QUAERITUR: Birettiquette

I had a note from a priest reader about what I call "birettiquette", the proper use of the biretta in choro.

I am looking for the proper use of the Biretta by a priest at Mass.  I know the general rule is that it is worn while seated and usually off while standing.  I have seen some priests lift their Biretta slightly at the Name of God, or of Jesus while they are seated. Thank you for your help.

Once upon a time I actually had made a little pamphlet on this… but I can’t find it.  I will have to redo it in my copious free time.

In the military people need to know what to do with their hats, when to cover and uncover.  This varies with the services.  The Navy handles their covers differently than the Army, for example, when it comes to indoors and outdoors.

The same goes for clergy in choir dress.

I haven’t a lot of time today, so here are some rapid notes I sent to a priest friend who was going to be attending a TLM in choro for the first time and wanted to know what to do.

  • Carry the biretta in procession.
  • Only the sacred ministers wear it when walking.
  • Wear it when seated.
  • Remove it BEFORE standing and recover only when seated again.
  • Do not wear it kneeling.
  • Uncover at the Holy Name by removing the biretta and lowering it to your right knee.
  • Tip it in return if ministers bow to your direction as they pass before you or if they are heading to point X across the sanctuary and make the usual honorific bows.
  • Put it on correctly!  If it is a three-horned biretta, what Italians call a "tricorno", the middle "horn" goes to the right side of your head so you remove and cover using your right hand. 
  • Servers should always offer the biretta so that the priest can grasp that middle "horn".
  • When standing, hold the biretta with hands before your chest, using both hands, holding the bottom edge so that the biretta is above your hands.
  • If in procession you are carrying a book, hold the book upright with the pages to the left and hook the top of the biretta in your lower fingers below the book.
  • Hold the biretta before your chest as described above when standing when orations are sung, the Gospel is sung, you are being incensed, the blessing at the end, etc.
  • Do not…not… sit on it!

There are some fast tips for your birettiquette!

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51 Responses to QUAERITUR: Birettiquette

  1. Veritas says:

    Was it not usual to raise it at the name of Mary?

  2. elmo says:

    Seriously … What does this have to do with growing in faith? How is this helpful in finding eternal life? Sorry, I am not being sarcastic. I honestly don’t see the point in getting worked up over how a priest is to wear a biretta.

  3. Breier says:

    Elmo,

    Good manners, etiquette, protocol, and decorum fall under charity towards others. Unless you think that we shouldn’t care about etiquette generally, I don’t see how biretta protocol is any different many other aspects of dress etiquette. It’s just more unusual because it applies to priests.

  4. Ken says:

    I would add to the “put it on correctly” area to wear it straight. I’ve seen some clergy who almost position it like a zuchetto.

  5. Joyce says:

    Elmo–

    You are absolutely correct. It’s this sort of legalism which has given Catholicism a bad name. I thought this kind of silliness was banished by Vatican II. [LOL! Oh Joyce! Thanks for the chuckle!]

  6. Fr. Charles says:

    For us mendicants, who do not wear the biretta, we cover the head with the amice (and capuche/hood of our habits)during the times when sacred ministers would ordinarily cover their heads with the biretta. So now I wonder if the same practices outlined here would extend to us when we are clergy in choro.

  7. Biff says:

    Is there a Hiberno/English custom of wearing it while preaching?

  8. T says:

    Elmo and Joyce:

    Is coming to a small corner of the internet and complaining about birettaquette helpful in finding eternal life?

  9. What is the symbolism of the biretta?

  10. john uk says:

    Would it be possible to have some “birettiquette” for funerals? In conducting a funeral, is it worn continuously from the church to the grave? Uncover for the committal?

  11. Argon says:

    T.:

    Well said!

    Vatican II ushered in far more rubbish than it threw out. Probably about a 100:1 ratio.

  12. Aelric says:

    I thought this kind of silliness was banished by Vatican II.

    Ah, yet another member of the “those-who-think-they-know-what-Vatican II-said/did,-but-haven’t-bothered-to-read-the-documents” club.

