The probable ghost writer of the book with H.E. Piero Marini’s name on it A Challenging Reform, Fr. Keith Pecklers, SJ, has contributed a piece to the ultra-lefty The Tablet.
My emphases and comments.
Vested with symbolism
Keith F. Pecklers
With reports circulating that the Pope has commissioned a set of vestments based on those worn by the first Medici pope, Leo X, a specialist in liturgy examines the significance of the sartorial choices of Benedict XVI, who is clearly keenly aware of the messages embedded in the garments’ use
A couple of years ago, when I was invited by the Serbian Orthodox Church to deliver several lectures at its Theological Institute in Belgrade, I had the occasion to meet privately with a small group of Serbian Orthodox bishops. During our discussion, one of the senior bishops who has been compared to Joseph Ratzinger both for his theological acumen and linguistic ability raised the subject of Pope Benedict’s return to the ancient form of the pallium: "You have no idea what that has meant for us in the Serbian Orthodox Church," he said. "As that form of the pallium comes from the first millennium before the tragic rupture of 1054, we interpret this as a strong symbolic affirmation on the part of the Holy Father of his deep desire for the reunification of Christendom between East and West."
Like other elements within the liturgy, vesture is itself symbolic and papal vesture, all the more so. Thus, the fact that Pope Benedict has shown a greater interest in what he wears than had his recent predecessors, raises questions not only about the particular style of vesture being donned, but also about the symbolic message that is communicated therein. [So far so good. I have been contending that Benedict XVI's choice of vestments does in fact mean something, and it is part of his objective to shore up Catholic identity. Let's see what Pecklers thinks.] In his non-liturgical dress during papal audiences and processions, the Holy Father has restored use of the papal cape, or mozzetta, with its origins in the thirteenth century and last worn by Paul VI, made of red velvet, trimmed in ermine and lined with silk. He has also restored usage of the matching red velvet papal winter hat or camauro which has its origins in the twelfth century but was last worn by Pope John XXIII.
Within the context of liturgical celebrations, Pope Benedict has presided in a  cope of Pope Pius IX, worn the  mitre of Pope Benedict XV (pope 1914-22) (also used by Pope Pius XII in the Holy Year of 1950 and last worn by John Paul I at the Mass to inaugurate his pontificate), and a  mitre of Pope Pius IX (pope 1846-78) worn for the opening of Vatican Council I. Pope Benedict has also used the elaborately carved wooden  papal throne of Pope Leo XIII (pope 1878-1903). On Ash Wednesday, the Pope presided at the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, wearing a  chasuble which had been commissioned in the style of a vestment collection from the pontificate of the Borghese Pope Paul V (1605-21). During the French Revolution many papal vestments had been burned in order to retrieve the gold woven into them. But two dalmatics remained from that collection of Paul V, and it was possible to reconstruct the pattern of the chasuble from the design of the dalmatics. [Interesting!] In recent weeks, reports surfaced that a set of 30 new vestments had been commissioned for Palm Sunday, which would have found the Pope presiding in a chasuble whose design came from the pontificate of Pope Leo X (1513-21) but bearing Benedict XVI’s coat of arms. It now appears, however, that those vestments will be reserved for another occasion, perhaps the Feast of Pentecost.
The fundamental question, of course, is what do all of these sartorial innovations actually mean? Conservative blogs [I think he may be talking about us.] are rejoicing that these changes give a clear signal that the Pope is bent on rescuing the worship of the Roman Catholic Church from those of the past 40 years who nearly destroyed it. [Fr. Pecklers will always defend Archbp. Marini.] They point to the changes that have been registered since the  appointment last October of Mgr Guido Marini as the new Papal Master of Ceremonies: the  placement of the cross and six candles on the papal altar; the return to the use of  cardinal deacons who function in the role as liturgical deacons during papal celebrations vested in dalmatics and mitres; a return to the use of  lace in albs and surplices; the Holy Father’s celebrating  Mass in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord "ad orientem" – toward the east. Critics of papal liturgies in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II lament the fact that the Pope was reduced to celebrating as if simply the bishop of any diocese – albeit on a grand scale – while the Bishop of Rome is really a monarch and thus, papal liturgical celebrations should better express this. [I think this may be unfair. I don't recall seeing people in the blogosphere arguing that the Pope should have older things or specifically "papal" thing because he is also a monarch. I have certainly never argued that. As a matter of fact, I suggested that the Pope should celebrate a TLM as a regular pontifical Mass without trying to do all the old stuff requiring the papal court, etc.] By contrast, in his motu proprio of 21 June 1968, "Pontificalia Insignia", Pope Paul VI sought to simplify and clarify the use of pontifical insignia for all prelates linked to the Roman pontiff.
