Thursday, July 15, 2010

The majesty of the cappa magna.

My secret...
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I really only make fun of lace and satin and watered silk and jeweled crosiers and cappa magna just to goad some of the more pompous, ostentatious and affected who seem to prize external extravagance above authentic worship in spirit and truth.  (There really are those who go to High Mass more for the chamber music and costuming than to worship.)  I know, who am I to judge, uncouth and uncultured as I am?  Yet truth be told, I really do appreciate such magnificence in liturgical vestments and decorum.  In the Church there is no 'fashion' and therefore these elegant vestments ought never to have been considered out of fashion in the first place.  Indeed, what to wear with what is equally important, hence if a prelate is to wear lace and baroque embroidered silk and gold vestments, proper shoes and gloves are necessary.  It is equivalent to court dress - except this is for the King of kings.
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It seems to my peasant understanding that such majesty in vestment reflects the majesty and dignity of the Presence of God.  A notion pretty much lost since the Council, wouldn't you agree?  Therefore many of us  no longer understand or conceive of our churches to be "the house of God and the gate of heaven" - which in turn may partly explain why the Dutch can play soccer at Mass, in a church, or why dancing and other forms of entertainment takes place during the liturgy elsewhere.
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Losing an authentic sense of the dignity and majesty of God, we easily disregard the proper decorum and dignity and protocol (ritual) in His Presence - which is due to His Majesty.  We have vulgarized worship; overstepping our bounds, and we have made ourselves too familiar within the Holy of Holies.  Therefore, the restoration of reverent liturgy, along with the revival of traditional liturgical vestments and decorum, can seem foreign and strange, even excessive to many of us steeped in contemporary culture, where the degenerate and profane has become commonplace and the comfort and ease of our casual lifestyle discourages any type of formalism.
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Nevertheless, whenever we are in church, and especially during the liturgy, we ought to be aware that we have "drawn near to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the first born enrolled in heaven, to God, the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel." [Heb. 12: 22-24]
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Therefore I believe it is only appropriate that the ordained celebrants ministering in the Sacred Presence be "clothed in holy attire" - as the Scripture says.
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Photo credit.

19 comments:

  1. I very much agree that sacred places and vesture should be "set apart." I do disagree, however, that the "classical" look is the only acceptable one. These things change, morph, adapt. One need only look at the frescoes in the catacombs to see this, for example.

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  2. That's true Thom - I do not think it is the only acceptable way either. I was just saying how I don't really hate it so that I can keep my "I am a Catholic card"! LOL!

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  3. You know, the critics of this kind of ritual can be ever so "grandiose" and excessive in their manifestations of "liturgical dance" or "movement" or whatever the hell you call it!...it's just hypocrisy, if you ask me.
    Okay, you don't like the "medieval" manifestations of tradition; fine; don't go then. You're not gonna find this at your typical Confirmation in the OF; oh no!
    A priest offered a reflection on some blog or other that gave an interesting insight: the Bishop/Cardinal enters with this kind of "worldly" attire...he goes then to a side altar, or the actual altar, and is literally dressed by his attendants in the liturgical attire that speaks of his humility and "subservience", if you will, to the norms of the altar; he, in effect, sheds the honors of the world to be "clothed in Christ"...the vestments that signify his role as "servant"...just a thought.
    This stuff does not bother me in the least; I'm more bothered by the secular Hoo-Ha that goes on when women in leotards, men in leotards, whatever, go prancing down the aisle, into the sanctuary, etc., etc.
    That gives me "ecclesiastical heartburn"...
    Yeah, I know,...I know!

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  4. Me too Father.

    I also read that comment about the bishop divesting of worldly pomp and honors (cappa) and then vesting for Mass. I just shrug my shoulders - I don't think it has to be explained like that.

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  5. Now in England this is what we call a "cappa magna" (or train):

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/theroyalfamily/7891435/Queens-18ft-Robe-of-State-goes-on-display.html

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  6. Wow, Union Pacific would be proud of this train!
    I am an antique buff and actually like old vestments. Our pastor has a set of vintage "fiddlebacks" that he uses in summer because they are cooler. However I have never actually seen a cappa magna; things that drag on the ground tend not to be very practical.

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  7. I forgot to mention I also love Spanish statues all dressed up.

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  8. Now this may be shreds of my Protestan "previous life" speaking...but alot of the "excesses" bother me...we shouldn't "ohh and ahh" over the finely embroidered vestments,gorgeous artwrok etc that will distract us away from the Mass, as they are worldly and material things..

    I was mentioning last week after Sat am Mass about the lovely stained glass window in a new local church...it is very lovely, very similiar to the Holy Spirit window at St Peters in Rome, and striking when the Sat evening sun shines through it..I was continually drawn to this lovely window when I should have been focusing on the Mass...it was an extreme discraction.

