One of the things that I found interesting in becoming a Catholic is that while in the Baptist church we would never think of coming to services without a suit and tie on, in the Catholic Church, I saw people dressed in everything from suits and ties to shorts and T-shirts. I remember as a child thinking it sad that some people felt that they could not come to church because they did not have the “right clothes”, and as a teenager, I was relieved that I did not “have to” dress up every Sunday for church.
There are some people who will say, “Well, Jesus doesn’t care what I put on for Sunday, as long as my heart is right.” And that is true to an extent. But what we do externally and what we do internally often influence each other. Most parishes do not have a fashion police to monitor how people come dressed to Mass. Sometimes people come straight in from work with their uniforms or scrubs on, and sometimes families get caught up at recreational family events and don’t have time to change before getting to Mass on time. All of that is perfectly understandable.
At the same time, however, we do have to ask ourselves whether, when we are preparing to go to Mass, we are thinking of what is modest and appropriate for Mass. The most important thing is where our heart is, that we have a modest demeanor of praise and adoration to enter into the House of God, and that we take appropriate measures to prepare for that special encounter with the Lord. Then, we must take care that we come to Mass in a modest and appropriate way: that means, do we behave well in church, are we dressed for the occasion, do we enter into the liturgy?
Sunday Mass is the center of our week, and our life, and it is a special occasion, always; and if we realize that we are going to the Supper of the Lamb, then that realization has to permeate all of our choices, even on how we dress for Mass. Wearing a certain kind of acceptable “casual” dress for Mass does not mean that we have to take a “casual” approach to the most important thing we do each week.
Immodesty and sloppiness in the way we do things can easily breed contempt for the sacred, and breed a sense of entitlement even with the things of God. What is better is to realize that we are entering into a celebration, and let that dictate how we do things. I am not going to form a modesty brigade or a panel of judges to ascertain whether you’re dressed right for Mass. But, we should remember what we are doing and why. And parents particularly have a duty to instill in their children a sense of reverence and appropriateness for the House of God. There is a balance to be had, and I think we can have it. But sometimes we need to be more attentive about where that balance is to be had.
And in the meantime, don’t judge others for the way they dress at Mass. You never know the whole story. Pray for them, be a good example, and welcome them into a deeper relationship with God and His Church.
Fr. Christopher Smith - Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Taylors, SC
(Image added by St. Benedict's)