It’s been a hard few weeks, you guys. I admit that I was a bit on edge last time I wrote. I’m still weary but a bit more calm. At least I was, until I saw this:
My first reaction was to write up a rough draft of all my feelings and thoughts. I then trashed it because it was just too much. I toned this draft down quite a bit, and I hope it isn’t too biting, but apologies ahead of time because I’m truly dismayed.
Not to draw an equivalence between a sexual scandal that has spanned decades and a matter of aesthetics, but this is also in its own way very important. It isn’t simply ugly vestments and hey that’s too bad but what can you do the Mass is still valid. This concerns the overall degradation of the sanctity and reverence of the Mass. This is like a thief who steals a pearl of great price and buries it in a field, leaving the faithful in the position of having been robbed by the shepherds who were supposed to be guarding them.
There are many Catholics who think this is no big deal. The vestments are creative and innovative and modern. First of all, they are not modern. They clearly arose from the ghost of 1970s past. And second, it is a big deal. Each time a priest is sloppy with the Mass, each time he steps out in public not in clerics, each time an ugly, convenient, “relatable”, conformist, lowest-common-denominator vestment sees the light of day, it is a grand statement that God is not transcendent. A priest at Mass is not meant to put his own personality and philosophical commitments on display. He is meant to subsume himself into the great high-priesthood of Christ and into that great collection of priests with whom he shares an intimate brotherhood by the fact that all are conformed together to the image of Christ. The priest, as an individual person, is not so important to the Mass – Any priest will do – As such, his vestments ought not call attention to himself. The look-at-me design of these vestments is boorish.
Afflict the faithful with ugliness and they will make the connection that God is ugly. That is, once they stop laughing.
This has to stop.
Ugliness is ugliness and this particular ugliness came about in unison with the overall collapse of the Church in the west. Empty seminaries and pews go hand in hand with the forced importation of banal elements to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is currently an entire generation who feel they have been robbed of the treasures of the Church and Christendom, who are desperate for authenticity and beauty where ever they can find it.
The faithful desire to march down the city street in procession with the Blessed Sacrament, waving incense and following priests in cope and biretta while triumphantly singing the Salve Regina. I have seen it. Why are we doing the opposite and starving them of their divinely guaranteed heritage? Why are we hiding Christ in the ugliest garment we can find?
Our art says a lot about us. And these vestments say that we are a Church in the midst of a massive crisis.
There are no visible Christian symbols whatsoever.
They are cheap.
They are undignified.
They are unacceptable as a design even for a doormat.
They are unacceptable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.[Here I had to delete a hilarious but way too sarcastic and uncharitable play in one act that I wrote. Feel free to fill in]
Seriously, though, apologies I’m so worked up about this. I simply don’t know how to respond in a way that is both honest and constructively positive. Perhaps that’s a fault in me. Perhaps we’ve all had a difficult few weeks. This gets personal for me because I have seen good, faithful, holy priests draw severe disapproval from parishioners who have been malformed to think that cheap vestments are ideal and that dignified vestments are a sign of rigidity and pre-Vatican II monsters. Priests are sometimes told by parishioners to take off their cassock because it’s offensive. I’ve seen their vocations take serious damage and their ministries hampered. This isn’t right. I’ve known priests who have had to spend thousands of their own dollars to donate vestments to the parish because there was nothing of any quality in the sacristy.
I’ve been blessed enough to serve as a priest in a pretty great archdiocese and we don’t have to deal with this nonsense in any systemic way. Our Cathedral worship is dignified and our seminarians are receiving excellent formation, but even so, this issue affects us, because it forces us to have to reckon with the news that our parishioners are seeing and constantly justify the traditions of the Church. We are being forced to fight for a Catholic culture instead of being supported by that culture.
My only answer is to encourage our readers to support your priest. Pray for him. Offer him positive feedback about how the beauty of the Mass helps you pray better. Tell him how grateful you are when he dresses like a priest. The Church is strong, and her beauty cannot be effaced. Even if you are angry, remember that righteous anger is born of hope, and the hope that Jesus Christ offers us will not disappoint.
We’ll get through this together.