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.