The cope is perhaps the most elaborate and richly embroidered (and consequently the heaviest) of the vestments used in the various Catholic liturgies. It is an open fronted, almost floor length cloak with a hood (the ornate panel hanging down the back) fastened by a clasp at the front.
It can be worn for the solemn celebration of the sacraments outside of the Mass, for the celebration of the Divine Office, for certain processions and for Eucharistic Benediction. On certain occasions, such as Palm Sunday, Father Paul may begin the Mass vested in a cope but change into a chasuble later on. Similarly, on Remembrance Sunday he will celebrate the Requiem Mass vested in a chasuble and will change into a cope for the Act of Remembrance itself. You may be asked to assist.
If incense is being used and the wearer – Father Paul or Deacon Michael – is incensing the Blessed Sacrament or the altar you may be asked to kneel or walk beside him lifting the edge of the cope so as to free his hands to swing the thurible.
The cope evolved from a raincoat! Its origin is similar to the poncho-like garment that was the origin of the chasuble. This was slit at the front and became equipped with a clasp, known as a morse, at the front and developed into a great cloak or cape. As ornamentation was added the cape became too heavy for easy wearing. The original hood had become transformed into a decorative, apron-like flap at the back. The vestment has, despite the added ornament, has come down to us not only intact in appearance but also in the breadth of its use. It can be worn in an identical manner by either priest or deacon over an alb and the appropriate stole.
And, when worn to the graveside during a funeral on a wet day it still keeps the rain out.