Mystery Babylon Fashion Show

UPDATE: It didn’t take long for the finger-pointing and blame-shifting to begin. Rome was not amused by the spectacle. The Pontifical Council for Culture got involved because of the Met’s prominence, but nobody told them about the Met Gala until too late. They loaned 40 pieces to the Met: “The wide range of objects shown includes a vast array of sacred paraments such as copes, chasubles, dalmatics, stoles, albs, episcopal mitres, papal tiaras, zucchettos, fascias, pectoral crosses, rings, and crosiers, as well as chalices and monstrances used in Eucharistic celebrations.” It was Cardinal Dolan and the Jesuits of America magazine who arranged the whole thing. So far, neither the cardinal or the Pope’s army seem to feel any need to justify or explain their involvement.

The annual Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala was just held, on May 7, 2018 in New York City. The  As usual, it was a shameless exhibition of excessive wealth, exotic consumption, elite privilege, and questionable taste. But this year’s theme, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination” took it too a whole new level. As Vogue described it, the event was to “sanctify its love of fashion” by creating “a dialogue between fashion and the masterworks of religious art in the museum’s holding.”

This gave Rihanna license to dress up as a bishop with bling or maybe a bedazzled popess, Zendaya as a glitzy Joan of Arc, former gospel singer Katy Perry to wear angel wings, and even a lady in a rainbow flag just to provide some timely political correct commentary. Some were quite odd: Ariana Grande wore the Sistine Chapel, Sarah Jessica Parker looked like a golden reliquary (I think), Lana del Rey rocked the Our Lady of Sorrows look,  and a string of would-be supermodels and stars got to show up sporting halos, crowns, tiaras, all kinds of heavenly bling. Even Lando Calrissian, (Donald Glover), and King T’Challa of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman) donned garb inspired by the pope, too. There were also bondage masks, a sexy bustier with strategically-placed gems, and a robe like a cardinal’s with a deep, scooped cleavage. Several models went overtly satanic, too, with Scarlet Woman red dresses with long trains. Madonna, who came demurely dressed and veiled in black, even performed her hit Like a Prayer, which  had caused her to lose Pepsi’s sponsorship back in the day. Check out the photo gallery.

Mystery Babylon Ball
Attendees at the Met Gala (l to r): Katy Perry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Madonna, Lana Del Rey and Jared Leto.

Did Cardinal Dolan, the Vatican’s chief man in the Big Apple, bemoan the event as obscene and thunder dire deprecations? No, he enjoyed a sneak preview as well as happily attending the event. He stated hours before the gala started:

“You may be asking what is the church doing, why is the church part of all of this?’’ Dolan acknowledged to reporters during a morning press conference, hours before he was set to attend the racy fashion bash.

“You may be asking, what is the cardinal archbishop of New York doing here? I asked that when I was invited several months ago,’’ he said jokingly.

“But think about it just for a moment. It’s because the church and the Catholic imagination — the theme of this exhibit — are all about three things: truth, goodness and beauty. That’s why we’re into things such as art, culture, music, literature and, yes, even fashion.’’

“Thanks to the Vatican for its historic cooperation. I’m honored to be here,” he added.

Indeed, asking why the cardinal was there effectively blessing the event is a most appropriate question. While of course there is a long and distinguished history of profound Catholic influences on art and all the rest, Dolan’s flip acknowledgement totally ignored the worldly nature of the attendees (to say the least) and the sexually-charged atmosphere of the event, which seemed quite a bit closer to the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut than an uplifting spiritual occasion. An actual Jesuit attending was even complimented for coming dressed as a “sexy priest”.

Did anyone scream accusations of anticatholicism? Not that I’ve been able to find. Nary a single word of criticism was uttered by Catholics save for this fellow against what in a less-depraved and jaded era would surely be rightfully regarded as near-blasphemy. In fact, a papal tiara was on loan along with 41 other items from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican. Because this was a celebration of high “Catholic Couture”, a tribute to the fashion-setting popes, cardinals, saints and divas, I mean, holy icons, of the Roman Catholic Church.

The spectacle wasn’t anywhere near offensive as it was absurd. Personally, all I could think of scrolling through the pictures, was Italian director Frederico Fellini’s bizarre ecclesiastical fashion show at the end of his 1972 surreal love letter to his favorite city, Roma, (a frame of which is featured above with an inset of the Met Gala title card).

So what’s my problem with such fun? Am I just being a joyless spoilsport and a hugely hypocritical one at that? After all, if anyone should appreciate jokes at the Church’s expense, I should. I’ve freely mocked the Catholic Church for decades, and have paraded around publicly a time or two in a papal costume as well. But the intent of my humor was always to get people to think and open their eyes to the truth. And I was very careful to never mock an article of faith, only the so-called practitioners of it.

These folks didn’t need to mock Catholicism – and most of course, were far too clueless. Yet the vestments, and the art, and all the rest has a sacred purpose. Holy, after all, means, to be separated from the world and dedicated to God. This, however,  was the exact opposite. It was determinedly unholy. To me, this whole affair was not a sign of intellectual liberation or clever outreach to the secular world as much as a cynical mockery, making light of the hypocrisy of the Church with its “preferential option for the poor” at the altar of the cult of celebrity. This was nothing less than a celebration of the Great Whore, Mystery Babylon herself – her debutante ball, perhaps. She is coming out, finally revealing her true nature for all to see:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.  The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:


 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. (Rev. 17:1-7)

Another sign of the end? They’re getting a lot more frequent, it seems…