On the one hand, it seemed odd. Why would the minds behind the Met Gala — an event attended by famously secular, “do what you want, there is no truth” minded celebrities — pick a theme that literally has the word “Catholic” in the title? Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination is a pretty ardently Catholic theme, chosen to celebrate the opening of an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where very obviously Catholic stuff is on display — things like papal tiaras, items from the sacristy of the Sistine Chapel, religious vestments, even a relic of St. Valentine, all while sacred music is played overhead. The entire exhibit puts sacred images and items in full view, showing how Catholicism has influenced the world of fashion and art, and how the Church’s art has played a seemingly huge role in the imagination of designers and artists.
The annual Met Gala theme is based on the exhibit that’s opening, so this year, celebrities wore outfits that played upon this “Catholic imagination” theme. The clothes worn at the gala were designed to reflect the exhibit, calling attention to what was on display inside the museum — all that very Catholic stuff, and various displays of fashion influenced by the Catholic faith.
Celebs so Catholic
Rihanna wore a silver, glittery mitre. (Cardinal Dolan joked on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel that he loaned it to her).
Jared Leto wore a remarkably detailed, hand-embroidered stole. His long, flowy hair and the crown around his head paying homage to our crucified King, Jesus.
Katy Perry was an angel. Literally. She wore massive, feathered wings and had to enter the door sideways because she couldn’t fit through it.
Zendaya was in an armor-inspired dress, calling St. Joan of Arc to mind.
Ariana Grande was in a Vera Wang dress with the image of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” from the Sistine Chapel.
Stella Maxwell donned a dress covered with traditional images of Mary.
Lana del Rey wore a white gown with a gold heart upon her chest, 7 swords piercing the heart.
As I scrolled through the photos of these celebrities wearing visibly Catholic images upon their couture clothing, I didn’t get it. Why would they choose this Catholic theme, wear these Catholic-inspired clothes, and attend the opening of an exhibit with Catholic-influenced fashion and art if they themselves have no intention of being Catholic, following the tenets of the Catholic faith, and in fact, sometimes openly mock and disregard Catholicism?
How dare you?
I wanted to say “don’t appropriate my faith for your fashion.” I wanted to get offended and upset, because it seemed as if they were making fun of something I hold as the most significant aspect of my life.
I wanted to call them out on the hypocrisy: you dress up like Mary, but then live a life opposite of everything she is! You wear angel wings on your back, but clearly you don’t know that angels don’t have physical bodies, so joke’s on you! You wear the “Last Judgement” on your dress, well just get ready… because you will be judged for this some day!
And then it hit me. As I, faithful-passionate-devoted-Catholic-Katie was watching E! and gazing upon these dresses and suits covered in Catholic imagery, so were literally millions of other people, who perhaps themselves are not Catholic. They were seeing images of Mary, homages to saints, images of the Cross of Christ. They were literally watching a walking display of hundreds of years of Catholic tradition and, while I don’t think the Pope or any Bishop has a mitre that glitters as much as the one atop Rihanna’s head, they too have pointy hats that look kind of funny, and maybe one person saw her outfit (or any other) and was curious enough to research its origin, learn its meaning, and be exposed to some level of the depth, beauty, and glorious goodness of our Catholic faith.
An opportunity for even one
Even if just one person sees these outfits,visits the exhibit, and is inspired to learn more about the faith, Jesus, the Saints, and the history of our Church, then the Lord used this for good and led souls to Himself. Even one, because the Lord goes after the one. Even one, because the Lord values each soul that seeks him, even if that person don’t initially realize they are in pursuit of him. Even one, because even the single soul brought to Jesus Christ, even through the Met Gala, is a soul worthy of being pursued, loved, and made in his image and likeness.
The costumes and clothing and seemingly gaudy, potentially offensive fashion put, in full view for the secular world, a seemingly endless amount of Catholic tradition. I recognized the images. I immediately knew the references. My first reaction was, “Hey, that’s the Immaculate Heart of Mary!” But perhaps someone else, who is less exposed to Catholicism or has left the faith saw something they’d never seen before and were curious.
Maybe that silver heart with seven swords inspired someone to look up the background and history and be exposed to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Or maybe the dress with images of Mary led someone to the literally millions of images of Mary from over the centuries, and they began to learn about the Lord’s Mother — her humility, faithfulness, and the example she gives to us today.
Or even think about the hours of research and the meticulous attention to detail each designer probably had to give to each outfit. Vera Wang had to study Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” in order to properly reproduce it on a dress. That means she was staring at one of the most profoundly beautiful images we have as a Church; an image that calls to mind how we will all one day stand before the Lord and, hopefully, be judged worthy of eternal union with him. Jared Leto literally looked like Jesus, and he was wearing a gold crown. Millions of people saw a man dressed as our Lord and Savior, and saw our Lord portrayed as a King, which we know He is.
“The world is shot through with His glory”
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, attended the opening of the exhibit the morning of the Met Gala, and in his opening remarks said, “In the Catholic imagination, the truth, goodness, and beauty of God is reflected all over the place, even in fashion. The world is shot through with His glory and His presence.” Each gown and item on display in the museum’s exhibit is calling to mind our Catholic faith, paying homage to the remarkable influence Catholicism has had, even in the secular world, and is perhaps inspiring some to learn about this Church that we are devoted to and love. Rather than be offended or upset, perhaps we should recognize the chance this gives our Church – to be visible in the secular world, to even be praised for the beauty our Church provides and embodies, to be present in a world that needs to be reminded, again and again, of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.
This is not to say we are no longer reverent to our sacred images. We are still called to respect our tradition, honor the images and symbols of Jesus, his Mother, the Saints, and our Church, and recognize that each beautiful image and item is meant to direct our mind to heaven. They’re not meant for entertainment, attention, or fanfare for its own sake, but can ultimately lead us to an encounter with the Divine. We must be thoughtful enough to look for the difference between a distortion for attention and an interpretation of the profoundly beautiful and divine. We do this by recognizing the potential fruit the interpretation could bear.
The Met Gala, and its theme, allowed the Church to interact with a modern culture that largely appears to be disinterested with the sacred and divine. A Church that is often criticized for being “out of touch” and “too rigid” or even “close minded” was literally the inspiration behind a modern display of high fashion worn by famous celebrities who shape and influence cultural trends.
The gowns, suits, the entire exhibit displays the beautiful imagery of our faith in a secular space, which allows literally millions of people to see the depth and beauty of her tradition. Even the images that could be seen as poor interpretations, or misappropriating the tradition and imagery, are a chance for the Church to engage in conversation, teach the truth, and invite people to a deeper, truthful interpretation and better understanding of the beauty, and life-giving truth, of Catholicism. What we could instantly say is just a mockery could become a great opportunity to engage in charitable, honest, patient dialogue, helping lead someone to an understanding of our Faith and an encounter with Jesus Christ.
If they like the dresses, perhaps they’ll look at the Churches? If they enjoy the art, then perhaps they’ll discover the lives of the saints and the life of Christ that inspires it? If they’re willing to literally theme the event after the Catholic imagination, perhaps they’ll allow themselves to begin to imagine with the Catholic faith is, and begin to live it themselves?