Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thoughts On Modern Changes In The Church

 A Sister of Providence wearing the traditional habit in the 1950's.
That little girl on the right could have been me!
JMJ    Catholicism has always been known for its beauty of worship.  Our churches here in America, the most beautiful having been built in the past two centuries with the labor of dedicated parishioners ... our devotion through singular Catholic music .... all of the traditions of ritual and dress from long ago ... they are the outward signs of inward worship.  It has been a great sorrow to me to see so many of them change during my lifetime, and I miss them deeply.

I am speaking here of two issues that are of particular sadness to me, both of which have changed the landscape of daily Catholic life.  First, I miss seeing the Sisters in their habits.  The nuns are an essential part of the Faith -- they have educated generations of children, nursed the sick, countless other services, all without personal gain and with utmost dedication.  I miss being able to recognize them.  I never felt any objection to the habits being modernized ... the long flowing skirts and some of the larger coifs limit movement and side-vision, and are certainly not conducive to driving or other modern activities that did not exist when the style of dress of another era was worn.  But why were they discarded altogether?  Every piece of a nun's habit symbolized something about the life and love of Christ.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to nuns today ... they are just as dedicated and holy as their elder sisters, but it is sad that you can't tell a nun from any other woman on the street, to say "Good morning, Sister" and feel that simple reminder of service to God.  Some orders of enclosed nuns do wear the habit, but we do not see them unless we go to their monasteries.  Most active orders of nuns wear completely secular dress, with only a small cross to identify them.  I too wear a small cross, as do many other Catholic women, and we are not Sisters.  That is a sadly lacking type of identification for nuns.

Traditional habits of different orders of nuns:

The traditional habit
of the Dominican Sisters
This is St. Bernadette Soubirous
in the habit of the Sisters of Nev'ers
The traditional, ancient cornett that used
to be worn by the Daughters of Charity

Newer habits that retain the look of a nun, but with modern features -- great idea:

Nursing nuns with modern habits
which identify them but allow complete
freedom of movement for their daily work

Modern habit  just right for a hot climate!

The old and the new -- I love this sweet picture

The second change is one that I personally feel removed an important part of Catholic identity.  Mass is still Mass, and always will be, but I miss the beauty and distinction of the Latin language that was part of Catholic worship for centuries.  Latin was the great equalizer.  You could go into any Catholic Church in any part of the world and Mass was the same there as at home.  You knew just what was being said and were comfortable.  Now, what was meant to be a decision that would make everyone feel easy in their own language, has really split us apart.  For instance, most parishes here in Indianapolis have Masses in English and in Spanish.  It sounds nice, but it seems to me that it results in what is essentially two parish families, with too little cross-over in community life.  With the Latin Mass, we all went to Mass together, whatever personal language we spoke. Gathering after mass, we would have a chance to get to know one another, to learn to communicate by putting ourselves out, become educated enough to start with simple hellos and go from there.  Perhaps I have an optimistic viewpoint about that, but after all, it is a Christian's duty to be open to friendship within a parish, surely a better system than we have now.

In its understandable desire for the sake of ecumenical unity with other Christians, I believe that the Church has discarded essental aspects, kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  There are other ways to practice unity without losing our Catholic identity.  To my mind, our Sisters as a recognizable human quotient of the Church, and the ancient language of the Mass, are two definitive aspects of Catholicism, the loss of which is a great loss for us.


Amelia Garland said...

I totally agree! I love seeing nuns in habits! I have a friend who is discerning and she will only visit convents where the sisters don a habit!

ClassicBecky said...

Hi Amelia! So glad to see you come over and visit. It's nice to hear someone else who feels the same way. I imagine many Catholics do, but they just are not as vocal about it as Catholics that don't! As for Latin Mass, I've met very few people who want it, particularly of course younger people who never experienced it.

Paul Lim said...

Nice article.

Personally, I like vowed religious in habits. (I think I'm just generally a more formal person.) However when it comes down to it, the religious habit is an external. When I studied at Saint Meinrad, the monks were required to where their habits at Mass, morning/evening prayer, and at other certain functions during the daily routine. Outside of that, some of the monks wore their habit all the time, some never, and most were somewhere in between. Where ever a particular monk was on that spectrum, it didn't seem to really matter in the bigger picture. What was important was trying to follow the Rule of St Benedict. A man can wear a religious habit every day of his life- that doesn't make him a monk. A monk can never wear his habit other than the day of his profession, yet he could be the most faithful monk you'll ever meet.

I also have to admit that there's something neat to each religious order, society, or congregation deciding their own particulars, including whether or not a religious habit is worn. This allows a better response to God's call from individual discerning the vocation. Not all religious orders are created the same, just like the individuals who are called to that particular way of life.

ClassicBecky said...

Glad to see you here, Paul. Of course I agree that the habit does not make the monk or nun. There are times in daily life when anyone needs or just feels like wearing something else. My feeling is that when religious are in public, they should wear the habit, to be a visual witness to all, and to allow other Catholics to recognize and honor them.

Your point about each order deciding upon their own habit has history behind it. They always have worn different habits for different orders. I just wish the Sisters would wear some kind of habit, even if just a simple dress and short veil, something to identify them. It's not much of a witness to look like any other woman. But I understand the point ... it's just a personal feeling.

Justin said...

Great blogs Becky! And welcome to the blogging world :)

Keep it up!

God bless

ClassicBecky said...

Thanks so much, Justin. Good to see you here! Your blog is now on my blogroll so I can follow your posts.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of an odd sight that I saw in 1970. One of our nuns was was speaking with a female student in front of the convent on a windy day. The sister wore a little veil perched on her bouffant hairdo (!) and a skirt to her knees. She kept one hand on her dress, to keep it from blowing upwards, and one hand on her veil, to keep it from blowing off. The student wore the then popular "maxicoat", which went to her ankles, and - she stood there unruffled. Re: the loss of habits, I know PROTESTANTS who are sorry that Catholic sisters gave them up. Odd that male members of religous orders have kept their habits. Go to a convention of Dominicans and you'll often see the men dressed in white traditional habits, and the women in lay clothes. Go figure!

I too prefer the old Latin Mass by the way. Even with a recent return to a more formal liturgy, some priests still think we're in the 1960's and make the Mass a touchy-feely side show. The Mass is sacred drama, formed over centuries, no different in some respects than a work by Bach. When we perform Bach, we follow the "format", give ourselves up to the music, and it takes us where Bach intended it to take us. Same with the Mass, we submit to its demands, become one people in the process, and are connected to God, the saints, and our ancestors who worshiped in the same way. The Mass has NEVER existed solely in the here and now, and shouldn't be subject to trendiness and tinkering in that vein.

Anonymous said...

The person who said that the picture of the Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods got one thing right - the Community. I assure you that the picture is not from the 1950s - they did not wear that Habit until 1961. And for those who think women religious should wear this style garb: Wear it yourself for a day, then let's talk.