Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What would Jesus wear?

An anonymous poster has a dig at Bishop Davies and the clergy in the Wirral about their vestments:

We have a fairly good idea of what Jesus wore at the last supper, the first Mass, as we are told which of his clothes the Roman soldiers shared between them at his crucifixion. Neither embroidered silk nor polyester; nor alb nor rochet nor buskin nor jewelled pectoral cross...
Certainly, as a pious Jew, Our Lord would have worn clothing for prayer that was different from his ordinary garb. In addition the robe of Christ at His crucifixion, which has some mystical significance I needn't point out in the context of Holy Mass, would have been a beautiful or valuable garment - why else would the guards have gambled over it rather than ripping it into shares?

The vestments worn by Catholic clergy are pretty unchanged, I think, since the earliest days of the Church, in their basic form. Clearly there has been a great deal of development in terms of form depending on circumstances (a Roman chasuble makes more sense in a hot climate than a Gothic or Conical chasuble). They are in essence the dress of a Roman gentleman. That a priest should wear something different seems to be sensible - Catholic worship is about signs and over time each of the elements of sacred vestments have developed a meaning which is a focus of devotion and which puts the actions into the context of the saving drama of Christ's life and sacrifie. Unless your radical primitivism would favour, say, circumcision for all male believers or the wearing of 1st century sandals.

The Mass especially is Wedding Feast of the Lamb and it behoves Christ's ministers to dress accordingly. It would make sense that what they wear is stately and dignified and fitting (the clothes I wore to my own wedding feast were more stately and expensive than the cargoes and tee shirt I am wearing as I write this). It would seem appropriate that the materials and adornment of sacred vestments are the best we can offer the Lord. Going back to my wedding, Mrs P would have be less than pleased had I turned up in polyester or hessian.

I have attended Protestant communion services (Episcopalian, in Scotland, of an evangelical strain, in a wealthier part of Glasgow). The minister wore a rather trendy lounge suit. I think he looked vaguely ridiculous, if he meant to be taking seriously what he was doing. As a student the rather radical chaplain we had came and said Mass at a coffee table in the Hall of Residence where I stayed. He wore his ordinary cothes (tweed jacket, open collar, slacks) with a magic stole on top. It was not an edifying experience at a crucial stage in my spiritual development and gave me no sense of the Holy, brought me no closer to God.

I'd be interested to hear your views.

12 Comments:

Blogger Patricius said...

Just a quick thought: isn't there the parable where the chap gets chucked out for not wearing a proper wedding garment?

1:47 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

There is! Should've mentioned that.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Oh, and throwing people out of the wedding feast because of their garb, is like, really exclusive and elitist, no?

1:51 PM  
Blogger Simon Platt said...

My views are just like yours. Nothing to add at all. Sorry.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Every little helps, Simon. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was I 'having a dig' at Bishop Davis? Not consciously directed at him but, yes, I was poking fun at the elaborate garments adopted by Christian clergy in the fourth century A.D. and which have evolved since then: see 'Vestments' in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 15, transcribed on the web by newadvent.org
I am more concerned with substance than form. I was lucky enough to work (as a layman) for a Catholic bishop in Africa who was renowned for his Christianity, his courage and his good works. By way of example, when he was saying Mass in Biafra, Nigeria, during the Civil War there, Federal soldiers put a gun to his back and he ignored them and continued to say Mass. When I asked him about this incident he said that 'I am a priest of God. I am meant to be in a State of Grace when I am saying Mass'. In the two years that I worked with him I cannot recall him ever wearing anything other than shorts and a shirt and sandals when saying weekday Mass and a cassock and stole on Sundays. (I might be wrong, my memory is imperfect and it was 40 years ago, but that is my present recollection.)
There are lots of clergy whom I respect who wear elaborate garments to say Mass and I would not criticise their choice. However, unlike Paulinius, I would not have found the Episcopalian minister 'faintly ridiculous' in his suit, or been put off by his university chaplain in his more casual clothes. I hope that I would have seen ordinary human beings communicating their ordinariness at the same time as they do something special for other ordinary human beings - and without pretending to be Roman gentlemen to do so

5:07 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

If you weren't having a dig at the bishop, why did you leave the comment? I cannot tell which anonymous you were as you do not identify yourself. I've read the article you mention. Why poke fun at men engaged in a solemn task (the most solemn task)?

