In the Internet discussions I often encounter comments concerning richness of liturgical paraments which simplify their meaning to excessive splendour which, in addition, was to overshadow or even absolutely disturb the inner attitude of a human. Are gold and silken garments an exaggeration or something normal in the sphere where man contacts with God in such a direct way? It could seem that the answer is obvious but the faction of the fighters for crumminess is strangely resistant to the beauty, as well as to arguments. For some time they have, unfortunately, been supported by the Pope Francis, who in terms of liturgy may be called anti-Benedict.
The first argument of the proponents of, so called, “noble simplicity” is usually the statement that God does not need golden vestments and incense. What is more, some even think that God is against them because Jesus said so in the Gospels. And even if he did not, he definitely thought so. However, God spoke directly in the issue of cult and clearly highlighted what He expects. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus God, commissioning the creation of a proper place to worship Him, described in details cult objects and the priests’ vestments, reserving the most precious stones and materials available on those lands, such as gold or purple, for them. God, wanting the beauty of the Sanctuary to be the reflection of His perfect beauty, is not satisfied only with precious materials, but He wants the works at the Tent of the Meeting to be conducted by skilled people. The care of the splendour of the place where Jews worshiped God was shifted also to the Jerusalem Temple which was decorated with bronze items made by master Hiram, brought from Tyre specially for that purpose.
If Jews in that way showed their respect to the Lord, should not the Catholics, who have their God in their churches present in a real and substantial way, do the same? Throughout the centuries the answer had been obvious; it was after the Vatican II when the breakthrough took place, and, in fact, the rupture with the established practice: a significant fact is that this change took place only in the Latin Church because the eastern rites preserved the traditional outlook on the issue of the richness of the liturgy, of the place and of the items connected with it. The incomprehensible urge, not to the simplicity but to crumminess and often simply to banality, is as strange as opposing to common sense. For ages the man cared about the issues connected with the cult with special attention: the temples were to charm the faithful with their vastness and beauty, the items intended for various rituals were often made of, or adorned with, precious metals or stones – the man has always had this natural impulse to give the best to God.
“But Jesus was born poor, in a manger; He died on a wooden cross and He had never had silken robes” – says another defender of plastic chasubles or a colourful stole put on a loosely hung alb. Yes, it was exactly like that but now Christ reigns in eternal glory, surrounded by choirs of angels and saints; a certain symbolic image is given by Saint John in his Apocalypse which is full of splendour and incense. Moreover, one should remember that the richest and most pomponious liturgy which we celebrate “mindful, therefore, O Lord, not only of the blessed passion of the same Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, but also of His resurrection from the dead, and finally His glorious ascension into heaven” is not devoid of beautiful simplicity included in gestures as well as in certain items. Please, pay attention that the central place of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice is such a harmonious union of simplicity and splendour: on a stone altar, covered with linen altar cloths and a corporal, a golden chalice and a paten are placed. In this context it is also worth mentioning the beautiful gesture included in the Old Mass, and which for an unknown reason was removed from the new rite: when the priest places the bread, which is to become the our Lord’s Body, immediately on the corporal (hence its name) – something which is most precious is placed on a piece of cloth, just as once Holy Virgin Mary placed Christ, enveloped in linen, in a manger and as the body of Christ in shroud was placed on the gravestone on Good Friday.
One may give numerous arguments for the splendour of the liturgy and write books about it but, maintaining my love for short texts, I quote only the holy, oecumenical and general Council of Trent which, during the twenty-second session, described the teaching on pompons in the following way, and even hedged it with excommunication:
“Chapter 5: And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolic discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.
Can.7: If any one saith, that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs, which the Catholic Church makes use of in the celebration of masses, are incentives to impiety, rather than offices of piety; let him be anathema.”