ON THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
TO CHURCH VESTMENTS
- AND CHURCH TREASURE IN GENERAL
The recent pictures of Cardinal Canizares in formal vestments, including the cappa magna (right photo) posted on some blogs occasioned a mixed bag of reactions, many of them negative and derisive.
Here are two bloggers sounding off on what I believe to be the right attitude to have in this respect.
Sartorial-Theological Shock Therapy
Dec. 16, 2008
The cappa is strange, is weird, is alien, but then our self-destructive, neurotic culture has so few symbols that things that would have seem gracious to any more sensible, more human age frighten us.
Such things force us to look outside our normal, beige, elasticized zone of comfort.
Whenever bishops or priests shun the pomp of office (pomp which itself a sort of mortification in this epoch of conspicuously consumptive convenience), I am tempted to say, 'Don't be so humble, you're not that great
There is a certain personality type one finds that uses the whole "just ordinary folks" business to indulge in ego trips; the rejection of useless gold, gems and brocade may actually be a prideful act rather than one of humility
There is a reason Thomas of Canterbury and Pius XII wore their hair shirts on the inside, rather than on the outside, of their splendid garments.
Hierarchy ought to force ordinary men to rise to the occasion, and vesture like this reminds us that both tradition and Tradition are bigger than you or me
. In this case, about fifteen to thirty feet.
Matthew sends us to another blogger who posts what one of his readers (who preferred to remain anonymous) sent him:
Train of thought
December 10, 2008
It is not something we always recall, but the purpose of beautiful vestments, as Peter the Venerable reminded even Bernard of Clairvaux (and as Bernard admitted) is to remind the faithful not of how great the priest is but of the heavenly liturgy which our earthly liturgy represents
The heavenly liturgy is spoken of throughout the Old Testament (see Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms) and especially in the Book of Revelation, which depicts heaven as an eternal liturgy in which the faithful become Christ's temple and worship him forever before the throne
The bishop, as St. Cyprian and St. John Chrysostom tell us, is charged with representing Christ in his humility, in his judgment, in his mercy, and in his majesty
The ancient basilicas positioned the bishop's throne in the center of the apse, with the deacons arrayed to either side representing the Lord with his twelve apostles on either side of him.
Hence here, in a liturgical setting, we find the bishop representing Christ on the throne in a manner that recalls Isaiah's vision of God dwelling with humans in his Temple:
"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple." (Isaiah 6.1)
And then, in a line that ought to be familiar from the Mass, which is evoking the same image:
"Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. / And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory." (Isaiah 6.2-3)
For as long as we give in to a secular model, which associates the clothes with the man, we buy into a culture of pride and vanity in which clothes declare only personal greatness.
Many within the Church are guilty of this at times (myself included), but we allow this view to triumph if we immediately call something pompous simply because it evokes a scene of majesty
None of us have any reason to suspect the Cardinal's (Canizares) sincerity. When he dons the vestments of Christ in glory, the Cardinal must know well, being a liturgical scholar, that he puts on spiritually the crown of thorns and the Cross.
To us he must show the glory of God, while in his heart he must bear the weight of serving God. (Ratzinger makes the same point in his "Spirit of the Liturgy").
So please: When we see something odd, let us ask why
it may exist and why it my have been maintained, and what spiritual benefit it may offer us. This needn't be "embarrassing."
If this doesn't speak to us, we ought to become more familiar with the scriptures so that, when we see a cappa magna (originally so long so that it would cover the horse while the bishop rode), we think not of secular princes but of the heavenly throne room and the crucified Lamb whom the bishop must strive always to represent, in poverty by his humility and in glory by his service at the liturgy.
And here are some of the pictures Fr. Jim Tucker collected for his Dappled Things photo project on Church vestments, showing various familiar personages in the cappa magna,
i.e., Cardinal Canizares was not making a fashion statement by wearing the garment. simply carrying on a tradition that, although no longer mandatory, is followed today even by prelates of less rank:
Left, John Paul II, as Archbishop of Cracow, in a winter cappa magna with ermine capelet;
right, Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, photogrpahed in Cologne, 2005.
John XXIII, as Apostolic Nuncio to Paris (left figure in left photo); France's famous Cardinal Richelieu, its 17th century 'eminence grise' (center);
and right, Paul VI in cappa magna, greeting Cardinal Roncalli.
Left, Cardinals pay homage to John XXIII at the start of his Pontificate; center, John XXIII as Cardinal Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice,
in regular cappa magna; and right, in ermine-topped winter cappa magna (note ermine tails in capelet).
Archbishop Raymond Burke, now President of the Apostolic Segnatura, wearing the cappa as Bishop of LaCrosse and later, Bishop of St. Louis.
The Catholic Church, while it has not stripped down its prelates to the bare-bones sartorial spareness of some Protestant denominations, is nowhere near the sumptuousness and elaborate complexity of vestments used by the Orthodox Churches for their hierarchy and for liturgical use - or of some Buddhist sects and rites (including the Tibetan), for that matter.
Open any book or encyclopedia reference about the Potala, historic residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, with documentation and photos of the dozens of chapels within it (or ask anyone who has seen them) - and the treasures they hold in gold and precious gemstones decorating their images and altars - all that is even more mind-boggling than Aladdin's Cave.
Or think of the mammoth Shwe Dagon Buddhist pagoda in the heart of Yangon(Rangoon), Myanmar, whose entire roof and almost every surface within that is not at floor level is covered with gold leaf, and re-gilded every year to keep it pristinely dazzling - it's arguably the most dazzling edifice on earth, and it owes its dazzle not to any lighting but to pure gold.
And yet, one of the favorite targets of bleeding-heart liberals - and even many Catholics themselves - is the supposed inappropriateness, or even outright anomaly, in the fact that ministers/servants of God should 'dress up' at all, that what is spent on vestments [and other Church accessories and 'adornments'] could be much better put to use in charities for the poor. The Church has been doing both for two millennia, thank you.
Having grown up in a Church that is historically and stylistically a child of the Spanish late Renaissance and Baroque, my earliest (and only) experience of beautiful 'costly' things was in the Church - where nothing could be good enough or beautiful enough as a homage to the God we worship and adore, and for his Church.
Objects in gold and silver, velvet and lace; fresh flowers and incense, embroidery and tatting, goldsmithery and carving, painting and sculpture and architecture: Where else could someone living in a provincial backwater town in the Third World see these things as real and get a transcendent sense of the beauty and mystery that God has given us with his gift of life and of the world we live in?
I don't recall anyone telling me so, but it just seemed logical: If God is the Supreme Being to which we owe everything, then he deserves only the best. And it seemed to me a tacit principle that everyone who came to Church just knew in their heart and never questioned.
I continue to think it is a valid and worthy criterion. The two blogs I cited provide the theology behind it - which also reminds us that liturgical vestments are not meant to be the subject of a 'fashion review', and that our personal preferences about liturgical 'looks' are rather irrelevant..