The Ideological War in the Church as expressed through Sacred Vestments

Vanity! Vanity! All is vanity!
I must confess that I am fascinated by Pope Francis's recent attack on the 'peacocks' and the 'soap bubbles' of the Church.

Are we to assume that His Holiness muses on these themes of the 'true Christian' and the 'false Christian' on a daily or weekly basis and brings the fruits of his meditation to his homilies or that His Holiness has been keeping these similes in store during his ecclesiastical career in order to bring them out like a bunch of fragrant roses now that he is Supreme Pontiff?

It would appear that in his insults, Pope Francis is happy to bring out from his treasure house those insults that are 'new' and those that are 'old'.

I do hope that this does not sound disrespectful of the Bishop of Rome but oh how depressing is the liturgy of the reigning Supreme Pontiff whose Sacred Vestments are clearly designed to tell us that Heaven does not exist?! The concept of the ecclesiastical 'peacock', however, is old, not new. Indeed, this article from 'Our Daily Thread' quickly informs us that references to 'peacocks' were in the Bergoglian insult file before the Cardinal's ascension to the Throne of Peter. Dr Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo's March 2013 overview of Pope Francis is illustrative in this sense...

In February of 2012, a full year before Benedict XVI announced his abdication, Cardinal Bergoglio was interviewed by Vatican Insider offering a preview of his views on reform. Citing fellow Jesuit, Henri De Lubac the Argentine prelate criticized “spiritual worldliness,” a vice which might be defined as “a phony effort to appear holy.” He stated: “Careerism and the search for a promotion [to the hierarchy] come under the category of spiritual worldliness.” 
Behold, the awesome humility! If only all Churchmen were so humble!
Then he offered an earthy example of this ecclesiastical vanity: “Look at the peacock; it's beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth ... Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.” These words have special meaning now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis I.
The targets of the pontiff before his election are not abstract: we all see the growing distance between the faithful and bishops. Whatever our judgment of the papacies of John Paul and Benedict, their personalities clearly lent a style to the hierarchy of cardinals, since all the cardinal electors had been named by these two pontiffs. The “peacocks” in the hierarchy were put there by John Paul and Benedict. Pope Francis, on the other hand, is not a peacock lover.

When he spoke to his own clergy, Cardinal Bergoglio was critical of the clericalization of the Church. The “few-but-good” vision of the JP II church is rejected as the desire of “hypocrites,” who “drive God’s people away from salvation.” Jesus, on the other hand avoided the Pharisees and preferred “appearing among the people, the publicans and the sinners.”

Despite this, however, the compassion that His Holiness Pope Francis has for these wretched 'peacocks' is admirable. "Poor things!" the sweet Vicar of Christ on Earth said of them during his papal homily on Thursday. Perhaps, in this statement, we can see an inkling of the ocean of bottomless mercy that the Holy Father has for those experiencing repressive measures under his personal supervision, such as the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. Yes, His Holiness feels their pain.

The florid papal liturgies of yesteryear are gone, but today's papal liturgies make one thing perfectly and abundantly clear. The choice of sacred vestments that ministers of the Church choose to wear is still about the message that they give, no less, perhaps even more than they were in the 'dark old days' of the Catholic Church, when gilded, sumptuous, glorious vestments were worn with zero controversy within the Church whatsoever, when this, like the 'Form of the Mass', and the liturgy all round, was something of a 'given', something received from those who came before us. The regal nature of sacred vestments is, apparently, very traditional, going back further than the birth of the Church itself, just like Gregorian Chant does, to the worship in the Temple of the Jews.

And so when a Pope is elected who reportedly wishes the Master of Ceremonies to put away the mozetta because, 'the carnival is over', be sure that it is not because 'the' carnival is over but because 'his' carnival has 'only just begun'.  I don't say this in order to criticise His Holiness's choice on the day, but to make the observation that it is impossible to discard that which you have inherited in terms of papal accessories without making a statement about the choice not to do so itself. Do you recall just how many headlines His Holiness received out of his 'simplicity' and 'humility' in contrast to his apparently vulgar, vain predecessor?

The same goes for the vestments you are going to wear in place of those you will refuse to wear. The same rule applies for the red shoes and the black shoes. The idea that a Churchman can only be a 'peacock' by donning spectacular attire is ridiculous.

Anything that is contrived enough to want to send out a particular message which attracts headlines and attention due to the 'difference in style' of the Successor could, though must not necessarily be, the kind of attention-seeking derived from 'spiritual worldliness' that is the constant preference of the 'ecclesiastical peacock'. The deliberate choice to refuse to wear those vestments worn by your predecessors also makes a deliberate break with those who came before you, ensuring that not just the last occupant of the Chair you now inhabit, but the vast majority of them, simply were not up to speed with how things should really be, because, you know, that's what a 'humble' occupant of the Chair of Peter does to the memory of those who came before him.

