Cardinal Burke during a visit to Gricigliano. The
Cardinal's train is twice the length of that of the Queen
Mother at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952. Note
the page with the saturno at the extreme right. Nice
The rochets and mantelettas and buckled shoes of Gricigliano speak of a different age—an age when Church and State were wed—where Monarchy was King and Church was Queen. It was an age where prelates were princes and the clergy had privilege. One sees the revival of this in the protocols followed by the Gricigliano priests. Canopies are slung above the thrones of visiting prelates. Pages in knee breeches and buckled shoes—they do like those buckles—hold the prelates saturno (the domed and tasseled clergy hat). Knees are bent to kiss pontifical rings. Banners are hung with coats of arms. It is a Disneyesque fantasy land where the sons of butchers and bakers can pretend they are princes and princesses. And this is my objection to it—it is a fantasyland and our faith is not a matter of fantasy. What culturally may have had an authenticity in the days of the Bourbons and the Habsburgs in our modern age trivializes the Gospel we proclaim. Avery Dulles wrote that the function of papal primacy was seen in the first millennium to be about witness, in the second to be about power, and in the third millennium will be about service. (Avery Dulles, S.J., The Catholicity of the Church, Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1985. p. 136.) As a historian I believe Dulles was spot on, but I don’t believe his insight is limited to the papacy. I believe it is true of the Church itself. And as Church we have just finished a thousand year reign of power. We have finished an era in which the Church had great power in and over society. We have finished an era in which the Church (or since the Reformation, the Churches) sat in the councils of Kings and Emperors, where the Church could dictate laws, where the Church stood above the law of the land in which she dwelt. That power has been eroding since the French Revolution and now it is all but gone. The inability of the Church to protect the unborn has frightened to madness those who simply cannot understand the sociological shift that has left the Church politically hollow. Now the Church is being humiliated again as it finds itself ineffectual to stop same-sex marriage and the advance of gay rights. Its doomed-to-failure battles only leaves it more exposed as a vacant shell of a once powerful Institution. In these circumstances, the panicked strategy is “bring back the trappings of the power we once held.” Bring back the long trains of scarlet silk and furred and hooded capes of prelates. Bring back the silver buckles and watered silk. Bring back the canopies and the pages. They think that these talismans will restore the power the Church once had but instead it only makes the Church look ever more ridiculous, like a senile matron who in her dotage thinks she is the sought after debutante of the year. Mother Theresa in her cotton sari had credibility even among the Hilary Clintons who disagreed passionately with her, but mincing priests in buckled shoes and pom-pomed hats are the very nemesis of an authentic evangelization so needed today. I am the first one to appreciate comedy and farce, but Gricigliano and its fairy-land Catholicism leave me appalled not amused.