Monday 24 September 2007

Just a question of taste?

After my posting about differing styles of vestments, I received a number of e-mails, mostly those thanking me for raising these issues. Others, however, responded in a manner that was (frankly) near-hysterical. That people feel so passionate as to react in such a manner is a topic worthy of some discussion. And so, I have been asked to write a little more on these subjects.

It has been put to me that the question of the style of vestments is purely one of taste; that “Roman” vestments represent an organic development of the Church’s liturgy and accordingly might not be questioned; and that the Traditions that people love should not be mocked.

So, I would like to answer these particular questions. It may be that whether one likes or dislikes “Roman” vestments is a matter of taste. But that wasn’t the point of my original post. My point was this: why is there an almost automatic association between Roman vestments, lace albs etc and the Old Mass? Unhappily, there is most certainly an attitude floating around in the circles of Catholic Tradition that this Baroque expression of the Old Mass is THE valid expression. Consequently (I assure you I am not caricaturing this view), using styles of vestments that are older or more modern than that of the Baroque, is regarded with suspicion and even hostility. People should be aware that there are priests who refuse to wear more ample vestments because they regard them as antithetical to Tradition (there are also priests who prefer Roman vestments because they give a greater freedom of movement for the arms; that, of course, is a separate issue).

For me, this is quite a disturbing attitude. It is an attitude that ought to be examined critically, because it is a very narrow interpretation of the concept of Tradition. It is not adequate to assert that the use of Roman vestments and lace may not be subject to question because they are “Traditional”.

Exactly why is there such an attachment to this Baroque expression of Tradition? This, I suspect is a question which cuts to the heart of people’s perception of the nature of Tradition. It is a sociological issue also, which I am not qualified to comment on. Somebody put to me once that many people were greatly upset and even scandalised when Papal Rome made a wholesale rejection of the Baroque in the late 1960’s. The array of Papal ceremonial was replaced with something very functional and austere: somewhat like the ethos of the 1960’s itself. Consequently, and for precisely this reason, there is a very negative attitude amongst some to modern expressions in the style of vestments. Had 1960’s Rome decided to use beautiful damasks for the Papal vestments instead of the plainest of silk, perhaps attitudes might have been different.

Perhaps those who were born after that era and whose experience of vestments has been the often uninspired, sometimes hideous products of the major Church suppliers find the beautiful damasks and ornamentation of the Roman chasuble quite attractive in their richness and in their differentness. There is also a certain fascination with this style of vestment. And there is the concept that is once again becoming most important: using vestments of magnificence for the worship of God.

The photograph I have attached shews the Benedictine Abbot of Le Barroux offering Mass in the Monastery church of Sainte-Marie de la Garde (Saint Perre De Clairac, France) a foundation of Le Barroux. The vestments are very rich and, although obviously inspired by ancient forms, are nevertheless modern in presentation. They were made for and only used for the Old Mass.

In future articles, I hope to discuss what the essence of a vestment is and why it is desirable to strike a balance between the form of the vestment and its ornament. I will also discuss various misconceptions about past statements of the Congregation of Rites on the use of "Gothic" versus "Roman" vestments. And, I will tackle thorny questions such as why these issues are not just a question of taste and why the "organic development" assertion is a not an adequate argument in discussing styles of vestments.

Saturday 22 September 2007

Looking forward, not back

As a devotee of the Old Mass (now to be referred to as the Extraordinary Form or More Ancient Use of the Roman Rite) since boyhood, the promulgation of Pope Benedict's motu proprio has been an occasion of the greatest joy for me. But what I have seen since the announcement has made me pause to reflect. Is Summorum Pontificum a document that intends to make Tradition anew for the future, or a document that wishes to re-create the past? This issue is, in fact, a tension that has been manifest in the Old Mass movement all along.

For my part, Summorum Pontificum is not only about clarifying the status of the Old Mass; I believe it is also intended as a means to reform the degenerate state into which the Church's Liturgy has fallen. The revival of the Old Mass is intended to enrich the Church: our ancient Traditions are never more needed. But this doesn't require our getting into a time machine back to 1950 or 1750. When I saw a headline on the internet Return of Latin mass sparks old vestment hunt, I felt slightly uneasy. What I have seen since 14th September has made me very uneasy: an explosion of pictures on the internet of the celebration of the Old Mass, almost all of them shewing lacey albs, fiddleback chasubles, birettas, baroque mitres etc etc. It's as if suddenly the doors of a lolly shop were broken down and everyone has got in to gorge themselves.

These are the questions I wish to pose to the Old Mass Movement: Do people believe that the true expression of the Old Mass must be with Baroque styles of vestments? If so, why? Is this Tradition or Re-creation?

This blog was not intended for philosophical debate, but about issues concerning the Liturgy and specifically Sacred vestments and architecture. So, I attach two photos to this post of Pontifical celebrations of the Old Mass. In one, the Cardinal-President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission and his assistants are vested in a frightful dark red set of 18th century "Roman" vestments (but certainly a very beautiful cope is also pictured); in the other, a French bishop celebrates an Ordination at the Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault in 2004. Celebrant and ministers are vested in a beautiful early 20th century set of red Gothic revival vestments. The contrast between these two expressions of Tradition is overwhelming.

Monday 3 September 2007

S' Philip Neri: 16th century chasuble

The Saint Bede Studio has now received a number of orders for chasubles according to the style of the 16th century. Chasubles of this period, whilst having the decorative features of the later "fiddleback" chasubles of the 18th century, were much longer and wider than the 18th century form. Sometimes this 16th century cut of chasuble is referred to as the style of S' Philip Neri, because there are several portraits of the Saint wearing just such vestments (see adjacent picture).

Although this cut of chasuble has never completely disappeared, in more recent times there appears to be a revived interest. This can be observed in photographs of various Masses celebrated by the Fathers of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter in Witgratzbad (see adjacent pictures).

The style illustrated in the pictures is the Italianate style. Another form existed in Catholic England at this time, which was more pointed at the front, slightly wider and employed a narrower stole and maniple. This was similar to the form revived by Pugin and others in the first half of the 19th century.