Friday, April 18, 2008

That Touch of Mink

This is a terrifically good article (by a Jesuit, naturally) for it ignites the issue entirely.

As you may know, I spent some time in the Vatican, doing papal ceremonies at the invitation of Monsignor Virgilio Noe, (then Papal Master of Ceremony, and now a Cardinal and the Arch Priest of St Peter's Basilica) who seemed to think I had the right style for it. I got to know the two funny old Augustinian monks who ran the "secret" sacristy of the Sistine Chapel. A maze of dusty rooms full of treasures and extravagant papal garb collected through the centuries. I tried on quite a few pairs of papal shoes (none of them fit, to my chagrin) and lots of weighty miters aurefrigiatae and a triple decker tiara (it fit perfectly) and rings with gems as big as hens' eggs. I was in awe of the tradition moving through my fingers more than of the symbolic wealth of the finery.

Once, Msgr. Noe assigned me the task of putting Paul VI's miter on his head and inserting the three jeweled gold stick pins into his pallium just before a papal Mass. When I had the arthritic little Pope all decked out, I stepped back for a moment to check him out for details. He looked at me for the verdict. He seemed a little bit sad about being trapped inside all that tat. I wanted to lean into his ear and whisper "You know my mother always said that a real lady always looks in the mirror before going out and removes one piece of jewelry." Alas, my Italian was not that quick. I gave him a wink of approval and he toddled over to the sedia where he was hoisted aloft and the curtains parted.

The crowd went wild at the sight of him. They always did. Walking in the procession about twenty feet behind him, I used to look at the faces of the faithful. At their tears. They didn't see a little old man dressed up as a "dowdy old woman" (albeit of the "Golden Girls" variety). They saw two thousand years of tradition, and a direct and dazzling line to the Son of God, their savior. If any of them were hungry, they'd have let themselves starve before they'd have pried a diamond off his shoulder.

As cynical as some of you may find me, I was deeply moved by the faces in that cloth-coated crowd and so, I will not begrudge B16 his touch of mink.


Anonymous said...

Great article, Father Tony. I enjoyed clicking over to read it and your personal experience really added to it.

So was Paul VI really murdered? That's all I "know" about him other than he was a liberal.

thomas tucker said...

Cynical? You? Nahhh.
Well, maybe sometimes, but most times, you understand the deeper significances, judging from your writings.
As far as the Pope goes- yes, it is one of the wonders of Catholicism that we do indeed believe that there is a direct connection between a little old arthritic man and the first Pope, Peter, who followed Jesus. As you know, it is part of the sacramentality and carnality of Catholicism, that spiritual realities are intimately bound up with quotidian flesh and blood, even arthritic flesh and old, anemic blood. As for the vestments- they are symbols and symbols speak, whether in literature or liturgy.

tater said...

I watched part of the Papal Mass on television this morning. I have always been a bit curious and entertained by pomp and ceremony. Raised Episcopalian, we had much of the Catholic liturgy sans Latin and incense. I kept looking at Pope Benedict in all his finery, and wondering how he felt wrapped up inside of all that drag and history. Does he feel like Oz behind the curtain, or has he come to terms with his elected role?

I am embarrassed to say that his ears protruded under the weight and girth of that headdress in a way that reminded me of Yoda from Star Wars. Despite his German accent constantly reminding me of his active service in the Hitler Youth, I felt an odd connection, and sincerity from his address. Though I find organized religion abhorrent, and superstitious, I was taken aback by what I saw this morning, especially what was reflected back in the eyes of the worshipers. It was emotional, and almost endearing.

I better understand why ceremony, tradition, and dress up are so important. They work together to give the faithful something to focus upon other than their unanswered prayers, rational scientific questioning, and relative poverty in relation to the church. With out the pomp and glory, it would seem a tawdry and unfair institution, hellbent on attaining wealth, power, and ideological control over the poor, sedating them against improving their lot in life by revolting against their feudal lords.

I see the pope as a symbol of evil wrapped in the sheepskins of hope and sublimation of personal empowerment. Today I also saw him as a man in fancy dress, who actually believes in what he is saying. It was both beautiful and horrifying.

David said...

I get it. In my personal iteration of "the truth" the dietary laws and myriad rules and regulations serve as my pomp, and when I see the Torah paraded around the sanctuary, dressed in finery that probably represents my annual salary, I too would rather starve than remove one silver scroll cap.

Stash said...

and for the ex-Catholics among us (though once you're baptized, you're in it for life or so the joke goes), there are moments that catch in your throat.

not many. just enough to prove you still believe somewhere, in some part of you. at least it does for me.

cb said...

I so want to ask you about your Vatican experiences... and about the WEALTH and SECRET STUFF!!

birdoparadise said...

This is off-topic, but I've got to ask: what does "aurefrigiatae" mean? It's not in Merriam-Webster, and Google gives me only TWO entries where it appears; they're both yours, of course. (Which makes me a runner-up in the Google contest to find a search term which nets a single entry. "Fenestrated persimmon" works.)

I've got a decent vocabulary, but you win the contest hands down. I love learning new words. So what is it?