Vatican couture

papal vestmentsPope Benedict XVI is in town. In Washington, D.C. and now New York. Tens of thousands of the faithful flock to get a glimpse of the popemobile, or, for those lucky enough to get tickets, attend a mass presided over by the Holy Father himself.

The Pope said all the right things about sexual predators among the Catholic clergy, and even talked personally to some very few of the victims. Benedict gave a clear statement of what his church is about on human rights (in favor of them) and uniltaralism (against it).

Nothing particularly newsworthy, beyond the event itself — a papal visit to these shores is a rarity. The United States is still a Protestant nation. Always has been, and, when it is no longer one, it will likely be totally secular or Muslim. It will never be Catholic, in the way that Poland is, or Ireland was.

I’ve the highest regard for Benedict. He speaks what he believes to be true, usually with clarity. At the United Nations, not so much, but considering the venue, had he spoken clearly he’d not have been understood. And I agree with almost everything that the Catholic Church holds as dogma.

Where I depart, along with most of my Protestant brothers and sisters, is anything to do with the institutional church. Which brings me to the image of some of the pope’s vestments. The picture accompanied a Washington Post story in the Style section about “Vatican couture.” The essence isn’t about style, however. it is this:

Traditional Catholics have been over the moon since Benedict was installed and started reviving ancient aspects of church life…

Now “ancient” can mean different things, and in a church that claims to have been founded by St. Peter (Matthew 16:19) about 1,950 years ago, what’s a few centuries among friends?

In the case of Pope Benedict and his new-old threads, “ancient” apparently means about four or five centuries. From the Post story:

For those paying attention to Vatican couture, Benedict has been causing a buzz since he came into office by reviving the more ornate clergy styles that go back in some cases to the 15th and 16th centuries. Taller hats (or mitres). Red velvet capes (or mozzettas). Heavily embroidered smocks (or chasubles).

Then there’s the bit about the Latin Mass, and how it, too, is more “traditional” and goes back to the “ancient” rites of the church. A couple of observations.

First, do today’s Roman Catholics believe that St. Peter would have paraded about in such fancy and costly gear? Or that he’d have had many choices of outfits, all suitably pompous? Does anyone out there doubt that St. Peter, and all of the earliest apostles, would have gone about spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord in the plainest, meanest of clothes?

Some may have known Latin; most of the first Christians would likely have spoken and read Aramaic and, possibly, Greek. The first Mass, the Last Supper, was almost certainly conducted in Aramaic. By men in the plainest of robes. Led by our Lord, who would never have countenanced spending huge sums on frippery.

For those inspired by such ostentatious display, perhaps you should consult Matthew 19:16-26, particularly verse 21:

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

Your Holiness, I’m thinking you could feed and clothe quite a few of the destitute for whom Jesus lived and died with what it costs to array yourself like a Roman emperor.


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