Wednesday, May 16, 2012


In my never unending quest to divide the world into two types of people, today we have the division between those who dress casually for Mass in the summer and those who still keep much of their flesh covered even in parishes without air conditioning.  Once again whichever camp you may find yourself you are making a philosophical decision.

First are those who come to Mass “as is.”  It may be while on the way to the beach, the opera, the ball game, or just to be cool.  A basic principle here is “God loves me just as I am and you should too.”  I don’t really recall any passage in Scripture where Jesus chided someone for coming to hear him preach inappropriately dressed.  When he talked to prostitutes there is no record of Him asking them to cover their bare shoulders first.  If we want people to come to Mass, we need to be open to who they are and part of that is how they are dressed.

The second group come to Mass as if marking a special occasion or meeting somebody special.  The basic principle is, “God is worthy of at least the respect I show to my employer, a bride and groom at their wedding, or the judge at my trial.”  Though there were no instances of clothing concerning dress at Temple in the Bible, Jesus was meeting them where they were and lifting them to someplace else.  What did the elect wear in Revelation?  Shorts?  Fig leaves?  No.  They wore long white robes immaculately cleaned.  If we want people to take the Mass seriously then we need to expect a certain level of seriousness from them.
Is it untrue that we should accept people for who they are?  Of course it is.  There are people out there who simply do not have or do not understand the least about why or how to dress up much more than putting clean underwear on.  This is a tragic fact but true.  In my own life there have been times when I had to wear pretty outrageous outfits to Mass.  I was organist and had to show up but would be leaving Mass already late for my next “gig” and so came to dress in band uniforms and other costumes of various types.  If looked upon in a condemnatory fashion such people may not come back to Mass.  Is having rid ourselves of short shorts worth the loss of soul?

On the other hand are those who know and can dress better for Mass.  The idea that God loves me “as I am and so should you” is an inherently selfish one.  It is not about you.  It is about us.  And part of being “us” is showing respect to those around you.  The reason we dress up for a potential employer or the judge at our trial is because it shows respect for that person and a willingness to be part of the goings on.  We do not expect them to “take me for who I am,” an absolutely ridiculous thing to do.

So what to do?  There was a group of young people in Cleveland that thought people should be dressed up for the opera.  Instead of passing edicts they went out, got very nice clothes, and started setting the bar higher themselves.  So the first step is to take care of self and family first.  Show that it is possible to survive for an hour or so in the summer in one’s Sunday best.

The second is to not too quickly take others to task who look like they are rather going to a beach party.  The reason we hear of no clothing disputes with Jesus is that he first got to know people and then invited them higher.  Imagine the difference in these examples:  1) The look of “how dare you dress like that” and the loud whisper to another saying, “how could s/he come dressed to Mass like THAT?” or 2) Getting to know someone and saying, “Next Sunday we are going out to breakfast after Mass.  Why don’t we all get dressed up and go out together?” 

Of course the pastor must set the tone.  Some are better about it (or care more about it) than others.  It is a service I believe to invite others to the call to dress well at Mass.  It breaks us out of ourselves, unites us more closely together in a common cause, and creates an atmosphere that is more reverent.


Anonymous said...

One more observation about accepting others the way they are dressed; remember, not everyone has the means to shop at the local fashion mall. Some people ARE wearing their Sunday best--they just don't look like YOUR Sunday best. They are may be doing the best thay can just to have clean, presentable clothing, even if it is no longer fashionable.

Matt W said...

I have to put on clean underwear to dress up? I'm always the last to know.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father -

I am a member of SB-SM downtown, and we have a lot of students who attend Mass since we are close to the University of Akron (and we have many families with children). I have found that usually the students and children are fairly nicely, modestly dressed for the most part (possibly because we have an awesome Newman Center). The age group which seems to push the limits is, sadly, my age group and older. I will soon be 51, and we middle-aged parishioners, and some of the older parishioners, seem to have very little clue as to what consistitutes appropriate clothing for Mass. I am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and our pastor has advised us, the readers and the altar servers not to approach the altar if we are not dressed appropriately. We also are happy to welcome many visitors, who also are dressed rather casually.

I once was scheduled for duty as an EM when we had a large group of K of C men and their wives attending our Vigil Mass. They were to attend a cocktail party afterward, and they were dressed for it. The men were dressed appropriately, but many of the women (again, my age and older) were dressed in dresses were sleeveless with spaghetti straps (or strapless), low cleavage, short skirts, and clingy, shiny material. Another EM, who was a convert, asked me if the ladies were dressed properly - she was rather shocked, because as a Protestant, she would not have dreamed of dressing like that for church.

