QUAERITUR: Can seminarians wear birettas?

A question from the internet:

Hi Father,
     I first want to say thank you for your great work for the Lord and the Church!!! Many thanks.  My question is whether or not a seminarian is allowed to wear the biretta?  I live in Philadelphia, but want to remain anonymous to the superiors, because some are not open to continuity with tradition.  If a seminarian is allowed to wear one, when would it be appropriate?  I am looking forward to attending a Mass in the Extraordinary Form also.  Thank you in advance for help. 

 

First, you are welcome.  But I remind you that the participants here are really what help WDTPRS to be influential.  The more people who read, the better the stats, the more the milestones, the greater impact we can have in shaping the conversation.

And it is all about shaping the conversation, isn’t it?

Second, yes, seminarians can wear birettas.  They always could in years past, so I can’t see why they can’t now.

Distinction: Once upon a time seminarians were given first tonsure and vested with the cassock as a sign of their clerical state.  That is when they would start using the biretta as part of their choir dress. 

Now, the clerical state begins at diaconate.

However, since the ministries of lector and acolyte substitute for those old minor orders, some suggest that the biretta shouldn’t be used until the man is "installed" in one of those ministries.  Aside: I find that "installed" thing rather amusing.  It makes a man sound like a spark-plug.

So, I suppose we could approach this a couple ways. 

Either reserve the biretta to men in major seminary, or reserve it for those who are in major seminary and who are lectors and/or acolytes.

No matter what… and this is important… be careful to gauge prudently what sort of reaction there might be from the faculty of the seminary. 

Don’t get yourself scrutinized more closely because of a hat.  It just ain’t worth it.

In the meantime, be sure to study what I call "birettiquette", so that you know what to do with the hat once you are sure you can use it. 

I don’t know how many times I have seen clueless priests fumble around with the thing. 
 

QUAERITUR: Can seminarians wear birettas?
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30 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can seminarians wear birettas?

  1. As a tangent to your aside: I’ve always gotten a kick out of the terminology for when a college fraternity man decided to leave the frat: de-activated. I always chuckled at that terms. As if someone unpluged his computer.

  2. KEE says:

    So, would you advocate the wearing of the biretta outside of liturgy?

    Our bishop wore his (along with the cape) while presiding over our seminary commencement and looked sharp! Should sems where the biretta instead of the graduation caps?

  3. Gregor says:

    Still to the aside:

    The word “install” is really very appropriate given its etymology: “place in (ecclesiastical) office by seating in an official stall,” from M.L. installare, from L. in- “in” + M.L. stallum “stall,” from a Gmc. source, cf. choir stall”.

  4. KEE: Academic dress has its own rules.

  5. Nate says:

    Father (or anyone with the knowledge) – Where can someone not familiar with the rules for “birettiquette” find a simple guide (preferably on-line) for this and, part of the aside, for academic dress? Wikipedia has some information, but I’m not sure how good a reference that is. Many thanks in advance!

  6. Q. Horatius Flaccus says:

    Dear Nate,

    The following should be a short but pretty complete guide to the use of birettas in the context of the 1962 liturgy. (Sorry, can’t help you with academic usage, other than that the 4-horned doctoral biretta is not for liturgical wear.) Hope this helps!

    Only a cleric in sacred vestments (which is to say, wearing at least a stole over a surplice) may wear a biretta when standing or walking in church. (Note that the Sacred Ministers do not wear the biretta from the altar to the sedilia, or vice versa.) Those attending in choir wear the biretta indoors only when seated, putting it on after sitting and taking it off before standing up. In outdoor processions that are not of the B. Sacrament or of relics of the Passion, those in choir dress may wear the biretta. Even when seated, the biretta should be removed when bowing the head at (at least the first mention of) the Holy Name, the name of the B. Virgin, the name of the Saint who is being celebrated or commemorated at the liturgy one is attending, and the name of the Pope. It is also removed for the Scriptural text of the sermon.

  7. In years gone by, collegiate seminarians who were beginning the third year (philosophate) were granted the biretta, at least in the Diocese of Cleveland.

