The portion of this black cassock is a significant second class relic belonging to Albino Luciani, the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice. It is the one he was wearing as he left Venice to attend the conclave that elected him on August 26, 1978.
The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. This very beautiful second-class relic, a gift from the niece of Pope John Paul I, was featured on the second episode of the series, Popes of the 20th Century.
Here is Father’s commentary:
This pope reigned for such a short time–33 days–he is not very well known. He was elected on August 26, 1978, and died 33 days later, on September 28. His short reign resulted in a “Year of 3 Popes.”
This item looks very ordinary–a swathe of black cloth. But it is extraordinary because it was actually cut from the cassock that Albino Luciani–that was his baptismal name–wore as he was leaving Venice to attend the conclave that elected him.
And over the years I’ve become a fairly good friend with his niece, Pia Luciani, who was very close to her uncle. In our friendship she has been very, very generous to me, giving me items that were associated with her uncle, such as something as significant as this item.
The cassock is a clerical vestment used primarily for liturgies as well as other liturgical events. You often see our cardinals, bishops and the Holy Father wearing cassocks. Priests often wear these as well. The cardinals, in a unique way, have red added to the cassock–both in the buttons down the length of the cassock, and on the fascia–the cummerbund style belt at the waist.
Albino Luciani’s was somewhat unique because his cassock was all black. John Paul I’s motto on his coat of arms was “Humilitas.” He was an extremely humble man, and he wouldn’t often wear red. He wanted to dress as a typical priest. And so that was a pure black cassock that he wore as a simple priest going to the conclave that elected him. And the only reason I was able to get this was because not long before, the Vatican actually contacted Pia Luciani and asked for a portion of that cassock, so that they could distribute it in relic form, for example, on holy cards, because his canonization is well under way. Because she had already cut off pieces for the Holy See, the Vatican, she did it for me as well.
His humility can be quite inspiring. Likewise, Cardinal Dolan, one of the United States’ newest cardinals, often wears just a plain black cassock for interviews and different events. There is a humility in that gesture that is a very beautiful thing, because it shows that when people reach high offices, still their focus is service. And that is what I as a priest, or a bishop or cardinal, am here for–to serve. And so when we see high level officials dress in the lowest level of hierarchy, it can be an inspiration for priests, because they are showing in a very tangible way what we are all about, and that is we are servants to those who are Christ’s followers.
Of course whatever your role is in the Church, it will change with these different appointments. But the humility of remembering that we’re servants of Christ doesn’t change. It is at the heart of who we are as people of God, not only as clergy. And it’s completely appropriate that John Paul I’s motto is ‘Humilitas” because as a man who was pope for only 33 days, he’ll go down in history as being a very humble man.
Since he is soon to be beatified the cassock assumes even greater historical significance.