Good day from Rome on the second day of the pontificate of Pope Francis. Style is substance in these first hours of Francis’ reign; the talk here is about all things sartorial: What is he wearing? What is he not wearing? As The New York Times reported yesterday, Pope Francis asked the cardinals to wear just a simple black cassock under their albs for yesterday's Mass in the Sistine chapel.Meanwhile, Gamarelli’s, the official papal tailor (just a stone’s throw from my window) were disappointed to learn that the new pope has declined the use of the ermine mozetta they provided him and that he has ditched the traditional red shoes for the brown loafers he brought from Argentina.
Now one could dismiss all of this talk about clothes as just so much irrelevant claptrap if it weren’t for the fact that Catholicism is rooted in a sacramental worldview. In other words, symbols matter to us. They matter a lot. The cassock, the cape, the shoes, they’re all symbols. Francis seems to know that; he knows that these early choices about seemingly trivial matters are setting the tone of his pontificate. The fashion-conscious Romans, for whom a trip to the grocery store is a sashay down the runway, are paying close attention to Papa Frank’s aesthetic. They see in it some clues to what might happen on Tuesday, the day of the pope’s installation as Bishop of Rome. Much of the rite is already prescribed in the liturgical books, of course, but many here expect to see some innovation, all in the direction of greater simplicity and humility of spirit.
I am also wondering what to make of it all. I will be here for Tuesday’s inaugural mass, in which I will be one of the priests helping to distribute communion. I’ve been searching all of Rome for a cassock that fits me (I am tempted to think that the 6’ 4” Roman hasn’t been born yet). A recent, pre-resignation decree from the Vatican stipulated that all priests and religious must wear a cassock when taking part in papal liturgies. Now, however, I’m wondering whether that still holds. I suppose it does, but we’ve had a lot of surprises this month.
In any event, it would not be too much to say that Romans are falling in love with their bishop. And not just Romans. I met an English couple this morning who had walked across the city just to meet the tailor who made the new pope’s cassock. “We’re fascinated,” they said. “This is all so magical.”
Are you? Is it?
I know; it’s all so silly.
And yet… it isn’t.