roman style

There`s no denying that Romans have style. Women, men, young and old have an air of confidence in their appearance. Their clothing choices lean towards black; a fashion tip that I embraced many years ago. Black is easy to mix and match. It moves gracefully from casual to dress-up. And, it is impervious to the ever-present street grime of this ancient city. (Travel tip – leave your white pants at home!)

I am in awe of Italian women. They navigate cobble-stone streets in stiletto heels and maneuver motor-cycles and scooters through the crazy maze of narrow streets that is Rome. And, they are gorgeous. Not in the American, blonde Barbie kind of way. Few have perky little button noses. Having been blessed rather generously in the proboscis department, I`m heartened to see women who are not only comfortable in their natural looks, but who allow their beauty to glow. Three cheers for the Roman nose!

Style is apparently important in ecclesiastical circles, also. Window shopping in the vicinity of St. Peter`s provides an interesting diversity of wares. Souvenir shops filled with plastic Pietàs and glow in the dark rosaries share street space with high-end clerical fashion stores. There seems to be a market for these duds. Young priests and seminarians decked out in cassocks and impeccably tailored black suits abound. Hollywood casting directors wouldn`t have to look far for Bing Crosby or Spencer Tracey look-a-likes.

Also spotted were young women in full religious habits. These were no shrinking violets of humility. They, too, had an air of confidence. Their veiled heads held high and long skirts swooshed with their brisk steps. It made me wonder about the upcoming generation of religious sisters and priests. I also wondered where the high-end nun shops were. 😉

Set-decorator Catholicism: The common traits of set-decorators | National Catholic Reporter

The first common characteristic of set-decorators is their affinity for surfaces. Professing commitment to the depths of the faith, they are obsessed with rustling cassocks, billowing capes, sounding bells and bows, the stuff, in short, with which they can redecorate the set of hierarchical Catholicism. If they build it, these clerics believe, the people will come.

via Set-decorator Catholicism: The common traits of set-decorators | National Catholic Reporter.

Have you ever read a piece of writing that had your head-a-bobbing in agreement? Have you ever been drawn into a metaphor so strongly that you are torn between lingering on each image and speed-reading to see what happens next? The above article is part two of a lengthy essay written by Eugene Cullen Kennedy. I read the first part  while on holidays and was itching to share it on this blog.

Kennedy uses the term `set-decorators`for those clerics who embrace the pre-Vatican II liturgical style of ritual, pomp and finery. The focus on fine fabrics and lace is only one aspect of this clerical culture. It also promotes an old-school style of authoritarianism that views the laity as disobedient children, and a style of leadership that allows no questioning or dialogue. The young seminarians who embrace this style of priesthood have one eye always open on future promotions in the Church. And there is more…

As always, the discussion board is a mixed bag of reactions. Readers love it or hate it. What do you think?

corpus christi

image via Microsoft

Yesterday was Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is central to our Catholic identity. It is the `source and summit` of our faith life and liturgical worship. Sadly, the theology surrounding this sacrament separates us from other Christian denominations. Ironically, it also divides us within our own Church.

When we receive Holy Communion under the appearance of bread and wine, we believe that it is really and truly the body and blood of Jesus and not just a sign or symbol of remembrance. We use dense words such as transubstantiation to try and explain the unexplainable. As with most mysteries, there are many layers and meanings beyond this core belief. Our theological or ideological leanings often determine which aspect is highlighted in our worship style. At the risk of over-simplifying or generalizing, traditionalists focus more on the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. Liberals or progressives focus more on the communal banquet table that feeds and unites us.

A focus on the real presence tends to place great importance on devotional practises and liturgical rites such as Eucharistic Adoration, Benedictions, and Corpus Christi processions. Individual piety and acts of devotion center on the Tabernacle and the consecrated host itself. It can be more exclusive, with high standards of who can and who cannot receive.

A focus on the communal aspect of Eucharist focuses on gathering in fellowship around the table of the Lord. The worship style is less formal and more communal, less focused on the person of the priest and more focused on the community. It tends towards inclusivity, with a desire to welcome all who come to the table.

A previous pastor used to focus on the real presence. His strong devotion was apparent in both his worship style and homilies. He often wore a Cope, a liturgical cape, changing vestments mid-way in the mass. After Communion, he dramatically kneeled in long prayer in front of the Tabernacle while we watched from the pews. Lengthy rules concerning reception of the Eucharist were repeatedly read in homilies and printed in bulletins. We had to bow – and he kept correcting how we bowed.

He preached that the most important place in the world was inside the four walls of the Church. Missing Mass was a grave sin. One First Communion Sunday, when pews were filled with non-Catholic family and friends unsure of when to sit and stand, he preached about Eucharistic miracles – hosts purportedly turning to real flesh and blood. I squirmed in the pew wondering what our visitors were thinking. What were the young boys and girls thinking? At the heart of his efforts was a deep devotion. But his methods were turning people away rather than drawing them in.

As with many aspects of our faith, the truth can be found in the middle of two extremes. If we truly believe in the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Eucharist then yes, we must receive with respect and devotion, ensuring that certain standards are in place. If we truly believe that it is a sacrament of love and unity, then we must also reflect this in how we welcome our sisters and brothers to the table.