|The Canons of Gricgliano process through their |
property in Tuscany
The Institute is technically an association of secular priests. Its members are not religious—that is to say they do not have the vows of religion: poverty, chastity, or obedience. They are of course, as are all priests, chaste. (ok, as all priests are called to be and the [sexual] moral integrity of the priests of the Institute has never been called into question.) They are, I presume, obedient as authority is a huge deal with them. Poverty? Well, frankly, they are not about poverty. Nor must they be any more than is any other secular priest, or, for that matter, any disciple of Jesus Christ. Anyone who is a disciple of Jesus is bound to set their heart on the Kingdom of God and not on those earthy treasures which “moths devour and rust destroys and thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:19). Supposedly their “rule of life” is based on that of secular canons. I have never seen the “Regula” (rule) for the pious priests of Gricigliano but I am not sure how it is based on the “Rule” for secular canons as secular canons have never had a “Rule.” (Religious canons usually follow the Rule of Saint Augustine.) Secular canons are prelates, named by the local bishop, to officiate at his cathedral or a collegiate church within his diocese. We don’t have secular canons here in the United States but they are standard in Europe where they have functioned in cathedrals and various major churches since the early Middle Ages. Three of the four archbasilias of Rome—Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter’s, Saint Mary Major’s all have secular canons; the fourth—Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, has an abbey of Benedictine Monks that functions in the same way. (Actually, there is something in the back of my mind that says that Saint Paul’s may have canons as well, though this is most unusual arrangement.) In any event, unless one joins the Institute of Christ, Sovereign Priest, one cannot just become a canon on one’s own initiative. As it is a prelacy, one has to be named to it by either the Holy See or the bishop who has the right of nomination to the particular chapter to which the canons belong. Joining an “order” of canons is somewhat like naming yourself a Monsignor. I have known priests who have done that, by the way. And these boys are into a lot of the same stuff as monsignors vis a vis dress up. Like monsignors of old, they “neither toil nor spin, but not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these” (Matt 6:29). The “habit” of the Institute is based on the monsignoral Domestic Prelate costume before the reforms of Paul VI. They wear a choir cassock and rochet over which is worn a manteletta faced in blue. Over the manteletta is worn a mozetta—black for the priests, blue for the superiors. A black biretta with a blue pom-pom tops the costume. The black cassock, manteletta, and mozetta are piped in blue. A small silver pectoral cross is worn suspended from a blue and white ribbon around the neck. Shoes are black and silver-buckled and I understand from the tailor shop behind Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where their supplies are bought in Rome, the stockings are blue. It is a striking outfit. Their ministry in the Church is restoring the splendor of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. They celebrate Mass in the old Roman Rite and, to their credit, with all the pomp that was normally lacking in most parishes. While I am no fan of the old liturgy, I will admit without reservation that when it was done correctly and well—which it rarely was—it was a thing of beauty much as Swan Lake or Semiramide are things of beauty. I saw Semiramide once, at the Lyric in Chicago. Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne sang the leads. Bless my soul, were I not a religious person, I might say that it was the most beautiful thing this side of heaven!!! But I take the Liturgy too seriously to make it a theatre piece or even to swoon at it aesthetics though it should be marked by reverence and beauty. The Mass presents us, brings us face to face, with the Saving Death and Glorious Resurrection of Christ and it is a profound confrontation with the challenge to reorient our lives once again to our baptismal commitment to enter into death with Christ, to be crucified with Christ, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us. Such Mystery can never be reduced to ritual, no matter how elegant, much less can we let it become theatre. The confusion of pomp for reverence or gilded lilies for beauty detracts from the austere solemnity of the Mysterium Fidei even as arcane language makes a mockery of genuine prayer. But that was the glory of the old liturgy, when done well it gently wafted us along on the breezes of pious tunes and aesthetic smells and left us untroubled in our souls about the Christ who is crucified still in the family that lost their home, in the alien who fears deportation, in the child trapped in the urban public school, in the Krone’s patient without insurance, and in countless others of the least of His brothers and sisters. But you know, those blue-faced mantelletas look really sharp; I only hope that no moth devours them nor rust destroys the shoe buckles.