Eamonn Clark, STL
So I was at the mass for the Sicilian clergy-pilgrims a little while ago. Before the bishops went for their meeting with Francis, where he decried the use of “grandma’s lace” in the liturgy, they had a mass at Mary Major. Let me tell you, lace is not the issue. A friend in the sacristy told me there were bishops who didn’t know how to put on an amice… I stood and watched many priests taking pictures during the liturgy. One guy, just in front of me, was wearing an alb whose neckline was hanging very low, almost halfway down his chest, and he had a tab collar shirt that was unbuttoned at the top, with the tab sticking out.
There are two points to lace in liturgy. First, in a place like Sicily, it is very functional: it breathes. Extremely hot weather begs for lace. Second, lace, like incense or chant or any number of things, indicates that something special is occurring… something out of the ordinary… something sacred.
Now, it can be overdone. “More lace, more grace,” goes the derisive mantra. I once was going to a shop to buy some vestments, including a surplice, and in the area of the store I ran across another shop with the same name – it happened to be a lingerie store! “I love lace, but this is too much, even for me,” I quipped. But, just as it can be overdone, it can be underdone. I would suggest that the Sicilians luck out with the heat, giving them the impetus to use fine albs and such; the fact that they aren’t bothering with other items and behaviors of liturgical decorum that are always due gives the impression that they just don’t really care very much about the liturgy, they just care about not sweating to death (this also perhaps explains the low hanging alb, the neglect of amices, etc.).
I was complaining yesterday again about the fake candle phenomenon in Roman churches – even papal basilicas. It’s cheaper and more convenient, but that sort of defeats the purpose. Likewise, wearing all the right vestments in the right way can be uncomfortable – but that is fitting when one is offering a sacrifice. On the other hand, if one is just having a ritual meal… comfort matters much more. It is beginning to dawn on me that one of the most significant changes made to the liturgy after the Council is the offertory… Formerly it emphasized the Mass is a sacrifice, but now it uses a modified Jewish prayer before meals. One wants to be comfortable at dinner… but at a public sacrifice? Maybe it’s worth being drenched with sweat to get it right.
But it also might be worth wearing lace!