    The Queen of England I can see having a gorgeous "Cappa magna" and crown and fine jewels...but where is the "poverty" when our priests, bishops, and archbishops dress finer than many royalty??

    Perhaps that is why I am drawn to poor mission churches and military chaplains..

    Sara

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  9. Terry: We have a Child Jesus from Portugal with attire for each liturgical season/feast (real clothes)...I love it, too.
    I love the Spanish statues with real hair, pearls of tears for our Lady of Sorrows, elaborate clothing for them.
    There's something very incarnational about this, whether it's to your taste or not...

    Sara: I was raised a Methodist and absolutely ABHORRED the "Calvinist" things that had somehow gotten encrusted into what originally (the Wesleys anyway) was a very emotional, tangible way of faith and life...the Catholic thing, if you will, of extravagance, color, ritual, etc. was very "right" in my little mind...but it was for God, only for God, even if it involved men or women (I think of the extravagant habits of women religious of old).
    Anyway.

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  10. We make profane that which should be sacred. We make sacred that which should be profane...

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  11. Aceman8:47 AM

    I can totally understand giving God our best during the liturgy. My parish does this weekly. We have beautiful vestments and vessels that are used. Some are antique, from the turn of the 19th century that we commissioned as the parish followed more and more the Catholic restoration of the Oxford Movement, and some are new but which look just as old. My parish vestments are more along the lines of Sarum and late medieval rather than "Roman" that seems to be the rage with EF folks these days. Not to mention my rector has a "no lace" policy--meaning no lace on anything, from albs to altar cloths.
    The cappa magna is a whole nother animal however. Are there still prince bishops (especially in the USA) that need such "court dress?" I think it does harm to our witness as Christians, especially in light of recent events in the Church. Covering bishops with yards of silk, while they've been covering other things. This is one thing from the EF of times past that should not be revived.

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  12. +JMJ+

    I really don't get how beauty in a church is a distraction from worship. So your attention wanders for a few minutes. Can't we offer our personal distraction up instead of wishing that the beautiful object weren't there? If a brilliant insight--perhaps an answer to our prayers--came to us during Mass, would that be a bad thing because of its timing?

    This isn't aimed at you, Sara. I just wonder whether anyone worried about being distracted from Mass long before there were online liturgical experts to play on our guilt by saying it is something wrong.

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  13. Per usual, I'm with Ace.

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  14. I love all of these comments - I'm with Enbrethiliel.

    As for 'bad' distractions, in my opinion there are many more worse distractions in a stripped down Mass which often includes amateur hour novelties and crafty seasonal decor.

    I like you Ace.

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  15. Aceman11:37 AM

    Isn't it better to be distracted by a window, icon, statue, altar, etc than to let your mind wander to the grocery list, today's ball game, or the bad hair day that the woman in front of you is having? Especially if the liturgical dancers missed a step or Fr. is going off on tangent during the sermon, or the song leader is two beats ahead of the praise band?

    That's why they're there, to bring our minds back to God. If there's nothing there to look at and save your mind from the distractions of the world, you can get yourself in trouble.

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  16. +JMJ+

    I think "distraction" became a watchword when people started getting PC about women's clothes and calling plunging necklines or short skirts "distracting" rather than "immodest." The problem with that is that it makes Mass about one's personal experience of it rather than worship that is owed to God.

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  17. Maybe the beautiful windows aren't a distraction if one "listens" to them; it sounds as if Sara's window is saying "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are filled with your glory!"

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  18. I've never experienced a Catholic liturgical dance but if they're anything like the Protestant ones I'll reserve my comments to myself....

    Another point concerning "excesses" is if we're not careful then we will have situations like the Swaggarts and the Bakers and the Oral Roberts clan where little old ladies are sending in their Social Security checks to fund extravagant lifestyles, overly expensive facilities, questionable social programs, etc,etc.

    I'm not against beautiful things in churches..I'm just a "less is more" kind of gal...and the Mass is the Mass wether it is celebrated in open dirt in the middle of the desert or in St Peter's Basilica, none is any more or any less than the other.. I love the quiet peaceful little chapels whre I can (be still and know that I and God." The only exception is the Newman chapel at my local university campus..it got slimed by angels...everywhere...

    Sara

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  19. +JMJ+

    Sara, I don't know. =S I understand your worries--and I wouldn't want that sort of thing myself--but in all the centuries of Catholic clergy "milking" both rich and poor for the sake of beautiful churches, that has never happened. You'll probably have priests and bishops looking the other way when their rich patrons sin publicly (as Tom pointed out in another thread) and little old ladies giving up their pensions for Masses for their dead husbands (which could then go to church upkeep, yes); but the situation you describe is clearly an Evangelical shibboleth.

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