Sunday, May 26, 2013

In persona di... Superman?

I like superheroes as much as the next guy. I still read comic books from time to time (mainly to help get my mind off marking assignments, reading curriculum update reports... and the odd break from a theology-heavy tome is good too) and I love the superhero sub-culture (I hope to go to San Diego Comic Con. one day). When I was at university doing my Media Studies/Journalism degree I even wrote a ten thousand word thesis on Superman as a Christ figure in popular culture. As a Catholic-Christian, however, my praise and worship goes to the super hero: the Lord Jesus Christ. My Lord is real and I do my best in life to live as He taught and to bring Him to others as scripture and the Church exhorts us. Superheroes like Batman and Superman are fictional, and while there can be a cult following of fictional characters such as these, they are - in the end - fictional and there for one's entertainment and should not be idolised per se.

Less than a day or so ago, I came across the following image on Twitter:

So what we have here is a priest celebrating Mass at what I'm told is a youth rally, wearing vestments (the stole and chasuble specifically) with superhero patches printed or stitched on (I'm not sure to whom the image belongs but it was tweeted by another Twitter user).

My first reaction was, "Wow. Cool!" So doing what any ordinary Tweeter would do, I favourited the tweet and retweeted it. It was this morning before Mass this morning, however, that I got a message from a very well respected Catholic apologist (a man that I have a lot of respect for myself and an admirer of the work he does) suggested that this was sacrilegious. After some thought and reflection, I'm inclined to agree.

I was left wondering whether there was a document outlining the norms for the liturgical vestments, and with the help of my friend, Mr. Google, I did find something... something from the Vatican website. From the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, there was this document, Liturgical Vestments and the Vesting Prayers. Here are a couple of extracts:

"Beyond the historical circumstances, the sacred vestments had an important function in the liturgical celebrations: In the first place, the fact that they are not worn in ordinary life, and thus possess a 'liturgical' character, helps one to be detached from the everyday and its concerns in the celebration of divine worship."  

"The form of the vestments, therefore, says that the liturgy is celebrated 'in persona Christi' and not in the priest's own name. He who performs a liturgical function does not do so as a private person, but as a minister of the Church and an instrument in the hands of Jesus Christ."

... and on the stole and the chasuble specifically:

After reading these things one gets the impression that the liturgical vestments are a big deal. Not only are their uses steeply vested in the Church's tradition, but there is a significance behind their use, and that is to present to the faithful "in persona Christi", the person of Christ. Wearing vestments with those sorts of images  detracts from the message of the Mass and furthermore the solemnity of the liturgical celebration. 

Let's be real for a moment: if a priest walks out on to the sanctuary wearing vestments with such things on him, what's he's really trying to do is say, "Look at this!" as opposed "We are in the presence of the Lord, let us worship Him" and for such images to appear on the vestments you could argue the point of idolatry, i.e. these fictional characters have infiltrated the divine liturgy and are being worshipped in the place of the Lord as God. That's what idolatry is: worshipping something or someone else as God.

I doubt this was the intention of the priest pictured here. If the context of the Mass was a youth rally then perhaps he, the priest, used these superheroes in order to appeal to the youth. I can't blame the guy for wanting to make things more appealing for the youth; Lord knows I've used superhero analogies and references in my lessons as a high school teacher to engage my students during some lessons, but this is after all the Mass we're talking about. If you want to make the Mass more appealing to the youth, then just keep it simple and keep it real: the Mass is about Jesus Christ. God's desire for us to be close to Him and for us to be united fully with Him in Heaven. The Mass is, as John the apostle saw it in his visions in the book of Revelation, Heaven on earth. 

As we read in scripture, Jesus Christ is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8); He doesn't need enhancing or to be made more appealing to anyone. It's as the old adage says, "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it". If anything, we must conform ourselves to Christ, not the other way around.

What are your thoughts on the image above? I'd love to hear what you think.

1 comment:

  1. I would doubt that guy is a Catholic priest.


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