Monday, 31 December 2007

Noble Simplicity


Robert 'Misery' Mickens, the Tablet's Rome correspondent, has been no stranger to controversy since the election of Pope Benedict. In the Tablet Christmas/New Year issue, he comments that he had received an invitation to the reception in the Westminster Throne Room for Abp Piero Marini on the publication of his new book. Misery has this to say:
Several bishops were on hand… Their presence was not only a fitting tribute to Archbishop Marini—a liturgist who has long been unfairly and mercilessly pilloried by neo-Tridentines for his attempts to apply the Second Vatican Council principle of "noble simplicity" to modern-day papal ceremonies—but it was also an endorsement of the council's liturgical reform itself.

The phrase 'noble simplicity' is often quoted by those who love the Pauline reforms (I think it is inaccurate to claim that the reforms which actually happened were entirely mandated by the council). I remember many years ago when I was a seminarian visiting Fr Ray Blake, himself then just newly ordained, in St John the Baptist's Church, Brighton, there was an Italian Salesian staying there, and he commented to me:
You Anglo-Saxons misunderstand this word 'simplicity'. In its latinate context it does not mean 'plain' or 'sober', but rather 'unified', 'harmonious'. So plain vestments in a plain church building are 'simple'. Baroque vestments in a baroque church are 'simple'.

This would have been about 1980, and I think he was amused to find a seminarian who was not quite as wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the reforms as most others at the time. But he was very kind, and once even celebrated Mass for me in Latin (new rite: I remember struggling to make sense of the responsorial psalm, which I had to read to him as he sat on a dining room chair by the altar, him gravely making the response in Latin).
But, back to the point. Archbp Marini has been complimented with achieving 'noble simplicity' in his Papal ceremonies. But honestly I can't see it.
The sacristies of the Vatican are full of beautiful vestments that have been gathering dust there for thirty years and more. Someone in Rome told me that for every major Papal Mass in the last pontificate, an entire new set of vestments for celebrant and concelebrants was commissioned, often from top-ranking couturiers, with matching mitres, collars and cuffs and probably socks. All overseen by Archbishops Noe and then Marini. These new vestments are never seen a second time. Imagine the cost of this; and yet there are drawers full of stuff that could be used. Problem? Those vestments in the sacristies are preconciliar; the wrong shape, they 'convey the wrong message'.
And again, a funny thing: it is precisely the people who would take out these Roman-shape chasubles, copes, mitres and use them that would be called 'tat-merchants'; people obsessed with fabrics and shapes of vestments. Surely it would be more 'simple' just to dig them out and use them until they wear out.
So, for all sorts of reasons, I was pleased to see Pope Benedict using Blessed Pope John's cope and Pope John Paul I's mitre. Now that's noble simplicity.

8 comments:

Ttony said...

I don't suppose anyone knows who the Bishops were, apart from Marini, the Cardinal and the Nuncio, do they?

the owl of the remove said...

Quite right, Father - as always! Blessings for the New Year

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, I remember it well.

However, Father my memory is a little more accurate on this matter. The year was 84/85 (I wasn't ordained until 1984), and the priest, a German seminary rector, but everything else is as you remember.

Fr Justin said...

It grieves me, Father, to contradict one of your years; you may indeed also have had a visit from a German seminary rector, but not while I was with you: the man I am referring to was certainly an Italian Salesian.
As to the year, despite your venerability, I suppose you are unlikely to have forgotten the year of your ordination! So it must have been 84/5.

Fr Justin said...

Unless, of course, he was an Italian Salesian rector of a German Seminary.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Thank you, Father, for quoting Robert Mickens. I never read The Tablet, so otherwise I would never have seen the word "neo-Tridentine".

I have been told I am a "trad".
I understand that this means I am a traditional (or I would say "orthodox") Catholic.

Good.

But I've also been called a "trid", and I honestly didn't know what this meant.

Your quote from Robert Mickens would suggest that "trid" is an abbreviation of "tridentine".

I'm too old to be a "neo-trid", so, again, I must presume a "trid" is a an excessively old fashioned Catholic.

Good, again.

If this means I prefer the "old" Mass, (i.e. the Mass I grew up with,) and avoid the Novus Ordo when I can, then I plead guilty.

That is a very interesting slant on the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of "simplicity".

I can only say I can't see anything either plain/sober or unified/harmonious about those famous blue and yellow vestments worn at Mariazell !

I'd better not start a rant about earlier papal liturgies under Archbishop Piero Marini.

Many thanks for this post.

I couldn't agree more about the symbolism of using things old and new from the sacristy cupboards in a spirit of continuity.

After all, they don't have to use old socks.

Do they ?

big benny said...

not a very convincing argument about the meaning of 'noble simplicity', i'm afraid. i think it means just what it says on the tin.

Anonymous said...

Why struggle with the psalm in Latin?
In my view, the grail psalms have the noble simplicity that V2 mandated.
Just look at this Sunday's (or any other Sunday's) RP.
Surely, the whole point of V2 was to bring the reader to the original, while respecting the Latin.