Monday, April 4, 2011

Clerical Cosplay

Not to harp too much on my "silly hats" theme, but this Institute of Christ the King is really becoming too much. I love the way they do liturgy at the church of theirs I attend occasionally, but some friends and I were discussing such pictures as these, which are clearly non-liturgical events:

Not hats admittedly, but still. What is this? Maybe some reader knows and it is all some lost liturgical jewel. But what it seems like is a bunch of seminarians greeting prelates with torches as if this is the 1500's and they're all going to go out and burn some witches afterward.

A friend of mine (I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him) had a good point, I think:
I have no problem doing strange traditional/medieval/ancient customs for any groups as long as there is a healthy bit of jest in it. For example cookies for Santa, oats for St. Martin's horse, burning a Yule log etc. It's just that I'm sure the seminarians didn't just say, "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if we tried to greet Card. Burk like it was the 17th century or something crazy like that!!" I'm certain this was a top down, live out some Renaissance fantasy of the superiors. Next thing you know all laity attending liturgy must be covered with dirt and barefoot while mass is celebrated.
True. Exactly. That's the thing: if you're going to bring back culturally contingent traditions outside the liturgy has to be a little tongue-in-cheek. It gets creepy when people take it so seriously and it becomes living out their own Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. I mean, they're smiling in this picture so maybe they're being a bit ironic (I hope!), but many people seem to take these sorts of rituals and accoutrement very seriously, defensively even.

This picture is, apparently, from the Prayers Before Mass at the throne, so it is at least para-liturgical, but still:

Bringing in the secular powers (I believe) in the form of the carabinieri? And I've always wondered who the hell that ridiculous little page-boy (on the right) in the knee-socks is supposed to be who holds the hat. Like I said, this is a para-liturgical event, so there may be some excuse or precedent, but my own liturgical instinct tells me that none of these courtly additions from the age of temporal power are of the essence of traditional liturgy, and as such...why are they trying to re-create them?

That world is gone. Tradition is preserved like that in the liturgy itself. Trying to re-create the aesthetics of Christendom in the wider world, even in a clerical setting, is strange. Go to a Renaissance Faire if that's what you're into! I mean, even choosing Medieval aesthetics would be one thing (though I say this with the bias of a medieval studies major), at least the Middle Ages were 1000 years and greatly varied themselves. But it is especially bizarre and affected when you choose such a peculiar and limited moment in history to re-create as they seem to at the ICRSS. I mean, why that particular style? It seems so arbitrary.

Of course, even liturgy itself carries a danger of affectation and cosplay for some people, connoisseurs of liturgical aesthetic elegance without the substance of real faith (I think of certain High Church Anglican strands), or pompous Catholics who love Baroque ostentation just for its triumphalism. But at least the liturgy is...well, it's made for that to some degree. That's sort of one of its main points, to be the "storehouse" of History, carrying along with it all the little accretions from the story of the Church's 2000 year relationship with Christ, all the way back to the Last Supper. But, still, when liturgy becomes "re-creationist" (of any era) rather than based on solid liturgical principles, it too can get weird.

Nevertheless generally I'll give the benefit of the doubt for real liturgy itself. It's the extra-liturgical traditions that I tend to look at with a more wary eye. Especially traditions that are non-liturgical but still clerical (because usually that means clericalist). If a priest is wearing silver buckles on his shoes and knee-socks outside of liturgy...he'd better be tongue-in-cheek about it.

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