Birettas and Academic Hats at Mass

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Birettas and Academic Hats at Mass

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

ROME, 05 March 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: What is the protocol for the wearing of academic hats or tams or birettas when faculty members are attired in academic regalia at a Mass? When should the headgear be taken off the head? Throughout the entire Mass? Only during the Eucharistic Prayer? Or from the Sanctus to the final blessing? And is there a different protocol for men and women? — L.M., Columbus, Ohio

A: As far as I have been able to ascertain, there are no universally accepted rules regarding the wearing of official civil robes at Mass. The whole question is tied up to particular traditions, privileges and customs that vary from place to place and institution to institution.

The rules for clergy are fairly clear and in some way help determine the situation for other circumstances.

The bishop wears his zucchetto, or skullcap, throughout the Mass except from the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer until he has returned to the cathedra on concluding the administration of holy Communion.

According to the Ceremonial of Bishops, the miter is worn "when the bishop is seated; when he gives the homily, when he greets the people, addresses them, or gives the invitation to prayer, except when he would have to lay it aside immediately afterward; when he gives a solemn blessing to the people; when he confers a sacrament; when he is walking in procession."

The ceremonial adds that "the bishop does not use the miter: during the introductory rites, the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, and prayer after communion; during the general intercessions, the Eucharistic prayer, the gospel reading, hymns that are sung standing …."

The three-peaked priestly biretta is now rarely used (the four-peaked doctoral biretta was not permitted in liturgical functions), and is no longer mentioned as liturgical vesture in the ordinary form. It was used in a way analogous to the bishop's miter: when the priest was seated or preaching or processing within the church.

For laity the overall rule is that men keep their heads uncovered and women may choose to wear head coverings or leave them aside. There are some exceptions to this, however.

Papal knights have special privileges and roles at Mass. As one official description indicates: "The Knights' principal ceremonial role is to escort the Ordinary (Bishop or Archbishop of the Diocese) and/or Cardinal into the Church or Cathedral, lead him into the Sanctuary, and remain there, seated usually to the right of the altar, until the end of the Mass. Two Knights are usually preferred for such a role, although one can be sufficient, and they walk immediately in front of the Bishop they are escorting. At the end of the Mass they will again immediately precede the Bishop in the recessional.

"The Knight wears the plumed hat while processing in and out of the Church or Cathedral; on entering the sanctuary and taking his seat he removes his sword and lays it on the ground until the end of the Mass. He shall wear his hat at the same time the Bishops wears his miter and remove or replace it simultaneously with the Bishop."

The above rules could also, perhaps, inspire practices at a Mass celebrated on solemn academic occasions celebrated by a bishop. In accordance with the tradition of each institute, at least the principal academic authorities could don and doff their caps in unison with the miter.

Even civil rules vary widely in this respect. For example, the American Council on Education makes the following recommendations:

"During graduation ceremonies in the United States, both women and men wear caps, and both women and men wear their caps indoors throughout most of the ceremony, except for men during a baccalaureate service, the national anthem, any benediction that may be offered by a chaplain or other authority, and sometimes the singing of the alma mater if the local custom requires it.

Although military and civil uniform, national costume, and clerical garb etc. are worn beneath the academic robe, traditionally only the biretta in conjunction with clerical garb will replace the academic cap. All other costumes forgo the normal headwear in favor of the appropriate academic version."

In Spain many universities use the academic biretta: When the authority who presides uses the biretta, when one who is to be invested as a doctor "honoris causa" enters the room, when speaking at a solemn academic act, at the end of an academic act when the presidency rises. The biretta is always placed or removed after being seated or before arising.

Such is the variety of practice and custom in this regard. In other similar situations, such as the wearing of judicial robes at "red Masses" and for the military, it is best to defer to local tradition, unless a practice is clearly disrespectful to the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

I think that the rule of thumb mentioned above, of at least following the practice of the bishop with the miter as well as removing the biretta to receive any blessing, will avoid any such disrespect.

* * *

Follow-up: Birettas and Academic Hats at Mass [3-19-2013]

Relative to our reply on liturgical and academic head coverings (see March 5), a Boston reader asked about the use of the black shoulder cape worn over the cassock.

This elbow-length shoulder cape, open at the front, is sometimes called a "pellegrina," due to its resemblance to the similar cape worn by pilgrims. It usually forms part of the vesture of bishops, cardinals and the pope, and does not normally form part of the priest's black cassock. As an episcopal vesture it is regulated by Pope Paul VI's 1969 instruction on the "Dress, Titles and Coat of Arms of Cardinals, Bishops and Lesser Prelates."

This document permits the use of the short cape along with the cassock, with color trimming according to the prelate's rank.

Nothing whatsoever is said about its general use by priests. Nor does there appear to be any specific prohibition of the use of the black cape.

In earlier periods it would appear that its use was permitted as a privilege in some areas. For example, photos of St. John Bosco often represent him wearing such a cape. Likewise, when Blessed Pius IX restored the hierarchy in the British Isles he permitted all Catholic priests to use this cape, as it was also frequently used among Anglican clergy.

It thus became a distinctive feature of clergy from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and later places such as New Zealand and Australia.

It would appear that it is little used by clergy in other places.

* * *

Follow-up: Birettas and Academic Hats at Mass [4-09-2013]

Pursuant to our comments on the shoulder cape (see follow-up March 19) an attentive reader pointed out two lesser-known documents which throw more light on this subject.

He wrote: "Nainfa (Costume of Prelates of the Catholic Church) indicates that the black simar was worn by irremovable pastors, but this is abrogated by Per Instructionem no. 4 because of Ut sive sollicite no. 18 and 19, which abolishes the simar for non-bishops, even for those few prelates in Rome who still use the mantelletta. Surely if they do not use it now, neither do simple priests. This is the purpose of Per Instructionem."

"Ut sive sollicite" is a 1969 instruction published by the Vatican Secretariat of State which simplifies the choir dress of bishops and prelates depending directly upon the Holy See, such as monsignors.

"Per Instructionem" was issued in 1970 by the Congregation for Clergy. It followed "Ut sive sollicite" and suggested to bishops' conferences the simplification of choir dress for other clergy named directly by bishops, such as canons and pastors. This letter also abolished all special privileges.

We should also mention that many scholars disagree with John Nainfa, in calling the cassock with shoulder cape a "simar," or in his assertion that it was a special privilege. It would appear that the historical and canonical evidence is still inconclusive regarding the legislative stance of the shoulder cape.

Our reader is correct in saying that the shoulder cape was specifically abolished for prelates who were not bishops in 1969. It would logically follow that if not used by monsignors, it should not be used by simple priests. Unless, of course, the simple black shoulder cape with no trimmings was never actually part of choir dress, was never subject to special privileges, and never had more than practical use. In that case the above documents do not apply at all.

It is possible that for many of our readers this question is somewhat ethereal. It certainly pales before the larger and more important question of a renewed interest by priests in wearing the cassock itself.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210


Terms of Use      Privacy Policy