IN 1998, to celebrate the centennial of Philippine independence, the Monastery of the Transfiguration and Ayala Foundation, Inc. presented the Filipino Liturgical Vestments Exhibit in Ayala Museum. Benedictine monk Dom Martin de Jesus H. Gomez, OSB, created a 50-piece collection of liturgical vestments all made of indigenous handwoven materials from 20 weaving centers all over the country.
The collection was exhibited in the US later. It also became the centerpiece of the 2001 International Weaving Exposition there. Its last stop was at the Textile Museum of Canada. Last August 6, on the Solemnity of Our Lord?s Transfiguration, the Filipino Liturgical Vestments Exhibit finally opened at the Museum of Transfiguration Monastery, its permanent home.
From the sixth century down to our time, Benedictines have cultivated a type of art that St. Benedict had handed to them. As a young man, St. Benedict studied the classics in Rome, where he was imbued with the Roman culture. The culture of the Roman people revolved around such values as noble simplicity, sense of balance and harmony. These values are enshrined in the rule which St. Benedict wrote for monasteries.
Benedictines are famous for their works of art. St. Benedict?s Rule for Monasteries devotes Chapter 57 to the artisans of the monastery. The flowering of Benedictine art, which is classical in origin and by orientation, occurred in the Middle Ages. Benedictines are especially remembered for their artistic contribution in the area of liturgical worship: Magnificent Romanesque and stately Gothic churches; books of worship elaborately illuminated with designs and colors; liturgical music, many of which have come down to us under the name of Gregorian chant; sacred vessels for Holy Mass plated in gold and silver and studded with precious stones; and church murals that tell the history of salvation.
Benedictines were not only artists; they were also theologians, teachers and catechists. They used their artistic skills in the service of worship and doctrine.
This situates the work of Gomez in the broader perspective of Benedictine artistic tradition. What particularly catches attention is his skillful blending of classical art and the Filipino product. In his chasubles and stoles for Mass, the elements of noble simplicity, balance and harmony are woven into the local fabric.
St. Benedict enjoined his monks in the Rule (RB 55) that the material for clothing should be ?whatever is available in the vicinity.? There is no need to import goods that can be produced equally well or even better in the locality. Gomez took this principle seriously.
Having studied the history and theology of liturgical vestments, Gomez undertook the enterprising project of finding out what types of fabric were available in the country could be used for chasubles and stoles. His aim was to inculturate them in the Philippines.
To achieve his aim, he made a systematic research on the material, design, color and the use of cloths woven from native fibers. The research brought him to far-flung places in the country, not excluding the hinterlands. It took him several years, and I know the project has not been concluded. We expect more woven liturgical arts in the future.
Classical and native
Gomez weds Benedictine classical art with the native fabrics of the Philippines. The union is encouraged by liturgical norms on vestments. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal desires that ?the sacred vestments should contribute to the beauty of the sacred action.? The beauty of the liturgy consists among other things in a balanced and harmonious performance of the rites.
The vestments that Gomez crafted exude qualities of noble simplicity, balance and harmony. No element in them jars or jolts: Everything creates or recreates the sense of peace of mind and tranquility of the heart.
The instruction also makes the timely reminder that ?the beauty and nobility of a vestment should derive from the material used and the design, rather than from extraneous and lavish ornamentation.? In a word, vestments should be marked by the ancient rule of art, which is noble simplicity.
And Gomez has accomplished this. He matched noble simplicity, balance and harmony with native fabrics along the tradition of classical art and the Benedictine respect for native products.
These vestments are works of art. As such, they are enshrined to be admired and studied. They deserve utmost care, as St. Benedict desires for all utensils and goods of the monastery, which he likens to the ?sacred vessels of the altar? (RB31). As art products, they are not meant to be worn daily.
From a liturgical point of view, it is important to note that liturgy possesses the principle of progressive solemnity. Not all the days and feasts of the liturgical year claim equal value with Christmas and Easter, and thus simple days should not be celebrated with the glamor of a solemn feast. In a word, works of art are not for daily use. If they suffer injury, they cannot be replicated. The original piece is always unique.
These vestments, which have roamed around the country and the world, have finally come home to this worthy building, the Museum of Transfiguration Monastery (tel. 0917-5105585, 0927-9366360; e-mail dommartinosbyahoo.com), which Gomez also designed. Like the vestments, the museum itself demonstrates the principles of classic art and the use of indigenous materials, in this case, lime, which is indigenous to and plentiful in Bukidnon.
The Filipino liturgical vestments are exhibited here, rather than kept in the sacristy, so that they can be objects not only of admiration but also of serious study. They are exhibited in order to inspire other designers to continue in their own localities what Gomez has begun here. Hopefully, they will translate the principles of classical art and native fabrics for a broader community and for a wider, yes, even daily, use.
The author is the director of Paul VI Institute of Liturgy.