A priest I spoke with yesterday mentioned how clerics should properly use their birettas (hat, not Beretta… which is another post).

I call proper use of the biretta “birettiquette”.

Once upon a time I actually had made a little pamphlet on this… but I can’t find it.  I wonder if there is still a copy in the biretta cupboard back at St. Agnes in St. Paul.

Look, Fathers.  Military personnel need to know what to do with their hats. This varies with the services. The Navy handle covers differently than the Army, for example, when it comes to indoors and outdoors.

The same goes for clergy in choir dress or as sacred ministers, inside or outside.

Here are some rapid notes I sent some time ago 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 they apply also 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.
  • When covering, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use both hands.  It ain’t a motorcycle helmet. Right hand only.
  • 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, e.g. 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.  Don’t look like a rube, gentlemen.  Spanish, five-horned? Deal with it.
  • Servers and sacred ministers, such as deacons, 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.
  • Servers: know when the “usual oscula” are to be observed.
  • 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…do NOT… sit on it!  That crunch sound makes angels weep.

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. TheAcolyte says:

    You might be interested in the piece that I wrote some time ago on this topic: Some birette-quette (

  2. samwise says:

    St. Agnes Parish caught my eye in this post:

    I now attend this Parish with my wife and son, it’s awesome!! For men of the parish, we will be starting up That Man is You! on September 4th, from 6:15am-7:30am (see for details on the Program itself).

    I relocated to the West Saint Paul area from Ohio after getting a new position with Wells Fargo. My former parish was St. Patrick, and we ran That Man is You! there as well. Highly recommend.

  3. donadrian says:

    I think all the clergy in procession assume the biretta when out of doors.
    I was taught that, if the preacher indulges in promiscuous use of the Holy Name, the biretta should not be replaced after the third or fourth repetition (presumably to avoid looking like a marionette).
    In countries fortunate enough to have one, the biretta should be removed at the name of the Sovereign regnant.

  4. Matt R says:

    Donadrian, yes, the exception being of course when the Sanctissimum is present, e.g. on Corpus Christi. Oh, yes indeed. It is a simple bow of the head after that, although certain authors, e.g. Canon O’Connell, hold that only one use of any name requiring a head bow and uncovering is sufficient for the rest of the homily.

    At one of the Colloquium Masses this year, the preacher was very liberal indeed with using the Holy Name, and so one of the brothers there and I had a bit of a giggle fit in the sanctuary. Go figure, Father wrote his homily and realized not only did using the Holy Name make the most sense, it would also keep everyone’s attention.

    Thanks Father. I’m going to put this as a link on my blog…

  5. Wiktor says:

    Ah, the Weeping Angels… just don’t blink!

    At my parish father is always wearing his biretta (with a purple pom :-]) during entrance and exit processions.

  6. ASPM Sem says:

    Can seminarians properly wear birettas?

  7. vetusta ecclesia says:

    ASPM Sem: anyone may wear a biretta properly!

  8. ASPM Sem: anyone may wear a biretta properly!

    Even me? I suppose I could try it, next time I go to an EF Mass. It would definitely attract attention.

  9. ASPM Sem: Certainly, a seminarian who’s been ordained a deacon wears a biretta when he serves as deacon or subdeacon at at solemn high Mass. I’ve never seen a seminarian wear one in any other circumstance.

  10. ASPM Sem says: Can seminarians properly wear birettas?

    In my opinion, for what it is worth, once you are either formally accepted as a candidate for orders or are installed as an acolyte, you can wear the biretta. Some seminaries/dioceses confer these two in different order.

    That said, watch yourself. Use of the biretta could bring down the fury of liberals at your seminary or in your chancery.

  11. Uxixu says:

    Another side effect of moving the entrance to the clerical state from tonsure to the diaconate (as with the cassock).

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