Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On How we Dress for Mass

As a follow up to the post at The Hermeneutic of Continuity on how we dress for Mass, here is an excerpt from an article I found on the website of a parish in my Archdiocese:
"We all have a mission to evangelize, and what better way is there than to make people aware of where we are heading on Sunday and how we feel about it? Without uttering a single word, our “Sunday Best” proclaims the good news. Why should people feel, when they scan the streets on Sunday, that no one is going to church? We see Jehovah’s Witnesses on street corners and observant Jews en route to the synagogue. But where is the Catholic presence? With Roman collars harder and harder to spot, how is the average person to know that vocations are far from dead and that our faith is alive? One of the very first things a militantly materialist government does in trying to undermine belief in God, is to prohibit priests and nuns from wearing clerical garb. In this way, religion is made to appear passe. Shouldn’t we who are fortunate enough to live in a land of freedom avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded by such freedom? No one is obliged to rush out and buy a tuxedo for Sunday Mass, but one should dress at least as formally as one would dress for work and, if possible, more formally.

If Bible verses are needed, one can turn to Psalm 29:2 which exhorts the faithful to “give to the Lord the glory due his name” and to “worship the Lord in holy attire.” According to God’s specification, his temple was to be as beautiful as human hands could make it, and his priests were to be outfitted in the finest cloth. Surely, if the Almighty expressed concern about the appearance of his hours of worship and his priests, he cares about how members of the rank and file present themselves, for as Vatical Council II affirmed, men and women of the laity share in the priestly ministry. When Moses stood before the burning bush, God directed him to “Remove your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Later, at the foot of Mount Sinai, he instructed his people through Moses to wash their clothes. Once again, appearances mattered, and for a very simple reason: one of the purposes of public worship, as highlighted in the Bible, is to give glory to God (Haggai 1:8). SO WE ASK OURSELVES “DOES MY DRESS AND APPEARANCE GIVE GLORY TO GOD?”

Such glory is enhanced when one bows or genuflects, just as it is diminished when one crosses one’s legs, drapes one’s arms over the back of the pew, or converses unnecessarily with another in church.

Jesus himself was not one to dress down if the evidence at hand is any indication. The kind of tunic he wore, and for which the Roman soldiers threw dice on Calvary, was seamless and therefore of considerable value for the period in which he lived. There is also the story he told about a man thrown out of a banquet for want of proper dress. Admittedly, the parable is concerned in the first instance with “spiritual attire,” but the Lord’s choice of imagery is noteworthy because it suggests where he stands on collateral issues. Recall, too, the forcefulness with which he demanded that the temple remain “a house of prayer.” The occasion on which he spoke these words was the only time during his public ministry when he is on record as having resorted to physical violence - driving the money changers out of the temple.

Naysayers claim that a return to formality would usher in another Gilded Age of social vanity and the flaunting of fortune. This seems unlikely, however, in this age of equality. And even if it were so, is there not more than a little vanity and presumption in expecting God to “take us as we are?”

Another argument dear to the heart of skeptics is that formality penalizes the poor. Informality, they submit, is the great equalizer. This may have been true in the past, but no longer, for the real cost of clothing over the years has steadily declined. More important that the price of clothing is its neatness, cleanliness and modesty. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

In sum, there are many compelling reasons to dress up, rather than down, for church. The Mass is a stupendous miracle, and those who partake of the heavenly banquet are tremendously privileged. Polite decorum and appropriate dress are simply one way of acknowledging this privilege. But when all is said and done, we need to get back to plain common sense and to behaviour that would seem, as well as be, “right and proper.”"