As to your African bishop he sounds like a man of heroic charity, a saint, if you like. However, quite why anyone any territory - mission or otherwise (except the case of financial or physical want) feels themselves exempt from the rules that govern the Latin Church is beyond me. the rubrics are no more or less valid in Birkenhead, Biafra or Baluchistan.

As for substance over form, puhl-leaze! You can have both, indeed in the case of the drama of the liturgy, I think it's a good idea to have both, otherwise there tends to be a word-heavy imbalance that ill-serves liturgy.

The condescension of your last paragraph is a marvel to behold. The fact is that an ordained minister is not ordinary and he does down his own priesthood (and my function as a layman) by pretending that he is. he intrudes on my laity by laying down his priestly state. No priest is pretending to be a Roman gentleman - he is acting in persona Christi which should be a privilege and a joy (as well as a trial, at times, I am sure).

Shame on you for that very last entence. Shame on you.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Patricius said...

A key point about vestments I think is that, as perhaps also with things like military uniforms, the individual (priest, soldier etc.) is, as it were, subsumed in the costume and the office it signifies. I gather that the word chasuble is derived from a word meaning "a little house" and if one considers old style vestments with their stiff formal shape, serving to iron out the form of the individual body beneath, the term seems apposite in the sense of the individual body being almost buried. Far from glorifying the individual vestments point to the dignity of the office. It is not about whether the priest is a saint (which we would want them all to be) or a scoundrel: the sacred vestments point beyond him to Christ.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I refer Paulinus to The Catholic Encyclopedia again? When you read the article on vestments you will have seen that 'For even though they (i.e. vestments) are not in themselves essential to the Sacrifice of the Mass, being only something external, yet by their entire history they are connected most intimately with it'.
The Church has rules on priestly dress at Mass. A priest should wear an alb, with cincture (unless the alb is fitted to him) and an amice, a stole and a chausable: Chapter VI.IV GIRM. No more is necessary.
When the Christian church became the established church of the Roman empire, its priests adopted the Graeco-Roman clothing of the then Roman nobility. That clothing evolved to include, one thousand years later, such fripperies as the biretta, adapted from the mediaeval academic cap, in black for a priest, purple for a bishop and scarlet for a cardinal. It serves no purpose inside a church other than decoration.
I return to the Encyclopedia: 'The liturgical vestments have by no means remained the same from the founding of the Church until the present day. There is as great a difference between the vestments worn at the Holy Sacrifice in the pre-Constantinian period, and even in the following centuries, and those now customary at the services of the Church, as between the rite of the early Church and that of modern times'.
With respect, I cannot agree that elaborate Graeco-Roman vestments are in any way necessary for a priest to be 'in persona Christi'. Whether they are appropriate is a matter of opinion on which you and I disagree. And, while I respect the office of ordained minister, I would not agree that a priest is anything other than an ordinary, fallible human.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Anonymous you seem to be backtracking. As to the biretta - why not? I understand where it came from. Please cut the patronising tone, it's tiresome. I think we all know priests are frail human. What's your point?

As I say, you're all over the place with this, first having a dig at traditional priestly dress and Bishop Davies, implying that Christ would reprove him, then implying that we might dress as first century Jews, then implying that priests are somehow pretending to be Roman gentleman.

It's clear you have a problem with clerics vesting as they should. I'd suggest that's your problem not the Church's nor mine.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paulinus,
I am not going to bother rebutting you point by point. All I will say is that I did not 'have a dig' at Bishop Davies, whom I had never previously heard of, and have no animus against personally. I will do us both a favour by deleting your blog from my 'Favourites'. Thank you for the blog which, even when I do not agree with you, I have always found interesting.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Well the comment about being interested in your views was not idle, even if I disagree with you. Sorry you feel that way. Go in peace.

7:26 PM  

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