06 January 2009

The Feast of the Epiphany...

is today, 6 January. I have never seen the celebration of the Mass of the Feast of the Epiphany at St. Peters Basilica, but thanks to the wonders of cable television and satellite feed, this ceremony is shown all over the world for people to see, should they be awake to watch it. I am not Catholic, so religiously, this is not my tradition.

I found it interesting for several reasons. First, we visited St. Peters this past summer when we were in Rome. The official Vatican cameras show much better views of some of the artwork than I could see from the floor. Particularly the Dove Window. (Which, btw, is not stained glass. It is made from alabaster.) It's also interesting to see the building filled with people using it for its intended purpose, rather than a zillion tourists walking around. And lastly, I was fascinated with the pomp & circumstance, the ritual & symbolism.

When I was in graduate school my major professor and I had finally agreed on the subject of my thesis. It was how dress and adornment reflected a person's status in life in both the secular and non-secular worlds from ancient times to the present. Ever since then, these are details I notice.

Not only are all movements in this ceremony exactly prescribed, the clothing of all the church leaders/servants is both prescribed and different. The Pope, of course, wears the most lavish and elaborate garments. His mitre and robes are embellished with gold embroidery and jewels. (I wonder how much all that weighs?) For the ceremony he sits on a golden throne in the sanctuary. But before he ascends the altar to sit on the throne, the processional of the cross bearer, accolytes, priests, cardinals and the Pope all files in single file. The Pope carries a large gold incense burner around the altar to purify the sanctuary. After the gifts are received, he once again gets out the incense in order to purify them.

Some elements of the clothing have been kept since the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. And many of the artifacts are considerably older than that. The Basilica itself, said to be built over the tomb of St. Peter, was started in 1506 and finished in 1626. That a group of people is able to preserve the ritual for so long, including speaking a dead language (Latin) during it, is amazing.

While the Pope administered communion to the faithful, I enjoyed listening to the choir sing Adeste Fidelis in Latin. All in all the ceremony lasted two hours. As the recessional filed out, the faithful were all anxious to kiss the Pope's hand. He obliged as many as possible. I think it must be a burden, as well as a joy, to be the Pope.

Although I was not Catholic, I was reared in Louisiana and many of my friends were Catholic. Our tradition of leaving our Christmas tree and other decorations up until 12th Night stems from this religious festival. Now that it is been celebrated, it is time to start the party known as Carnival. Mardi Gras is 24 February.
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Sue said...

Woo Hoo Mardi Gras! :) Thank you for stopping by, and sure you can use the graphic for the photo hunt! I believe I originally snagged it from TNChick :)

Becky said...

Sue, I'm from Louisiana and we love the Mardi Gras! More posts on that to come.

Thanks for the use of the image. I'm excited to be part of the photo hunt. :-)