What Does it Mean that Cappa Magna is Back in the Catholic Church?

cappa magnaFor those following the Catholic liturgical calendar, last Sunday was the 32nd in Ordinary Time and the Gospel reading was Mark 12:38-44. This is the familiar reading where Jesus criticises the scribes for wearing their long robes out in public, to gain the esteem of onlookers. After that, he praises the humble widow who gives all that she has in the temple offering.

For the last several years I’ve been using books published by the Redemptorists, which offer short meditations on the gospel reading for each week during the year. This year’s book, by Ciarán O’Callaghan, is called The Year of the Suffering Servant: Getting More out of Sunday Mass in the Year of Mark (Redemptorist Communications Ireland, 2011).

At the end of each reading is a section called ‘Coming back for another look.’ This week I was intrigued by what O’Callaghan asked us to think about in light of this scripture passage. The previous week, he had asked us to think about whether the Catholic Church is in retreat from Vatican II, and this week he offers what he sees as evidence of this: a resurgence in clericalism, as symbolised by the re-introduction of cappa magna. Here’s what he says:

Ciarán O’Callaghan on Cappa Magna

This is a text that needs careful reading by all in the Church, but especially by those in positions of leadership and influence. The kind of religious hypocrisy that Jesus condemns in the scribes can occur in any religion at any time. I offered my view last week that the Catholic Church is in retreat from the vision and renewal of Vatican II. For me, another sign of this is that in recent times some cardinals and bishops have begun to wear once more a long robe called cappa magna which has not been used since 1969. It’s a seven-metre long silken train with a huge hood lined with ermine in winter and silk in summer. Cardinals wear a red cappa magna while bishops wear a purple one. I do not suggest for one moment that those who wear this ridiculous garment are in any way comparable to the scribes of Jesus’ day.

  • But what does it mean that some of our Church leaders do so in Jesus’ name in the midst of the worst economic recession the world has ever faced and in the context of the gravest crisis our Church has known?

  • What does it mean in the context of Jesus’ words in today’s reading?

Jesus called his disciples to let go of so much for the sake of the Gospel – trades, possessions and families. He challenged them to give their very selves for the Gospel. Above all, they were to serve others even to the point of giving their lives as he would at Golgotha. In this regard, the widow in the Temple models Jesus’ idea of discipleship for all who would follow him.

4 thoughts on “What Does it Mean that Cappa Magna is Back in the Catholic Church?”

  1. Probably why the Holy Spirit guided the Cardinals in their selection of Pope Francis.

    I like traditional ornate liturgy and Latin but agree the cappa magna is ridiculous. It’s the wrong means of trying to attain a good end, name;y, order solemnity and dignity in gathering to celebrate the Lord’s supper —an issue by the way Paul contends with in several of his epsitles. 1 Cor chapters 12 -14 come to mind though there are others

    Nice blog Gladys it’s my first time here,


  2. Gladys,

    You say that clergy wearing the cappa magna is not akin to the Scribes of the Bible (correct, for many reasons), but criticize its use instead on the basis of a downturned economy. For one, you must surely understand that many of the ornate vestments, churches, sacramentals, and art that the Catholic Church uses have been on hand for years if not decades or centuries. Many ornate and beautiful vestments which give beauty to worship of God have been handed down in Churches from priest to priest, some for generations.

    Further, your characterization of today’s difficulties in the Western and global economies as some sort of worst tragedy the world has ever seen is, well… rather sensationalistic. If you want to make a point, perhaps it would be stronger without thinly transparent sensationalism.

    Finally, the Catholic Church already is the world’s largest source of relief. This idea that the Church should abandon all tradition and instead just give over everything it has or has done to further the mission of relief is silly. The very liturgy and the beauty of our faith is what engages many people with Christ through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; those same people who, when increased and well engaged, give more to the Catholic Church’s already immensely extensive charitable and relief work around the globe.

    To suggest that the world’s largest source of relief and aid could be doing more by nixing a few vestments is pretty weak. I’m sorry I don’t buy your point of view. At all.

    Finally, the cappa magna and vestments and the “smells and bells” of Catholic tradition are non-verbal means of communicating things. If we should do away with communicating what these symbolic, illustrative, and indicative traditions communicate so that we could make three or four more sandwiches, then you should as well: your own argument, by extension, would favor getting rid of your website, as a means to communicate and show your ideas and ideas to others, and instead giving the money and time you would have used on the website to the poor.

    In fact, this extension of your argument makes more practical sense. Whereas the Catholic Church is already a massive force in worldwide charity and aid (not to mention spiritual care), I assume you yourself are not already saving the world at this magnitude. Therefore, eliminating your unnecessary things in the name of charity should come first. N’est-ce pas?

  3. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on His Second Coming, will be dressed in Cappa Magna. Cappa Magna IS biblical:

    Revelation 19:13-14: “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”

    See artist’s depiction here:

  4. How does that Revelations passage say Jesus will be wearing a cappa magna? It doesn’t say that at all. It may be your interpretation, but that is hardly dispositive.

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