When we consider that the Mass is an earthly glimpse into heaven, it can be difficult to stomach that so much of the beauty and richness of the Catholic history is sometimes lost among Marty Haugen and berber carpet. We look at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and our home parish, and it’s fair to say for most of us, that there is no comparison to be made at all. But, it is difficult for any person, Catholic or not, to dispute the beauty of a High Mass in a 300 year old Cathedral with incense, costly vestments, and extreme reverence.
Still, the Church gets a bad rap in today’s secular world for valuing beauty for our God.
It’s difficult to avoid criticisms such as this in our media. They are everywhere.
What these critics don’t understand is that the Church doesn’t lavish the Pope with beautiful vestments and accessories because he has power, but because he has apostolic succession and is THE man chosen by God through the Holy Spirit to lead us. He is a living, breathing, speaking intercessor between heaven and earth.
We aren’t celebrating the man, but the office instituted by Jesus himself, which ultimately points back to Him. The Church is, “upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.” CCC 869. In the liturgy, the priest acts in persona Christi capitis, as the person of Christ the head. The Mass is not meant to be a barren service, but a joyful, extravagant celebration in union with the Mass in heaven. The Pope is not the head of our Church, Jesus is.
Even in His time, Jesus faced the same ridicule. “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, ‘Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wage and given to the poor?’ He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’” John 12:3-8 NAB
In Exodus chapter 26, God gives Moses very specific directions on creating a tabernacle. That’s right, a whole chapter of Exodus is devoted to the lavish and opulent design that God asks Moses to use when creating His tabernacle. There are to be 40 silver pedestals, beautiful fabrics, gold plated columns, and on and on. This is what God asked for, we humbly oblige.
We clearly live in a culture that grossly misunderstands our motives. The Church is not some rich entity greedily keep all of it’s money for itself. In his inaugural homily, when discussing the papal tiara, Blessed Pope John Paul II, said “Pope John Paul I whose memory is so vivid in our hearts, did not wish to have the tiara; nor does his Successor wish it today. This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes.”
This is why it makes me sad to say, that in these days, when The Church is so highly censured for so many reasons legitimate and not, it may be time for us to put away the beauty of the past for a while. As Blessed Pope John Paul said, we have to put away these things of beauty for a time, until there is no longer power associated with luxury.
Pope Francis has continued to scale back some of the pomp and circumstance in the way he celebrates the liturgy, and look at the praise he is receiving in the secular world. He chose to keep his simple black shoes over the red papal shoes that were so highly admonished, and suddenly The Church is now somehow more in tune with the common man, as if those shoes could have purchased meals for every hungry child in Africa. Papa Francis is humbling himself, in order to show his flock how to be humble.
Blessed Pope John Paul II continued in his homily, “Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.” He said “our time”, not forever, but now we are called to be especially humble.
We can take the example of these two loving Papas, and think of our current sacrifices as a Church as the olive branch. In the eyes of many, The Catholic Church still has much to atone for, so we must now act as servants to all to show the world that we are who we say we are. That we love every man and woman because every human being is made in the image and likeness of God.