Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SPLENDOR AND BANALITY



Pope John XXIII is said to have come from the peasant class of Italy, yet he reveled in the splendor of the papacy. Every pope has a particular style and all seem to have been good stewards of what was passed onto them, not wasting the treasury of style or art given them.

For practicing Catholics who understand the papacy and that it transcends the man who is the pope, there has been a consistency in papal style. Frankly we know it comes from the monarchical class, yet is also viewed as the reversal of values when monarchies and dictators suppressed the Church and the Church was victorious.

We also know that the monarchical elements of the papacy are meant to point to Christ the KING and His KINGDOM. His kingdom is not of this world and the streets of heaven are of course made of gold. It is about the institution of the papacy, not the man who happens to be pope at that time. The same is true in the secular sense here in America. We respect the office of the President no matter who occupies the White House. The Presidency transcends the man who might be the president!

But private revelations of some saints have said the beauty of heaven is so brilliant that it would make any diamond on earth appear as charcoal!

So, does the elegant, monarchical style of the papacy give hope to us poor miserable sinners mired in sin and poverty, who have nothing?

Let me give an example. Our splendid church built by the Jesuits is open all day and we have people coming in every day and thousands during the Cherry Blossom Festival. Many of our parishioners are poor. Yet when they come to our church, they feel rich and call this church their church home!

We might live vicariously through the pope and the palaces of the Church and its rich history of art, architecture and vestments and other clerical garb.

It all depends on the person who is the pope. Pope Francis could be as splendid in garb as some of the pictures below and still go to the slums of India like mother Teresa and take off the splendor and get his hands dirty helping the poor. The two elements of what the Church shows forth are not either/or but both/and!

Are these pictures a put off, a distraction or point to something we all hope will be the KINGDOM of HEAVEN?


OMG, did someone forget to tell the new Holy Father, Pope Benedict eight years ago, that he must wear a long sleeve white shirt with french cuffs and cuff links or did the Holy Father send a message to the world on the Loggia that day by wearing an ordinary black sweater?

15 comments:

Pater Ignotus said...

Why sould a servant (Servant of the Servants of God) want to dress like the Master of the House?

The papacy as an institution aquired both the form (curial bureaucracy) and the look (ermine, jewels, peacock feather flabelli) as a means of competing with the other temporal rulers of the times. In that, the popes who adopted these externals were conforming themselves to this world. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

I would contend that these trappings are not tools of evangelization; they don't inspire people to become more Christ-like in their behavour. What brings people to Christ is meeting and knowing other people who are disciples - people whose lives, not their clothes or houses or other possessions, reflect virtue and goodness.

WSquared said...

"Our splendid church built by the Jesuits is open all day."

God bless you for that, Father. The lower church of my former parish in the downtown area is open all day, too, and though I've now moved away after I got married, I still visit that church every time I'm in town. They've got Eucharistic Adoration every day, for one, which seems to cut through some of the modernist ugliness down there (the monstrance is beautiful, and dignifies its surroundings all on its own, it seems). My now home parish is not open all day. So sad!

"The same is true in the secular sense here in America. We respect the office of the President no matter who occupies the White House. The Presidency transcends the man who might be the president!"

While I don't mean to sound mean-spirited or snarky, it doesn't escape my notice that a good many Americans claim to hate pomp, circumstance, and "trappings," and calling this, that, or the other thing that pertains to any of it "slavery" to Old World tendencies, etc. But yet, that self-professed skepticism and reserve seems to go out the window when it comes to the Presidency, their "stuff," some castle they visited when they went on vacation in Europe, the Royal Wedding of Will and Kate, and Downtown Abbey. I don't have a problem per se with the trappings of the Presidency, European royalty or Downtown Abbey, or even treating one's self within reason. I just have a problem with shallow, self-righteous and sanctimonious blather, especially from many American Catholics who protest too much about papal Masses and "the Vatican" being over the top, but who don't seem to bat an eyelid over our airheaded celebrities and the Superbowl halftime show. Says a lot about what we worship, don't it?

I rather suspect that what's at stake here when we talk about "humility," "simplicity," and "poverty" is not the amount or even the money involved, or how simple or ornate, but where any of it is directed. As you say, Father, good stewardship. And perhaps one of the reasons why a lot of people like Downtown Abbey is that it does raise those types of issues of what it means to be a good steward. And perhaps the other thing is to reiterate for those who are used to viewing any sort of "trappings" on a highly materialist and secularist plane that not all "trappings" are the same, where one just picks and chooses what one likes, and discards what one doesn't like. Whatever "taste" is involved still begs the question of direction and orientation.

"Yet when they come to our church, they feel rich and call this church their church home!"

Exactly the way I feel as a student who most certainly has much, and who does not expect to make a lot of money. That was brought home to me the first Christmas I ever spent away from home, where I had no parties to go to and none of the usual trappings of Christmas. But I felt rich, and it "still felt like Christmas" when I went to Mass on Christmas morning. Having been away from the Church for a bit, I can honestly say that this is one of the ways in which the Catholic Church was there for me.

