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In perhaps the most unexpected commentary on Benedict XVI’s legacy, the U.K.’s liberal Guardian has a fashion column on the significance of Benedict’s sartorial and liturgical choices. And they get it exactly right :

The root of his need to rediscover some of the more traditional, even baroque, elements of papal dressing can be traced back to the great liturgy gear-change of 1965, when the phase known as Vatican II, a period of modernisation aimed at reconnecting the Vatican to Catholics worldwide, came to an end . . . .

This meant the dumping of all tassels, trimmings and most decoration on vestments. Highly theatrical robes were considered too outre. Out went anything that made church leaders look like Cardinal Richelieu. As a priest friend of mine puts it: “The Church processed into the second Vatican council in cloth of gold and watered silk, and shambled out of the other end in drip-dry horse blankets and polyester.” Pope Paul VI even sold off the papal tiara, a three-tiered, egg-shaped adornment that made our imperial state crown look like something from Lidl.

Benedict’s desire to recapture the Church’s traditional liturgy and doctrine goes hand in hand with what he wore as pope. On his election in 2005, he wore Ming the Merciless-style vestments left over from John Paul’s administration, and after getting rid of his first master of ceremonies, Piero Marini, who had subjected him to a sort of blue dust-sheet for his first papal mass in Austria, he turned to Guido Marini (no relation) – an MC who understood the power of tradition. At a time of global economic uncertainty, and with the Church struggling to retain its flock in an increasingly secularised world, reinforcing tradition and underlining the continuity of ritual was a bold and, Benedict felt, necessary direction . . . .

[Benedict’s] love of gothic vestments was about more than basic vanity; beauty and dignity reflect the splendour and mystery of liturgy. To Benedict this is God-focused rather than community-centred, as was favoured by the 1968 generation.


The bonus line comes right at the end with a wager on the next pope:
Fashion outsider? The magnificent former archbishop of St Louis, the American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. An appearance by him is the Catholic equivalent of a Broadway musical.

Articles by Nathaniel Peters

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