St. Mary’s Family,
Have you ever looked around the photos of the former clergy of the parish hanging in the parish hall and thought, “What’s with the hat?” The biretta has been used regularly throughout this parish’s history, and this coming Sunday, you’ll see it in use once again.
The precise origin of this four-sided brimless cap is debated, though it is likely that its roots are in the academic headgear of the high Middle Ages. At the time, the clergy were amongst the few with an academic degree and the biretta ultimately became especially associated with the clergy. It evolved to the form you see today by the early sixteenth century, with regulations defining its ecclesiastical use being written a hundred years later. The biretta has fallen out of disuse in today’s world, a point made rather bluntly on The Episcopal Church’s website: “It is rarely used in The Episcopal Church, except in some parishes with an Anglo-Catholic piety.” St. Mary’s is certainly that!
In the public liturgies of the Church, generally, the biretta is worn by the Sacred Ministers – priest, deacon, and subdeacon – in procession and while seated, while assisting clergy carry it at the breast in procession and wear it while seated. But perhaps the most important part of the use of the biretta is that it is removed anytime the Holy Name of Jesus is mentioned.
The preacher this Sunday (yours truly) will be tempted to say the name of Jesus as many times as possible during the sermon just to enjoy the look on the parishioners’ faces upon seeing the constant bobbing of hats behind him. Or perhaps we will observe the standard custom of doffing the first three times the Holy Name is used and then stop with the madness. Either way, the doffing of the biretta is a powerful, visual reminder for all to bow their heads in humble reverence when hearing that “name that is above every name.”
May its continued use at St. Mary’s lead us all to a closer devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus!
 James-Charles Noonan, Jr., The Church Visible (New York: Sterling Ethos, 2012), 266.
 The minor order of subdeacon has not existed in the Churches of English heritage since the Reformation, but a good number of Anglo-Catholic parishes like ours have maintained the liturgical role of subdeacon. In our parish, the role of the subdeacon is typically served by someone who is aspiring to be ordained.
Fr. Charles Everson's love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.