Thursday, February 05, 2009

Revival in the Traditional Liturgical Arts on Display in Nantes

I am always rather interested in signs of revival in our traditional liturgical arts and the craftsmanship associated with these. This could be manifested in various ways, be it a new composition of sacred music, the pursuit of qualitative liturgical bindings, the decoration of our churches, or the tailoring of vestments.

It is the latter which I wished to draw your attention to today, after something was recently brought to my attention.

There was a time -- not so long ago -- when it was more common for some liturgical items to be customized, be they to a Pope, a prelate, or to a religious order. Rome perhaps provides some of the best examples of these:

(Left: Canon Missae with the Arms of Pius IX; Right: Dalmatic with Barque of Peter, Papal Arms and personal papal arms of Pius XII woven into the fabric)

(The stemma of Pope Urban VIII embroidered onto the chasuble, with the distinctive element of his arms woven into the fabric)

A word before we continue. In our day, there can be a tendency for some to react with suspicion to these things, probably because they aren't strictly necessary. But while they must indeed be kept in proper perspective, we should also keep in perspective that a lack of necessity does not mean a lack of value either. These are beautiful aspects of our tradition and they help lend to and reflect the dignity of our sacred rites. How so is that they are visible signs of the care we put into even its smallest details and it is often through attention to detail, precisely because they aren't merely what is necessary at a bare minimum, that the love or importance we give to something is shown forth. We see and recognize this in our personal relationships as well, and perhaps another example from religion would be helpful: a family bible might be decorated with a family name inside (to be passed on within the family), have illuminated capitals ornament the texts and be bound in a particularly beautiful binding; these details are done out of reverence for the Sacred Scriptures themselves and reflect the significance to which we give them, and which we wish to hand on.

So too then are these traditional liturgical arts done precisely out of our sense of the importance of what goes on within the Sacred Liturgy, and the Mass in particular. In the specific cases shown above, these "personalizations" (however they are manifest) can also provide a sense of "familial" connection and identity, be it on a diocesan level, the level of a religious order, or the level of the Church universal -- for example, our attachment to Peter.

That apologia aside, I mention all of this merely in the way of some historical context, for the ultimate purpose of this piece is not to propose a general treatment of these expressions, but rather to relay a specific expression which has now turned up in our own day.

The FSSP apostolate in Nantes, France, recently sent in some news and photographs of their Solemn Mass on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany -- as a point of note, since it will likely be asked, the church they celebrate within is not their own. Fr. John Berg, Superior General of the Fraternity was there for this particular Sunday. However, what was of unique interest was that this visit also coincided with the inauguration of a new and unique set of vestments.

(Image Source: FSSP)

However, what particularly stood out about this set from a news perspective -- which now brings us back to the contextual beginnings of this piece -- was that the set was created from a recently produced, custom silk damask fabric for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

One will note that, woven into the fabric itself, like the Pius XII dalmatic or chasuble of Urban VIII pictured earlier, are the arms of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

As you can see, the pattern of the silk damask bears the tears and crossed keys found within the coat of arms of the FSSP.

Some further details show this in their proper context:

(The dalmatic from the new set)

(Take note of the antependium -- or altar frontal -- where the design may also be seen)

The vestments themselves were created by the parishioners -- a wonderful exercise of the lay liturgical apostolate -- while the fabric was produced within Italy. Various colours of the fabric where made for the creation of other sets of vestments, so we shall be seeing more come from this in the future.

It would not have been unreasonable to expect that these expressions may have fallen by the wayside in an era which is now much more oriented toward mass-production. Therefore, to see some revival of this liturgical artform is both an interesting and encouraging project for those of us concerned with a revival of the traditional liturgical arts and the craftmanship associated with it.

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