And he wasn’t kidding!

Has anyone noticed the Pope’s wardrobe? I know most people could care less but I think the Vaticanologists and religion reporters are missing a quiet revolution going on right before our eyes. More important, it seems, than what Pope Benedict writes or how Pope Benedict speaks is what Pope Benedict wears.

John Paul liked to dress down. Memories of his mega-Masses call to mind simple, solid color vestments and a no-frills style. Benedict, by contrast, presents as a pontiff straight out of the 18th Century. Consider:

This man likes being pope…

John Paul showed up everywhere in a simple white cassock and sensible brown shoes. Benedict is all about the red velvet cape (mozzetta) and brocade stolls:

And ya gotta dig the pontifical footwear:

But this is the most jarring image of all:

No, the Holy Father isn’t playing Santa Claus – that red, ermine trimmed cap is called a camoura. And as far as ecclesiastical dress codes go, only the pope is allowed to wear one. Thing is, no pope has worn one publically in decades. (Even though John Paul wore the camoura for an official portrait early in his pontificate, he would not have been caught dead wearing one in public. And speaking of dead, John XXIII was buried — over 40 years ago — with a camoura on his head. So there ya go!)

And with the change of wardrobe came an overhaul of Vatican communications. The late pope did his writing in Polish and had it translated into Latin just before its official release. Not so with Pope Benedict. Word has it that official communications to and from the Pope are composed in Latin in the first instance. So popular, in fact, has Latin become that aspiring young seminarians have oversubscribed Latin classes at Rome’s pontifical universities.

And with the uptick in Latin comes the rumor that by next Christmas, Benedict will have restored the Latin Mass alongside the vernacular in parish churches throughout Christendom.

So when that old Cardinal strode out on the balcony of St Peter’s last April and announced, “Habemus Papam!”, he wasn’t kidding!