Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How did apostles go from not carrying a spare tunic to fueling a fashion sub-industry?

Part of the Catholic Church’s justification for barring female ordinations comes from literally interpreting scripture where Jesus selects twelve guys as the original apostles.  Because a female is not mentioned explicitly in these passages church leaders say Jesus didn’t give them authority to ordain women.  As mentioned before, they ignore scripture where Jesus does select Mary Magdalene as an apostle but I won’t dwell on that now.  

Since the church literally interprets scripture to justify its ordination rule, it stands to reason that we literally interpret those same passages where Jesus tells these twelve male apostles what to do.  As we examine this topic, keep in mind church leaders say that unless Jesus explicitly said to do something, he didn’t authorize it.

Apostles are supposed to proclaim the kingdom and “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Mt 10:8).   The account in Mark’s gospel only mentions that Jesus sent apostles “forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). 

He didn’t give apostles the authority to do things like be administrators, chair committees, attend meetings, build buildings, lead parishes, conduct fundraisers, be political lobbyists, provide counseling, prepare couples for marriage, or act as personnel managers.  Why do these unauthorized activities consume so much of clergy’s time? 

Present day clergy do anoint the sick.  However, I don’t know any who cure the sick though the original twelve seemed like whizzes at curing people’s infirmities.  I’m not aware of any priests raising people from the dead.  Some throughout history worked with lepers but I can’t think of any in my diocese who do that now.  Aside from the exorcism rite in baptismal anointing, I’ve only met one priest who performed an exorcism, driving out demons.   Why did the apostles’ role experience such severe scope shift over time?  

Jesus also instructs them, “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick” (Mt 10:9-10).  Evidently he didn’t think the apostles needed to focus on clothing or fashion because he instructed minimalism and didn’t give them authority to decorate their clothing at all, not even with a spiffy Roman collar.  This is not surprising from a guy born into poverty.  (As a side note, the Roman collar didn’t appear until the 15th century when priests began following the fashion trend of the day (reference EWTN Q&A on Roman collars).)

The modern version of a priest’s “tunic” might be considered his black clerics.  Perhaps some consider it the alb, the white robe worn under other priestly vestments during Mass.  Regardless, every priest I know has multiple sets of clerics and albs.  Why do priests have multiple tunics when Jesus explicitly said they shouldn’t?

The original twelve apostles traveled to the people, often covering great distances.  In the Roman Empire travelers often wore a casula, a poncho-like outer garment.  Whether or not the apostles wore a casula is a mystery because scripture does not indicate Jesus authorized them to wear one.  Regardless, the modern version of a casula is the chasuble, the colorful outer garment worn during the celebration of Mass.

One might interpret Jesus’ tunic instruction as implying all clothing which would include an outer wrap.  However, if we allow implicit rather than explicit interpretations, wouldn’t we need to allow that Jesus implied all people not just males when he selected the twelve apostles?  Also, wouldn’t the “don’t have a second” thing apply implicitly to outer garments as well?

How many chasubles do priests, today’s apostles, actually own?  The exact number varies but they have at least one for every color associated with the liturgical calendar:
  1. White for Easter, Christmas, weddings and funerals
  2. Red for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Pentecost Sunday, Apostles’ and Evangelists’ feasts, and celebrations of Martyr Saints
  3. Green for Ordinary Time.
  4. Violet or purple for Advent, Lent or optionally for funerals.
Many priests also have at least one of the following optional colors:
  1. Gold or silver for more solemn occasions
  2. Rose (pink) for Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
  3. On more solemn days, they may use vestments “that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not of the color of the day” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal).
  4. Black as an optional color for funerals.
Indeed, most priests have at least a dozen chasubles giving rise to a fashion sub-industry.  
The Church Supply Warehouse advertises no less than ten subcategories of chasubles.  Each subcategory contains dozens if not hundreds of styles with prices ranging from under $50 to around $5,000.  Though most are priced in the hundreds of dollars range, some are listed as “Price upon request”, loosely translated as “if you must ask, you can’t afford it”.  As of this writing, there are 816 varieties of chasubles offered for sale on eBay. 
The chasuble fashion industry accommodates taste variances from the very plain to the excessively ornate that could act as magpie bait.  Some are so ornate with glitter, gold and silver, if suspended from the ceiling and spun they might double as a disco ball. 
How did apostles who Jesus explicitly instructed to have only the clothing on their back wind up fueling an entire sub-industry of fashion?  How did apostles, who Jesus explicitly instructed to not carry gold, silver or copper in their belts wind up wearing them on their backs?  More importantly, why do apostles give more weight and emphasis to something Jesus didn’t state explicitly while ignoring things he did?  Why do apostles feel they have the authority to expand upon Jesus’ explicit instructions but not on what they infer are his implicit instructions regarding ordination?


  1. It is clear you are the "Rachel Maddow" of the US Catholic Church! Your arguments are direct, clear, well researched, factual and in the end Spot On. The problem seems to be... you have found the wrong tree in the forest to bark up. For those of us who enjoy the barking; keep it up!

  2. I wasn't familiar with Rachel Maddow so had to Google the name.

    Anyway, I sent the link to this blog to the pope, Cardinal Levada, Cardinal George and other church leaders. They are the tree that could effect change based upon the barking.

    I have no idea if they actually read this but I believe that if people with similar questions do a few things en masse, the tree will at least need to listen and consider.

    1. Keep barking. Keep questioning.
    2. If an organization seems unjust, make conscious and conscience-directed choices as to whether or not to financially support the organization.
    3. Do likewise with regards to volunteer work. For example, I will volunteer in things that I see directly helping the people of God (working with the poor, singing at funerals, visiting the home bound, etc...). I won't volunteer for things that simply support an institution that treats 1/2 its population as lesser citizens.