Monday, February 13, 2012

Clergy Fashion: "Sashay! Shante!"

There is one principle that ISM clergy have never heeded well: simplicity of vesture. In the words of Mademoiselle Chanel: "Before you go out, always take something off". In the ISM, perhaps the more appropriate statement is "The Infant of Prague is to be venerated, not imitated." Don't get me wrong--I am a traditionalist and love brocades as well as all manner of luxurious vestments. The very nature of liturgy is to transcend this world in praising God. It is mysterious and familiar at the same time. The clothing of the celebrant and the atmosphere should reflect the dignity of this most sublime Sacrifice. In other words, it is the anti-polyester.

It's not necessarily a matter of taste or of money. Each parish or clergy person has their own abilities and their own tastes. But, liturgical vesture should be something special and unique. It's not about adding as much as you can and finding it as cheaply made as possible. There's a whole blog devoted to badly dressed clergy (blessedly most of them are Episcopalians). But, besides creating beauty in liturgy there are also a guideline as to what clergy should where and when. This isn't about following Roman rules or imitating any denomination--it's what looks appropriate and honoring the dignity and purpose of every item of clergy vesture. Each item evolved over time and came to symbolize something important to our faith. The mitre symbolizes tongues, the alb is a baptismal garment, the stole as Christ's napkin when washing feet, etc.

Sure, there are certain things that drive me crazy. PLEASE DO NOT wear a chasuble with a cope, or a zuchetto with a clergy suit, or a mitre while in choir dress, or wear a chasuble without an alb, etc., etc., etc. But, it isn't about dressing up. It isn't about looking the most fantastic. It is about creating reverence and dignity. I have been countered in this argument by priests who say: "My people want something casual" or "We don't want to spend the money." To that I answer that Dorothy Day, the great Catholic Worker crusader, realized the importance of beauty and mystery in worship. The story goes that a priest told her he wanted to build a simple, inexpensive church in a poor area. She responded that church was the only place that could help the people transcend out of the slums and experience something beautiful and otherworldly.This isn't social hour--it's holding eternity in an instant and infinity in the palm of your hand. Treat it thus.

"Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass."

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