Featured Image
Fr. Komorowski wearing the Henri IV coronation vestments at Chartres CathedralOlivier Figueras

(LifeSiteNews) — In his address to the bishops and priests of Sicily last Thursday in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis rebuked them for the traditional vestments they often wear at liturgical ceremonies in their churches and chapels, telling them it was high time for them to catch up with the “aggiornamento” – getting abreast with the times – of Vatican II. The aggiornamento, said the Pope, also applies to “liturgical fashion.” 

Not unsurprisingly, he opened his address with words about “the changing era in which we find ourselves.” They require “courageous choices, albeit carefully thought out and, above all, enlightened with the discernment of the Holy Spirit,” he said, adding: “This change is especially straining social and emotional ties, as the pandemic has even more clearly highlighted. The responsible attitude with which to live through it, as in other historical phases, is to welcome it with awareness and with a ‘confident taking charge of reality, anchored in the Church’s wise and living Tradition, which can allow itself to take to the sea without fear.’” 

While the Pope blamed “old, erroneous and even immoral ways of acting” among some priests for leading the few remaining young people in Sicily, a land plagued by “demographic winter,” to exhibit “a growing detachment” from the Catholic Church, he commended the work of good priests who are close to the jobless, the children, or “the increasingly lonely elderly.” This is “the priestly figure in the midst of the people,” he said, stressing that “we pastors are called to embrace the full life of this people.” 

There was plenty more of this is his talk, and it was not unrelated, as we shall see, to his remarks about “lace and birettas,” lengthy sermons, and the “true liturgical reform” requested by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis wants priests to be of the people and among the people, not above the people; all else he slams as “clericalism.” 

Near the end of his address, Pope Francis said: 

I would not like to end without talking about something that worries me and worries me quite a lot. I wonder: the reform that the Council initiated, how is it going amongst you? (…) The liturgy, how is it going? And there I don’t know because I don’t go to Mass in Sicily, and I don’t know how the Sicilian priests preach, whether they preach as was suggested in Evangelii gaudium, or whether they preach in such a way that people go out for a cigarette and then come back… (…) How do you celebrate? I don’t go to Mass there, but I have seen photos. I speak plainly. Dear friends, the lace, the birettas! But where are we? Sixty years after the Council! Please, let’s have a bit of an update even in liturgical art, in liturgical ‘fashion’! Yes, wearing some of grandma’s lace is okay, but only sometimes. It’s to pay homage to grandma, right? You have all understood, haven’t you? You have understood. It’s good to pay homage to grandma, but it’s better to celebrate mother, the Holy Mother Church, in the way Mother Church wants to be celebrated. And let insularity not prevent the true liturgical reform that the Council sent forward. And refrain from remaining quietists. 

In short, Pope Francis was criticizing their use of old and ornate vestments that are part of traditional Catholicism (and in particular, but not always, of the Traditional Latin Mass) and that are also treasures of our cultural heritage. 

His disdain for the magnificent liturgical dress of old is almost painful to witness. It seems that he believes priests who use the fine lace surplices so characteristic of the Catholic liturgy—and that symbolize the purity of the soul—are dressing up like old women or at any rate choosing outdated wear for mundane reasons. 

Birettas – the three-peaked hat worn at different times during Mass – were also critiqued by the Pope as a sign of obsolete piety and clericalist inclinations. The biretta, however, means something: it recalls the covering of the tonsure of old by which clerics publicly presented themselves as slaves to Christ. This tonsure was reminiscent of the shaving of slaves in Ancient Rome. 

In the same way, all the elements of the elaborate vestments of yore have profound spiritual meanings, and observing the requirements of priestly dress scrupulously has always been a sign of humility and compliance with the demands of the Church. Individual tastes, search for comfort, and promotion of self are put aside in order to let the priestly function have first place. 

“Nothing is beautiful enough for the good God,” Jean-Marie Vianney, the holy priest of Ars, would say. Known for his love of poverty, he did not hesitate to order the most beautiful silks, embroidered with gold, for celebrating Mass. “A beautiful gold chasuble goes well on a threadbare cassock,” he said. 

