Thursday, April 05, 2007

Benedict on holy clothes

At the Chrism Mass the Pope gave one of his more metaphorical homilies in recent times. In reading the CNA article about the homily I was impressed by the way you felt you could genuinely picture what he was talking about.

The Pope begun his long homily by recalling a passage from the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoi, whom in one of his tales tells the story of how a poor Russian shepherd explained to a king who God was by asking him to exchange clothes, and thus make him aware of how Jesus, being God, changed his noble ‘clothes’ to become a man and take upon him our poor vestments.

“Christ put on our ‘clothes’: the pain and the joy of being a man, the hunger, the thirst, the tiredness, the hopes and disappointments, the fear of death, all our apprehensions, through to his death. And He gave us his ‘clothes,’” the Holy Father recalled.
This was just the beginning of his illustrations. He later goes on to address his brother priests:
The Pope reminded the priests of the world that, “in the moment of Priestly Ordination, the Church makes visible and comprehensible these “new clothes” even on the outside, as we are re-clothed in the liturgical vestments. In this outward gesture, the Church wants to make evident the interior event and the task which is given us through the event: re-clothing Christ; giving oneself to Him as He gave Himself to us.”
His discussion of the liturgical vestments is something I can only say some of our priests would do well to review. So many want to reduce them to the simplest possible level of meaning, to remove from them any spiritual symbolism as if it is something that should not be contemplated. Not so, the Pope reminds us:
The Holy Father then turned to the individual vestments of the priest, beginning with the amice, the white cloth which priests put on first, over their shoulders and collar.

“In the past, and in monastic orders to this day,” Pope Benedict said, “[the amice] was placed first on the head, as a sort of hood, becoming in this way a symbol of the discipline of the senses and the thoughts as necessary for the proper celebration of the Holy Mass.”

This necessity remains to this day, the Holy Father said, emphasizing that, “my thoughts must not wander through the worries and expectations of my daily life; my senses must not be distracted by those things within the Church which would casually grab my eyes and ears.”

The priest’s heart, the Pope continued, must be turned to the Lord in his midst. “If I am with the Lord, then with my listening, speaking, and acting, I will also draw the people into communion with Him.”

Turning then to the alb and stole, the Holy Father recalled that the ancient prayers connected with these vestments refer to the new clothes which are put on the prodigal son when he returns to the house of his father; and for that reason, “When we approach the liturgy to act on behalf of Christ, we all realize how far we are from Him, how much dirt exists in our life.”

It is only the blood of the lamb, as cited in the book of Revelation, that “washes our robes and makes them white.” Therefore, Benedict said to the priests present, “by wearing the alb, we should remember: He suffered for me as well. And only because His love is greater than all my sins, can I act on His behalf and be the witness of His light.”

The Holy Father also explained how the alb should recall the “vesting with love,” to which we who are called to the wedding feast are called.

For this reason, the Pope added, we should ask ourselves, “Now that we are getting closer to the celebration of Holy Mass… whether we wear this dress of love. Let’s ask the Lord to take any hostility away from our soul, to remove from us any feeling of self-sufficiency and to really dress us in the dress of love, so that we will be bright people, not people who belong to darkness.”

Pope Benedict also touched briefly on the meaning of the Chasuble, which according to his explanation, symbolizes the yoke of Christ. “Wearing the yoke of the Lord means first and foremost: learning from Him; always being willing to be taught by Him.
Makes me feel like moving to Rome just to hear his homilies. Somehow I don't think that's in the cards though. Ah well, that's what St. Blogs is for, right?