"OMG, did someone forget to tell the new Holy Father, Pope Benedict eight years ago, that he must wear a long sleeve white shirt with french cuffs and cuff links or did the Holy Father send a message to the world on the Loggia that day by wearing an ordinary black sweater?"

Yeah, and look at his linen alb! Why isn't it lace?! Oh. Em. Gee. There's a difference between those nice linen albs that all the cardinals were wearing and the albs that many altar servers wear in many a suburban parish that look like they're wearing pillow cases.

Anonymous said...

Is that really the reason that the Papacy has become dressed in so much splendor--to compete with temporal kings?

I had always thought that such trappings were meant to reflect the majesty of God.

I think an argument can be made that we can both have a Church dressed in splendor and still be a Church that serves the poor.

God gives artists and architects their gifts and talents and it seems to me that we are not fair to deny them the expression of those talents in creating beautiful churches because the money would be better spent on the poor.

If you consider all the vestments and furnishings that are locked in the closets of the Vatican, we seem to forget one thing: They're already paid for.

I have always maintained that we should spare no expense in the building of Catholic Churches because these beautiful "sermons in stone" speak to us, and especially, they are available to EVERYONE. J.P. Morgan and William Randolph Hearst built magnificent homes, but those homes were private residences and if you were not a family member or if you were not invited, you did not get to see their splendor. Compare that with a beautiful church or cathedral: Anyone and everyone is welcome to walk inside of these buildings, because they don't belong to anyone except the faithful. The poorest man is as welcome as the richest donor.

When I was in Washington D.C. and visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the first time, I was more impressed with that church than any other building in the city. As strolled its gigantic aisles, I was rapt with a sense of the awe and majesty of God. If anyone asks me to this day what I liked best about D.C., the answer is the shrine. Nothing else even comes close.

The 26th chapter of Matthew's gospel tells us about a woman who washed Jesus' feet with an expensive perfume and one of the apostles complained, "For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor."

Remember who said that?

WSquared said...

"Why sould a servant (Servant of the Servants of God) want to dress like the Master of the House?"

Perhaps it's because he knows who his Master truly is, and who he belongs to. The Servant of the Servants of God is still nonetheless the Vicar of Christ, the Word Incarnate. He is the servant of his flock, but that does not make his flock Master of the House. The Roman Pontiff can only rightly serve the servants of God by putting God first.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note the order. A lot of people not only divorce them, but get them backwards, hence one of the reasons why enough tend to think that if they're "nice" and "compassionate," then they are being pleasing to God, when a compassion divorced from the truth is no compassion at all. And if one does not know that one serves and points to God first, then one will fall short in all sorts of ways when one "does unto others."


"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2"

One could level this same admonition at those who like to dumb things down out of a sense of false humility. When one presumes that one is being humble by adopting banality and ugliness, usually because "other people might get the wrong idea," is one not trying to court the respect of men in a very real sense, thus conforming to the pattern of this world?

"I would contend that these trappings are not tools of evangelization; they don't inspire people to become more Christ-like in their behavour. "

Is it not part of evangelization to confront and challenge? A good challenge that those "trappings" pose is the danger of false dichotomies, and that Catholicism does not do false dichotomies.

Wendell said...

Beauty attracts; banality repels.

When we look for beauty we find it. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta served the poor because she saw in each person Jesus Christ. Blessed Teresa, with irrepressible joy, was able to serve her brothers and sisters and preserve their fundamental dignity as children of God because she met Christ, the Beautiful One in distressing disguise, in each person.

We need reminders that authentic beauty is not what the world would have us believe. We need beautiful churches that inspire hope. We need beautiful theology to inspire the creation of beautiful buildings and the celebration of beautiful liturgies.

Beautiful liturgy reminds us of how ugly our sins are, but that sinners, receptive to the redemption offered by Christ, can create extraordinary beauty. Beauty made manifest is proof that Christ's transforming love is real. People can and do change.

Banal liturgies and buildings fail to challenge us to repentance, and because they fail to challenge they fail to inspire a need for a disciplined spiritual life. Instead of being poor in spirit, banal liturgies merely leave us impoverished.

We, all of us, the poor - we need beauty.

Gene said...

What brings people to Christ is hearing the Gospel and becoming humbled by both the Majesty of God and the humility of Christ. Meeting other "disciples" who reflect virtue and goodness does not say anything. A lot of non-Christians reflect virtue and goodness.
Christ's humility means nothing without the Majesty of God who chose to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary.
Once again, your humanistic "theology" is evident. John's Revelation is full of splendor and magnificence; Christ returns in Glory, remember? The Church is a foreshadowing of that Glory...wait, wait, you don't believe in that stuff...I forgot...that's right...you can't answer those simple questions about Real presence and Resurrection...oh, well...never mind.

WSquared said...

"Christ's humility means nothing without the Majesty of God who chose to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary."

Come on, Gene, we have to go further than that and really hit the nail squarely on the head: Christ's humility means nothing without the Majesty of God who chose to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary, thereby giving us the gift of the TRUTH. One cannot be truly humble without first submitting to the Truth.

