Mar 19, 2013

Francis Installed: Pointy Hats, Altar Boys, Gays?

Well, I watched the ceremony at St. Peter's this morning, with BBC commentary. I was far less moved than I was by Francis' unannounced Parish mass last Sunday, which seemed so much more authentic, simple and pastoral. 

This time, all of the creaky anachronisms of the Catholic hierarchical world view were on display in all their absurdity, foremost among them being the rickety, feeble old men, ALL men, in their pointy hats taking their positions at the head of the cue, so to speak. Francis himself looked simple, uncomplicated, unpretentious, benign, but steely in his determination. But the whole spectacle is woefully out of date. All those old men. Don't they realize what that looks like? And let us not forget the beautiful altar boys, I'm talking boys in their teens, all chosen obviously for their stunning beauty. Reminds me of the words from Irish author Colm Toibin I quoted several weeks ago:

“I remember being at the Vatican at Easter 1994,” he recalled, “and watching all the cardinals and bishops, wonderfully powerful old men with great chins, sitting nobly with a long row of extraordinarily beautiful young seminarians standing behind, shading them with different colored sun umbrellas, some of which were pink.

“It was remarkable that none of them seemed to know what it looked like, and I watched it thinking, somebody must tell them.”
Really, it gives one a chill to see how the perfect young specimens on display (from teens to twenties) have been so carefully chosen for matchless physical beauty. In light of the abuse scandal, doesn't anybody understand how this looks? Guess not. But it gave me the shivers. 
It sets up an unequal hierarchy all its own. Where are the ordinary looking boys and young men (god forbid any girls would be allowed to serve), the goofy boys with buck teeth and pimples who don't fit the mold. Shame on me for being distracted from the sublimity of the moment by this trivial observation, but it's all just so...well, in a word ... GAY.

(To be fair, a year ago I was in Jerusalem for Holy Week and, by some miracle, actually managed to squeeze into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and  find a seat right within the sanctuary of the Greek Orthodox Church. At precisely 3pm, with the mournful tolling of the bell, the Greek Patriarch and his ministers in shimmering gold vestments,  processed into the sanctuary, accompanied by a long line of stunning altar boys, who were shocking in their physical beauty. It was rather distracting, also, and disconcerting. Where were the ordinary looking kids in lace, and why was appearance so important?) 
Francis' sermon, as translated by BBC commentators, was inspiring in its simplicity, compassion, and ecumenical flavor (pleasing to Leonardo Boff, no doubt) - as we have come to expect over the past few days. It was most moving in it's call to protect the weak, the marginalized, the forgotten on the margins. But there was a sting at the end, and thanks to Historian Eamon Duffy for pointing this out. Francis mentioned the necessity of "following God's plan as revealed to us through nature," which Eamon took to be an indirect reference to Francis' opposition to gay marriage. Here is where we must hope Francis is capable of listening to wiser heads than himself on this issue, as to just what nature in the guise of the social sciences and psychology truly reveal about "God's plan in nature." Otherwise his moving words about protecting the marginalized will ring hollow.
And then the spectacle was all over and the ancient men tottered back into the Vatican with their pointy hats, followed by their beautiful altar boys. I felt a twinge of sympathy for Francis the man, having to deal with all of this. But that is the tragic absurdity of all of this. Despite the folly and the sin, the Catholic Church still manages to give off a profound sense of the Sacred, hidden behind the tarnished images. So far, Francis has managed to purify quite a bit of dross from off of the image of the Petrine office. Time will tell if this cleansing is more than just skin deep. I continue to hope.  


Chris said...

Thank you for this post. I also have always marveled at the gorgeous men that they choose for these ceremonies. Are there no "regular" looking men? Not that I quibble with their tastes. I like looking a cute man myself.

Anonymous said...

Very good commentary. That is certainly something to think about.


Frank said...

As one who rarely enters a church anymore I can say I wouldn't know about the physical characteristics of the current cadre of alter boys, but my long periods of absence has given me a different perspective on the pomp and circumstance of Catholic ritual and absurdity is one adjective that comes to mind along with archaic. What use to convey a sense of the sacred now seems to fall short in that regard, perhaps because it has become so disconnected from both history (which no one knows anymore) and contemporary reality. The "old boys club" is such an anachronism that it looks silly and even more so when the old men in costumes are parading about. I wonder: what would a contemporary Catholic Church look like? Could there be such a thing?

Richard Jayden Cameron said...

Well, yes, my point also - the old boy's club is a sign of contradiction and hardly evocative of 'the Sacred.' Likewise, I'm not averse to a bit of eye candy either, but so much attention to image is hardly indicative of spiritual maturity. The full spectrum of humanity needs to be represented in the liturgy, not simply the most superficially perfect. In time, the entire clerical system will collapse like a house of cards, but the Spirit willing, not before other structures coming from the ground up have moved into position to replace it.