  13. elmo says:

    Is coming to a small corner of the internet and complaining about birettaquette helpful in finding eternal life?

    1.) I don’t think I was complaining so much as expressing bafflement.

    2.) I look to spiritual resources such as priests and their blogs for assistance in growing in faith and finding eternal life. If I wanted to find eternal life through the Law (cf. 1 Co. 15:56) I’d pretty much not be a Christian.

    3.) I’ve been a reader of Fr. Z’s blog for some time and generally am in agreement with his idea that the liturgy will save the world. In other words, I am not enamored by the “spirit of Vatican II” mentality and will walk out out loosey goosey liturgical celebrations. So be careful about how you label me for I am not what you might suppose in a knee-jerk reaction to my comment to be.

    4.) After some thought, the source of my bewilderment at the birettaquette post is this: How to wear a biretta is relevant to the few priests who read this blog who also wear birettas. Since the birettaquette post has such little relevance it struck me as having no real point except in reveling in the Law for the sake of the Law. (See point 2.)

    And the question I ask in my original post still stands.

  14. Kaneohe says:

    There is always satisfaction, and even joy, in doing something the right way. As the saying goes, “God is in the details.”

    Many thanks Fr. Z for the birettiquette tips.

  15. Argon says:

    Things like birettiquette are important in part because every single minute detail of the TLM has a significance on one or more levels; in the Traditional Roman Rite, nothing is a triviality.

    In this light, the mindset of the reformers who foisted the Novus Ordo on us can be properly compared to vandalism.

  16. Argon says:

    The biretta is a symbol of priestly authority. For example, when a Priest is receiving a convert’s abjuration of heresy, he does so wearing the biretta.

  17. Mark says:

    The biretta is from the academic cap that has been extended to the secular clergy because, since the institution of the Seminary system, they have all been university educated by definition. In some ways it replaces the clerical hood that came to be seen as just the province of religious.

    I dont know if it is in the rubrics or particularly mandated anywhere. Clerical dress legislation and custom have a long history.

    But, seriously, elmo. If we are going to have it at all, there have to be some general guidelines about when to keep it on, when to keep it off, etc.

    I mean…is it “legalism” to have some general idea of when the people are supposed to stand, sit, kneel, etc…during Mass? Of course not. There has to be some collective action in the liturgy. It would look bad if priests just randomly took their hats on and off at personal whim.

  18. Tominellay says:

    …”in my copious free time”…hehehe…

  19. Fr. Wade says:

    Thank you Fr. Z,
    I am sure your site helps many of the laity but it is especially helpful for us priests.
    Proper use of the Biretta helps me to remember that I receive the richness of the Liturgy from those who have gone before me. All these little things may not seem important, but they are important because it is not my Liturgy it is His Liturgy. It makes me feel connected to the communion of saints. It reminds me of my authority as a priest and that one day I will stand before The Authority and have to give an account of my life.

    Again Thank you Fr. Z for all you do for the Lord and His Church. [Pray for me.]

  20. Geoffrey says:

    Of course neither Vatican II nor the Holy See ever abolished the Biretta. The book “The Church Visible” gives directions for its use at Mass in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Imagine that!

  21. Vernon says:

    The basic rule, as indicated in Fr Z’s blog entry is that whilst in Church the biretta may only be worn whilst seated unless one is ‘Paratus’ – ie vested in chasuble, dalmatic, tunicle or cope. However in certain cases one is regarded as Paratus if vested in cassock, cotta/surplice AND STOLE – eg whilst preaching or hearing confessions.

    However dressed, the biretta is NEVER worn whilst the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

    When wearing the biretta in choir, it is removed at any point where one would bow the head, ie at the Holy Name, or when all three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned together. It should also be removed at the name of the Blessed Virgin and of the Saint of the Day or Titular.