It is this kind of splendor that irritates and “worries” Pope Francis, who clearly prefers the polyester variety of church vestments and the plain albs that smack of Protestantism. 

His environmental consciousness does not extend to the careful preservation and frugal use of ornaments that have been handed down through generations of priests. 

His concern for the poor does not allow them the one luxury that belongs to them: enjoying the saintly “luxury” of splendid liturgical art and “fashion,” to use the word with which Francis dismisses beautiful vestments. 

This cannot be understood apart from a deliberate choice to tone down the magnificence of the Catholic liturgy, the richness that simply and clearly indicates the magnitude of the miracle that takes place in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The homage being paid is not to Grandma, but to the Most Holy Trinity itself and to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, immolated on the altar in every Mass in Christendom. 

Pope Francis is indeed fully in line with his own “theology of the people” that sees in the poor and the “oppressed” a source of knowledge of the faith. He is fully in line with the “Pact of the Catacombs” by which dozens of bishops surrounding Dom Hélder Câmara, the Brazilian bishop who paved the way for liberation theology, committed to a new style of Church one month before the closing of the Second Vatican Council. They were joined by around 500 bishops through the decades following. 

The Pact’s second article reads: “We definitively renounce the appearance and reality of riches, especially regarding to our manner of dress (rich material, loud colours) and symbols made of precious materials (they should in reality be evangelical signs). Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; At 3,6. Neither gold nor silver.” 

Whether Jorge-Mario Bergoglio ever signed this Pact is a moot point, but his attitudes and choices surely agree with it. 

As Pope Francis vilifies those who wear “lace and birettas” in the name of the liturgical reform “sent forward” by the Council, his opposition to the traditional liturgy of the Church becomes even more manifest. Of late, he has intensified his declarations against the Tridentine Mass, a form of popular piety that he does not want to foster and protect. Why not? Because it is the Mass of the “colonists,” of the “clericalists,” of priests who place themselves “at a distance” from “the people” – even if “the people” like it. 

As coincidence would have it, the Pentecost Monday Mass in Chartres, presided by Bishop Christory and celebrated by Father Andrzej Komorowski, Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, illustrates this story very well. 

Father Komorowski wore red liturgical vestments – the color of martyrs and of the Holy Spirit – of great beauty. Locally, they are officially known as the “vestments for the anointing of Henry IV,” the legitimate heir to the French throne who was crowned in Chartres Cathedral in 1594 after having converted from Protestantism. 

While it is not certain that the gorgeous chasuble really was worn for that ceremony – it bears the monogram of Queen Anne of Austria, wife of Louis the XIIIth, the eldest son of Henri IV, which dates back to the beginning of the 17th century – the silk velvet and richly embroidered cloth epitomizes everything Pope Francis rejected when scolding the clergy of Sicily for their taste for “lace and birettas.” 

The precious chasuble, it is said, was pressed on Father Komorowski by the sacristan of Chartres Cathedral who longed for it to be used for its proper liturgical use, mounting the steps of the Cathedral’s altar on the shoulders of the priest who would stand there in persona Christi. It would be the last chance for the centuries-old red vestment to be used in a traditional Mass before it was sent to a specialized workshop for restoration. When it returns, it will be placed in the Cathedral’s treasury, never to be used again. 

It will be placed under the gaze of the people instead of paying tribute to the glory of God. 

Photos by Olivier Figueras. Used with permission.

Featured Image

Jeanne Smits has worked as a journalist in France since 1987 after obtaining a Master of Arts in Law. She formerly directed the French daily Présent and was editor-in-chief of an all-internet French-speaking news site called She writes regularly for a number of Catholic journals (Monde & vie, L’Homme nouveau, Reconquête…) and runs a personal pro-life blog. In addition, she is often invited to radio and TV shows on alternative media. She is vice-president of the Christian and French defense association “AGRIF.” She is the French translator of The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire and Christus Vincit by Bishop Schneider, and recently contributed to the Bref examen critique de la communion dans la main about Communion in the hand. She is married and has three children, and lives near Paris.