Sometimes we moderns instinctively feel that 'White' is not a colour; that White is a neutral blank sheet before we put upon it the red, the blue, the purple, the 'colours'. But No; White is not only a colour; it is a difficult colour to produce. The Transfiguration Lord wore robes "white as no fuller on earth could bleach them". In the ancient world, 'fulling' consisted of the use of chemicals most easily accessed through urine. This was why, in towns and cities, outside a fuller's shop were groin-high receptacles so that passers-by could provide fluid for recycling. The mixture fullers concocted was sometimes used as a punishment ... troublesome slaves were made to drink it.
White, I am saying, is not the absence of colour; it is itself a colour. And it is a colour which easily shows dirt (another clerical blogger recently described noticing that the S John Paul's cassock was rather grubby). Personally, I rather dislike white. My beard tends to wear away the black linen of a clerical shirt ... and, to stiffen the collar, the manufacturers put a band of plastic round the inside. And the b*****s always make it white plastic. Shirts would last me very much longer if the makers didn't have this fetich for white. Black plastic backing would give me a couple of years more wear than the Transfiguration White which begins to show through a couple of months after I start a new shirt. Or perhaps the makers craftily want shirts to wear out fast ... If any brother priest knows of shirts which have black backing to the neck-band ...
There have recently been pictures doing the rounds of Cardinals wearing completely plain black cassocks. Am I being cynical in suggesting that they may be signing up thereby to the new 'Francis' ethos of 'simplicity'? If so, good for them; I have no problems with it. I wish I'd known earlier so that I could have bought shares in Gamarelli's before this Cardinalitial rush dramatically enhanced their profits. But it does raise the question of whether the Holy Father himself ought to follow their lead. As Benedict XVI pointed out, red is the historical colour for popes*. The increasing use by Roman Pontiffs of Transfiguration White is a recent fad (modo) closely associated with the rather questionable Personality Cult of the popes since Pio Nono.
Now that Cardinals are too nervous to wear red, the decent thing would be for the Pope himself to give up his rather ostentatiously flashy Transfiguration White, which seems to shout "Look how unique I am! Look how pure I am!", and to revert to the historically correct papal Red. It would be ecological, too. His cassocks wouldn't need to be cleaned so often, and so he would be saving on expenditure and demonstrating an ecological instinct. Go on, Jorge! You know it makes sense!
Red is the new Green and the new White!
*See my Narcissistic Butterflies, especially Episode the Third.
23 May 2014
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