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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

The Berretta (Italian), a sort of diminutive of the Latin birrus, a cape or hood, is a square cap, with three corners or prominences rising from its crown, and having, for the most part, a tassel depending. When first introduced, which is generally supposed to have been soon after the ninth century, it had none of these corners, but was pliant and plain, something like an ordinary cap. The difficulty, however, of putting it on and adjusting it properly on the head while it continued in this way was sometimes very great, and hence it was deemed advisable to have it so fashioned that it could be put on and taken off without any trouble. This led to the introduction of the three corners, which are also symbolic of the Blessed Trinity (Ferraris, Bibliotheca, art. Bir).

Color of the Berretta.—The Berretta has but two varieties of color—viz., red and black. Red is peculiar and proper to cardinals, and to them alone. Black is the color for all other ecclesiastics, from cardinals down, whether patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, or priests. According to rule, a bishop’s Berretta should be lined with green; in all other respects it differs in nothing from that worn by a priest (Martinucci, Manuale Sacr. Cærem., v. p. 11; De Herdt, Praxis Pontificalis, i. pp. 44 and 45).

Cardinal’s Berretta.—A cardinal’s Berretta is generally made of red silk. It has no tassel to it, and never any more than three corners. A four-cornered Berretta is exclusively the cap of a doctor of divinity, and he can wear it by right only when teaching in the doctor’s chair (Bouvry, Explicatio Rubricarum, etc., ii. 216, 217).

Ceremonies employed in Conferring the Doctor’s Cap.—By a recent decision of the Holy See the insignia of the doctorate—i.e., the cap and ring—cannot be conferred upon any one who is not, together with being duly skilled in divinity, also of high standing in a moral point of view, and sound and solid in the faith. To this end, a profession of faith (that of Pope Pius IV.) is first exacted of the candidate on his knees, and he must swear that he will defend this faith even unto the shedding of his blood, if required.

Furthermore, he is to swear assent to the following articles, read to him by the person conferring the degree:

First. That he will never teach or write intentionally anything that is repugnant to Holy Scripture, tradition, the definitions of General Councils, or to the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs.

Secondly. That he will be watchful in doing his share to preserve the unity of the Church, and not let the seamless garment of Christ be rent by divisions; also that he will be studious in seeing due honor paid to the Supreme Pontiff, and obedience and reverence to his own bishop.

Thirdly. He will swear to defend the Christian, Catholic, and Apostolic faith, to the effusion of blood.

After this the various prerogatives and privileges that are attached to the “D.D.” are read, and the four-cornered cap and the ring are imposed. A book is then put into his hands—generally a theological work—as evidence of his right to the honors conferred upon him; and, if the whole ceremony be fully carried out, he is to be led to the doctor’s chair, where, in pledge of brotherly feeling towards him, all the other doctors present impart to him a kiss.

It is customary on such occasions for the newly-created doctor to make an address in Latin to all the professors in the audience, and to express his thanks for the elevation to which he has been raised.

We have said that only cardinals wear a Berretta of a red color. This privilege was first granted them by Pope Paul II. in 1460; but the privilege of wearing the red hat goes back to the Council of Lyons, A.D. 1245, where it was granted by Pope Innocent IV. This, however, was only to cardinal legates; but the privilege was extended, in short, to all without exception, as was also the right to wear their other articles of dress of the same color. The precise symbolism attached to the red is that their Eminences must be ready to defend the rights of the Holy See even unto the shedding of blood (see Kozma, p. 72, note 2).

The Pope never wears a Berretta, but uses instead a tight-fitting cap, always white in color, called a Solideo, from the Latin solus and Deus, because it is only to God that he doffs it—that is, at the more solemn parts of the Mass. To no earthly ruler does the Pope ever take off this cap. Its material is usually white silk; and on its crown a large button is sewed to facilitate its being taken off and put on.

We have said that a four-cornered Berretta is peculiar to a doctor of divinity. From time immemorial, however, the clergy of France, Germany, and Spain have been accustomed to wear Berrettas of this kind (Bouvry, in loc. cit.)

In some of the French universities, in days gone by, the cap of a doctor of divinity used to be ornamented with a white silk tassel; that of a canonist with a green one; and a doctor’s in civil law (D.C.L.) with a red one having a purple tuft in the middle.

In Germany the latter were allowed a scarlet cap. In the celebrated college of Salamanca, in Spain, in addition to the cap, which was black, but decorated with a large tassel of white silk, the “Beca” was also conferred, a curious kind of hood of red silk, which lay in graceful folds on the shoulders of the wearer (Rock, Church of Our Fathers, p. 70, vol. ii.)

When the Berretta may be worn.—Besides being worn in every-day life, the Berretta is also allowed to be worn in the sanctuary during the less solemn portions of the Mass. At the altar, however, when in actual celebration, no one may wear it, not even the greatest dignitary. The discipline in this respect is very strict, and admits of but one exception throughout the entire Church—viz., in case of the Catholic missionaries of the empire of China. It is well known how indecent it is held by the Chinese for a person to appear in public with head uncovered. A greater insult you could not offer one of these people than to violate this part of etiquette. Having these things in view, and remembering the salutary admonition of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, of becoming “all to all people in order to gain all to Christ,” our Holy Father Pope Paul V., of blessed memory (1605–1621), granted to the missionaries of the Chinese Empire the privilege of wearing the Berretta all through Mass, even at the Consecration, with one proviso, however—that the said Berretta be not the one used in every-day life. In no other part of the world is this privilege enjoyed (De Montor, Lives of the Popes, vol. i. p. 943).

Berretta of the Orientals.—The Oriental Berretta differs considerably from ours in shape. That of the Greeks is round and close-fitting, and is generally of a violet color. Attached to it behind is an appendage shaped like a triangle, which the Greeks call περιστερά, peristera, or the dove, from its resemblance to the tail of that bird. It is intended to remind the priest that the grace of his holy ministry depends on the Holy Ghost, whom the dove symbolizes (Goar, Euchol. Græc., 157). Throughout Russia all the “Black Clergy” wear a high cap resembling a hat without a crown, having a veil covering it, which falls behind on the shoulders. This the Russians call Klobouk, but its Greek name is Kamelauchion (Mouravieff, History of the Russian Church, notes, p. 399).

The Greek bishops, who never wear a mitre like ours, use a sort of low hat without a peak, over which a large veil is cast, something after the manner of the original Roman birrus (Neale, Holy Eastern Church, i. 314). They perform all the preliminary offices of the liturgy with this on their heads.

The cap of the schismatical Patriarch of Alexandria is crown-shaped, and is never removed at any part of divine service. This privilege is also assumed by the Patriarch of the Nestorians, who wears his cap even while distributing Holy Communion. All the rest of the Orientals celebrate with heads uncovered like ourselves (Goar, Euchol., 157 and 220; Neale, in loc. cit.; Denzinger, Ritus Oriental., 132).

The Coptic Berretta differs hardly in anything from the Greek, save that it has its crown ornamented with a variety of small crosses. The name they call it by is Cidar.








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