New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2018 / 16:07 pm
The papal pomp and Catholic circumstance on display at this year’s Met Gala in New York (aka the ‘Oscars of the East Coast’) was met with a combination of confusion and optimism from Catholic thinkers and writers.
The theme for this year’s annual gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, inspired equally creative and controversial attire, including the bedazzled, skin-baring papal ensemble worn by Rihanna, a pregnant Cardi B dressed up as Mary Queen of Heaven, and a Sistine chapel-inspired dress worn by Ariana Grande, among many other outfits emblazoned with crosses and icons and other Catholic-inspired paraphernalia.
The event kicked off the Met exhibit with the same theme, which features Church garments borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met collection, and 150 designer fashion pieces that were intended to pay homage to Catholicism.
Considered by some to be a perverse and often baffling event, many Catholic writers seemed reluctant to dub the gala as either completely sacreligious or as a stroke of New-Evangelization genius - most fell somewhere in the middle.
Ross Douthat, a Catholic columnist at the New York Times, called the gala a “beautiful and blasphemous spectacle” and noted that “When a living faith gets treated like a museum piece, it’s hard for its adherents to know whether to treat the moment as an opportunity for outreach or for outrage.”
While he lamented the lack of faith behind the fascination with Catholicism, Douthat did wonder whether there was a lesson for the present-day Church contained in the secular world’s enamoration with the trimmings and trappings of an older Catholic aesthetic - one that he said has largely taken a back seat in the Church since the Second Vatican Council.
“The path forward for the Catholic Church in the modern world is extraordinarily uncertain,” Douthat wrote. “But there is no plausible path that does not involve more of what was displayed and appropriated and blasphemed against in New York City Monday night, more of what once made Catholicism both great and weird, and could yet make it both again.”
Also lamenting the lack of real faith behind the display was Matthew Schmitz of First Things, who said that people should pay attention to the real Catholic imagination and the meaning behind it, and not the overly sentimental and shallow aesthetic Catholicism that was on display at the gala.
“The same faith that gave rise to these beautiful baubles proposed views on sexuality and social order that are contrary to the spirit of the age. It is foolish to suppose that either the Church’s teaching or its relics are mere artefacts that now have lost their power,” he said.