26 December 2014

Birettas

Anglican clergy have never been totally indifferent to millinery. I know of one Canterbury Cap which still makes its appearance within the Ordinariate and even consorts with a morning coat at Ascott; and the sort of clergyman who wore bands over his tippet and hood might also, to celebrate the major festivals, carry his academic square up and down the church at the Divine Office (Yes ... I admit it ... I have done that). We Catholics of the Anglican patrimony, of course, have always been preoccupied with birettas. I once lent S Thomas's to the Order of S Lazarus and was fascinated by the crop of green pompoms. Old photographs from Walsingham in the days of Fr Hope Patten reveal that clerical members of the College of Guardians wore birettas twice the height of ordinary ones (is it true that Fr Houlding still does?). Some clergy, doubtless for carefully thought out reasons, wore Spanish models. Clergy who claimed dubious doctorates from obscure institutions added an additional wing to their headwear. And there was the pleasure of covering and uncovering: I once heard a sermon by an Anglican bishop in which, for some reason which now eludes me, he repeatedly mentioned the Sovereign Pontiff. The numerous clerical brethren in choir duly uncovered at each such mention ... ever more enthusiastically as time went on (not that they all subsequently accepted the invitation to corporate unity issued by that same Pope ... there is perhaps a sermon in this ...).

My own biretta, in constant use since I was deaconed in 1967, has lost the pristine gloss it possessed when I first bought it in Vanpoules. Having sustained showers of rain more often than I care to remember when I was stumbling across country churchyards in front of an undertaker, or panting up the irregular hillside of the cemetery at High Wycombe, or going round the village on sick calls during winter blizzards, it is somewhat faded and warped. More strangely, the pompom, over the decades, gradually turned a shade of reddy black. (I look to those with chemical know-how to explain this.) I tended to get tired of parrying the quips of those who enquired whether, like a dragon-fly larva, I might be gradually metamorphosing into a Canon, and so when the thread attaching the pompom weakened and broke, I did not sow it back on.

But it is born upon me that the biretta-without-a-pompom should really be deemed the proper historical headwear for the clerus Romanus. It is still worn as such by Redemptorists and Oratorians and Cardinals (pompoms being a piece of frenchification, yes??). And, since the Ordinariate is directly subject to the Roman Pontiff, I am sure that the biretta-without-a-pompom is exactly what our beloved Holy Father wishes us to wear.

We owe it to him to get our headwear right, whatever the cost, come what may.

9 comments:

scotchlil said...

The late Dr Mascall swore that when my much-lamented mentor, Fr Donald Nicholson, was reading himself in as Vicar of St Mary's, Graham St, he was seen to uncover at the phrase, 'the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England' in the 39 Articles. Fr Donald would never confirm nor deny the story...

Fr Ray Blake said...

My Vanpoules biretta has faded to dull episcopal green.

My sacristan put out gothic vestments for Christmas and an appareled alb and amice, I was in a quandary as to whether to cover with a hat or the amice. Has anyone consulted Cardinal Sarah about this matter which must concern many clerical readers, especially now, as even some secular clergy seem to have adopted the hooded alb?

GOR said...

No pompom, Father…? How then is an altar boy to dust the altar steps?

Back in the distant past when first learning to serve Mass, an impish senior altar server (the ‘Prefect’ of the batch, no less!) delighted in scandalizing the neophytes by collapsing Father’s biretta and ‘dusting’ the steps with it.

I think he just wanted to show off that he knew how to collapse it – something of which we were not yet aware. Perhaps versus populum’ was thought up to keep altar boys in line?

Jacobi said...

One grandchild asked me yesterday why the priest was wearing that funny hat. Now that was not in my 4th year RE and Aplogetics classes at school, so I blustered and said it was to show he was the priest.

It seems I was right.

Fortunately, It didn't have pompoms!

Pastor in Monte said...

I suspect, Father, that the change of colour in the pom-pom is due to the black dye running out as a result of all that cemetery rain. Someone once told me that the story about the Sarum cassock being blue is actually due to the fact that the cassocks in portraits of clerics of former ages (such as the famous one of Challoner) were originally painted as black as our own, but with time the black paint has lost its blackness and turned, well, Sarum blue.

Don Camillo SSC said...

I am glad to see you dealing with really serious topics for once, Father. Regarding clerical black, we have it on the authority of Fr Crilly, of Craggy Island, that only priests'socks are really black. Lay people's socks are only very, very dark blue. The same is probably true of hats, cassocks etc.

gw said...

And, since the Ordinariate is directly subject to the Roman Pontiff, I am sure that the biretta-without-a-pompom is exactly what our beloved Holy Father wishes us to wear.

Yes Don Camillo this is really important. . I used to be a VG in a former circumsciption and headed a biretta with purple Pom Pom . What to do with Mons coming and no black Pom Pom and no dye? Why, cut it off! Hunwicke has done it again & assured me that I am in fact kosher. Visiting clergy will be handed a sharp knife.

Matthew said...

Has anyone ever seen -- or worn -- a "layman's biretta"?

johnf said...

Wasn't a Pom-pom a WW2 anti-aircraft gun for HM Ships?