  22. Elmo: Happily the use of the biretta does not interfere with the spiritual life.

  23. Rob says:

    I’ve seen priests wear the biretta while preaching the homily. Is this required or is it recommended or neither? [It is an old convention.... a nice custom. Remember that the biretta developed from the cap that teachers wore, doctores. Priests exercise an office of governing, sanctifying,... teaching. The priest at the altar is quintessentially priest. But when he steps away from the altar he teaches.]

  24. Man is an integral composite of body and soul. Man’s outward actions correspond to his interior actions. Proper etiquette, for example, and the way we carry ourselves can show forth the state of our souls. “Birettiquette” is one of those little ritual things we do as human beings that allow us to form our entire being, body and soul, to something higher. It is a kind of obedience. A priest is obedient to the rubrics and he wears vestments, he speaks in a veiled tongue and performs ritualistic actions which convey a sense of the sacred and show forth the mystery of liturgical worship. The person of the priest is veiled during the liturgy by these sacred, liturgical, ritual actions. These things are not necessarily done for our salvation, but remember that all is for the greater glory of God, even our salvation. These little things are all part of glorifying God in everything we do. This all ties in to the great Mystery of the Incarnational nature of the Christian life.

    Let us remember too that Fr. Z’s cooking tips, his birds, his Penjing, the latest chat about sports, our mindless chatter about politics do not “have to do with growing in faith” or “helpful in finding eternal life,” as elmo says. However, these things can be done for the greater glory of God. So can proper birettiquette. [There is beauty in the world and that beauty is a reflection of God. The aptum, the pulchrum, the verum, are all of a piece. ]

  25. geoff jones says:

    Are the rules any different for the O.F.?

  26. T says:

    Elmo, what I find baffling is that you’re baffled by a Blog Post that you didn’t have to read and that doesn’t have to be tailored to you, Elmo, as the audience.

  27. Jake says:

    As a seminarian, I am thinking about buying a biretta. Any recommended suppliers,
    either in the US or Rome?

  28. Mantellone says:

    Vernon,

    by \”titular\” I take it you mean the patron saint of the church. I\’m not sure the rubrics ever demanded that, did they, though it may be that Fortescue was merely nodding when he didn\’t mention it. If you didn\’t, what do you mean?

    What about outdoor processions including clergy in choro? Is it not-wear because procession or do-wear because not in church?

    Jake,
    I might, predictably, give Gamarelli a go – nice pompoms, and they seem to be making them less vastly tall than they used to. On the other hand, the colour of the lining may not always correspond with that prescribed for the various grades of cleric in the EF books which talk about such things, so you may need to be firm… And don\’t swallow any nonsense about \”Seminarians don\’t have pompoms\”. No pompoms tends to be, as has I think been said on this site more than once, reflective of the practice in the city of Rome and in Italy (which is why Cardinals and Oratorians don\’t have them). So, by all means have a manx-cat biretta, but don\’t do so because you think you aren\’t allowed one with full plumage!

    Ken,
    As to \”wearing it on the back of the head like a zuchetto\” that does seem to have been the style in the \’20s and \’30s, at least in England. \”Wearing the biretta on the back of the head in the prevailing fashion\” is a phrase which crops up time and time again in the photo-captions of histories of Catholic and Anglo-Catholic life of the period. The more rakish the angle, the more exotic the religion, it would seem.

  29. CDN_Canonist says:

    How can ordinary parish priests presume to make use of something not listed among the sacred vestments in either the GIRM or rubrics (or any other document since) for the ordinary form of the Mass? I have never seen this satisfactorily answered.

    Use of a biretta in the liturgy is not a custom, since its previous use was mandated by the law (i.e., a head convering was required in the Ritus servandus). This is no longer the case.

  30. josephus muris saliensis says:

    One more point to add to a list which at first seemed complete. DO NOT SIT ON IT! You will occasionally have put it down, for the consecration, communion etc, and it is very easy to forget it if you are unfamiliar, or old! It was always a joke with elderly priests sitting ion their birettas when we were young.

