At my new parish, we have a semi-regular bulletin feature that addresses queries from the students’ Q&A box. One recent question I volunteered to address (but haven’t yet written the response) is:
Why do the priests wear vestments? Do they have any meaning or purpose?
Or something like that.
The conversation on the magna cappa thread is drifting off to this tenor, so maybe I’ll get some practice here before I put my byline on the line in print. Vatican II had something specific to say about vestments, remember?
Ordinaries, by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 124)
It’s not clear to me if the magna cappa picture is liturgical or not. What does seem clear is the general impression of the laity, believers and non-believers alike, of the vesture that the clergy choose to wear, either in liturgy or out of it, can affect judgments.
Unlike Fr Fox, I haven’t heard much complaint about albs, chasubles, and ordinary liturgical wear. But there are snickers about cassocks, and other manner of dress that are outside of professional wear for Roman Catholic clergy–in the eyes of most lay people in almost all locations.
Given the heat of criticism about those openly gay communicants that appeared on YouTube a while back, countercultural attire is not what traditional-leaning Catholics, especially traditionally-attired clergy, should be dissing. Granted, Cardinal Llovera might not personally be critical of gay fashion. If he’s not, all of us snotty bloggers and our commentariats should probably withdraw every mean thing we said or say or will say about him.
Now, there are lots of human beings who aren’t gay who make fashion statements off the mainstream. Most accept the experience of strange looks, strange comments, and prejudice. But personal choice overrides these concerns, usually.
I agree with those who suggest that clergy should consider dressing distinctively, noticeably, and professionally. The decision rests with adult priests, not their bishops, pope, congregations, or parents. Good decisions, consequences, acceptance: all that.
Personally, if I were a priest, I think black shirt, Roman collar, black suit would be standard dress for ministry for me. Definitely vestments on the noble side–no sumptuosity. No lace, no cassocks, no fancy stuff. There is no need.
I know priests who feel differently. A close friend I might kid around with in the way I might poke fun at a friend’s clothing. For other clergy, I don’t pay much attention. I might wonder about Cardinal Llovera’s connections with lay people, given his wardrobe, and a certain isolation from the main flow of Catholic life. But it’s his choice. Sink or swim.