DRESSING FOR CHURCH
IS A VERY HOT TOPIC
Last Saturday’s post — in which I raised the issue of wearing slovenly and/or immodest clothing at Mass — really struck a chord.
Each of the Facebook pages and discussion groups to which I linked the article has brimmed over with “Likes.” I’ve had more hits on this piece than any other essay in the history of my blog. Numerous comments have been posted all over.
Obviously, feelings about this topic are strong.
Most people agree with the point made by both Deacon John Amthor and myself that worship attire could stand some improvement.
But not everybody.
One objector put his view quite succinctly…
“Bullsh-t. Come as you are. God don’t care about how you dress. God cares about your heart.”
He saw the idea of applying standards to our physical appearance as a “doctrine of man,” which he rejects.
Another reader — named Lamont — had a similar edge to his critique, but he offered it with considerably more wit…
“If Bill’s blog article, ‘Holy Attire,’ doesn’t have young people, poverty stricken, homeless folks and the working poor beating a path to the Church’s front door, what will, pray tell?”
Pressing his point, Lamont suggested…
“But then again, maybe some of us wouldn’t want that. Those people can smell bad, ya know? Eeeew!!! And, in this hot, muggy weather, who wants to sit in cramped, overly full pews? (Shudder)”
His coup de grâce was a reference to Matthew 23:27, one of Jesus’ more barbed comments about hypocrisy…
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are filled with dead men’s bones and every unclean thing.”
Now, one might counter this with an earlier passage from Matthew that tells of a man who came to a wedding improperly dressed…
“The king told his attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the dark, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Mathew 22:13)
…but let’s not get into dueling Scripture verses.
Lamont does raise a question worth exploring…
Would some people be dissuaded from coming to church if they thought they were expected to dress up? And if so, is the current casual style more welcoming? Might it actually be an inducement to worship?
One hears all the time about the fall-off in church attendance. Would things be worse if we still maintained the prim fashion habits of the 1950s?
Of course, one could also ask…
Were those ’50s expectations a stumbling block back then? Did some folks avoid church because they felt shamed by their humble wardrobes or assumed that suits and dresses on worshippers indicated snobbishness?
It’s possible. As I noted in my last post, people “dressed to the nines” at the Presbyterian church I attended as a kid. (I can’t speak for Catholic parishes, since I wasn’t Catholic in those days.)
But then, suits and dresses were the norm in pretty much all public settings. As a commenter named Monica pointed out…
“Not only did we dress the same in the Catholic Church, but I look back at old films of baseball games, and the men were in ties….”
I don’t think that the frustration about improper attire at Mass indicates a lack of empathy for the poor. People can make distinctions.
In an article I linked at the end of my post, Father Richard Heilman, Wisconsin State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, observed…
“A ranch hand in rural Montana or poor migrant worker is not held to the same standards as a wealthy Wall Street executive. No matter where we live, though, we should all have ‘Sunday best’ — clothes we wear that are nicer than what we wear every day.”
In any event, we can’t assume that people who dress in ways that raise eyebrows are hurting for cash. And even in discounts stores clothes aren’t necessarily cheap.
Hey, those blouses with holes where the shoulders ought to be haven’t been designed like that to save cost by eliminating fabric.
A commenter named Christian put the situation well when he suggested that what we’re seeing in church is a symptom of…
“the Casualization of the West.”
He’s right. As a culture, we’ve elevated comfort and informality to the status of moral imperatives. Traditional understandings of taste and propriety have been downgraded in the process. This is evident in the appearance and comportment of people generally.
So — per Lamont’s point — here’s my question…
Would more rigorous standards of dress keep people away from church, or would it heighten the sense of sanctity, making the opportunity to worship more attractive?
I’d very much like to know your thoughts on the matter. Please share them in the Comments section below…