January 29, 2013

Of Bridesmaids and Tabernacles

Making the rounds on Facebook today was a picture of a group of bridesmaids. Wearing strapless dresses and photographed from behind while sitting in a pew in church, the viewer might easily imagine that the poor things were wearing nothing at all. Of course I was amused; many times I have endured the jarring experience of observing a group of bridesmaids while presiding at a wedding, unable to recognize the anxious creatures as continuous with the group of pretty young women I had met in the same role two evenings before at the wedding rehearsal, so transformed they were by unflattering dresses, fussy hairdos, and too much makeup.

The picture was presented as evidence that more attention needs to be paid to dressing modestly in church. I've never been able to make up my mind on this one. Here in Rome one experiences the phenomenon of the wrapping up of people (women usually, but not exclusively) who show up at the basilicas with too much of themselves exposed. Having observed this procedure many times since living here, I have to say that something about it just doesn't sit right with me, though I haven't been able to articulate just what.

Nevertheless, in observing the picture of the immodest bridesmaids--what a fine title for a parable that would make--my priestly gaze could not help but notice the church's tabernacle, which was also visible. A tabernacle veil of muted, liturgical gold hung before it. I remarked to myself that the tabernacle was the one who had come to church modestly dressed.

So then I got to thinking. I don't think there are any rules about the veiling of tabernacles anymore, and in my current situation I don't have much opportunity to research such a thing easily. But could there be any connection--liturgically, theologically, pastorally--between the veiling or non-veiling of the tabernacle and the question of dressing modestly for church?

What do you think?


Celeste said...

Amen! Thank you for sharing this..I pray it reaches many

Suzanne said...

Can you explain about the "wrapping up" of people at the basilicas?

Paul A. Zalonski said...

The problem is not only with brides, but school children, middle age men and women, priests, religious, the chalice at Mass, the altar, the priest/deacon at a Benediction service: taking the time to know what is beautiful and fitting for the "event."

Chalice veils are seemingly low on any priority list but there is something that is missing when the chalice is treated as any old cup. Veiling also presumes unveiling. Mystery retained, Mystery revealed. The problem exists, in my assessment, a problem of sensuality --and not merely in the sexual sense. How are our senses fully engaged and give witness to the Divine Presence? How does our life give witness when our bodies are treated as meat.

There is a different sensibility when the religious wears the habit, when he wears a surplice and stole to expose the Eucharist and then a cope when the priest returns to do Benediction.

I suppose when the Church lives in continuity with the tradition, the laity will follow suit. Plus, how priests have EXPRESSED expectations of brides?


Brother Charles said...

@Suzanne At the Roman basilicas, and, I suppose, other places, when someone turns up to visit the church and is judged to be immodestly dressed (usually this means women with bare shoulders or too-short shorts) they are encouraged by the guards to cover up with cloth offered for this purpose. Some, knowing about this, or perhaps having read about it in some guidebook, come equipped with something to put on. Sometimes one witnesses little moments of discomfort between the guards and those being asked to cover up. As I say, the whole business makes me a little uncomfortable, but I haven't yet been able to articulate it.

Anonymous said...

At my wedding 17 years ago, my grandmother thought my cousin was a little too immodestly dressed wearing a dress with a boat cut neckline. She got her point across without saying a word. She grabbed a handful of rice, and rather than throw it at the bride and groom at the conclusion of the ceremony, she threw it down my cousin's chest.

Sara said...

Fr. Charles,

Here's a story for you.

About 2 months ago- actually, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception- I was out of state with my non-Christian family and ended up at Mass alone in a strange parish.

I was covered up, just not dressed up, and I was feeling bad about it because everyone else there looked pretty formal and I hadn't meant to be disrespectful. Then after Mass was done I wanted to pray and couldn't find the tabernacle. I walked around the sanctuary, then walked around inside the building for a bit. There were people there but no one offered to help.

I found the "chapel" which was a dark, badly decorated closet, and then I found the tabernacle which was a plain, ugly, wooden box in the corner. And then- talk about un-covered- I realized I was able to hear someone's Confession that was happening in the room next to the "chapel."

I left feeling heartsick, but no longer feeling bad about my clothes.