Pope Benedict XVI’s love for the Renaissance church caused him to revive some of the papal styles of that period. His successor, Pope Francis, is turning out to be a sartorial minimalist, reflecting his more humble, understated approach to the papacy.After his election, Pope Francis — following the prescribed ritual — changed his cardinal red cassock into the official papal “uniform,” a white wool cassock, white sash and white skullcap. Then the master of ceremonies offered him the mozzetta, the historic shoulder-length, velvet cape trimmed with (synthetic) ermine and brought back by Pope Benedict. A dozen pontiffs have sat for Old Master portraits in their mozzettas.
But when papal master of ceremonies Monsignor Guido Marini tried to place the mozzetta on Pope Francis at his debut this month, the new pope, with a polite “I’d prefer not to,” declined — a strong hint of what he thought of all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the papacy. (The more colorful quote widely attributed to Pope Francis as he declined to don the cape — “The carnival is over” — has been debunked as “urban legend” in the National Catholic Reporter online.)
The new pope still wears the sturdy black shoes he brought with him from Buenos Aires. Pope Benedict famously sported red leather loafers, popularly referred to as Pradas, but actually made for him by the cobbler at Gammarelli, the papal tailor in Rome. In earlier times, they would have been crafted in silk or velvet, with heavy gold embroidery.
There is no indication that Pope Francis is going to adopt the red loafers or the camauro, a fleece-lined bonnet covering the pontifical ears and worn in winter as protection against the drafty Vatican corridors.
Pope Benedict’s taste for dressing up belongs to a long-established ecclesiastical tendency to preen that was parodied by Federico Fellini in his film “Roma.” The movie included a memorable ecclesiastical fashion show, with prelates modeling clerical habits on the runway.
In an image-conscious age, observers assess what the pope chooses to wear or not to wear in the context of the way he intends to address the considerable turmoil he has inherited in the Catholic Church. That simplicity of style, they say, extends into early signs that he wants to focus the church’s concern on the poor and the underprivileged. He has broken ground by continuing to live in the Vatican guesthouse rather than moving into the grand papal apartments in the Vatican palace.
During Holy Week, the most important feast in the Catholic calendar, Pope Francis is officiating over four days of Easter liturgy commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection.
On Thursday, he broke with tradition and washed the feet of a dozen inmates of a juvenile detention center in Rome, symbolizing Christ’s washing the feet of his apostles. In the past, popes have carried out this tradition by washing the feet of priests from the city’s many parishes.
The ceremonial in St. Peter’s on Friday and Saturday has been simplified considerably since the early 1970s, when the pope was carried into the basilica seated on a throne carried by six bearers. But even today, the Sistine Chapel choir sings Palestrina’s hymn “Tu es Petrus” (Thou art Peter) each time the pope makes his way into the church — a reminder of his link to the first pontiff of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis‘ preference for simple clothes, observers say, is partly because of his being Jesuit. The order’s only “uniform,” or habit, is a black cassock and a black sash, regardless of rank. In the immediate aftermath of the Vatican Council II, Jesuits, like many other diocesan clergy, switched to wearing ordinary clothes with, at most, clerical collars to identify themselves as priests.
But in 1982, Pope John Paul II tightened the ecclesiastical dress code by asking clerics to return to wearing the cassock “as a distinguishing mark” that contributes to “the beauty of the priest in his external behavior.” A couple of years ago, Benedict repeated the call that priests should wear cassocks.
According to Vatican folklore, it was the Jesuits who triggered John Paul’s initial directive. Shortly after his election, the pope summoned the Jesuit leadership triumvirate for their first papal meeting at the Vatican. So rare had wearing cassocks become that the Jesuit general, Father Pedro Arrupe, his deputy, Father Vincent O’Keefe (onetime president of Fordham University), and another senior Jesuit could find only two cassocks, and one of them presented himself in ordinary clothes. The pope was not pleased to receive them.