The White Lily Blog

Fashion and Faith, Again
June 10, 2014, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Culture and Catholicism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

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.

4 Comments so far
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I am glad to hear that she has dressed up for such a day. I wish people would dress up more often. Our sweatpants and backwards-baseball-cap culture forces us to neglect the dignity of man, and not just man, but baptized man. Just as we adorn the tabernacles to express an invisible interior truth (the Real Presence), so too should we adorn our bodies to express visibly the interior beauty of a soul in a state of grace.

Comment by itineranttrent

Well said! And I know somebody I’m going to mention that to, and it will make a difference in how they feel (more precisely, how depressed they are, which is a lot, and most of the time). That isn’t the purpose, in the case you mention, not to honor God directly but to reflect the inner beauty of the soul. That’s not quite the same, is it? It seems like more a question of pleasing symmetricity–as is the interior soul, so be the exterior threads. : ) I think symmetricity pleases God, He followed that model so often!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Hi Jan, Such a vivid description of the young lady in the red dress. Amazing! Thank you for your recent visits to and comments on my blog. I hope you will go back and check on my response to what you wrote.

Comment by mariejacqueline1

Yes, I went, thank you! I already put it into practice with a florist just up the street. She is looking for advent greens for me, and I’ll ask at the Jewel Osco tomorrow. I got feedback from my fellow altar society ladies about your site, they are so delighted to find it. Thanks so much for your work in this area!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

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