Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Liturgical Aesthetics of Pope Francis : 3

Cardinal Bergoglio.
When Cardinal Bergoglio arrived in Rome for the Papal Conclave, he brought with him the mitre which he wore as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. That mitre he determined he would continue to wear as Pope Francis. It is a simple affair of white fabric, ornamented in the classical manner with circulus and titulus and nothing more. The titulus ornaments the front but, somewhat oddly, not the back.

And for the Mass which Inaugurated his Petrine Ministry, lo! what did we see? New vestments had been made for Pope Francis and his deacons-assistant which matched the mitre he already owned. The chasuble and dalmatics were full and free-flowing, unlined, made from plain fabrics and ornamented with great simplicity. A great blessing was the absence of those roll-over collars which are often very unfortunate.

Pope Francis at the Good Friday Solemn Papal Liturgy.
A few days later, on Palm Sunday, the Pope appeared in a set of new red vestments (as did the Cardinal deacons assisting him), matching the white set. Once again, full and free-flowing, unlined, made from plain fabrics and ornamented with great simplicity. We will pass over without comment the red cope which also appeared on that day. The red chasuble has a certain nobility about it, which its white counterpart does not.

The ornament on these two chasubles, red and white, is exactly the same, consisting of a column back and front, but an unusual decoration of the neckline, which is angular. This ornament is not an innovation, but is indeed very ancient, as can be seen from the adjacent image.

Two bishops in attendance at the
Enthronement of the Emperor Otto III:
an illumination of the late 10th century.
This is a detail from an illumination in the Gospel Book of Otto III,  produced at Reichenau Abbey, Germany in the last years of the 10th century.  The entire illumination, which is shewn in full below, depicts the Enthronement of Otto III as Holy Roman Emperor in the year 996. The detail shews two bishops, both clad in Mass vestments standing at the right side of Emperor Otto. The bishop standing in the background has an ornamentation around the neckline of his chasuble almost identical with the new vestments of Pope Francis.

Does such an ornament have any particular significance or symbolism? No. Its purpose is purely to strengthen the opening in the chasuble which sits around the neck. It will be noticed that the ornament in the the chasubles worn by the two Ottonian bishops is perfectly plain. This is of the period when vestments were not always embroidered and otherwise decorated and the ornaments themselves were merely for utility not symbolic. The chasubles depicted are, of course, not in the same style as our modern chasubles, but rather in the conical form: a shape of chasuble which had been worn from the earliest days of the Church.

As an aside, we can see quite clearly that each bishop is vested in albe, stole, pontifical dalmatic and chasuble, over the top of which is worn a beautifully long pallium. But something else is evident: these bishops are not wearing mitres. This illumination predates that period when the mitre was universally worn by bishops.

So, the new Papal vestments have an ancient precedent in their decoration. The General Instruction on the 2007 Missale Romanum says this about sacred vestments:

343. In additional to the traditional materials, natural fabrics proper to the region may be used for making sacred vestments: artificial fabrics that are in keeping with the dignity of the sacred action and the person wearing them may also be used. The Conference of Bishops will be the judge in this matter. 
344. It is fitting that the beauty and nobility of each vestment derive not from abundance of overly-lavish ornamentation but rather from the material that is used and from the design. Ornamentation on vestments should, moreover, consist only of figures, that is, of images or symbols, which evoke sacred use, avoiding thereby anything unbecoming.

Do the new Papal vestments conform with these directives? Broadly speaking yes, but perhaps more might be said. We are not discussing vestments for a simple priest, for Parish use, or even of a bishop, but of the Pope. There is nothing inappropriate about Pope Francis wishing to embrace an aesthetic for Papal vestments which is simple, not ornate. Two points might be made, however, respectfully.

Would it be more fitting if the vestments made for use of the Pope were made from traditional materials (as the Instruction puts it), namely silk or even wool: natural fabrics?  These have always been esteemed by the Church.

Although there is nothing unworthy about the decorative scheme of the new Papal vestments, is it not odd that the vestments of the Vicar of Christ lack any form of Christological symbolism?  Alternatively, this symbolism can also be expressed in the manner of the orphrey, most particularly the TAU orphrey and the Y-shaped orphrey, both of which represent the Cross.

Lastly, we might hope that these new vestments do not have a long life and when they have become unfit for use, Pope Francis takes advantage of the many, many vestments stored in the Papal Sacristy which belonged to his predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, which do conform to the two principles mentioned in the General Instructions.

Next post: The "TAU" and continuity in the decoration of the chasuble in Rome.

The Blessed John Paul II
wearing a chasuble of no particular beauty
but with prominent Christological symbolism.

The Enthronement of Otto III
(tenth century).