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. 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.
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.
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 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 article says that the Pope has impeccable taste but also notes it is more than aesthetics. Perhaps the Pope, as well as pointing the way for more dignified liturgical celebrations, is marking a "middle way" between those who favour the tridentine forms with "fiddle back " vestments and those who favour the more ample forms of the new use. Quite so; I think the Pope know exactly what he is doing and is this not a sign of the "reform of the Reform!" We note the Pope's celebrating facing east in the Sistine Chapel and his use of the "big six" candles even when celebraiting pro populo
The moto proprio is, of course, to be welcomed. However, the way forward is not just to revert to the past but also to make the new use have a sense of continuity.