The correlation between strict orthodoxy and fabulous outifts is a long one, as this Harvard Advocate piece points out. Money quote:

"[T]he Catholic use of art and design to broadcast a message of strength and authority in times of transition is not new. In response to the Protestant Reformation, Baroque art became the propaganda of the Counterreformation. As Protestantism embraced a simpler aesthetic, Catholic art became more extravagant. The new churches rejected such indulgences as idolatrous and sinful. Catholics, however, played up this dichotomy in order to assert their identity as well as influence the hearts and minds of everyday churchgoers who marveled at the glory of the cathedrals and representations of holy figures. Protestants may have offered a more intimate relationship to God through study of the Bible, but Catholics put on a better show..."

The NCR sees this a little differently:

It has become apparent in recent years that there's been an upsurge in historical ecclesiastical finery and other goods. We've seen more birettas (those funny three-peak hats with the fuzzy ball on top that come in different colors depending on clerical rank) and cassocks (the kind with real buttons, no zippers for the purists) and ecclesiastically correct color shoes and socks, lots of lacy surplices and even the capa magna (yards and yards of silk, a cape long enough that it has to be attended by two altar boys or seminarians, also in full regalia). In some places they're even naming monsignors again.
It's as if someone has discovered a props closet full of old stuff and they're putting it out all over the stage. ...

It really is the Age of Conservative Denial, isn't it?

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