  31. Nothing is so disheartening as that crunching sound. I will add that one to the list.

  32. CDN_Canonist says:

    The biretta is a commonly prescribed part of “choir dress” for cardinals, bishops, and other prelates. The Ceremonial of Bishops, n. 66, provides the following norm: “Presbyters who take part in a liturgical service but not as concelebrants are to wear choir dress if they are prelates or canons, cassock and surplice if they are not.” Conspicuously absent is mention of the use of the biretta by ordinary priests. How does one reconcile “Say the black, do the red” with this?

  33. Clinton says:

    CDN, my impression is that the use of the biretta, like the use of the cassock, was rendered optional for the NO. Naturally, neither
    would be listed among the sacred vestments enumerated in the GIRM and the rubrics because neither are sacred vestments like a
    stole or a chasuble. The rubrics also do not mention trousers, socks, and shoes as part of the priest’s kit for Mass — but I pray
    they be worn nonetheless…

  34. Canonist says:

    I come from a slightly different perspective on this. As a lady with the right to wear the biretta, I would keep the biretta on throughout the Mass, as it would be considered a headcovering.

  35. CDN Canonist says:

    Clinton,

    Are you really trying to justify the continued use of the biretta on the basis that liturgical law makes no mention of “trousers, socks, and shoes”? There are many things that a priest should do before Mass (such as clothing himself) that the law does not specify, and need not specify for any reasonable person.

    I am well aware that the biretta has never been included among the sacred vestments, but a head covering was prescribed in the earlier Ritus servandus. This is no longer the case. I should add that a later law abrogates, or derogates from, an earlier law if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it, or completely reorders the entire subject matter of the earlier law (c. 20). Any honest person would have to acknowledge that the latter occurred with the promulgation of the GIRM.

    I have no problem with the biretta. I just haven’t seen a convincing argument for its continued use.

  36. Elmo,
    Proper use of the Biretta has absolutely nothing to with growing in the faith. It is not essential for salvation. But charity does.

    For one priest to ask another for help in the proper way to do something and receive a helpful reply is an act of charity. Additionally, this post has been a help to many priests who have the same question.

    Imagine that you are invited to a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. There is a protocal to follow. Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable if you had previous knowledge of that protocal? This is the same thing. It’s about liturgical protocal. Without it, there would be chaos.

    As a reader of this blog you know that it isn’t only about spiritual or liturgical matters. The same question can be asked of Fr. Z’s gastronomic posts. What do they have to do with salvation or spiritual growth?

    I think you have gotten some inappropriate and uncharitable responses to your question. But I understand why you received the reaction you did. It’s a question that borders on the absurd since no one can rightly think the issue is of any importance to growing in the faith or salvation. You cannot rightly expect to be taken seriously.

    Perhaps you might ask yourself what is really behind your question. It appears that you and Joyce are the only ones who are getting “worked up” over it.

  37. Breier says:

    CDN_Canonist,

    No one is claiming that a prescribed is now prescribed by current law. But neither is it forbidden by current law. So your argument doesn’t amount to much, unless you think everything is forbidden unless expressly allowed by the law.

    Unless you provide a grounds for why headcover is disallowed, I don’t see how a biretta doesn’t fall into the category of optional accessories.

  38. Stephen says:

    Well Said Father Bailey.

  39. Breier says:

    CDN_Canonist,

    No one is claiming that a headcovering is required by current law. But neither is it forbidden by current law. So your argument doesn’t amount to much, unless you think everything is forbidden unless expressly allowed by the law.

    Unless you provide a grounds for why headcover is disallowed, I don\’t see how a biretta doesn\’t fall into the category of optional accessories.

  40. Breier says:

    I would think the justification for the continued use of the biretta is much the same as the justification for the continued use of maniples. They’re part of our Catholic liturgical tradition.

  41. CDN Canonist says:

    Breier,

    Be careful what you say. There are many “optional accessories” (whatever that means) that are not expressly forbidden by the law. Remember “clown Masses”? People attempted to justify these precisely with the argument you are raising (i.e., “…but its not expressly forbidden”).

