Filed under: Culture and Catholicism, Uncategorized | Tags: modesty, Pentecost, prayer, religious fashion
It is Pentecost Sunday at a traditional Catholic church west of Chicago. It is June, cooler this morning than yesterday, with a little rain and thunder during the night so that the air is utterly clear of moisture, and in the diamond-bright lemon-yellow sunshine pouring full upon us from the east stained glass, every dressing of the altar is in sharp focus.
The liturgical color of Pentecost is red, which is usually the color of the holy martyrs, and of course this comments on the nature of the red, the nature of the feast, the meaning of Pentecost: is it blood red? Yes. Yes, the visitation of the Holy Ghost on the followers of Christ is something like dying–dying of the weak, old man, birth of the new man, the new people, a people infused with grace. Like blood, this red is living. The flame with which the Holy Ghost is said to have ‘come upon’ the apostles glows at the heart of it. It flickers with energy.
And so it is, in the church today. The altar is dripping with red, the brilliant crimson veil across the tabernacle, and the flowers announcing the feast. There are two large bouquets in gold vases center right and left on the altar, with two slightly smaller vases on the farthest edges in front of the angel statues which kneel always to Christ present there, and of course the smallest, the bouquets before the statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph which stand left and right of the altar. All six bouquets are of deep red roses against dark luminous greens, except the smallest ones, which effervesce with sprays of Rosa Magical, those tiny intensely gold pips that explode among the roses like sparklers.
In the thanksgiving after mass, we pray. It is intensely quiet. We pray intensely. Everything helps us adore, and that is what we came here for. Two girls approach the altar railing to say a special prayer, to be closer to Christ in the tabernacle behind the railing up on the altar. They kneel together. They are sisters. One is a little older, already a teen, the other a little younger, eleven or twelve. They are both dressed in red, and there at the altar railing they kneel upon red carpet in the sweet June sunshine. The older girl’s top is a red-striped knit, nothing special, but the younger girl is incredibly arresting. She is wearing a red party dress. It is what is aptly called princess-cut, with three quarter sleeves, the scooped neckline framing her little face and her cascading deep curls (crowned with a sweet mantilla) in an ivory cameo infused from below with that red glow from the bodice.
It is an empire dress, that is, high-waisted. That is what a society write-up might say of the gown. The skirt section is cut velvet with its own deep smoldering sheen, and the bodice is every inch covered with red sequins. Each one catches the sun, and scatters it.
She has dressed for this mass. She is like the flame itself of the Holy Ghost come upon mankind to be our sanctifier, as Father preached at mass. She is twelve and dressed for heaven.
Here is fashion. Did she mean this gesture when she chose her garment this morning? Perhaps not. It is not a particularly special dress, you will find it at Target, or Walmart, or Penny’s, it is surely a hand-me-down, since she has several older sisters in this community of large families. But they both wore red–perhaps automatically, so many families have their ‘home altars’ and adorn them to follow the liturgical colors through the seasons and the great feasts.
This is fashion. This is dressing with purpose, and love. We miss this in our religiously secularized worlds. What is not fashion could be an identical dress, but without the love. Oh, the poor starlets touting sequins on the red carpet of yet another boring awards extravaganza, celebrating nothing at all, just profits and which ‘entry’ this year spouts the most naughty words and the most broken commandments. No amount of exposed bosom generates the least heat. They spend ever so much time adorning themselves, only to end up being boring. It is easy to be boring–just subtract love, substitute shock, and celebrate sin. Yawn.
This little girl, on the other hand, is celebrating the Holy Ghost and all the gifts He brings humankind: Wisdom, Understanding, Good Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. She knows what they mean, she learned them (she had to) in catechism class. Apparently the Holy Ghost is a very brainy Guy, all the gifts the Faithful receive at the sacrament of baptism as seeds to be grown throughout their lives (and remember especially on Pentecost, and pray during mass for an increase in their force) are intellectual gifts. They are exciting gifts, they are the pearls men and women seek for a lifetime and yet so rarely find. They are passionate, that is why the Church calls for this color precisely on this day, and that is why the altar and the lucky girls wear red.
This is fashion. And it leads to prayer.
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