Changing from the Cope to the Chasuble

Date: February 25, 2024
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Question: On Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion a celebrant may wear a cope for the first part of the Mass, the procession. Upon the celebrant’s reaching the sanctuary, the cope is replaced with the chasuble. Is there a precedent for the celebrant to unfasten the cope and let it fall to the ground? The servers are specifically instructed not to move the fallen cope, but to let it remain on the floor for the remainder of the Mass. To me, it smacks of "cheap theatrics," but perhaps there is some basis in liturgical practice or history that I am not aware of. -- V.S., Montgomery, Alabama


Answer: According to the descriptions offered by modern ceremonial manuals for the current Roman Rite such as those of Bishop Peter J. Elliott and Msgr. Marc Caron, nothing in the rubrics would indicate this practice.


They indicate that the celebrant, after incensing the altar, goes to the chair and, if the celebrant has been wearing the cope, “it is now removed and replaced by the chasuble.” This chasuble has usually been prepared beforehand and left at the chair. 


Therefore, the manuals agree that the change from cope to chasuble is normally done at the chair after reverencing the altar and not at the nave or entrance to the sanctuary.


This detail regarding the proper moment as to when the change of vestment should happen is a good indicator that the practice mentioned by our reader is certainly not intended by the rite.


From what we find by looking at earlier ceremonial manuals by liturgists such as Trimelloni or Fortesque, this practice of allowing the cope to fall to the ground cannot claim any longstanding tradition.


In the rites foreseen before the Second Vatican Council reforms, not only was the cope exchanged for the chasuble but all the red vestments used by the priest, deacon and subdeacon were exchanged for violet vestments for the Mass. These latter were also left ready for the exchange at the place where the clergy was seated.


Therefore, I can only surmise that, barring some immemorial custom of a particular local church, the practice observed by our reader would appear to be a private initiative of an individual celebrant. 


Whether it is “cheap theatrics” or a sincere attempt to communicate some form of spiritual or catechetical message, I am unable to say.


I can say that it is not foreseen in any rubric. Nor does it conform to the Church’s tradition of treating the sacred vestments with the utmost care and respect because of the important symbolic role they have within the celebration of the sacred liturgy.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.


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