LET’S TRY TO LOOK
DECENT IN CHURCH
When I was a kid attending a Presbyterian church, people dressed to the nines for Sunday service. Ladies wore hats. Gents came in suits. Little girls carried their collection money in their lace-trimmed white gloves. Little boys wore ties — grudgingly — and did their best to keep shirt tails tucked in.
Well…that was the 50s and early 60s. Times have changed.
When I began attending Catholic Mass, I was taken aback to see slacks on the women, open-neck knit shirts on the guys. That was the 70s. Things have gone completely to hell since then.
I’ve sung for funerals where people were in cut-offs and T-shirts. And from what I observe, church attire among Protestants is only slightly behind that of Catholics in the race toward total disregard.
Slovenliness is but one aspect of the situation. An anecdote…
I once observed a woman in a spaghetti-strapped tank top approach a priest for communion at daily Mass, her ample and unrestrained breasts in Jello-like animation. The priest was visibly disconcerted. And the next day, evidently after much reflection and weighing of words, he launched into something close to a tirade on modesty in church.
His homily grew in passion until he bellowed — half in anger and half in embarrassed confession — “I am not stone!”
The woman who had caused his consternation wasn’t on hand to receive his priestly wrath. Which was probably a good thing, from the standpoint of Christian charity. But I’ll bet she heard about it afterward.
So frustrating is the neatness / modesty / decorum issue to clergy that back in 2015, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence vented his spleen in Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan paper…
“Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.
“C’mon — even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck.”
Standard responses to such complaints often run along the lines of…
Well gee, at least people are coming to Mass.
How can we know that what some folks are wearing isn’t the best they have?
Maybe they’ve got to rush out to work right after church.
…or the particular variant of that last idea which I hear in my rural community…
Maybe they have to go plow their fields.
To all of which I reply…
Gimme a break! Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek,” not blessed are the slobs.
With warm weather upon us once more — the time of year that sees the most egregious wardrobe miscalculations — let me share the thoughts of a clergyman who approaches the issue in a somewhat gentler way than Bishop Tobin did (or me, for that matter).
Deacon John Amthor is pastoral assistant at Sacred Heart Parish in Hudson, Michigan, and its sister parish, St. Mary on the Lake in nearby Manitou Beach. In his weekly “Deacon’s Corner,” a column he writes for the parish bulletin, Deacon John recently offered these insights about appropriate dress at worship…
Although we do have dress codes for schools, courthouses, and workplaces, there is no formal dress code for Mass. Cannon Law is silent on the matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does provide some insight. But, our culture has dramatically moved toward casual and informal.
So essentially, within reason, we are free to wear whatever we want to Mass. But there are considerations to remember when taking that one last look in the mirror before we walk out the door.
Our Christian faith teaches humility, modesty, reverence, and respect. Respect for ourselves and each other — and respect for God.
Respect for others means we put aside vanity and pride so not to become a distraction during Holy Worship. Respect for ourselves means we consider our human dignity and that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Respect for God means we recognize His Presence by submitting ourselves to attire suitable for the solemn and Sacred celebration of the Holy Mass.
Our Catechism tells us purity requires modesty which guides how we behave in accord with our self-dignity. It says modesty is decency which “inspires one’s choice of clothing.” (CCC 2521).
Therefore, clothing is not so much about fashion or comfort. Clothing should inspire us to strive for a greater level of purity that is pleasing to our Heavenly Father. Our clothes say something about what we think or value. They also influence how we behave and feel.
Determining the proper attire for Mass boils down to this: what our culture deems acceptable, and what we believe is giving our best to God.
Informal, casual dress sends the message that nothing is really all that important. But going to God’s house IS important. Being in the Real Presence of Jesus is astounding. If we really think about what we are doing, where we are going, and who we are going to meet, shouldn’t we choose our best for God?
Psalm 96 says “Adore the Lord in holy attire.” Does God really care? I think so. Modest and respectful attire tells Him, and others, we understand and respect our own dignity and care enough to respect our Creator.
Culture points us towards tee shirts, bare skin, short skirts, scruffiness, distracting logos, and flip flops. But faith directs us to humble attire suitable for being with the King of Kings.
No matter what we wear, our clothing should be clean, neat, and respectfully appropriate. It should be modest and befitting for the House of God.
Sunday is special. God’s house is special. Our attire and behavior should reflect this truth every day of the week.
My thanks to Deacon John Amthor, a kind and charitable man. I hope you appreciated his thoughts as much as I did.
In a time when we’re hard-pressed to convince the world that religious faith is an aspect of national life worth protecting, we should try to show — at a minimum in our personal appearance — that it’s important to us.
Now, get your act together!
Here’s the link to an article on Bishop Tobin’s burst of righteous indignation about how people in Rhode Island dress for Mass. I think his observations apply just about everywhere…
Father Richard Heilman, Wisconsin State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, appeals especially to men to make a “small sacrifice” and dress appropriately at Mass…
“I have heard a lot of people say, ‘God looks on the heart. He sees that I love him even if I don’t dress up.’ WRONG. Love always manifests itself outwardly through acts of self-giving. Love is not a feeling, it is a choice to sacrifice yourself or something you value for someone else.”