QUAERITUR: birettiquette, revisited

And now for the really important things.

From a reader:

Dear Father,
Can you point me (or ask your readers to help to point me) in the direction of a guide to the use of the biretta at Mass in the Ordinary Form?  There’s much written about  the EF but I can’t find anything the GIRM, Elliott or the Ceremoniale which makes comment on the proper use.  Some have said that, in the new rite, clergy in choir should wear it during the Entrance procession unlike the EF rules.  I’m confused…

I think you should simply use it as it is used in the Extraordinary Form.

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.

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.  I think this applies to the Ordinary Form.

  • 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.
  • When wearing the biretta in choir, it is removed at any point where one would bow the head, i.e. 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.
  • Preachers can wear the biretta when preaching.
  • 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!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    You might also add that if you have a doctorate from a pontifical university then you have the right to wear a four horned biretta.

  2. wmeyer says:

    Fr. Z, how nice it must be to have “copious free time”! ;)

  3. wolfeken says:

    Very helpful. A question that perhaps someone can assist with is at which location should the biretta be worn, or not be worn.

    Obviously, inside the church it should be worn. But how about the confessional? The grounds of the church? The church hall? In the car? At an outside speaking engagement? The hospital?

  4. Johnny Domer says:

    One aspect of birettiquette that is Novus Ordo specific(?) is what concelebrants should do with their birettas…I assume, since they are also “sacred ministers,” they should wear it in procession also, correct?

  5. Concelebrants are celebrants, right?

  6. ipadre says:

    There is the revised ceremonial for bishops. The Holy See should come out with one for priests for both forms of the Roman Rite.

  7. Agnes says:

    Do no sit on it. LOL

    Perhaps this is was the birth of the first graduation cap – a four-cornered biretta that was accidentally, and improperly, shmushed? ~|:-(

  8. Gaz says:

    It may be worn while travelling in a motor vehicle. In that case, it’s called a carbiretta.

  9. Gaz says:

    On a slightly more serious note … does the server offer and take the biretta with or without oscula?

  10. Athanasius says:

    At a low Mass the common consensus is that it is not proper to give the oscula, although it is sometimes given out of custom. I believe either Caelwart or Baldeschi teach that if the server is in major order he gives the oscula but I might be mistaken.

    At a Missa Cantat the MC gives the Oscula according to Fortescue and Caelwart, since he is assuming primarily the deacon’s role at Solemn Mass with respect to the biretta, even if he be a layman.

    At a Solemn High Mass of course the deacon gives the oscula, and none of the sacred ministers receives oscula apart from the celebrant, even if he is in orders.

  11. pelerin says:

    Or it may be worn while travelling on a bus Gaz – in that case it is called a busby-retta

  12. Ingatius says:

    I remember an ordination of one of the FSSP priests in Edinburgh Metropolitan cathedral. The sermon was preached by the Cardinal who was so liberal with the Holy Name that some of the priests chose to simply leave their biretta off than spend the whole time doffing it.

  13. irishgirl says:

    ‘Do not…not..sit on it’

    Oooo-wouldn’t want to see a ‘smushed’ biretta, Father Z-not pretty at all! LOL!

  14. Subimonk says:

    I assume that the same rules would apply to a monk’s capuche, unless they have the priviledge of using the biretta, or not?

  15. pedantic_prof says:

    Despite it being a widespread custom both now and before the Council, the biretta should not be held in the hands while being incensed; nor should anything else (including missals, liber, etc.), since there is no liturgical reason to do so as well as the fact that this habit is robustly condemned by prominent liturgists such as Martinucci.

  16. Antioch_2013 says:

    To my knowledge, the general rule is that the biretta is only worn while indoors while the capello romano is worn outdoors.

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