Deacon Greg and the Hooters Shirt – UPDATED

A few weeks ago, Deacon Greg Kandra wrote a column for Patheos, entitled No Flip-Flops in the King’s House.

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.

And now Father Edward L. Beck and ABC News have explored the matter, as well, and they’ve included a brief interview with Greg:

“…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.

Are dress codes the answer?

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.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://Anchoress victoria

    I have traveled all over the United States and parts of Europe. The United States by far is relaxed more and more in their moral dress where ever you go! I have been to protestant churches and they across the board are not disrespectful about how they dress going to church. I wish I could say that about the Catholic churches I have been to across the United States. Without a doubt almost every mass I go to on Sunday there will be at least 1or 2 woman(if not more) that dress revealingly or that wear the hip hugger pants with too much being revealed. For the most part I wonder if the parents are teaching these individual the teaching of the church about modest dressing. About respect for yourself as a person. I especially wonder when I see the parents sitting there with these young womem or girls? Does it not start at home?

  • Yeoman

    One quick additional thought, somewhat counter to my earlier comments, but intended to be merely observational.

    When we see this, I don’t know that we should regard this phenomenon as really being a church thing, and in one way, it may actually be a good thing.

    When we see Protestants dress up for Church, in our modern culture, in a way what they are doing is signaling that church is outside the norm of their lives, potentially. Formal wear, in this day and age, is largely limited to rather extraordinary settings that are apart from our normal lives.

    Catholics, when they do not dress up, are signalling, and I really think that they are signalling this, that Mass fits into their lives. As their religion is part of who they are, they dress according to their fashion norm. They do not think to dress up for Mass as being a Catholic does not stand apart form their normal lives.

    When Catholics dressed up they did so in an era when dressing up was much more common for normal life. So the dressing up was part of their normal dress really.

    Given all of that, dressing poorly or suggestively isn’t so much a symbol of disrespect at Mass as it is of the overall decline of standards of dress in the United States. It might not really be that we shouldn’t be dressing with Hooters shirts at Mass, but that we really shouldn’t be doing that anywhere.

  • Ryan

    @The Informer: I’m trying to make sense of your post. What are you talking about?

  • Ryan

    I don’t buy that, Yeoman. Protestants dress up because worship is special to them. Why do people dress up for weddings? Do you think Rick Perry is going to wear jeans to his inauguration sixteen months from now? I’d wager that in the 1950s, Catholics wore their best clothes to Mass.

  • Beth

    I have also noticed like some of the other commenters that at most Protestant churches I’ve been to the worshipers are dressed more appropriately ( large Evangelical churches may be the exception to this). One theory I have about sloppy dress at Mass is that some people may resent being there out of obligation ( and fear of hell ), and their attitude shows in the way they dress. These may be the same people who bolt for the exits before Mass is over so they can get out of the parking lot fast.

  • Andrew B

    It isn’t just Catholics. When I moved to Florida, my Episcopalian brethren greeted me with “That jacket and tie won’t last long!”

    Eight years later, with a jacket and tie every Sunday, they gave up on me. I gave up on them as well, and moved to a Catholic parish nearby with even looser standards of dress. I am usually the only man under 60 with a jacket and usually one of a tiny handful in a tie. So be it.

    I was always taught that we are supposed to offer God our First Fruits. I take that to mean our very best, including our best behavior. I can’t offer that if I am dressed for a luau or a motocross rally.

  • Anne

    I think we’ve lost sight of the original issue, which is people wearing suggestive or inappropriate clothing. Hooters shirts, sexual suggestions on TShirts, tank tops with bra straps showing, low-slung pants with underwear on display — that’s what we’re discussing. All of this is just wrong pretty much anywhere!

    One doesn’t need to dress up with heels, hose, ties, whatever to be reverently dressed for Mass. Clean clothes that cover up all one’s private bits will do! Just a nice outfit is perfectly appropriate.

  • Yeoman

    Ryan said:

    “I don’t buy that, Yeoman. Protestants dress up because worship is special to them. Why do people dress up for weddings? Do you think Rick Perry is going to wear jeans to his inauguration sixteen months from now? I’d wager that in the 1950s, Catholics wore their best clothes to Mass.”

    You may very well be correct, and I’d certainly concede on the 1950s. Indeed, I think there’s a society wide decline in dress standards since that time, as I’ve noted. But, you may still well be right.

    Still, I don’t know that your examples counter my point. Weddings are special. And should Rick Perry be inaugurated (which he almost certainly will not be, no matter whether we like him or dislike him) he will be in suit and tie. But those events are out of the ordinary. By dressing out of the ordinary, we signify that the event is out of the ordinary. If we dress in our ordinary, that signifies the event is part of our ordinary. Merely being part of our ordinary, however, does not make it insignificant.

    Taking that further, what I am arguing is that the standard of dress should be appropriate for all stations and occasions. Why are male teachers in class not in ties? They should be. Why has one court had to issue instructions about appropriate trousers in the courthouse (one has). Is your doctor dressed like a professional? And so on.

    The oddity is that we still really expect others to dress according to station and occupation. We just don’t do it ourselves, and so nobody does it.

  • Sue from Buffalo

    I’m going to go one step further and I hope that I don’t offend anyone.

    I’m an organist at church and once in a blue moon I get to play for a wedding. (sad, isn’t it?) Anyways, there seem to be quite a few brides who insist on wearing the bridal dress that is off the shoulder. And they pick out dresses for the bridesmaids that are off the shoulder completely, too.

    You know what that looks like from behind when the bridesmaids are sitting down in the pew? Like they’re naked.

    I’m sorry but that’s what it looks like. You can’t see a stitch of clothing. All you see are bare arms and shoulders where there should be clothes.

    I know! I know! I’m hopelessly square and behind the times and totally unhip and uncool. I’m also under 50 (just barely).

    That’s what it looks like to me from where I’m sitting. I’m sitting down where everyone else is but off to the side and that’s what I see. I cringe every time.

  • TheInformer

    #53 RON!

    My explanation for you (for #45 posting)

    Whenever I have kindly, charitably mentioned to any daily Mass goer that he or she might consider more appropriate attire, inevitably the outraged response is akin to: “I’m poor and can’t afford better than this shabby t-shirt and shorts and aren’t you an evil hypocrite for judging me……etc…..”

    I call it NONSENSE. Not here in America…..yet……clothes are cheap and plentiful.

    People choose to spend money on some things, and not on other things. However, good used clothing is cheap. I wear the same thing to Mass every day, similarly to what religious do by wearing the habit. And I change into other clothing afterward as needed.

    For a few bucks anyone can find simple, decent clothing instead of looking like they’re going to the beach or something.

  • Lyn

    If a man is not wearing a tie or a lady is not wearing a nice outfit then at least please IRON whatever one is wearing. I don’t think people born after 1970 know what an iron is. Really I don’t. Well at least not American citizens. I’ve seen groups of young Mexican guys shopping at Wal Mart and at least they (or their girlfriend or somebody) has ironed their blue jeans.

  • Amy

    Our Lady of Fatima told Jacinta that “certain fashions would be introduced that would offend My Son very much…”

    If one truly believes that Jesus is present, body, blood, soul and divinity when approaching the altar to receive, then picture Jesus standing before you when you receive Him -

    Do you want to see Jesus glorified looking at you with pleasing eyes or do you see Jesus bloody and scourged, His eyes filled with sorrow as you approach to receive The Lord?

    Forgive us, Mother, for what we have done to your Son.