Birettiquette revisited

A priest friend lately asked me about how to handle a biretta while in choir.  This only the first time I have been asked about birettas in the last days.  Therefore, I will repost some information I have shared before.

Religious have other customs if they don’t use the biretta.

Some notes about 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.
  • In general, unless you are in vestments as a sacred minister, do not wear it while standing.  An exception would be when a priest is preaching.
  • Uncover at the Holy Name by removing the biretta and lowering it to your right knee.
  • NEVER wear it when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.
  • 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!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    and is it not still the custom for clergy with the highest academic degree (i.e. doctorate in the USA) to wear a four-horned biretta?

  2. Katherine: In academic settings, yes. The academic biretta is not liturgical. Some religious institutes, such as Jesuits and Oratorians, use the four pointed biretta, without the tuft, liturgically.

  3. MJ says:

    “Do not…not… sit on it!”


  4. GirlCanChant says:

    Do notnot… sit on it!

    Fr. Z, did you sit on your biretta at some point? :-o [Not to date. Hope never to.]

    I believe it also customary to uncover (in addition to the Holy Name) at the name of Mary or the saint of the day. If anyone knows otherwise, feel free to correct, as I am just passing on what I have heard and seen.

  5. irishgirl says:

    ‘Do not…not…sit on it!’
    Yes, I know that MJ has already commented on that last rule, Father Z-but you have to admit, it is funny!
    Who wants to have a squashed biretta, anyway? :-D ; )

  6. pedantic_prof says:

    All very useful rules. One corrective, though, to a common misconception: the biretta should not be held while being incensed, nor should anything else (SSPX clergy in continental Europe tend to hold their Liber). Martinucci states that nothing should be held in the hands during incensations and that this symbolism is important.

  7. basilorat says:

    I shan’t everr forget, as an Oratorian, when at Brompton, the daily formal dinners. The waiter would approach each Father, doff his biretta, you would doff your biretta back, and he would serve you your course…and this went on for each course of the meal. One would doff his biretta when passing the image of St. Philip Neri, and then of course, Sunday Vespers…..! It was wonderful. Oh the civility!

  8. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Some religious institutes, such as Jesuits and Oratorians, use the four pointed biretta, without the tuft, liturgically.

    The Jesuits do not wear a pomp on the biretta, though traditionally there was a small diamond “spike” on the top instead.

    The standard Jesuit biretta has three fins, though a fourth fin is not worn by those possessing one of the higher Pontifical degrees.

  9. AnnAsher says:

    Fr Z you left out one previous rule for use of the Biretta in the Novus Ordo … It had to do with being rushed by EMHC’s and the Biretta becoming a useful, defensive, projectile – if I recall correctly

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, that wasn’t a Biretta . . . it was something else entirely.

    Completely different recommendations (which I loved).

  11. mrsmontoya says:

    About this: “In general, unless you are in vestments as a sacred minister, do not wear it while standing. An exception would be when a priest is preaching.” Last fall our church was blessed with a substitute priest from another liturgical era. He wore the Biretta, and devoted his homily to teaching us all about it, element by element: horns, their number and shape, pompom and its imperfections, proper way to where it and why. And he tied it all in to the Gospel of the day as well. It was a truly wonderful experience.

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