When visitors come to St. Agnes Church they often comment on the fact that the clergy wear birettas.  The biretta used to be obligatory on the part of the priest celebrant and deacon and subdeacon.  Now it is an option, and a good one.  Of course it is necessary to use the biretta properly.  This is what I call "birettiquette".

Here is an example of proper use of the biretta during Mass.  When the Holy Name of Jesus is sung or spoken the clergy uncover, usually lowering their biretta to their right knee, and then cover again.  Here are a couple shots.

The celebrant in the photo is the relatively well-known and controversial Fr. Robert Altier, assistant at St. Agnes Church.  Father was very much in the news a few weeks ago.


Holy Name 1


Holy Name 2

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Robert Thornton says:

    I have understood that it is customary for the clergy to wear the biretta generally when seated or walking in procession, but to remove it when simply standing. Is this correct?

  2. Miguel Garcia says:

    I think it is wonderful to see priests wearing birettas! That is something I have not seen in person here in the US. I remember as a young altar boy years ago finding an old biretta in a cabinet within the sacristy and asking the priest what that was. The only response I got was, “Oh, that’s the hat they used to make us wear.”

    Very sad. Thank you Father Z for wearing yours and here’s hoping that others bring back theirs!

  3. Yes, I do use my biretta all the time. Remember, however, that the celebrant in the photos in this entry is actally Fr. Altier, not the undersigned.


  4. Billie Chiricuzio says:

    I have seen a couple of different styles of birettas now – the ones I see the FFSP, priests, deacons and subdeacons wear, have no tassle on top but have a more 3 cornered look. How many different kinds are there?

  5. Billie Chiricuzio says:

    and out of curiosity I put the word biretta in a search and came up with this site of “Biretta Sightings”

    It would appear there are indeed many styles and colors

  6. Brian says:

    One knows he has a hold of a good priest nowadays if he wears a
    birreta and he speaks of the Holy Ghost. I have never seen a
    “liberal” do either.

  7. CaesarMagnus says:

    The subdeacons too? I didn’t know that. I thought the biretta was only for
    clerics, and I thought subdeacons were not yet clerics (minor orders).
    Or am I wrong on one or both points?

  8. RP Burke says:

    When there was such a thing as a subdeacon — the office was suppressed by Pope Paul VI, along with the minor orders of porter and exorcist — he was considered in one of the major orders and thus wore a full set of vestments and would wear the biretta. Outside of seminaries, however, you never saw a person who was only a subdeacon; the solemn Mass in parishes almost always used three priests, each using one of the ranks to which he was ordained.

    Isn’t it right that St. Agnes’s uses the 1970 Missal? Then the priest here would have to be flanked by deacons.

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    In the 1972 Apostolic Letter “Ministeria quaedam” of Paul VI, by which the minor orders were suppressed and the ministries of acolyte and lector were instituted, is the paragraph, “Among the particular offices to be preserved and adapted to contemporary needs are those that are in a special way more closely connected with the ministries of the word and of the altar and that in the Latin Church are called the offices of reader and acolyte and the subdiaconate. It is fitting to preserve and adapt these in such a way, that from this time on there will be two offices: that of reader and that of acolyte, which will include the functions of the subdiaconate.”

    Therefore, an instituted acolyte can (and does frequently at St. Agnes) serve after the manner of a subdeacon.

  10. Tim Ferguson says:

    and actually, I believe St. Agnes uses the 2002 Missal.

  11. CaesarMagnus says:

    I honestly think one of the “reforms of the reform” should be to bring back
    the minor orders.

  12. Tim Ferguson says:

    I would agree Caesar – at least the “practical” minor orders (It truly did no good to ordain men exorcists, then immediately prohibit them to exercise their order…). If we ordained our longtime ushers as porters, perhaps they’d see the importance and solemnity of their role.

  13. CaesarMagnus says:

    Is “ordain” the right word for minor orders?
    I need to learn more about these.

  14. CaesarMagnus says:

    Doesn’t the FSSP still have minor orders? And if so, would a universal indult
    be a step to re-instituting those? I mean, if you have the old Rite of the
    Mass, would you not also have other parts of the Rite too?
    Just a thought.

  15. Gena says:

    Yeah, Fr. Altier is good to listen to, and has some wonderful homilies,
    here is a site that had saved some of his homililes.

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