What is appropriate for the beach, the golf course, night clubs and cocktail parties is never appropriate for Mass.

Anonymous said...

the way to handle this situation is this: there are different classes of people . . . some people know how to dress appropriately . . . some don't . . . . personally, seeing someone at Mass in short shorts makes me uncomfortable . . . so what


Chris said...

Good post Father, but....
recall the parable of those not properly dressed for the wedding feast-they were thrown out wailing and gnashing their teeth!

Pat said...


A number of years ago, my 22 year old son chose not to received the Precious Blood at Easter because, he said, "the minister was not dressed." I saw that she was wearing a low cut neckline, showing more than was modest. My husband also noticed. When receiving the cup from her, he said, "There was no other place to look."

Yet, how does a priest (or male employer, for that matter) talk to a female lector or minister about an inappropriate outfit?

Anonymous said...

I actually think about this topic a lot. I do dress up when at church (in my thrift store finery). Actually, I dress up every day not really to show respect or to earn respect from other people, but because I love all things beautiful. Even my rosary is pretty. And I feel guilty about it.

On one hand you have the Catholic ascetics, wearing burlap sacks and smearing dirt on their faces, and cutting their hair off a la St. Clare. And we are told this is the holy, humble thing to do. And on the other hand, there is so much beauty in Catholicism: the church buildings themselves, the liturgy, the statues and icons of saints (I have yet to see an ugly saint).

So in the spirit of dividing the world into two groups, you have the ascetics vs. the artists, bland vs. beautiful. Who is right and what makes God more happy?

--Baby Catholic

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that when the clothing issue is discussed, people are quick to bring up that 1) some people are too poor to have nice clothes to wear to church or 2)the church is not air conditioned/weather is too hot.

However, in the U.S., the vast majority of "I come as I am" folks are not too poor to own nicer clothes nor are their parishes lacking A/C. I think we can all agree that this discussion is about these folks.

The Lord acts through the material world to give us the sacraments (water for baptism, bread and wine for Eucharist, oil for anointing, etc); why shouldn't we also act through the material world to convey to Him our respect for these sacraments. The fact is, what we are doing at Mass is not on the same level as any other activity we do, and that should be reflected in our appearance and behavior.

Fr. V said...

This is why you people are so awesome. Great comments - MW you made me laugh out loud. Last Anon I think you hit the nail on the head.

It really isn;t about fashion (well - in some places it saddly is) it is about those who can who choose not to be dressed well.

I spent some time in Zimbabwe and people who lived in mud huts and got their clothing from among the castaways from the West dressed very well in one of only two outfits that they had. SOmetimes it seems the poorer the parish, the more modest the dress. (Sometimes.)

No need to be fahionable or flashy - modesty and appropriateness. That is all that is needed.

Anonymous said...

God bless you Father,
This is a great topic.
We need to be aware of two entities at Mass. The Lord is present and where He is Holy and we need to show up in our finest and most modest apparel to worship him. We complain about air-conditioning or lack of it when it comes to working on our salvation but, we are happy to get sunburn, sitting at a game that at the end, really adds nothing to my wellbeing.

The other entity at Mass that we need to be aware of are the people participating with us in this worship and it is our duty to make sure nothing distract them from Mass. I used to dress in a somewhat revealing fashion with the attitude that I am wearing this because it looks good and I am not responsible to how someone reacts, until I heard someone struggling with sex addictions talk about how hard it is for him to go to Mass because of what some woman wear. That hit home hard

W.C. Hoag said...

A dress code is enforced for entry into Vatican City. The dress code forbids:

1) hats for lay men inside the basilica
2) shorts/skirts above the knees
3) sleeveless shirts
4) shirts exposing the navel
5) shirts for women that expose cleavage
6) shirts which contain profanity
7) excessive jewellery

Jennifer Fitz said...


How about if the pastor left it at two simple things:

-Require those in ministry to dress appropriately.

-Provide information in the brochure rack for those seeking advice on how to dress.

I don't think it's all that complicated.

Kate J said...

Msgr. Schuler used to put this in the bulletin each year when the weather turned warm:

"Dress in accordance with your faith."

A word to the wise is sufficient.

Fr. V said...


Wow. Ouch! Great.