Is your choice of clothing for Sunday Mass offensive? That may depend on who you ask.
Four parish bulletins in the Finger Lakes region recently included notices reminding people attending Mass that they are visiting the house of the Lord and receiving the Eucharist, and their dress should reflect that.
“As Catholics, we believe that we meet Christ in a most special way in the Eucharist, which is the center and summit of our Christian lives,” according to a notice in the June 27 and July 4 bulletins of Auburn’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish. “It is perhaps good to remind ourselves of the mystery and awe that should be present at the Eucharistic celebrations and other church services that we attend. Our dress ought to reflect that mystery and awe. Remember, the Lord deserves our best appearance.”
Parish secretary Lee Gaylo said St. Francis’ pastor, Father Peter DeBellis, had asked her to compose the bulletin announcement to make people more aware that they are entering the house of the Lord, not a party, when they come to church.
Gaylo said there are some types of clothes that should not be worn to church; shorts and low-cut tops are among them.
“That’s not the way to receive the Eucharist,” Gaylo said, suggesting that parishioners instead wear “something where you’re covered up.”
“Modest summer fashions are always the expected when in the presence of the Lord,” the St. Francis bulletin notice concluded. “Common sense, good decorum, neatness and practicality should apply. The goal in dressing for Mass should not be to attract undue attention.”
Father Roy Kiggins said he runs a similar notice every year in the bulletin of the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, where he is pastor.
“Many stores and restaurants warn ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service.’ I have yet to see individuals literally shirtless or shoeless in church, but some have come close,” Father Kiggins noted in his June 27 bulletin column. “It is very possible to dress both comfortable and becomingly for church. Please do so.”
Father Kiggins said he has seen both men and women come to Mass wearing inappropriate clothing, such as tank tops. Parishioners should wear something they are comfortable in but that is not “overdone in exposure,” he said.
However, clothing that is too casual can be just as distracting in its own way as clothing that leaves little to the imagination, he said, and a gentle reminder in the June 20 bulletin of St. Patrick’s Parish in Macedon addressed just that issue.
In the reminder, Father Robert Bourcy encouraged parishioners to wear light-weight clothing that would allow them to be comfortable in the church, which is not air-conditioned. It did add a caveat, however.
“Remember, whether you’re coming from yard work or will be running off to a picnic, wearing our best clothes for church is another way we show that we take our worship seriously,” according to the bulletin notice.
In an interview with the Catholic Courier, Father Bourcy said that he thinks that fewer people are donning their Sunday best for Mass these days because the overall culture has become more casual. When he was growing up, his father always wore a suit coat and tie to Mass, which is a custom that is not as prevalent anymore, he said.
“Today, there’s a whole different image of what dressed up means. I think certain clothing has become the everyday staple,” he said, using jeans as an example. “Jeans were playclothes when I was young. Now there are no longer just ‘jean Fridays’ for work; it’s every day.”
Father Kiggins agreed that the culture has become more relaxed across the board. He recalled that when he was first ordained in 1964, a priest would not appear in church without wearing either a suit coat or a cassock. Now, many priests can be found wearing their black clerical shirts without a coat or cassock when they’re not celebrating Mass.
Father Jim Hewes, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah, said many of today’s parishioners can be grouped into one of three categories. Those who were raised before the Second Vatican Council took place often view Sunday Mass as an important staple of their spiritual life. To them, Mass is something that can only be missed for a serious reason, such as illness, and is something they need to dress up for.
Catholics raised around the time of Vatican II often embrace the teachings that came from the council and feel that people are the most important part of the church. They may feel that what a person brings to Mass on the inside is more important than what their external appearance is. Many members of the younger generation have been raised by another standard, see no problem with only attending Mass once a month and are more likely to dress more informally.
While he was careful to note that these groupings are only “caricatures” and do not apply to everyone, a person’s ideas about church tend to carry over to their views about proper church attire, he said.
Father Hewes addressed the topic of proper Mass attire in a reflection he included in his July 4 bulletin. It’s important for parishioners to be sensitive to their fellow parishioners, he said. They should realize that Mass isn’t a sporting event or a beach picnic and should dress appropriately so as not to offend or distract other parishioners.
However, parishioners who always wear their Sunday best should also be sensitive to those who may not be able to do the same and should not form judgments, he added.
“We would always prefer having someone be present with us at Mass rather than being absent because of their attire. What is needed is a sense of flexibility, thoughtfulness and above all charity towards one another,” he wrote in his reflection.