Saturday, December 08, 2012

Earlier last week...

NLM: Solemn Pontifical Mass in Trenton, New Jersey

Photo Gallery
To purchase a DVD of the liturgy - and more photos.

I looked at the photos for the Pontifical Mass in NJ - I couldn't identify with the church architecture, the number of servers, some of the vestments, like the cappa magna... The power of emotion and negative association to dissociate partly explains my reaction.

I have read criticisms of the "triumphalism" of Eastern bishops - the temptation to power and ostentation. I don't have a problem with vestments signifying a distinction between ordained and non-ordained ministers of the altar and the rest of the faithful, or as a way of dressing up for liturgical services, a reminder that the activity is sacred and apart from "profane" affairs. But the mitre? It's relatively recent in origin. The mitre came into use relatively late, some time during the second millenium of [apostolic] Christianity, depending on the area - early second millienium in the West, mid-second millenium in the East.

The camelaucum, which is the origin of the papal tiara and of the Latin mitre - I have to say that the cone shape (of its later form?) reminds me of a dunce cap. To us it may seem rather silly to wear a hat of that shape and height, but the height certainly has ancient antecedents. Tall hats may be an indulgence in peacocking; E. Asians at least had an excuse for their tall headgear because they tied their hair into a top knot, so the extra height was necessary to accomodate their hair.

While the origin of the mitre is unconnected to the headwear of the Jewish priesthood, could it be that they might share the same rationale? (Was the wearing of such a covering for Jewish priests a sign of humility? Is it similar to the reason for Jews to wear the kippah or some other covering? How would St. Paul respond to such a practice?)

How can one reconcile the desire for simplicity and humility with the nobility of one's office? The crown, especially as it was employed by the secular authority, seems to be an instance of lording one's power over others, given the use of ornament and precious materials, to glorify one's self over other men. Some defend the use of a crown, claiming that the weight of the crown is a reminder of the gravity of the office and the multitude of responsibilities, but is such a defense really successful, whether applied to kings or bishops? Indeed, an "evangelical" critic might say that the only crown bishops should deign wear is that of thorns, in emulation of their Lord. The Latin mitre, as it has evolved, did come to have similar excesses (jewels and the like), though distinctions were made as to when it was proper to wear such a mitre as opposed to simpler mitres (in accordance with feast days or liturgical seasons). I do not know if such distinctions are still mandated or observed with the Pope Paul VI's missal. But at least it wasn't derived from an imperial crown, unlike the Byzantine mitre. (Though its probable origin, the camelaucum, was part of the dress of imperial officials.)

Still, one may argue that the mitre is necessary to represent the episcopal office, and to designate ranking in holy orders. For more advanced cultures (that possess a diversity of functions and authorities), rank is based on function, hierarchy on authority. If the crown is necessary for court ceremonial, as a sign of distinction, to represent or symbolize one's office, then the same is true of a mitre for the church ceremonial? The papal tiara is used for non-liturgical ceremonial functions, the mitre, liturgical. But what is the most important function of the bishop? How should we conceive of his office? Are they spiritual fathers? Or should they be compared to secular rules? Or a blend of both?

During the first millenium the omophor (omophorion) signifies the office of bishop, in the East. So why was the adoption of the Byzantine mitre necessary? In the West, the  pallium was first reserved to the pope and then given to metropolitans and primates. Would it be possible to change this to conform to Eastern practice, with or without a change in ecclesiology, organizational structure, and canon law?  (In the West, then one could claim that the mitre is necessary to distinguish bishop from priest, as the pallium does not serve this function.)

It is argued that popes and bishops receive and accept such regalia out of humility and an adherence to tradition. But cannot such a man-made tradition be dispensed with if it is pastorally unnecessary and a possible source of misunderstanding for non-Christians? Who would have the authority to do so, only the pope, legislating for the universal Church? Or individual bishops? Pope Paul VI symbolically gave up the papal tiara, and none of his successors have used it though they have the option of doing so. But the mitre has been retained. What if the bishops were to return to a simpler cap, something flatter resembling one of the earlier forms of the Latin mitre or the possible earliest form of the camelaucum, a flat white cap? Or what about simply replacing the mitre with the zuchetto or something similar to the biretta?


Notes:
It is said that the chasuble and the stole represent the yoke of Christ, while the pallium represents the lost sheep of the Good Shepherd. I still prefer the shape of a traditional Latin chasuble and the Roman cassock as a robe, but I like the epitrachelion. Is there variation as to how high the front of the phelonion may be cut?

Related:
Queen Elizabeth II's Crowns

No comments: