A question of gender

It seems to me that one rarely sees a priest who happens to be a woman happen to wear a maniple.

Actually, one doesn’t see many people wear the maniple these days, for reasons that I’ve never quite understood.

Why, when one does see such a thing, does it seem invariably to be sported on the left forearm of a priest who happens to be a man?

Your thoughts please.


  1. My wife wears one with her fiddleback sets that have them.

    And yes, she prefers fiddlebacks. One reason being that she’s short of stature and they fit her better than the modernist-poncho form of chasubles.

  2. Marion says

    I think there’s a height issue. I can only just reach many altars and a maniple is an additional problem to manage. Very easy to find it trailing in the chalice – or worse catching corners and knocking things over.

    • Height! Why, I had never considered that.

      • fr dougal says

        They only get in the way/knock things over if you insist on the expansive gestures appropriate to the Westward position. If you move your arms no wider than your shoulders (pace Fortesce-O’Connell) there is no problem.

  3. Like Kelvin I don’t know why the maniople is out of vogue. (I know the RCC made it optional at Vatican 2, but that only begs the question.)

    I suspect the answer to the gender question is simply that the “trad” circles which use maniples correlate with the anti-ordination-of-women circles. So a woman priest (even a spiky one) is less likely to have come from, or to serve in, a church which uses them.

    For similar reasons it was a long time before I saw Benediction given by a married man. And I haven’t seen Benediction given – or a maniple worn – by a woman yet. Like Kelvin, I hope I will.

    This also raises the question of the biretta. This should be removed by male ministers for prayer, but presumably (according to Pauline command) should be put on by female ones fro prayer. Could a mixed-gender priest-deacon team get by with one biretta between them? A cost-saving measure for smaller churches, perhaps.

    • Well now, I have actually had the privilege of witnessing Solemn Benediction at St Matthias Bellwoods in Toronto, with the Revd Joyce Barnett presiding – not only is she a woman, but she and her wife (herself a deacon) were among the plaintiff couples in Halpern v. Canada, which established marriage equality in the province of Ontario. A gender double-header!

      • (and for photographic evidence of decently habited women, see here! http://www.stmarymagdalene.ca/celebrating-the-old-western-rite/ )

      • Did they have two birettas or none, though? I haven’t been to St Matthias Bellwoods, but I have been to St Mary Magdalene’s, Toronto for High Mass – I don’t remember there were either birettas or women sacred ministers on *that* occasion, but I could be wrong.

        Our host ought to start a website for women clergy photographed ‘in the wild’ in maniples and birettas. I think it might be popular, in a niche kind of way.

  4. Notwithstanding Marion’s interjection about height, on reflection, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any priests who happen to be men who happen to be shorter ever give this as a reason for not wearing a maniple.

    I think that I am unlikely to begin any kind of sight featuring any kind of clergy who happen to be women or clergy who happen to be men wearing any kind of vestments.

    If you want hats, no-one could compete with Dieter Philippi though I’m not sure that he has considered gender terribly much yet.

    • Has a maniple ever been seen to adorn the wrist of the Vice Provost, who is both male and short?

      • It has not.

      • mary-cate says

        Hey Beth at my parish we have short priests who are both male and maniple wearers. I think the maniple is slid back up the forearm in order to avoid gratuitous sweeping of vessels etc. Personally as a short acolyte I find the real problem lies with surplice sleeves …

  5. Joan H Craig says

    Wouldn’t Lorna Hood and Albert Bogle look quite fetching wearing birettas for their customary new and old Moderator photograph. Mind you, in a nod to Presbyterian propriety, they’d need to forgo the brocade curtain stuff and the white nighties…

    • Margaret of the Sea of Galilee says

      We saw quite enough of the Very Rev Albert’s innovations in the first photograph of him in that weird ruffled t-shirt, thank you very much. Pass me my “salts”; I am still recovering!

  6. Peggy says

    Has anyone pointed out the obvious? Maybe if it was named a ‘womaniple’ they would wear it?

  7. Tony Whatmough says

    I’ve never seen the point of a biretta, which I think looks silly on anyone, but the maniple seems to me to be a significant garment! Bring it back!

  8. Apart from the fact that they are just plain silly, I’d agree with Mother Marion and say it is height. I could swipe everything off the corporal in one fell swoop with a whisk of a maniple.

    Perhaps we are more flamboyant in our arm movements?

    And just to note I dislike fiddlebacks intensely. I look like a glam dinner lady or woman in a tabard.

  9. We could all swipe everything off the corporal if we were sloppy. That isn’t a gender thing.

    I don’t personally think that dinner ladies should look anything other than glam.

    As to maniples being plain silly, I might be prepared to acknowledge the silliness of all vestments but I struggle to understand why one bit of the ensemble is more silly than another.

  10. Peter Bird says

    No vestment is silly. They’re all part of our rich liturgical tradition and they all have symbolism attached. Now that there are women ministers who wear the clerical collar and the chasuble, etc., there is no reason for them not to wear the maniple too in places where its use has been retained.

    As for the biretta, its current form goes back nearly 500 years. If it is a “silly” item of vesture, then so is the mitre, the zuchetto and the saturno.

  11. I think that the saturno has never been prescribed for the liturgy, myself. Whereas the zuchetto and mitre have.

    I think that the saturno is merely a hat – albeit a very splendid one.

  12. Allan Ronald says

    The maniple is essential for forming IHS with stole and cincture when laying out vestments before mass. Happy memories of this at All Saints, St Andrews some 45 years back. And what about the apparelled amice? Any Dearmer fans still around?

  13. Augur Pearce says

    I think Simon Fisher has already given almost the exact answer I’d have given. Trendy episcopalians at the Catholic end of the spectrum dropped the maniple when the C of R dropped it; supporters of the ‘Branch theory’ still living in the 19th century hung on to it because they felt a liturgical change made in another Branch had no bearing on them. The latter group didn’t include any women.

  14. Robin says


    1) No Maniple, No Mass.

    2) Every time a priest fails to wear a maniple at Mass, God kills a kitten.

  15. Robin says

    > I look like a glam dinner lady or woman in a tabard.

    Ruthie, I’m getting old. Please leave me with my fantasies . . .

    To me, a maniple symbolises humility and service. I like it.

    BTW, nearly every priest in the SEC is now a bishop, judging by how they don’t cross their stoles under the chasuble.

    • fr dougal says

      I most assuredly am not a bishop (unless I am ungirdled). But I am a Donald Nicholson protege!

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