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.
4/14/2022 02:43:25 pm
I have a question about the symbolism imbued in the birettas as used in the Episcopalian church. I noticed that one of your clergy is wearing one that has a purplish pom while the others are wearing birettas with poms. (I am from the wrong side of the Tiber.) As an RC, I know that in the RC church, the ones that are black with black pom poms are for ordinary priests, while the ones with red/purplish pom poms are for monsignors, specifically apostolic pronotharies. I was under the impression that the Episcopalians did not have monsignors. I've also seen a (presumably Episcopalian) priest in NYC who was wearing a black biretta that had a purple pom pom and purple piping on the parts that stick up. In the RC church, the only ones who wear these are affiliated with the Roman Rota. What do these birettas mean in the Episcopalian church?
6/12/2022 02:45:41 pm
I enjoyed reading yoour post
3/8/2023 11:33:33 pm
Our vicar wears a light blue pom pom on his Beretta......what significance is that to his congregation?
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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.
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
1307 Holmes Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64106