Remember when people actually used to get dressed up to go to church?
When people actually showed up early for mass?
When the pew wasn’t the preferred site for a family picnic?
When did all this change? I must have missed the memo. Somewhere along the way, we went from neckties to tank tops, and from fasting to fast food. And it’s getting worse. I recently had to tell a couple that no, they could not have their Chihuahua in a tuxedo as part of their wedding party. An auxiliary bishop in Indianapolis recently complained about people who tweet during funerals.
Casual Catholics, it seems, have taken “casual” to a new level.
Well. Seems those flip-flops have gotten legs to go with them. The Deacon’s unhappy musings were picked up quickly:
Deacon Greg Kandra was well aware that modern Americans were getting more casual and that these laid-back attitudes were filtering into Catholic pews.
Still, was that woman who was approaching the altar to receive Holy Communion really wearing a Hooters shirt?
Yes, she was.
After the Hooters incident, he decided it was time to stop whining about the rising tide of irreverence and immodesty and to start griping about it right out in the open. Thus, Kandra and the parish’s other clergy have resorted to appealing in the parish bulletin and in public remarks for a hint of sanity or even some old-fashioned decorum.
“…Kandra also points out that geography can have a lot to do with the way churchgoers choose their pants. He was in the Nashville area recently and said he felt like he’d been whisked back to his more formal childhood.
“But there’s been this psychic change in the culture,” Kandra says. “It’s a different ethos.”
All of this attention suggests to me that this issue is, perhaps, something people have either simply not thought about for a while, or have thought about and become resigned to. I think it’s worth talking about. In managing the portal, I’ve had a few hum-dinger emails sent my way in response to the column — from all sorts of perspectives: there is the thoughtful correspondent who wonders if God cares how we dress for Mass or if he isn’t simply pleased to have us there, even in cut-offs and wrinkled tee shirts. I get the sentiment — and certainly our attendance is more important than our dress — but on the other hand this view seems a tad lazy to me, “hey God, I’m doing you a big favor showing up, here; you don’t need me to dress, too, do you?”
And then there are the folks wagging a finger and saying, “shame on you! Some people can’t afford nice clothes!” And yes, that’s true. Particularly with the economy in a shambles, many budgets cannot be currently stretched to include new or fine clothes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be neat, if we can be. Or, why not use the nicer stuff in our closets? It might actually make one feel better to wear something that’s been “saved” for a special occasion; if something is meant to be worn for a nice dinner, why not use it for a meal with the King?
I confess, when I used to be very casual about mass, and I am still more the “casual-but-neat-with-an-occasional-skirt” type than a super-dresser. But the days of wearing jeans to Mass are over for me, and my husband would never do it. Even my kids, when they go, dress for Mass more neatly than they would to just hang out, somewhere, and they’ve always done that.
Do other churches even have this problem? Is it only Catholics who are going to church dressed like slobs? What are your thoughts?
UPDATE: At Our Sunday Visitor, the editorial board wrote about this issue, just a few weeks ago:
These are all real issues, and the Church in some ways is always seeking to improve a sense of reverence (the revised translation of the Roman Missal) and combat the temptation to make it a rote exercise or a simple obligation.
In this context, dressing appropriately for Mass is an external sign of our appreciation for what is taking place in the Eucharistic celebration. The danger with placing too much emphasis on externals such as dress is that we may miss the larger point, which is an interior reverence that resides in the heart. Our priorities must always be to focus on our inner preparation for Mass and our inner receptivity to God’s Word.
It was a desire to teach her teenage daughter the virtue of modesty that led Martha Fernandez to request a dress code be adopted at her parish, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sacramento, Calif. She has been deeply involved in the predominantly Latino parish for 25 years and serves on the parish council.
Fernandez said, “My daughter wanted to wear little shorts to Mass, and I told her it was not appropriate.”
When the girl complained that other parents let their daughters wear similar shorts, Fernandez replied, “Maybe they don’t know any better.”
So, Fernandez thought she’d help educate them. She went to the pastor, Father Lino Otero, a member of the Legionaries of Christ, which staffs the parish, and asked to place dress code signs, similar to those at the Vatican, at the church entrances. He agreed.
The sign indicates that shorts, bare shoulders and tight clothing are not appropriate for church. They primarily target the dress of women because, Fernandez said, “We are the biggest offenders.”
The feedback in the two years since the policy was implemented has been universally positive.
In fact, a neighboring parish, Divine Mercy, copied Fernandez’s signs and implemented the dress policy as well.
Not all agree, of course. Read the whole thing.