And in the midst of this, little thought, or so it would appear, is given to those who may fill the shoes of Peter after Pope Francis has 'gone to the Father's house'. Just how will a Successor of St Peter cope with wearing the mozetta, the red shoes and a jaw-droppingly beautiful set of papal vestments at St Peter's once the current occupant of the Chair of Peter has met his Maker? Perhaps, just to ensure there is no confusion as to his role in the Church after Pope Francis's work building up the Church and the Kingdom, the next Pope, were he to be of traditional 'orientation' should just think, 'Well, I'm going to make some people unhappy anyway, so I might as well wear the tiara and have done with it.'


In order to truly assert that 'clothes maketh the man' - and the old adage tells us that in no way is this true - one has to assert that all Popes, Bishops, Cardinals and Priests before the 1970s in perhaps the greatest period of rupture and division in the Church in recent history were spiritually worldly ecclesiastical peacocks who wore what they wore to make a grand statement about themselves.

If one does not have to assert this, one at least has to suggest that they laboured for Christ in the mistaken belief that what they wore at the Most Holy Sacrifice, was wholly unnecessary or even 'vain'. The truth is that the Church has always sought fine materials for the vestments worn by the sacred ministers because She never tires of wishing to express the holiness and majesty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Whose Sacrifice at Calvary is being offered on the Altar to the Eternal Father at every Mass, in an unbloody manner.

I do hope that people, Catholics included, are not fools who so easily are deceived into thinking that a priest who wears 1970s or even 2010s polyester vestments is automatically humble, modest and a priest after the very heart of Christ Himself, but a priest who wears vestments that speak of Christ's majesty, the dignity of the priesthood, but have nothing to do with his own interior personality whatsoever, is automatically a proud, conceited and vain individual only out for his own glory. For if that were truly the case, we should all be members of a Catholic Church which had not only lost sight of its tradition, its heritage, its roots and its customs, but more than that, a Catholic Church which had lost the use of reason entirely or had decided to think not as it once did, but instead as Protestants do.

The vestments of the pre-concilliar Church speak very well of the beauty of God, the majesty of Christ, the glorious dignity of the sacred Priesthood, the truth that going to Church and especially to Mass is not an 'ordinary' thing to do at all, but something truly holy. As Catholics, we need to see these beautiful and ornate vestments more than God, Who has everything, needs or wants to see them.

They, like Icons, give us a little window into Heaven and remind us that the Priest is truly Alter Christus, while reminding us Who Christ Is! Many priests, Bishops and Cardinals are today wearing those vestments worn by their predecessors because they believe these vestments are - unlike the individual wearing them - worthy attire in which to offer the Most sublime Sacrifice.

They shouldn't be punished or insulted for doing what so many who have come before them have done, nor denigrated for wishing to wear those vestments which bring honour to Christ and which reverence the fragrant offering of that Sacrifice which brings us healing, forgiveness and peace.

If only we could discern the 'good' from the 'wicked' merely by the clothes they wear. If only life were so very simple, then those who abused and hid child abusers, or who 'moved them out of harm's way' like a certain prelate from Belgium, who is still invited to the Synod in October, would be far more easily admonished, or censured, or even 'sacked' by the Pope.

Comments

Fidelity Always said…
The author of this blog, knows better that The Supreme Pontiff, and The College of Bishops?

He also claims to be a Traditional Catholic. At whose feet did he sit, it wasn't the Successor of St Peter!

philipjohnson said…
Lawrence,once again you are right about the bishop of rome!He is a break with the past and,very much,a vatican 11 hippy 1970s cleric .The vestments are a sign of the glorious nature of the mystical body of christ and of the nature of the priesthood .Different vestments for the differing times of the liturgical year ,eg ember days of autumn -as one example.If the current incumbent in rome can't be bothered about the church then he should hand the keys back to one who does care about the glory of the church.That person is still living and is not too far away from his Humbleness.God help us.Keep writing Lawrence-great blog indeed. Philip Johnson.
Anonymous said…
@Fidelity Always: why don't you provide a more thoughtful response, rather than wasting valuable combox space with silly comments like this? Go on, explain exactly what you mean and why then perhaps you'll get a response or initiate a useful discussion. And while you're at it, perhaps you could clarify for the rest of us the object of this fidelity you advertise? To The Tablet, perhaps? Please enlighten us.
Fidelity Always said…
It is not a silly comment. This thread is mocking:

His Holiness The Pope; Bishop Of Rome And Vicar Of Jesus Christ; Successor Of St. Peter, Prince Of The Apostles; Supreme Pontiff Of The Universal Church; Patriarch Of The West; Servant Of The Servants Of God; Primate Of Italy; Archbishop And Metropolitan Of The Roman Province; Sovereign Of Vatican City State and suggesting this dedicated servant, of 77 years, with many as Priest and Bishop lack the knowledge, integrity and judgement to lead the Church, and celebrate the liturgy, as he was appointed to do, and it was to him, not Laurence, that Jesus said "You are peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church.