  8. Royce says:

    Perhaps a good rule could be that if one is allowed to wear the cassock he is likewise allowed to wear the biretta. The two go together after all, don’t they?

  9. Seems to me that there are two different questions taht could be asked here:

    May seminarians wear birettas?
    Should seminarians wear birettas?

    On the first question of “may” there seems to be argument for it. All well and good.

    On the second issue of “should” I would say decidedly NOT.

    Why? We are not yet through the woods here folks, and there are still formators a-plenty would would seize on the opportunity of a seminarian wearing one to target them. Additionally classmates and staff are bound to feel invited to make comments like “closet case” “chancel prancer” “life-size infant of Prague” “queer” “Rigid” “pre-v-two-crew” “Bing Crosby, Jr” “crazy”, etc.

    My advice? The same as it has been for the past decade since I left seminary: Keep your head down, your mouth shut, your nose clean. AFTER (and only AFTER) ordination to the priesthood should most men worry about these things. Show up for your first Mass in a fine hand made water-silk biretta and custom tailored cassock – commission hand-sewn shoes with buckles if you wish… But wait until then, not a moment before.

    Don’t give them any excuses to drum you out. Store the biretta off campus at a friend’s place, and don’t even talk about them. Fly under the radar quietly and slowly.

  10. Santiago says:

    “Life-size infant of Prague” Haha

    I hope I’m not the only one a liitle confused by the responses here and what they see in reality. Firstly, I’ve seen young brothers of the Oratory who are certainly not Deacons where the biretta along with just choir dress – no stole obviously. I don’t think the Oratorians retained the minor orders as the FSSP did but maybe they make a call internally as to when a brother should begin to wear the biretta.

    They wear them indoors with just choir dress which seems to contradict what Q. Horatius Flaccus has said above.

    ASimpleSinner raises the larger point of how to survive in a seminary if you are traditionally minded and the seminary is…er…not. I think it would grind me down. That must be very difficult.

    One thing I noticed at the Westminster Pontifical High Mass on saturday was the number of times some of the priests in choir where “caught out” by the Cardinal repeatedly refering by name to St. Basil. I think some gave up in the end :-)

  11. Mark M says:

    And Seminarians of those orders retaining the minor orders? Should they wear birettas?

  12. Mark M says:

    [posting error; apologies if appears twice]

    And Seminarians of those orders retaining the minor orders? Should they wear birettas?

  13. WDPRSer says:

    Fr. Z,

    Question on birettiquette: If the Holy Name is used some 20, 30+ times during a homily/sermon, is there a point at which the rubrics specifically allow the a cleric/seminarian to not tip? I was not wearing a biretta at the time but I went to a couple of Masses at which I was a server and I bowed my head so often I was afraid that people would think that I had a twitch or some sort of disorder.

  14. WDTPRSer: I think here local custom should be the guide. The practice in one place I know, the practice is to, at the first mention, uncover and lower the biretta to near the knee, at the second, tip, and at the third and beyond, not uncover. That is one way to do it, not the only way.

  15. introibo says:

    naturally, the london oratorians doff their birettas unhesitatingly at every utterance of the holy name. but most of the preachers in that place are sensitive and polite enough to use the traditional phrase “our lord” in sermons rather than the holy name. this limits considerably the elbow strain on their biretta-wearing brethren and the neck strain on the more pious laiety.

  16. JBD says:

    Distinctions to be made!

    First, the biretta is originally acadmeic headdress that found its way into the liturgy somewhere around the 16th century, albeit in a more primitive form.

    Mark M:
    Those religious orders retaining the minor orders. They govern themselves by their own laws. Remember: Traditional Orders must still follow the 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law which stipulates that the clerical state is enjoined to the diaconate!

    BUT:
    Most religious orders modern and traditional stipulate in their constitutions, this is true of the Oratorians and several others, that upon entrance to the community they have the rights and privileges of the clerical state, mutatis mutandis. In other words, one may dress like a cleric (and pray like one: obligation to the Divine Office) yet not canoncially BE one. Bishops have the right to do this in their dioceses, as Archbishop Burke has done in St. Louis where seminarians are requested to wear clerics even outside the seminary.

