January 02, 2008

The Impact of Personal Architecture

It was at this moment that Father Ben realized, to his chagrin, that he may want to rethink his vestment wardrobe.

Another in my ongoing series of rants about attire...

Many Catholic blogs have already commented on the recent splendid vestments of the Holy Father. Sadly, he has not always been so well attired. Compare and contrast these two vestments pre and post M.C. change:

It's nice to see the Holy Father attired as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church instead of the leader of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.

No offense to our Protestant friends but I want to our Shepherds to look like OUR Shepherds. Historically, our popes and priests and churches were always very regal, ornate, dignified and kingly looking.

IMHO, when we Catholics let ourselves be persuaded by our Protestant friends that somewhere it says we need to be as plain and as unadorned as possible in order to be holy, the architecture of our parishes and the personal architectures (read: apparel) of our clergy fell apart into the banal hideousness, frequently ridiculousness, that we see all too much of now. When we lived thru the 60s and 70s I think we stole the clothes from Goodwill. For those of you who think the church moves slowly, you're right, that rainbow swooshy crap should've been dumped at least 20 years ago. If I wanted my pastor to look like an Evangelical preacher, I would have remained in the Evangelical church. If I wanted my parish to look like the Presbyterian church across the street, I'd worship over there.

In the U.S.A., I think we let ourselves be influenced by too much of the predominately Protestantism of our culture and our fear of anything that looks too kingly since kingship is what we rebelled against in forming our nation. However, we forgot that monarchy as a political movement is not exactly the same as the regal accoutrements of our Faith. Almost any serious Protestant you meet will tell you they are the same and that plainness is good, ornateness is bad. Over the Christmas break, I was reading about all these local Protestant mega-churches that have these massive Christmas shows/services in their churches complete with ice rinks, skaters, live Nativity's, singing, light-shows, and dancing. Tell me, then, what is ornate? Those services sound pretty ornate to me, even if your parish is plain looking.

Before someone tries to tell me that the "man-lace" of our older vestments is too sissified; if I were a man, I'd wear all the lace in Belgium before I would go in front of everyone looking like a set backdrop from an Austin Powers film. Sometimes, I think even the Lord is saying: "You've got to be kidding me!" when He sees these horrors.

What came first? Bad vestments and then wreckovation? The other way around? I think they occured at the same time. Would you put this priest:


How about here?

How about this priest:


Or here?

Until the day comes when all the groovy vestments are recycled into Greenpeace banners, I fear that reverence returning to Holy Mass is going to take some time: even with the extraordinary form making a comeback. Does anyone really want to see Father My-Eyes! from the second set of photos celebrating Mass in the extraordinary form? Frankly, I don't want to see that guy celebrating Mass looking like that period but such is the world we live in.

Is it a coincidence that as priestly vestments became whispy, insubstantial, poly-blend, wash-n-wear that our catachesis did the same? What priest would feel the weight of the elevation wearing a 2 oz cotton garment versus the several pounds of embroidered and quilted vestment? Why would Father need help during the elevation lifting the end of his garment when it is nothing? Really. So, why should the elevation be anything? The visual illustrating the enormity of what is happening went away.

Does attire make a person holy? No. However, I maintain that appropriate attire helps emphasize the miraculousness of what is going on at Mass. I think attire helps us determine how seriously you perceive, and should perceive, what is happening. If Father looks like Bozo the Clown performing in a circus tent, then I have a hard time believing we, or Father, should think any more of Holy Mass then visiting the circus. Apologies to circus clowns, but, Holy Mass should not be treated the same as going to one of your shows. It shouldn't look the same either.

I don't presume to know the mind of the Holy Father, but I can't help think that as His Holiness embarks on this quest to restore the reverence to Holy Mass by rescuing the classical vestments from gathering dust in the archives, will parish restorations be far behind? I know some are going on now but I wonder if there will be more-especially, as the extraordinary form grows in popularity. How can the Holy Father's motu proprio be seriously implemented without the proper clothes and the proper set pieces?

Before someone whines: "We don't have the money to maintain those elaborate parishes anymore or pay for those fancy vestments!" You are kidding, right? Our ancestors built those huge, ornate, parishes literally with their manual labor as well as giving as much money as they could to the church. Same with vestments. True, we had more nuns making the vestments then but the money for the materials had to come from somewhere. Our ancestors cost of living was a lot lower then ours was but so were their wages. They had much larger families to support since they sure as heck were not contracepting. They did all that, why can't we? In many cases, we don't have to build from the ground up, we just have to remodel.

