Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dress for Mass

I posted the following as a comment in the discussion going on at Catholic Mother Danielle Bean's blog about dress for Mass:

How many of us remember what “Church” really means? As Catholics, we are not simply entering a gathering space, a meeting hall, or a worship space – we are entering the House of God. If we truly believe in the absolutely real presence of the Creator of the Universe within the Eucharist, then a visit there is infinitely more monumental than a visit to the White House. We would never dream of “casually” presenting ourselves before an earthly ruler or king – so why should have any different attitude about presenting ourselves before the Kings of Kings? Sometimes it’s the little reminders that help us put things in perspective. How would we want to dress for an audience with the Holy Father? Each time we are at Mass, we are having an audience with not just the Vicar of Christ, but with Christ Himself! Is God able to see past our outward appearance and know the state of our hearts? Of course. Is a well-dressed Mass-goer with a “Pharisee” heart very pleasing to Him? Probably not. But at the same time, does he “care” what we wear? I would say definitely. Our outward appearance is often a very tangible reflection of our inner attitude. Our inner reverence should be conveyed by our dress and deportment. Also take into consideration that while God looks on the heart, we human creatures can only see the outside. We are physical beings, and we are affected by those around us. The Language of the Body is incredibly powerful. What kind of an attitude are you communicating to those around you when you go to Mass? Would they be able to look at you and know the sacredness of the sacrifice you are participating in?

Perhaps part of the difficulty here is that current American culture thinks there are only two modes of dressing: casual (usually meaning sloppy), or formal. The category “comfortable dressy” is probably foreign to most. It’s assumed that to wear a skirt, you’ll have to endure the nylons and high heels as well, when in fact there is a delightful “middle mode”. Believe it or not, it is possible to be comfortable, semi-dressy, and modest all at the same time. For a ladies’ example, a comfortable button-down blouse, floral cotton skirt, and closed-toe leather sandals in summer. Or a corduroy skirt, nice sweater, and comfortable leather slip-ons or buckle shoes with knee socks in winter. (Spandex or cotton leggings can also be a great addition for warmth and rarely show under a long, pretty skirt!).

My highest praise goes out to those priests and pastors courageous enough to challenge their parishioners on this subject, particularly by enforcing dress codes. Part of the problem in many parishes today is that we are not being challenged. It’s primarily the “thanks so much for you all being here”, without any reminder for us to take spiritual steps forward. Padre Pio comes emphatically to mind…this great spiritual warrior was known to turn away women from the confessional who came inappropriately dressed. And very few know that in 1930, Pope Pius XI’s Prefect of the Congregation of the Council, Donato Cardinal Sbaretti, released the following statement in the document Acta Apostolicae Sedis: “Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion and from acting as sponsors at the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation; further, if the offense be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the church.”

Cardinal Sbaretti is also the one who gave us the following guidelines: “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.” (A note has since been added that quarter-length sleeves have ecclesiastical approval). Unfortunately for Catholic women, these guidelines have been a too-well-kept secret, leading many to believe that the Church has no standards for dress.


Josie said...


This is so true. It isn't difficult to get dressed properly for Mass, but it makes a huge difference. Dressing properly for Mass is just a matter of respect, plain and simple. I just wish that churches here enforced the same dress code in effect at the Vatican... Unfortunately, however, because some people were never really instructed in proper dress, we have a lot of work to do. I suppose that is where you come in.

c-tree-p--o said...

Hi, Claire. I wish I could meet you at USF but I'm heading off for surgery on a cyst. Maybe another time.=0)
I just wanted to comment on your post. It is certainly not hard to dress for mass. My daughter, who is six, and I made a deal that we would always show respect to our Lord by wearing a dress or skirt to mass. I do wear "short sleeves" (a couple of inches above my elbows, but would not wear a "tank" style without a sweater or a shawl to cover up. Elena wouldn't wear one either without her sweater or poncho. It's sad to see so many attend mass in grubby jeans or, worse, shorts. My son, who has autism, does wear shorts on occasion but he is super picky about what he will wear. It's more of a sensory issue.
Thanks for a great post!

SkyeBlue said...

I always dress very modestly, but I prefer wearing slacks and a blouse instead of dresses, as they cover more.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The clothes we see at Mass are a disgrace. Everyone has a blouse and skirt. Why do people want to look so sloppy. It doesn't cost anymore to dress appropriately.

Jeannine said...


I love how you asked if our clothing at Mass would reflect to others the sacredness of the sacrifice in which we are participating. I must admit, we attend a casual Mass in a renovated school auditorium, and tend to dress quite casually. As I returned from communion one day, I noticed a young woman at Mass alone, kneeling reverently, head bowed and hands clasped, wearing an embroidered cotton skirt and modest top with simple cloth shoes. Her demeanor and clothing did seem to accurately reflect what was going on in her heart and soul. It was hard not to notice her quiet prayerfulness. Thank you for your post which brought this to mind.

Sometimes just getting the children dressed nicely is a challenge and my clothing is an afterthought. I will take your "comfortably dressy" suggestion to heart and keep it in mind as I dress for Mass in the future. Thank you!