I am making a serious point on a flippant and totally disrespectful thread, but then I have not been schooled by people wiser that The Pope, the College of Bishops, or The wider Magisterium, in whatever parish Laurence lives in, and clearly not read the same books, or seemingly prayed as well, or reflected as well, as Laurence.

And neither I, nor the Supreme Pontiff, are as humble or self effacing as Laurence.
Annie said…
Fidelity Always,

"At whose feet did he sit, it wasn't the Successor of St. Peter!"


"When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up; I too am a man.'" - Acts 10: 25-26.

It's nice that Laurence gets it. It's sad that you don't.
Fidelity Always said…
Annie

If the thesis Laurence presents about papal attire and vestments is correct, then I guess Laurence does get it either.

However, with regards as to whether we should, as it were, sit at the feet of Peter:

Jesus said, ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’

And a quote I lifted: "After his resurrection in a moving and tender conversation with Peter, Jesus delegates his job as shepherd of the sheep to Peter himself. In John 21.15-17 Jesus solemnly commands Peter three times to ‘Feed his sheep and take care of his lambs.’ So in three powerful images Jesus hands over his own authority not only to all twelve apostles, but in a special way to Peter. Peter is–like Abraham, the spiritual father and rock of the People of God. He is to be the Prime Minister of the Kingdom in Jesus’ absence, and Peter is to take charge as the chief shepherd of the flock for Jesus. How exciting that Jesus–knowing he would return to his Father in heaven–set up this earthly system to continue his presence and power on earth."

And from The Catechism of The Catholic Church: "The episcopal college and its head, the Pope

880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them."398 Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another."399

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.400 "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head."401 This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful."402 "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."403

883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."404

Mary Kay said…
Great post, Laurence! I particularly like the comment about the 'bunch of fragrant roses' brought out by HH to share with us from his meditations. That is an excellent image inspired by one sentence---amusing and thought-provoking.

Your honeymoon break must have been refreshing!
God bless....
Fidelity Always said…
Annie

By the way, no one has suggested we worship The Pope, and it was that aspect Peter was objecting to. However, The New Testament testifies as to why Peter was properly welcomed, and why his preaching, and teaching was listened to. Unless you are not a member of an Ecclesial Body in Communion with Rome, you probably wouldn't accept the primacy of the Successor of St Peter.

At the time Laurence became a Catholic, he said he did.
Anonymous said…
@Fidelity Always:

If this blog is indeed 'mocking' then it would seem that Lawrence is doing a good job of welcoming HH Francis's teaching and preaching. It's quite apparent to many that Pope Francis himself mocks the Catholic tradition and the office of the Pope on a regular basis - he who is charged to be the servant, not the master, of tradition.

Oh, and do keep up, the title of 'Patriarch of the West' was dropped several years back, not that HH Francis would probably mind - just humble old Bishop of Rome is quite sufficient...

You didn't answer my question about the nature of the fidelity you proclaim. Perhaps, like so many of our Bishops these days, your fidelity lies with the fads of whichever Pope happens to be in office, rather than with the timeless tradition of Holy Church.
Joe Potillor said…
You're dead on mark with this post...Pope Francis is absolutely not in continuity with his predecessors...(in general)...let us double our prayers for him.
Aaron said…
Oh a Troll - don't feed him!

My parish priest wears what is put out for him by the sacristan on duty. A little like the previous successor of Peter who wore the outrageous and expensive modern concoctions of P Marini and the historic (and modern) vestments of G Marini. I find it dull that the current successor of Peter has makes clothes an issue, it is bit of vanity which is I hope peculiar to this Pope, roll on re-union with the East.
Timothy Graham said…
Off topic - very funny choice of photos for your headline.
XFitr4Life said…
Great assessment! The Holy Father needs our prayers now, more than ever.
JTLiuzza said…
The irony here is Pope Francis is really the peacock with his endless, manufactured displays of "humility" and his propensity to gravitate to anyone holding a camera or microphone and spout off.

The theme of his pontificate should be "look at me!"
Lynda said…
The Supreme Pontiff may be ignorant of or opposed to the Deposit of Faith.
John Vasc said…
Yours is a very valid point, Laurence. To make such a song and dance of not wearing papal vestments, and to single out for repeated criticism those who follow the established tradition in such matters, is emphasising preoccupation with symbols while pretending to reject them.
For any holder of high office, making an effort to be like the rest of men (and sniping at those who do not follow into line with you) is a bit like its opposite - thanking God that one is not like the rest of men.
I've forgotten the name for this - it begins with an H, I think :-)
Joe Potillor said…
Horrible Liturgy and Horrible vestments will be repulsive to the East....
Joe Potillor said…
Horrible Liturgy and Horrible vestments will be repulsive to the East....

I can sum up this pontificate in two words: ostentatious humiity