Through, with, and in Christ, we have the glory of the fullness of the Truth. And we all know of an encyclical called "Veritatis Splendor."

Pater Ignotus said...

Pin/Gene - Yes, I can answer the question about the Real Presence. In fact I answer it every time I stand at the altar and say "Take and Eat...Take and Drink."

Lots of non-Christians do, indeed, reflect Christian virtue and goodness. Even through them, you see, God is at work, drawing the world to Himself.

They can "hear" the Gosp[el more effectively in a holy disciple than in a Gospel passage chanted in Greek or Latin.....

Christ returns in glory indeed. And Matthew 25 tells us what that glory looks like - the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the homeless are housed, the mourning are comforted, the stranger is welcomed.

I am not expecting Christ's glorious return to have a single ermine-lined mozetta or peacock feather flabellum. And I bet he'll be wearing Good Father McDonald's favourite - sandals (prolly Birkenstocks) instead of red slippers.

Gene said...

Ignotus, you are such a tool. You couldn't give a straight answer in a math class. LOL!

Gene said...

Wsquarewd, indeed!

Anonymous 5 said...

The clergy of many Protestant denominations that explicitly reject the doctrine of the Real Presence also say "Take and Eat...Take and Drink" during their liturgies.

Just sayin'.

John Nolan said...

PI

The flabella (singular is flabellum) give us a link with the ancient world - they appear in ancient Egypt. Fans once served a practical purpose but later became ceremonial. They are still used in the Eastern Churches where they are circular in shape. They also appear in non-Christian religions, eg Sikhism.

Red shoes were worn by Roman senators. The title Pontifex Maximus was assumed in the Roman Republic by the high priest of the pagan cult - Julius Caesar held this office for a time. It does no harm to be reminded that the Church has its roots in antiquity.

Joseph Johnson said...

And now my mini-treatise regarding the minor sartorial topic of "French" or doubled cuff shirts (the kind that require cufflinks):

Yes, in the current casual culture, they are seen as a bit more formal or dressy (less "democratic"--although Bill Clinton preferred them) than a button cuff shirt. In business dress, French cuffs are worn with suits while button cuffs can be worn with blazers or with suits. This goes back to the era depicted on Downton Abbey (the the World War I/1920's era) when dress shirts with detachable starched collars were gradually losing popularity to the shirts with softer attached collars. The older men generally continued to prefer the more precise look of detachable starched collars (like Lord Grantham or Mr. Bates) while the younger men, (like Matthew and Tom) who had served in the trenches of the Great War, began to prefer the softer attached collars (which we continue to wear today and the buttondown collar being the least formal variant--originating as a sportswear style) though these younger men of the 1920's might still have worn a detachable collar for more formal business dress.

The neckband (collarless) shirts which were worn then had three button-holes in the neckband to accept the metal collar-buttons (studs)which held the collar on the shirt and, by the 1920's customarily had French cuffs (before that, many had detachable cuffs as well).

These older style collarless French cuff shirts have survived into the present day as clerical shirts and as English barrister shirts. They still, almost invariably, unless custom-made, come with French cuffs.

The other style of clerical shirt is the "tab collar" style (this is the kind that has the little plastic insert which slides into the front) which did not come out until about 1959. Before that, priests of the latter nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries wore the neckband shirt with the full clerical collar. As mentioned above, laymen wore these shirts as well with an almost infinite variety of collar styles with square or rounded points or winged tuxedo styles.

Although I have seen priests wear tab collar (insert) shirts under cassocks, the proper one to wear with a cassock appears to be the one which takes the detachable full white clerical collar (which traditionally is starched cotton or linen but today is usually plastic). So, if a priest (including the Pope) wears the "correct" shirt with his collar and cassock, the French cuffs just come with the shirt style (unless he either can afford custom neckband shirts with button cuffs or if he simply doesn't bother to use the traditional neckband shirt with the studs for the collar).

It's not about being pretentious or "upscale"--it's just about custom and tradition in what's available in shirt styles.

John Nolan said...

Even a Jermyn Street shirt buttons all the way down the front nowadays, a style which in Lord Grantham's day was called 'American'. In the Great War officers would pin the collar behind the tie (in the British army, that is - the service dress of US officers buttoned up to the neck). In my Yeomanry regiment we resurrected the collar pin in the 1970s, just to be different.

Joseph Johnson said...

John,
If you look at early 1900's Sears Roebuck catalogues, they referred to shirts that buttoned all the way down at the "coat style" as the ones which were pulled over the head and buttoned halfway up were then still the norm, even in America. I still have two collarless shirts like that which belonged to my great grandfather, one of which he was married in in 1908.

I have some of the modern English barrister shirts and sometimes wear them. I would wear the stiff collars regularly with suits but the laundries here just can't get them to look as they do in Britain as they no longer have the necessary machinery (which may explain why most clerical collars are now plastic). As to attached collars, I prefer to wear a pin behind my tie or a "tab" collar (one which has little cloth tabs which button or snap behind the tie).