Conservative critics, then, see these changes in papal vesture as indicative of a wider papal liturgical reform under way. [This is correct.] Perhaps they are correct, [as I said] although the reality appears to be much more enigmatic and complex. [He we go...] First, there is the personal style and taste of the Pope himself. Those who knew him well as Archbishop of Munich-Freising and then at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attest to his extraordinary attention to detail and his impeccable taste – both personally and in his official liturgical functioning. Like his brother Georg, Pope Benedict has a refined artistic sense which goes far beyond his talent as an accomplished pianist. His love of Gregorian chant, his nostalgia for the old liturgy – its artistic beauty and reverence – is clearly exhibited in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy and to a certain extent also in his motu proprio of last July, "Summorum Pontificum", which granted permission for wider usage of the Tridentine Rite. So the fact that we are seeing a return to the use of antique vestments and patterns or vestment styles of former centuries should not come as a complete surprise. [So, Fr. Pecklers is suggesting that the Pope is a bit of an aesthete?]
In the eleventh century when the chasuble came to be reserved for the celebration of Mass, it was ample and bell-shaped in its design. But by the thirteenth century it had become a more restricted garment so as to use less material and also be less cumbersome for the celebrant. That vestment’s style and measure was further reduced in the post-Tridentine period and especially in the eighteenth century, cutting off the sides of the chasuble and creating what came to be popularly called the "fiddle-back". Thus, gradually, the Gothic penchant for the oval-shaped chasuble gave way to the less copious baroque vestment without sleeves which tended to be made with heavier, stiff brocades. [Interesting material here, he is setting up something in the next paragraph.]
Clearly, Pope Benedict is well acquainted with the evolution of the chasuble and has particular reasons for choosing to adopt a liturgical style from one historical epoch as opposed to another. The vestments worn by the Pope on Ash Wednesday, along with the new set of vestments mentioned earlier, is a via media [indeed... as I said in my writing about that vestment, it is the first real organic development of vestments. In a way, the very vestment seems like an icon of what Benedict is proposing: a hermeneutic of reform rather than of rupture. Benedict is healing the rupture that occurred in liturgy. On the other hand, the liturgical ] between the more ample Gothic chasuble of the medieval period and the more limited Roman chasuble in the latter part of the baroque period. It is much longer than the "fiddle-back" chasuble in the front, and its sides reach almost to the elbows. However, the vestment is similar to that later Roman model in its stole which widens at the bottom, and also in its elaborate decoration.
The Pope’s choice to adopt this particular style can also be interpreted as a via media on a symbolic level – between proponents of the Tridentine Rite who associate the "fiddle-back" Roman chasuble as the only fitting garment for the celebration of Mass, and those who prefer the more ample Gothic style with its association with a style of worship closer to the new rite. So there may be something more significant being communicated here on a symbolic level than a mere issue of liturgical style or taste, not unlike the strong symbolic message communicated by returning to a form of the pallium from the first millennium. [There is a bit of a problem here. I don't think that most "proponents of the Tridentine Rite" see Roman style "fiddle-back" chasubles as the "only fitting garment" for Mass. That just isn't right. There might be slight preference in that direction, but I don't find many people insisting on this point. They just want decent, beautiful vestments. However, the so-called "gothic" style, was indeed the darling, nearly the obsession, of some of the progressivists during and after the Liturgical Movement.]
To what extent are these liturgical changes being proposed by the Pope himself or by his new Papal Master of Ceremonies? I would suspect that it is a combination of the two. Clearly, given his strong liturgical tastes, if the Holy Father were not in agreement with what Mgr Marini had proposed, he would not grant his approval for the changes to be made. The question, of course, is why return to one historical period and not another? Why, for example, choose styles and patterns from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries rather than the older Gothic vestment styles of the medieval period? That remains an open question. Suffice it to say, however, that as this papacy proceeds we can expect further innovations in papal liturgical celebrations.
Remember… Pecklers is really defending the old Piero Marini style. The real heroes for Fr. Pecklers are H.E. Piero Marini and Paul VI who issued Pontificalia insignia.
What is subtle here is Pecklers’s careful use of the rhetorical device accumulatio. Fr. Pecklers doesn’t say anything wrong. He doesn’t go over the top in criticizing the Pope. He is careful not to say anything too negative, but the slow accumulation of subtle comments leaves you with a final impression by the time you get to the end of the piece: this is really beyond the Pope’s personal taste ("He happens to lke baroque vestments."), it is about aestheticism.
Critics of this Pope and of Summorum Pontificum will try to smear the whole issue with a sublte suggestion that this trad stuff is all rather precious, maybe not even manly.
This was done, for example, by Fr. Mark Francis, in the same The Tablet. Francis is also one of the three editors of the book that came out under Archbp. Piero Marini’s name, with Pecklers himself and John Page.
Still, Pecklers does point out that there may be something going on with these liturgical choices. He raises the question, "why return to one historical period and not another"?
It may be because of the nature of the period Benedict seems to be going back to: the counter-reformation, a period of transition, a bridge between the medieval and modern times.