Why Do Catholic Priests Wear Black?

There is perhaps no more obvious function of clothing than to provide protection. Other basic uses for garments include identifying the wearer or an occasion.

But according to research it is likely that the first basic form of clothing worn by humans were designed for religious, cultural or ritual purposes. Flash forward to today and such uses remain common. A classic example is Catholic priests wearing black in his everyday life.

What’s with that and where did it even come from? Why do catholic priests wear black?

Why Catholic Priests Wear Black

Why Catholic Priests Wear Black

There’s a whole history of how the clerical dress was developed. However, connection between black garments the priests wear and the Biblical era is vague.

“Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor. 3 Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. 4 These are the garments they are to make: a breast-piece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests. 5 Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. 6 “Make the ephod of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen—the work of skilled hands.” (Exodus 28:2-6).

Today, while these biblical patterns are still evident, the dress code has changed. The Catholic Church maintains its own rich tradition.

  • The color of the ordinary Roman cassock and clerical attire in general is black.
  • For the regular parish priest, the cassock is totally black.
  • For cardinals, the buttons, trim, and inside hem are scarlet silk.
  • For patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, protonotaries apostolic and prelates of honor, the buttons, trim and inside hem are amaranth red.
  • For chaplains to the Holy Father, purple.

For liturgical and public ceremonies of the Church, cassocks are of one color;

  • White for the Holy Father
  • Scarlet for Cardinals
  • Purple for patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, protonotaries apostolic, and prelates of honor
  • Black for priests.

In certain dioceses however, variations to these standards are permitted. This adaptation is mostly observed in tropical regions. The clerical attire can be white, trimmed in the color assigning the status of the cleric.

catholicism’s traditional liturgical colors are also used to signify particular events:

1. Black

  • Black is specified for funeral Masses.

2. Green

  • Worn during “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary does not mean ordinary in the sense of common or normal. Ordinary means counting, as in the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

3. Red

  • Worn on Passion (Palm) Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and on the Feast Days of Martyrs, including the Apostles and Evangelists.

4. White

  • Worn during the Christmas and Easter seasons and celebration of Mary, the Angels, the Saints who were not martyrs, All Saints, Birth of John the Baptist, Chair of Peter, Conversion of Paul, and St. John the Evangelist.

5. Violet

  • Worn during Advent and Lent

6. Rose

  • Rose – worn on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)


priest in black

So, the easy answer to why Catholic Priests wear black?

There is no simple answer to this question.

Any one reason is influenced by a multitude of others, but one of the most prevalent theories is that black dye was easier to buy and care for. The color was also considered modest and meant the priests were not trying to out-dress or outshine others.

Black priestly clothing is hugely symbolic in the modern day. It is a daily reminder to the priests of their commitment to the church.

Black signifies the patience to get there and mourning the death to self. From the moment the Priest is ordained, he ceases to exist as an entity of himself. He now represents God’s authority.

1 thought on “Why Do Catholic Priests Wear Black?”

  1. Very helpful and insightful. The last sentence makes a lot of sense. It is my prayer that priests understand that they cease to exist as an entity for themselves and represent God’s authority.


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