ASK FATHER: Proper posture and use of biretta in choir.

12_11_12_birettaFrom a priest…

Our parish has recently begun celebrating the EF. Have assisted in choir before but concerned I may not be doing so correctly. My parochial vicar will be celebrating a sung Mass on the Solemnity of St. Joseph this weekend. Can you recommend any online source that spells out the proper posture and biretta usage for priests in choir?

First, it’s great to hear that you have a Missa Cantata for wonderful St. Joseph! And it is also great that you, the pastor, are participating. Thanks for that! Soon it will be your turn, I hope.

I’ve written a few times here about “birettaquette”. Here is a distillation of the main points. Once you get the basic principles, it’s easy.

  • Carry the biretta in procession (unless you are outside and you aren’t carrying a relic or monstrance, etc.).
  • Only the sacred ministers wear it indoors when walking.  Carry it during entrance procession and recessional.
  • Wear it when seated.  If it has 3 horns, the middle one is to the right, the hand you use to uncover and cover.  More on that later.
  • Remove it BEFORE standing. Re-cover only when seated again. IMPORTANT
  • Never wear it kneeling.
  • Uncover at the Holy Name by removing the biretta and lowering it to your right knee.  It is good for clerics to agree beforehand, or find out the local custom, about what to do when preachers are promiscuous with the Holy Name.  Commonly they uncover fully to the knee a couple times, tip on the third mention, and then do nothing after that.
  • 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.  DON’T use both hands.  It’s not a football helmet.
  • Servers should always offer the biretta so that the priest can grasp that middle “horn” and easily don the gear.
  • 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 (such as your Breviary), hold the book upright with the pages open to the left, binding to right, 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!  IMPORTANT

There are some fast tips for your birettiquette!

If you are looking for berettaquette, that’s a different pot of beans.

For posture, a general rule of thumb is stand when the celebrant stands.

  • During the Confiteor – kneel
  • When the Celebrant ascends the altar – stand
  • When the Celebrant sits – sit
  • When the Celebrant rises – stand
  • Epistle – sit
  • Gospel – stand
  • Sermon – sit
  • When the Celebrant goes to altar or chair after sermon – stand
  • At Offertory Oremus – sit
  • When minister comes to incense you – stand
  • Sanctus – kneel
  • After elevation of the chalice (varies with the country – USA remain kneeling – if other clergy stand, then stand as you please)
  • After Communion – sit (kneel when Blessed Sacrament passes by on the way back to the altar)
  • Closing of tabernacle – sit
  • Dominus vobiscum – stand
  • Blessing – kneel
  • Last Gospel – Stand

I hope this helps a little.

Relax.  Again, once the theory is grasped, it’s easy.  And, repeat iuvant!  Have many more of these Masses and invite all the brethren to be in choro and feed them afterward with very clerical meals.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    What to do if at a church with no kneelers (don’t get me started)? Or at a parish where the congregation remains standing after the Sanctus. I’m all for unity and not drawing attention to my-self, but I’m going to kneel even if I’m the only one doing so.

    [This Q&A is about what a priest does when hearing Mass in choro. If you are a layperson and not in choro this isn’t for you.]

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  3. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Thanks for this, reader asking and Father answering! We usually have one priest in choir at our Sunday High Mass and he’s never quite sure about what to do with the biretta, so what he generally does is… actually, there is no “generally”. He’s all over the place. So this comes in handy!

  4. JamesM says:

    I think it is good that there aren’t the same issues with “local custom” for those in choro, as for those in the pews.

    [What laypeople do in the pews is, indeed, local custom. There are no spelled-out rubrics in the 1962 Missal for how laypeople participate. Certain conventions developed over time and they are recommended in hand missals and other guides.]

  5. Hidden One says:

    Father Z, from your post it looks like there aren’t any meaningful differences in terms if biretta use in the Novus Ordo. Is this correct?

    [Pretty much the same, I’d day.]

  6. Father K says:

    Wow, thank goodness birettas are no longer worn, except in the EF, but I know of places where this is actively discouraged.

    [Who knows what that meant?]

  7. Father K says:

    I mean in most places the biretta is never worn, and I have been to Masses all over the world. I know of certain places where the EF is celebrated and birettas [and lace albs and surplices] are most definitely discouraged. Not difficult to understand.

    [Lace is a matter of style. The biretta, however, is prescribed. If they aren’t using them, it may be that they don’t have them.]

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