    I also believe the basic rule is, every form of clerical dress practically speaking has a head covering. The biretta naturally goes with the cassock as a hood goes with a habit.

  17. Brandon says:

    Anonymous Seminarian,

    Most likely, we know each other, and so take my advice.

    Don’t wear it.

    The end.

  18. Closet-Trady says:

    Its hard enough wearing a cassock and not being second guessed by formators. I think wearing a biretta as a seminarian would draw too much attention on yourself in most circumstances. Personally, being a diocesan seminarian, I will wait until priesthood for sporting a biretta.

  19. JBD says:

    The way we are talking about birettas now, is how we used to talk about the cassock in the 80’s!!!

    After this passes we shall move the discussion forward to

    silver buckles on shoes (you can buy them at Gammarelli’s)

    the soprana and ferriola

    The times they are a changin’!

  20. Marcus says:

    Isn’t the purpose of a spark plug to start a fire?

    I think that usage is completely appropriate. God bless all seminarians!

  21. I should note that I did know a collegiate seminarian attending a seminary where cassocks were hadly worn who arrived with a biretta… I don’t know if he lasted the whole year (and I would be the first to concede that he likely had some other things going on that legitimately begged examination) but he engendered no confidences as a 19 year old with bad skin and what appeared to be a “Bing Crosby” complex…

    I winced when I first saw him in all his ecclesial finery. Not that I oppoesed any of it on a priest, who already stood at least 6’4” with bad skin and generous “ear endowment”… Well he would have done just as well to trade his biretta in for a beanie with a bullseye on it and his cassock for a t-shirt that read “Find an excuse to make my life miserable and/or kick me out – I dare you!”

    More pleasantly I have been surprised by some fellas that were all jeans & tennis shoes through seminary, and now can’t be found in a church NOT wearing their cassocks as priest.

    Again, fly under the radar, low and silent, give no excuses, keep your mouth shut, brush & floss, eat your veggies.

    Don’t stand out.

  22. Doug says:

    Ok…

    1) Can seminarians wear the biretta? — No. Reference “Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church” (1948). It is made abundantly clear that the three bladed biretta is reserved for the clergy (ie “ordained”). The minor orders are not included.
    2) In reference to JBD’s comment that the biretta is originally an academic head dress: Yes…but, it should be remembered that the “doctoral” biretta which has four blades instead of the “roman” biretta’s three blades, is only in use (non liturgically) in Spain, Germany and France. Liturgically, it is only in China (due to an apostolic indult of Pope Paul V) that the four bladed biretta (or for that matter any biretta at all) finds fundamental liturgical use. In fact, under this indult, Chinese clergy may even wear the biretta (as long as it is not “the biretta of daily use” – in other words not the normal three bladed biretta) during the consecration.
    3) What are the rules for removing the biretta at the mention of the Holy Name?: There are two sections of the mass that need to be considered. First, the mass itself. Second, the homily. For both the rule is the same. Remove the biretta at the mention of the Holy Name. However, if one knows that the name is to be mentioned several times in relative succession, remove the biretta and use one’s judgment to decide whether or not to remain uncovered for a time or continue to cover/uncover. I suggest that one should err on the side of caution and cover as often as possible without becoming a distraction. In any event, the clergy in question should know the mass well enough (minus the gospel of course) to already be well practiced. As to the homily, follow the simple “3” rule. If the holy name is mentioned three times in a row, remain uncovered after the third…expecting a fourth :-). If the fourth does not occur in short order, recover and move on. Your deacons will follow your lead.

  23. Gil Wright says:

    Installed?

    The card in my wallet and the Australian GIRM use the word ‘instituted’ – as in Instituted Lector (there are almost none of these in Sydney) or Instituted Acolyte (there are lots of these because we don’t currently have very many deacons).

    Deacons are Transient (i.e. on their way to priestly ordination) or Permanent (usually married men – I think there are 3 or 4 in the entire archdiocese).

