red velvet when attending the Matins of Christmas, whereas during the Office of the Dead and the Tenebrae his cappa was of red serge. The papal train-bearer was the prefect of the caudatarii College (Collegium caudatariorium).
Cardinals had the privilege of wearing a cappa magna of watered silk during the whole year with the exception of Good Friday when they donned a woollen cappa. Contrary to the cassock and the rest of the choir dress, the cappa had only two colours: crimson and purple in the times of mourning, during penitential periods and also when the Papal Chapel took place outside of the Apostolic Palace.
The purple cappa magna was a robe used by archbishops and bishops and, similarly to the rest of their dress, was made of wool.
Cardinals and bishops belonging to religious orders wore a woollen cappa magna in the colour corresponding with that of their habits. This is because the winter cape of the cappa could be made of the skins of animals other than ermine. This was also the case with abbots, unless they had a different privilege. The prelates of the orders of clerics regular, as well as the monastic ones, could wear the cappa as the secular clergy did, however only a woollen one, even if they were cardinals.
There are a few rules concerning wearing the cappa magna. When a prelate sits, then the cappa is fixed in such a way to cover him completely; when he kneels, the cappa should cover the faldstool or the kneeler standing in front of him.
The hood of the cappa was not only an accessory, although its use, as time went by, became more and more limited:
– during the Matins
– during penitential periods: penitential processions; three last days of Holy Week, when the prelate headed for the church; during prostration or while donning the galero during the consistory
– when a bishop gave his blessing from the throne, being in the choir dress (although then he could use the biretta)
– when a prelate wore the pontifical hat which was not to be put on an uncovered head.
The second type of the cappa, called the small one (cappa parva, cappa praelatitia reflexa), was worn by members of certain chapters, bishops, the prelates di fiochetti, the apostolic protonotaries, the prelates votantes and referendarii of the Apostolic Signatura, the auditors of the Roman Rota, the clerici of the Apostolic Camera and the servants of the Papal Chapel when they took part in the ceremonies of the Papal Chapels. Although, if they fulfilled some liturgical activities in the same time, they didn’t don the cappa, but only a cotta on a rochet. The same rule applied to the bishops who in Maundy Thursday received the Holy Communion from the hands of the Pope. The cappa parva was similar to the ordinary one, although its train was rolled up and usually tied up at the left hand, apart from Good Friday; then, those who wore it let down the train during the Adoration of the Cross. A similar situation occurred sometimes during penitential processions.
The canons granted with the privilege of wearing the cappa parva could use its two versions: the winter one with fur, and the summer one with a silken cape. If they were not allowed to it, however, the cappa in the summer period was replaced by a rochet and a surplice.
[English translation by Marek]