Ailment #7: On Clothing

Pope Francis gave a stinging address to the Roman Curia today, as you’ve probably already seen. He listed 15 ailments of the Roman curia. Readers of the liturgy blog will be interested in the seventh:

The disease: Rivalry and vainglory
The symptoms: “When the appearance, the color of vestments and honors become the first objectives of life … it is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism.’

The Vatican news site translates it thus:

“The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the color of one’s robes, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism’.”

The entire address makes one wonder just what this courageous pope all has in mind for the future of the Catholic Church.


  1. I think he knows, as we all should, that vestments were a late development in the history of the “Breaking of the Bread”. Jesus criticized those who were the wearers of special clothing and widened phylacteries. So if liturgical vesture is not rooted in the gospels, why should anyone claim that a certain style should be maintained as “traditional” and that all others are a departure from that “tradition”. We are talking about clothes here, folks. Externals. The vestments the pope wears are often described as simple. I like that. I am uncomfortable with those who assert that things like maniples and amices, or even gloves and slippers are of the essence of reverent celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

  2. I think that’s a bit of a translation bias, perhaps? The original says “i colori delle vesti” – which could refer to vestments, but also just other garb. The context leads to be think he is talking more about the everyday clothes (i.e. black to purple, becoming bishops and monsignors, etc.) rather than liturgical vestments.

    Also, Fr. Jack – it is a bit of a caricature to think that anyone thinks amices, etc. are essential. While some who insist on these things can be frankly obnoxious, dismissive and irritating, aesthetic preference imposition is a two-way street.

  3. There is a rubric about amices, but I think the most important point about them for the clergy is not being reverent but being considerate of the congregation. When you need to wear an amice but don’t, you don’t have to look at the ungainly result. We do.
    Next subject: wrist watches. (No rubric there.)

  4. Given that Italian does distinguish between “vesti” = clothes, and “paramenti” = vestments, the official Vatican translation “robes”, particularly in the context, would seem to favour an understanding that points to clerical dress and not liturgical vestments. In the Vatican, as some video clips show, there are still quite a few who like to wear the clerical dress that, in earlier times, protocol required priests and prelates to wear according to their rank, as for example explained in detail in Adrian Fortescue, “The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite” (1918), pg 32ff. A tradition that saw a revival under John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

  5. The color of vestments shouldn’t be the most important aim in life, but attention to detail in the liturgy is important too. We are giving our very best to Almighty God.

  6. Vestments are like golf clubs. Any decent golfer can play any course in the world with one driver, one iron, one wedge, and a putter. You might make a case for a set of 3 drivers, 7 irons, and a putter-the right tool for the job. But will trading in your $500 driver for a custom-made $2000 model really make you 4x better at playing golf?

  7. I’m not aware of anyone who puts vestments or their colors “first” — most especially those who, in their great love for the mystery of Jesus Christ, take His sacred liturgy utterly seriously. It seems more likely that those who neglect the beauty and reverence of the liturgy will end up vain about their “humility” and “poverty,” since they think it’s all about us, rather than all about Christ the King.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski – comment #8:
      I’m pretty sure that “first” here is poetic exaggeration, which is common enough in prophetic language.

      The point he’s making is that undue attention to externals (in worship or otherwise) is a bad thing. You seem to be resisting that point, unless if I’m misreading you.


  8. Do I live in a different world or have I been around for too long to find it hard to raise a wry smile at Peter Kwasniewski’s comment. I’ll just recall the comment made by a senior English prelate at a liturgy I attended in the UK some years back. As we were talking, a group of very young priests appeared on the scene, they were all in immacutely tailored soutanes, equally well tailored frock coats or black full-length capes that were topped off with ostentatiously large birettas. “Those are the John Paul priests I’ve inherited from my predecessor, and they are almost impossible to place.” The senior prelate was in a relatively basic soutane appropriate to his rank, but it looked well lived in. He is one of the most respected members of the English and Welsh Bishops Confrence.

  9. I realize that online personalities can be quite different from in-person personalities, but there are definitely online personalities who seem they would be best thrive in the Society for Creative Anachronism – Rome AD 1846 Edition.

  10. Of course, the Pope is quite correct in pointing out that any inordinate attachment is a barrier to spiritual growth. This is simply “indifference” in the sense that St Ignatius Loyola means it and it is only to be expected that it will be a feature in the words of a Jesuit Pope. But it is a little naïve to imply that this is a disease which only concerns those whose taste inclines towards the Baroque or who are what the Bishop (condescendingly) describes as “John-Paul priests”. A self-conscious cult of “noble simplicity” can be just as pharisaic and spiritually harmful, especially if it contains an implicit slander of those with whom the speaker disagrees.

  11. I guess I have two thoughts. I am sure that the Holy Father is stating his prefrence that elaborate and costly vestments are not the center or heart of the liturgy…
    But on the other hand; I sure get tired of seeing the same cheap and tacky vesrments that come out of a catalogue – at every parish. I knew a priest whose favorite vestments were the ones passed out at WYD. You know the ones that looked like they had a paint swipe.

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