Major props to Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post for a wonderful story on the front page of yesterday's Style section analyzing the significance of Pope Benedict XVI's papal garments. Boorstein talks to people who love the ermine collars, taller mitres, velvet mozzettas and embroidered chasubles, noting that they hearken back a few centuries. Traditional Catholics see his clothing as a message of the unchanging message of the church. She presents all sides, nothing that the sartorial message worries those Catholics who hope to change the teaching of the church. And she gets the official word:
One day last week in his office overlooking St. Peter's piazza, Benedict's top liturgical official played down the gossip, saying Benedict isn't trying to bring the church back into the Dark Ages. Monsignor Guido Marini, formally known as "Maestro delle Celebrazioni Liturgiche Pontificie," or the papal master of ceremonies, said through a translator that Benedict simply wants Catholics to see the full range of their worship tradition.
"These aren't new things," sniffed Marini, a tall, elegant man who wears a black cassock with buttons from neck to the floor.
At Ghezzi, one of several shops on Via de'Cestari in Rome that sells elaborate clerical garb, manager Maria Ardovini said bishops and priests pay close attention to this stuff.
"When he's wearing some specific vestments, a bishop might say, oh, 'I saw him wearing that the other day, can you make it?' He's a trendsetter, you could say that," said Ardovini, a short, smiley woman who has been working on clergy fashion for 40 years. "Benedict is very much a traditionalist."
You simply must check out the accompanying video report filed from the Vatican a few weeks ago. Boorstein has a fantastic voice and eye for detail as she takes viewers into Marini's office and Ghezzi. Back to the print story, she notes that Benedict's keen interest in liturgical wares has ecumenical implications, too:
The buzz this has created can't be underestimated. [Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome,] notes that he was once approached by an Orthodox bishop who said "you have no idea what it has meant to us" that Benedict is wearing an ancient form of pallium, or woolen cloak. The bishop told Pecklers that the clothing change, in the bishop's eyes, means Benedict wishes to unify the Eastern and Western churches.
Boorstein covers the nitty-gritty as well as the big picture, pointing out details about Gothic and Roman vestments. Elsewhere in the Style section was what at best could be described a fun and offbeat article about waiting for a chance to see the pope. At worst, it was arrogant and utterly devoid of news or substantive content. And to think I just praised reporter Hank Stuever yesterday. Here's how he begins:
Stood for three hours to see the pope go by. Saw him for 20 seconds, max.
You say: How come? Why?
We say ... well, who can really say? Because aren't kooky, devoted people the best? Jammed up here together behind two rows of barricades, in a mess of a few thousand believers on a perfect Wednesday afternoon on Fourth Street NE? They just seem to have this privileged, sunburned glow. They know something we don't. They sing "alleluia" over and over until we think our heads will burst. It's not just about popes. You see the same thing when the "bleacher creatures" wait for hours to watch movie stars walk the red carpet on Oscar night. Who can account for fervor? Who wants a T-shirt?
If the story is about answering the question "Why?" and you don't even come close, it's kind of a failure. Instead Stuever just pokes fun at the various faithful. And then he goes after the people who are protesting the pope:
The meanies show up. They've got giant banners and megaphones and "King of the Hill" wardrobes. Their banners say "Your Priest Is Lying! Where in the Bible [Is]: Penance? Praying to Mary? Purgatory? Rosary?" The neocatechumenal bands crank it up a notch and move in on the haters and sing louder alleluias. It's a battle of the bands. "You worship little statues," screeches a voice over a megaphone. "Do you really think Mary walked around with a little halo over her head?"
So I guess it's totally cool when the Style section disdains the pope. But not when those dumb, crazy hicks do it!