Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vestments and Liturgy

I was reading about the history of the development of vestments today, spurred by the very good New Liturgical Movement article on folded chasubles (and broad-stoles, which apparently were originally just a form of the same) as used by deacons and subdeacons on stational/penitential days.

The preservation of this practice up to the 1950's shows how conservative the liturgy was for so long. Especially I think, though perhaps counter-intuitively, their "fiddleback" forms. Not that I like the fiddleback forms at all (in fact, I think they look totally ridiculous; I much prefer the more ample original forms.) And yet they serve as a demonstration of just how consistent the preservationist impulse was, inasmuch as the distinction was maintained even when the evolving form of the chasuble itself got rid of the whole original need for folding in the first place (and the "folded" form became basically just a bizarre-looking vestigial technicality).

However, all this got me thinking and looking into the history of vestments in general. And I realized the history of their evolution is rather convoluted, inasmuch as several pieces evolved from other pieces, but then were "redoubled" with both the earlier and later forms maintained.

For example, the surplice is just a shortened form of the alb. And yet the Latin liturgy now has a place for both (the former as choir-dress, the latter for use by the liturgical ministers themselves; though what an acolyte should wear becomes sort of gray-area in that regard), and the rochet is just a specialized style of surplice. The biretta originally came from the academic cap, and is thus somewhat "in competition with" the idea of a hood (the distinction that developed between them is now is usually one of secular clerics vs religious).

If the stole were originally a form of insignia given to clerics by the Empire, the pallium (and Eastern omophor) itself is basically a specialized form or more elaborate version. And yet, archbishops now wear both stole and pallium, though this is not terribly logical given that they are essentially the same vestment. Yet this "redoubling" of it was not always the case, as this article points out: "It is worthy of notice that the four popes who are represented in the same mosaic wear the pallium but no stole. The one seems to exclude the other. And as a matter of fact the ordines of the ninth century in describing the costume of the pope omit always the stole. One can readily understand that who bore one of these insignia should not wear the other."

Something else the Pope used to wear (and, even more anciently, all bishops and even some priests) called the subcinctorium seems (in a more ancient form as a decorated belt) to have redoubled the cincture, yet originally might have actually come from the same thing as the Eastern epigonation, which is said to come from a ceremonial thigh-shield given by the Byzantine Emperor with ceremonial swords (except clerics, of course, would not receive arms, and so only received the shield). And yet there are also suggestions of a connection of both to liturgical hand-towels (like the maniple) or, other sources say, "purses" for carrying alms or credential-papers (like a celebret). Of course, these various interpretations are not necessarily mutually exclusive if the original thigh-shield also concealed a small bag in which various things (including alms, papers, and handkerchiefs) could be carried.

In fact, several vestments reserved to the Pope are basically just extremely exaggerated forms of regular vestments. The mantum is just a big cope, the falda (the stupidest looking thing, I think) seems to be just the hem of the alb exaggerated, the fanon apparently just an ornate form of amice. And yet the Pope came to eventually wear an amice and fanon. Even the papal tiara, of course, is shaped like a mitre, and recalls the "crown" mitres of Eastern bishops, yet it came to be seen as basically the Pope's temporal crown as head of the Papal State(s), rather than a strictly speaking liturgical vestment like the mitre (except that one time that John XXIII used it as a mitre in the celebration of a Byzantine liturgy).

One good thing I sometimes think emerged from the liturgical reforms was the simplification of prelatial liturgy and all the various little distinctions of rank therein ("Oh, only the Pope gets to wear the fanon!" "Only the Ordinary gets a seventh candle!"...big frickin' deal!) or all the merely "ornamental" ministers (like the assistant deacons) thrown in there when a bishop celebrates from the throne.

Very often, these were later accretions of the bishop's princely (or pope's monarchical) court. Not that the local traditions of such courts are not themselves valuable in some sense, I think they can be whimsical at least, but they are clearly not essential to the liturgy itself (silver trumpets playing during the elevation at the Solemn Papal Mass at St. Peter's, for example, or the use of a separate book for a bishop containing just the Canon), and liturgical tradition should clearly take precedence.

I definitely don't generally like liturgy to be cluttered (and that's the distinct sense one gets when reading about many of these accretions) by these sorts of more secular developments from an age of ecclesiastic temporal power. On the other hand, part of me feels like...they existed for quite some time, and thus like they should never be discarded completely. Maybe a few days a year could be designated for such more Renaissance and Baroque ceremonial, just not very often.

In practice I think much of it was only used for "special occasions" anyway.
And I think that's fine. Too much of those sort of arbitrary (if showy) additions can take away from the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite. If the parish liturgy is really supposed to just mimic the pontifical liturgies as much as possible, and if Western bishops in the Dark Ages were taking their cues from the practice at Rome, creating these later petty (and functionally useless) distinctions based on administrative "rank" while letting the original purpose of older things like the stational churches and the folded chasubles fall into ossified vestigiality even at Rome itself...strikes me as something of a reversal of priorities.

Trads who worry about silver trumpets at Papal Masses (or silver buckles on priestly shoes) need to get their priorities straight (and, probably, get a life). It is really much more important to get bishops actually leading the liturgies (including hours of the Office) in their cathedral again, or actually restoring vestigial liturgical practices, than to fawn over all these sorts of things like the cappa magna, or camauro, or affected ICRSS choir-dress and other such cosplay.

