The Heavenly Body
In an effort to create a conversation between faith and fashion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is currently employing 26 of its galleries in an exhibit entitled, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Over 40 treasures from the Sacristy of the Sistine Chapel are displayed along with creations from such contemporary designers as Donatella Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen, whose works were inspired by the artistry of the Catholic liturgical garments (including the Matisse chasuble from the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France) and jewelry (including a tiara given by Queen Isabella II of Spain to Pope Pius IX ). Although influenced by Catholic artifacts, one might say that the modern renditions are not exactly liturgical, though many are beautiful.
This exhibit at the Met is particularly appropriate for us to consider this Sunday, as we Catholics celebrate a different kind of “Heavenly Body,” that of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. It might be said that Jesus’ imagination was fully engaged when He decided to leave his disciples a way for Him to remain among them physically…by using common elements of bread and wine. Jesus transformed those elements, and the disciples’ understanding of them, into His Heavenly Body to provide sustenance and hope for them, and for us. Throughout the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, Catholics have engaged their religious imaginations in trying to comprehend the magnitude of the gift of the Eucharist, a mystery that defies reason but is firmly entrenched in the collective Catholic imagination and sustain us to this day.
We might not use our Catholic imagination to design garments that the world can view with awe, but we can employ it to stand in awe of the precious gift that the words “This is my Body… This is my Blood” represent. The Heavenly Body that we receive at Mass engages our imaginations to actualize our faith, our redemption, and our belief that love triumphs over death…until that time when we might all be considered heavenly bodies.