Remodel. No kidding.

*Deep curtsy to Vincenzo for taking the time to create some of the images on this post for me. I think he did a good job of visualizing my concept. Any man who can understand my babblings with little stage direction deserves a big round of applause!!! Heck, any man who will put up with me deserves a big round of applause-and prayers! LOL!


Blogger Vincenzo said...

"Heck, any man who will put up with me deserves a big round of applause-and prayers! LOL!"

ROFL! What a wonderful article. Thank you!

January 01, 2008 7:43 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Who do you think Vincenzo looks like? Check out Abbey2.

January 01, 2008 7:56 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

Thankfully, our vestments are plain but ok.

However, today at Mass we were treated to O Sanctissima sung with strumming guitar and bass accompaniment. It made our ears bleed!!

January 01, 2008 9:13 PM  
Blogger Rachel Gray said...

Thanks for that thoughtful post, and for the excellent visuals. :) Architecture and vestments are a kind of wordless catechesis, as is the reverence of the priest and people at Mass, and music, and art in the church, and incense and altar rails and the whole rite... Well, I won't try to write my own post; you've already done it. :)

January 01, 2008 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Nice post, but give the Holy Father a break in this picture -it was raining and he has rain attire on! The man is 80 years old. The Holy Father is ALWAYS beautifully and splendidly dressed. No defamation here!

January 02, 2008 2:22 AM  
Blogger Ma Beck said...

Could have been worse - could have been "Morning Has Broken" with strumming guitar and bass accompaniment.

Hifreekinglarious post.

January 02, 2008 9:01 AM  
Blogger Athelstane said...

Hello Cathy,

Your images - and the accompanying commentary - are priceless.

On the battlefield mass is conducted in little more than BDU's. But that's merely necessity. What has happened in our parishes is more akin to iconoclasm.

Keep up the great work.

January 02, 2008 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our priest is subjected to cheap polyester chasubles. The only thing right about them are the colors. They don't hang right, they are probably hotter in the summer because the material is unnatural not to mention a fire hazard next to that bank of candles by the statue of OLOF. The list goes on...

January 02, 2008 11:56 AM  
Blogger Angela M. said...

Decided to mothball the old blog and you can find the new one here:


January 02, 2008 12:54 PM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

Sort of OT, but yesterday was one of my favorites (Marian Holy Day) since the priest got to wear the blue vestments. Well, they were cream with blue.

I also have to say I like it when priests and religious look like priests and religious even outside of Mass. I ran into some monks/brothers awhile back at Sam's Club (of all places) and it was nice to see them wearing their "uniform" out in public.

January 02, 2008 3:27 PM  
Blogger Tom in Vegas said...

For me, the bottom line is this: I want my Churches to look like Catholic Churches and not some spiritually exanimate auditorium. I've been inside some of these and they look no different than the place where I used to attend my high school assemblies. Same goes for clergy attire.


January 02, 2008 4:39 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

excellent post... why were the 60's and 70's sooo awful to our faith..i will never know

January 02, 2008 8:16 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

angela: I forgot about the fire hazard aspect! Another reason to mothball that poly!

January 02, 2008 8:38 PM  
Blogger Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

You know, we here in the US rebelled against an EARTHLY king, who was a syphillitic madman to boot. But the clergy ought to reflect the glory of our heavenly King of Kings with their vestments!

And you can tell that to any protestant who grouses about the clergy's 'bling.'

January 03, 2008 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't know how anyone in the 60's and 70's stayed Catholic with that turquoisy, wavy new-age stuff pictured above. I tell you, the Church really is God's idea, for without Him, we would be stale toast. Good observations. Thank You!

January 06, 2008 1:12 PM  
Blogger Bobby said...

I can't imagine that either. In some churches of the "Emergent" genre, the robes, the Cross, and even organ have been purged and replaced by street clothes and rock bands.

Emergent churches have grown in light of Warrenism, and there is even a Warrenist candidate for President.

January 15, 2008 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree, vesture should match the locale, priests wearing mondern vesture in a chuch that is 100 years old will not "fit." If you want modren vesture that is still well made and for the most part "traditional" go to the Holy Rood Guild an Abbey in Mass. They know what they are doing.

February 23, 2008 3:48 PM  

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