    I point to an astute observation by Fr.Edward McNamara (liturgist and columnist at Zenit.org):

    “Usually the missal and other liturgical documents say what is to be done and not the reverse. Therefore the fact that nothing is written against a practice does not mean that it is automatically permitted. Indeed, since Church law generally follows the principles of Roman law, and not Anglo-Saxon common law, the presumption is that what is not expressly permitted is forbidden.”

    http://www.zenit.org/article-25735?l=english

  42. Breier says:

    CDN,

    By that argument, they’re you’re back to forbidding slacks, socks, shoes, wristwatches, and any other items that aren’t expressly allowed in the rubics.

    It’s pretty obvious the difference between this and clown Masses. One thing is restoring Catholic liturgical traditions that the liturgical wreckovators tried to eliminate, the other advances the Modernist cause.

    I would think that since the 1962 Missal was never abrogated and has still legal force, we have an appropriate baseline for “optional usages.” Namely aspects of our Catholic liturgical dress not mentioned in the new rite, but not forbidden, are properly worn, deriving their authority from the their existence in the 1962 rite. Another example, the traditional incensation of the altar would be “optional.” I recognize this goes expressly contrary to some old CDW dubia response. Do you really think that’s still the mind of the legislator in our day?

  43. Breier says:

    No is claiming that anything not forbidden is “automatically permitted.” That’s a red herring. What I’m claiming is that the long-standing basis of certain practices in an ancient and still legally valid use of the Roman rite provides sufficient authority to justify wearing a biretta. Biretta’s are allowed in the most noble form of the Latin Rite. Why should they be denied to the new form, the ordinary form? Indeed, what was sacred then is sacred now.

  44. Aelric says:

    This is no longer the case. I should add that a later law abrogates, or derogates from, an earlier law if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it, or completely reorders the entire subject matter of the earlier law (c. 20). Any honest person would have to acknowledge that the latter occurred with the promulgation of the GIRM.

    I am not (yet) swayed by the force of this argument: and though I may not quite be up to making the Team of Diogenes, I’d like to be thought of as an “honest man” at least insofar as seeking right understanding.

    For example, the 1983 CIC made no explicit mention of the fact that Catholics are forbidden membership in the Masonic Order, yet this position was upheld by Pope John Paul II in Quaesitum Est issued by the CDF also in 1983.

    Failure to mention the biretta would not seem to constitute an express abrogation nor does that omission appear “directly contrary” or a “complete reordering” of the matter. Can not that which was once required by law still be licit when not explicitly abrogated? How is the biretta “contrary” to new liturgical law? Surely Summorum Pontificum itself speaks to this point as does Canon 2.

    I seem to recall some similar discussion on this site regarding use of the maniple in the Novus Ordo . His hermeneuticalness had an interesting post along these lines: http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/2007/10/is-your-alb-back-to-front.html in particular regarding a false association that “what is no longer required” = “no longer allowed.”

    Still, I would be interested in hearing of some explicit examples from “CDNCanonist” that illustrate his argument.

  45. Aelric says:

    I should just add that my post at 1533 was sent without having seen the Breier/CDN_Canonist exchange (presumably posted as I was writing my own. Thus, there appears to be some duplication of ideas.

  46. CDN_Canonist says:

    Breier and Aelric,

    For an earlier law to be abrogated, it is not necessary that the later law explicitly list ALL the laws which it is abrogating. For example, the Ceremonial of Bishops (1984) states clearly that the earlier edition is abrogated by means of the present edition. It also integrally reordered the entire subject matter. Consequently, one cannot appeal to the “silence” of the present Ceremonial to justify recourse to the previous edition in particular matters. The same is true for the GIRM which explicitly abrogated the Ritus servandus, the rubricae generales, and the De defectibus in celebratione Missae occurentibus when it was promulgated in 1969. The GIRM integrally reordered these previous documents and they were, consequently, abrogated.

