instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"..., and in Hawaii the ushers are the ones wearing shoes."

Monsignor Pope comes at that old warhorse of the Catholic blogger -- Aren't the people around us at Mass these days just terrible? -- from a somewhat different, and better, angle. He has abstracted from the more common "Do this, not that"/"Wear this, not that" prescriptions and simply asked, "How can we recover our lost reverence?"

This is not at all the same question as, "How can we recover our lost customs of reverence?" Customs can and do change. Msgr. Pope uses the example of the LORD telling Moses to remove his shoes since he was standing on sacred ground.
Here in America, the thought of taking off ones shoes or being in Church without shoes would be thought of as highly irreverent! ...

And thus we see that culture has influence on signs of reverence and, while there have been different forms of it here and there, some equivalent of “Remove the sandals from your feet…” has been observed. Until now.
Suits and ties, dresses and hats, a literal "Sunday best," that's how Catholics in the United States used to show reverence at Sunday Mass. It's still, I suspect, how a lot of Catholics in the United States who are concerned with showing reverence at Sunday Mass do it. And, as someone who doesn't ordinarily wear a jacket or tie to Mass, I have to say that seems like the most obvious and direct way for all Catholics to signify reverence at Sunday Mass.

(I keep writing "Sunday Mass" because it seems to be generally accepted that (within limits) workers may attend daily Mass in their work attire.)

A couple of arguments were offered, in the comments on Msgr. Pope's post, against the need for signifying reverence outwardly, but I think they're fundamentally incoherent. Interior reverence is sort of like interior temperance; if it doesn't manifest itself in some physical, visible way, then it isn't really reverence.

I'll guess that the deprecation of physical, visible significations of reverence is largely driven by the realization that they aren't necessarily real reverence either. But surely anyone can see that this is a case of both/and:
As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv, 12), since we are composed of a twofold nature, intellectual and sensible, we offer God a twofold adoration; namely, a spiritual adoration, consisting in the internal devotion of the mind; and a bodily adoration, which consists in an exterior humbling of the body. And since in all acts of latria that which is without is referred to that which is within as being of greater import, it follows that exterior adoration is offered on account of interior adoration, in other words we exhibit signs of humility in our bodies in order to incite our affections to submit to God, since it is connatural to us to proceed from the sensible to the intelligible.
Then there was the argument that it shows a false self to dress up for Mass when you never dress up for anything else (especially so for young boys). This, I think, amounts to arguing that people who are irreverent shouldn't pretend to be reverent. While it's true that you don't learn to be reverent merely by being forced to dress nicely -- whether you're a young boy or a newly conscripted usher -- it's also true that the irreverent ought to learn to be reverent.

Which means the reverent ought to help the irreverent learn to be reverent, and I can't think of a better way to do that than to be reverent. Dressing up without dressing down, clean shoes without dirty looks, sharp creases without sharp words. That sort of thing would show that the nice clothes aren't a matter of pride or even of custom, but "an exterior humbling of the body," signifying that the wearer doesn't think the Mass is about him.