All these other garments ("house dress," "academic wear," etc.) are the product of the "secular" ecclesiastic/clerical culture, and while the traditions of that culture can have a value and an aesthetic appeal in their own way, or provoke a certain historical or academic fascination for some (though not myself, really), there is no need for them to be as conservative as the liturgy itself (though the question of choir dress and the "courtly" accretions to pontifical liturgies sort of straddle that line). Many of them were only from the 18th and 19th centuries anyway.

These other things (including the structure of the Curia, the Papal court and household, the papal awards and knightly decorations, the three successive Papal Anthems in the 1800's, etc) were really more often related to the temporal aspect of the Papal States, never so standardized and always more evolutionary (and less "logical" than the liturgy).

So I'm not too concerned about them like I am about the liturgy itself. Even if, were I in charge of the Papal Court or Household, I wouldn't have just thrown them out in a revolutionary manner like Paul VI. I'd greatly downplay them given that the Papal States have been reduced to the Vatican (which I'm starting to think was a good thing), but my traditionalist inclinations and aesthetics would still probably lead me to be somewhat restorationist towards them (at least for "special occasions") as long as they could have some sort of logical order imposed on them, as long as they didn't seem just arbitrary or superfluous, and as long as they didn't make things too cluttered...


Andrew said...

It seems that part of the conservative nature of liturgical vesture cannot bear a "special occasions" clause, especially at this point. Once we start cutting, nothing is out of bounds. To try to simplify things or make things more "logical" seems to act like a crack in the dam.

I actually appreciate the seemingly "odd" vestigial preservations of things like the folded chasuble and "broad stole", the lifting of the chasuble, etc. when their original practical reasons for existence disappeared. Making it "necessary" or "logical" again seems to be an overly precious justification.

A Sinner said...

My point about special occasions was that it was already that way. The Pope wasn't celebrating Mass with silver trumpets and a praegustatio, for example, every time. That was only for a Papal High Mass in St. Peters...which was not your every-day sort of thing anyway.

In terms of making things "necessary" again, I don't think we need re-create an external culture that doesn't exist anymore, and yet things that derived from those various historical moments should be maintained. But in terms of things internal to the liturgy itself, I see no problem with restoring previous fuller forms, if they are known, rather than accepting pathetic vestigial minimalizations like fiddlebacks.

joe said...

Sure, silver trumpets and such, but other things (i.e. the praegustatio) were simply in the CE for any Solemn High Pontifical. Same with all the assistant deacons and priests and the various vesture associated with all of them. This could be said to be "special occasion" as no prelate said Solemn High Pontifical Mass every day or even once a week or month. Now days, a pontifical liturgy (in the NO) is a pathetic shadow of what it once was.

However, one should also examine just why the "fuller" forms of certain things were done away with in the first place, like the "fuller" symbol of having communion under both species or in the case of the chasuble. I do not see how "restoring" the cumbersome bell chasuble is worth the bother or what advantage such a thing would bring about anyway. The fiddleback has been in use for more than half a millennium, I think that style has become customary and in essence the attenuated "Gothic" chasuble is no different than the fiddleback. Both are "vestigial".

Who Am I said...

To think The Apostles all wore these:

Which were probably just these :

Of which ALL Liturgical Traditions are equal inheritors, but especially these:

Maybe that's our problem, in our quest to "refine" ourselves, we keep missing the mark. Shrugs*

A Sinner said...

"This could be said to be "special occasion" as no prelate said Solemn High Pontifical Mass every day or even once a week or month."

Which in some ways is exactly the problem. I don't know how realistic daily is outside monasteries (ferial masses are a later development, with Low Mass, anyway), but at least for Sundays and Solemnities...parishes should certainly be having Solemn High Mass celebrated by the pastor as an ideal, and at the Cathedral...that should mean Solemn Pontifical High with the Ordinary, at the throne.

And yet, exactly because of some of these "princely court" accretions...that hasn't often been realistic. Yet, his primary role is as Chief Priest in his dioceses...and if his bureaucratic/administrative functions are taking precedence over that, it suggests to me a serious problem.

joe said...

What I mean is that the full on Solemn High Pontifical Mass would generally not be said. That doesn't mean a bishop couldn't or shouldn't say Mass in a slightly lower form. Personally, I think it was a good idea to allow for a bishops Missa Cantata so that there was a bit less of a drop from the full Pontifical Mass to a Pontifical Low Mass. Considering the nature of people, I don't think most would go for a Solemn Pontifical Mass week after week, though I would certainly agree that the bishop should be saying Mass in his cathedral on a far more regular basis. It wouldn't seem that the ritual was the problem, it is the bureaucracy and other busy-busy issues that get in the way.

A Sinner said...

The thing about liturgy is that the "highest" should always be the norm. If Solemn High is for "special occasions" then it really shouldn't exist, or at least should be limited rubrically to those occasions, then.

Anonymous said...

The principle, as stated by Fulton Sheen was that no item used in the liturgy should ever be entirely discarded. Your approach is similar to the process which took place in the 1960's. The folded chasubles were among the first things to go in 1962 (before that in Holy Week). Then, for the next ten years or so everything was fair game. The buskins and sandals for a bishop at Pontifical Mass were among the most ancient of the vestments having been given by the Emperor Constantine to St. Sylvester I in the 4th cent. How dare they be dropped in the 1960's! Is it any wonder that nowadays a bishop may celebrate with just a cassock/alb, a chasuble and an overlaid stole? If it's not visible to the eye of even the most distracted it isn't worn. It has all become show and poor show at that.

Anonymous said...

I am presently writing a thesis on the history and development of the alb. I am looking for books that discusses only about liturgical vestments. i hope someone could share their own ideas.