    Summorum Pontificum states that the 1962 Missal was never abrogated, not the accompanying liturgical laws. If they weren’t abrogated the pope himself would be violating the law every time he celebrates Mass; he is observing the GIRM and not the earlier liturgical laws. This is absurd.

    Of course, in permitting use of the 1962 Missal, SP also permits recourse to its accompanying rubrics, otherwise it would be impossible to celebrate the extraordinary form properly. These rubrics, however, are not applicable to the OF, just as the rubrics of the OF do not govern the EF. The present liturgical disciplinary laws, both within and outside the 1983 Code, apply to both forms (i.e. anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evening, length of the communion fast, etc.).

    I agree that what was sacred then is sacred now, but the law can and does change. I’m sure you’d agree that there is nothing particularly sacred about the biretta. Its use is subject to liturgical law and it seems that, with the promulgation of the GIRM in 1969 (and even with the latest in 2000), its use is no longer permitted. The GIRM need not explicitly state (“The biretta is not to be worn”), since it explicitly abrogated the earlier laws and integrally reordered the entire subject matter at its promulgation.

    The GIRM certainly does not require the use of the biretta, but does it exclude its use? I suppose that is something the CDWDS could clarify. The danger with these hypothetical questions is that there are many things not explicitly excluded/prohibited by the GIRM. The purpose of the GIRM is not to provide an exhaustive list of prohibitions, but to identify what should be done. Hence, the reason why I refered to Fr. McNamara’s statement above. I believe that the most prudent approach is to observe what is stated (“do the red”) rather than speculate on what may be done on the basis of abrogated liturgical laws.

    Returning to the actual question on the use of the biretta when assisting at Mass in choir, the Ceremonial of Bishops (n. 66) is quite clear: “Presbyters who take part in a liturgical service but not as concelebrants are to wear choir dress if they are prelates or canons, cassock and surplice if they are not.”

    How can one infer, on the basis of that article, the use of the biretta? It’s a stretch.

    I suspect you’re not going to agree with me, but I hope I have at least been clear. My argument is based on the principles of law(particularly c. 20), not on my like or dislike for the biretta.

  47. Henry Edwards says:

    My anti-spam word is “maniples now”. So–these matters involving primarily the application of good liturgical taste rather than hair-splitting with canon law–let us not forget that it is poor taste for a priest to wear a biretta at Mass without a maniple.

  48. Roseberry says:

    “Uncover at the Holy Name by removing the biretta and lowering it to your right knee.”

    I recall a Mass at an FSSP parish with two, perhaps three, biretta-ed clergy in addition to the celebrant/homilist. Throughout a long homily, the Holy Name was spoken many times, and at each mention, the birettas were removed as described. At times, however, the exercise became almost comic, something like one would see in a Blue Man Group routine, with the hats on/hats off seeming syncopated.

  49. josephus muris saliensis says:

    Clinton, I must take exception to the idea that trousers are necessary for saying Mass. I would go so far as to suggest that one will say Mass better (in practical terms) and indeed assist at it better in any of the ministries, without the use of trousers in hot weather.

    Equally, one could consider those congregation who never wear trouser at all, such as many monks and religious (eg the Oratorians) but britches. Their Mass and prayers are regarded as among the most powerful and efficacious.

    We should not, either, loose sight of the fact that the trouser is a post (french-) revolutionary garment, and as such inherently un-Catholic. Indeed, one would expect the nearly 7 Million readers of this blog to be highly suspicious of them!

    A bas les sans-culottes! Vive les barettes!

  50. josephus muris saliensis says:

    Seriously, Roseberry, if the preacher insists on repeatedly using the Holy Name, instead of the many more traditional alternative references (Christ, Our Blessed Lord, Our Redeemer, Divine Saviour etc), and indeed in certain Pauline epistles, it is better to remove the biretta and put it down. This is usual practice. We have all laughed at this when we were young, but it does NOT mean the biretta is WRONG!

  51. Clinton says:

    *grins*

    Josephus, your observations form an iron cage of logic from which no trousers-lovers may escape.