If you have ever been to a confirmation or ordination (or any liturgy where the bishop is present) you may have noticed the bishop putting on and taking off different hats throughout the Mass. It can look strange to many (especially non-Catholics). So why all the fuss over what the bishop wears on his head? What do these hats represent?
THE SKULL CAP & THE MITER
The first type of hat the bishop wears is called a zucchetto, commonly known as a SKULL CAP. It is a closely fitted cap that sits atop the head during official functions and liturgical events. Bishops, cardinals and the pope all wear one and each have a distinctive color that indicates their particular rank (violet, red, and white, respectively).
The miter is the proper liturgical headdress for all bishops of the Latin rite, including the pope. The word comes from the Greek word mitra, meaning “turban.” It consists of two stiffened flaps of material joined by a headband with two fringed strips hanging from the back base of the miter.
ORIGIN OF THE SKULL CAP & THE MITER
The zucchetto came into use for the initial purpose of covering the tonsure of a clergy member, protecting the bald spot on his head from the elements (for real). But by the 15th century the zucchetto became more ceremonial in nature and denoted clergy of a specific rank. The skull cap can be worn during ordinary functions outside the liturgy but is taken off in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
The miter did not become a regular part of a bishop’s liturgical garb until the 11th century. By the 12th century the miter developed into what we are most familiar with, a large hat with two peaks (one in front; one in back) and two flaps of cloth called lappets tailing from the back. It is now used exclusively during certain liturgical functions of the bishop.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SKULL CAP AND THE MITRE
Like other Liturgical Wears worn by the Bishop, the skull cap and the Mitre distinctly signify the office of the Bishop; his office and authority as father and teacher of the faith.
There exist a rich meaning and symbolism of our faith as Catholics which we are called to learn about, no matter how insignificant they may appear. One of these is about the various liturgical wears we have.