  24. dominic1962 says:

    I say that the best way to go with these issues would be to follow legitimate local custom. In our diocese, they are fine with us wearing birettas at the “Extraordinary Form” and the traditional priests are more than completely fine with us wearing them there. I have never heard from a traditional order priest that seminarians should not wear birettas and they also say that pom/no pom is not an issue. I say go with what they say because that is probably the main if not only place where you’d be wearing a biretta anyway.

    As to seminaries, I would venture to say that most of them would not be so quick to try to kick you out for liking the more traditional garb. At my previous seminary, a group of us made it a habit to run down to the nearest TLM on some Saturdays and dress in choir. I did not get called out on going to the TLM or showing a like for the cassock/biretta at all.

  25. Paul Goings says:

    No. Reference “Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church” (1948). It is made abundantly clear that the three bladed biretta is reserved for the clergy (ie “ordained”). The minor orders are not included.

    I believe that this is incorrect. Those who had received the minor orders were, in fact, “ordained,” in terms of what held true in 1948.

    In any event, it seems that the opinion of many rubricists was that the cassock, surplice, collar, and biretta all constituted “clerical dress” as a unit, and where that was conceded to anyone by law or custom, it included each and every part. Thus, Martinucci talks about the torchbearers at Solemn Mass leaving their birettas on their seats when going to hold torches for the Canon. And the servers at S. Peter’s still make use of the collar. So it would appear that if permission to use the cassock and/or surplice has been granted, then the collar and biretta can also be used, all things being equal.

    As to what a seminarian should do, that is another matter altogether, but most of the advice I have seen here appears very sound.

  26. “At my previous seminary, a group of us made it a habit to run down to the nearest TLM on some Saturdays and dress in choir. I did not get called out on going to the TLM or showing a like for the cassock/biretta at all.

    No, that will not be the reason they give in some places when they scrutinize you for X, Y, or Z.

  27. Q. Horatius Flaccus says:

    RE: “Can seminarians wear the biretta?—No. Reference “Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church” (1948). It is made abundantly clear that the three bladed biretta is reserved for the clergy (ie “ordained”). The minor orders are not included.”

    I’m afraid this is a misinterpretation of McCloud–in the very same book,
    Fr McCloud expressly says, “Seminarians often, by custom, wear the biretta
    at meals.” So seminarians certainly did wear birettas “in diebus illis.”

    Whether they *should* do so today, outside of a traditionalist seminary,
    is another story. It seems unwise, to say the least. It is good to remember,
    too, that the biretta was always optional in choir anyway.

    Oh, and regarding when/how often to uncover at the Holy Name–I did address
    that in my summary above; I said “at least at the first mention.” Common
    sense will take it from there!

  28. Q. Horatius Flaccus says:

    RE: “Can seminarians wear the biretta?—No. Reference “Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church” (1948). It is made abundantly clear that the three bladed biretta is reserved for the clergy (ie “ordained”). The minor orders are not included.”

    I’m afraid this is a misinterpretation of McCloud–in the very same book,
    Fr McCloud expressly says, “Seminarians often, by custom, wear the biretta
    at meals.” So seminarians certainly did wear birettas “in diebus illis.”

    Whether they *should* do so today, outside of a traditionalist seminary,
    is another story. It seems unwise, to say the least. It is good to remember,
    too, that the biretta was always optional in choir anyway.

    @WDPRSer:

    Regarding when/how often to uncover at the Holy Name–I did address
    that in my summary above; I said “at least at the first mention.” Common
    sense will take it from there!

  29. Christopher M. Tomaszewski says:

    Dave, is this you? Charles? Who the one of you fellow rad-trads sent this e-mail to Fr. Z? This is classic… Go ahead and wear it for Opening Day in August. Then I’ll come help you pack your bags.

    Your exiled brother,
    Christopher

  30. dominic1962 says:

    True, in some places they would not come out and say that your “problem” is a predilection for clerical “finery” but I got good reports and was sent on. YMMV