Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Most conspicuous habit in the world: the appeal...

Did anyone stop to think (or ask) what the theological significance was of this now gone cornette?

There was the French Revolution and then there was the Cultural Revolution. Needless to say, it's been one culmiferous tumult (a truly violent agitation) for Catholics of the European continent.

Homologous moderns never got it. And they never will. And many others won't either. Cultural revolutions change lands. Today the focus is sexual release. But it used to be in large part about generosity and "oblation." At least the last chapter has yet to be written and oblation with its appeal is back.

Before our generation this order was the LARGEST womens religious order in the Church. And why? And this was their habit. Any questions?

N.B. Many thanks to the soul who sent this photo via electronic mail.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Practicality probably had a lot to do with it. I'm a huge proponent, as you know, of religious habits, but the cornette, as well as the many other large and elaborate headdresses of many of the pre-VII habits, were outrageously impractical. As well as expensive and difficult and time-consuming to maintain.

The cornette as it is remembered by people alive today, was a development, and a great exaggeration, of the starched white headdresses worn by women in the region of France in the time in which the Society was founded. The original headdress, and simple blue dress, was worn to help the sisters work inconspicuously in the streets of French towns and villages at a time when single women out on the streets alone were highly suspect and usually in danger.

Of course, it was not long before the habit became very recognisable, but this was after the sisters had become an accepted part of life. The society was founded at a time when it was very difficult, from a Catholic perspective, to have orders of 'active' nuns. The idea of women religious going about outside their convents, was outrageous to the French Catholics of this time, and was the reason the Order of the Visitation, founded by Ss. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, was eventually cloistered. When they started, the Visitation sisters visited people in their homes (hence the name), but in larger, more conservative cities, people would throw stones at the sisters, so horrified were they. It was not until St. Vincent de Paul founded the Sisters of Charity, that the idea of active religious was accepted.

Eventually, the much smaller and simpler and less conspicuous linen headdress evolved into the enormous cornette that we remember, of the time of St. Catherine Laboure. It was made by hand from white linen and had to be maintained daily by a small army of novices and postulants. In our times, the equipment that would be required to make one and maintain it would be prohibitively expensive for a religious order with a lot of members, since they can only be obtained by the extremely small number of companies that make such things for museums and specialty costumiers. It would also require a great many man-hours, or novice-hours, to keep them up.

They are also quite dangerous to wear, since they severely resticted vision. A not inconsiderable factor in today's rather hastened world of traffic.

I'm afraid that, lovely and romantic as it was, the cornette is gone and will not return. The Sisters of Charity remain, but as some form of new age socialist organisation that seems to have forgotten the religious purpose of their foundation.

It would be better, I think, to call for the re-establishment of St. Vincent's original concept (as it says to do in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, if I'm not mistaken), of a group of ladies in simple vows dedicated to serving Christ in his poor and for the salvation of souls.

Oh, I forgot. We've got that. It's now called the Missionaries of Charity.

Anonymous said...

The document on religious orders to which you refer, Hilary, is called "Perfectae Caritatis". The only reason to read it now is to laugh...