CNS summarizes a L’Osservatore Romano piece critical of those who in turn have criticized the pope’s choices in personal and liturgical wear.
The priest does not choose such ornaments because of an aesthetic vice — he does it to put on the new clothes of Christ.
Fair enough. But the commentary on Pope Benedict is not that he wears vestments–all priests do this. I think the sumptuousness of these vestments is fair game for commentary, even criticism.
Non-believers show interest, perhaps for the art of the fashion itself, and perhaps in wonderment that the Church identifies less with a recent papal trend to simplicity. In such simplicity, nobody complained that papal garments were threadbare or poorly made. There’s a lot of room in style between, say, a Shaker simplicity of craft, and the ornate sensibility of Rococo.
Ornate elements and liturgical vestments do not represent frivolous “accessories,” but rather represent this “essential” nature and the “anticipation of the new clothes of the resurrected body of Christ.”
And we have the teaching of the Sacrosanctum Concilium 124:
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.
When advance press releases explain upcoming changes in something like the pallium, I think we’ve gotten to the point where the peripherals of liturgy have outshone the essence. The danger here, as many conservative Catholics are fond of noting, is that the presider becomes the center of attention instead of Christ. In mainstream Catholicism and certainly among non-believers, sumptuousness does not connote with the resurrection of Christ, but rather becomes a distraction.
The pope can do better, I think.