The venerable biretta will most likely make a return to celebrate the recent Motu Proprio by Benedict XVI that restores freely discerned celebration of the Tridentine Liturgy, alias, the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, formerly the Mass of Pius V. There is nothing quite like the sight of a liturgical biretta. Just the mere possession of one brings a certain air of majesty and pomp to any liturgical occasion. Since the dawn of Vatican II this medieval head dress has been reserved to the hierarchy (incorrectly, I might add).
You got to see a purple biretta, or a cardinal’s scarlet biretta or even a monsignor’s biretta, with a purple pom-pom only at really significant events in the Church or at academic gatherings where even the four horned doctoral biretta made an appearance. As a high school student, I had the distinguished Norbertine Fathers in high school, and they donned a white biretta to accompany their white habits. But regardless of color, the reemergence of a liturgical biretta might signify the return of kinder and gentler times for the misaligned head covering.
It is often said that the Stetson hat in American died in its popularity during the Kennedy administration. John F.Kennedy was not a hat wearer, although he did carry his hat rather than wear it. As a result it is said that the hat industry in the United States reflected the new attitude of such a young and modern President and the apparel was consigned to old men and military uniforms. It is quite ironic that during the pontificate of John XXIII the liturgical biretta began its journey to extinction with the gathering spirit of Vatican II and the subsequent 1960’s and 1970’s. However as I have always been told…what is old is new again, and that statement holds true for the biretta.
It is not greatly expected that there will be any great rush to outfit the clergy with this rather arcane bit of head dress. However, I do expect that some of my friends and classmates that have clandestinely worn the biretta over the years will now come out of the sartorial closet. During my seminary years there was no sign of the mysterious biretta, except among some old pastors that have since gone to their rest or those that have achieved some sort of legendary fame. But today in 2007 the elusive ritual and elaborate routines associated with the liturgical biretta can once again become popular. I forget, all of the finer points of putting on and removing the biretta. Of course whenever the name of Jesus is mentioned, the biretta is removed. I believe it is also removed at the mention of the Virgin Mother as well. There are other things to ponder as well. Do you wear it in procession, during the Liturgy of the Word, and so on? Well I expect there will be a resurgence of a biretta primer that will make everyone aware of the proper protocols and procedures for achieving the Barry Fitzgerald look with a Roman cassock.
Personally I have always admired the biretta with a bit of color. However never having been progressed to the purple, I guess black will do. Regardless of color the liturgical biretta is making a return as an accessory to the Latin Tridentine Mass. Hopefully the next liturgical accessory that will make a comeback is the maniple. After all, you really cannot have any type of High Mass without a few good deacons and sub deacons all dressed with the appropriate birettas, maniples and stoles!
The motu proprio that made all of this possible is just a week or so old. It appears that the journey is going to get very interesting from here.
Welcome back to the biretta, it has been a long time since we have seen you! 

 

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