Deacon Greg Kandra was well aware that modern Americans were getting more casual and that these laidback 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.
When did Catholics, he thought to himself, start coming to Mass dressed for a Britney Spears concert? Had he missed a memo or something?
“Somewhere along the way, we went from neckties to tank tops, and from fasting to fast food. And it’s getting worse,” noted Kandra, a former CBS News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. He is now a deacon assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, a 3,000-member parish in Forest Hills, a neighborhood in Queens on the north end of New York City.
“I recently had to tell a couple that no, they could not have their Chihuahua in a tuxedo as part of their wedding party,” he added, in a Patheos.com commentary. “An auxiliary bishop in Indianapolis recently complained about people who tweet during funerals. Casual Catholics, it seems, have taken ‘casual’ to a new level.”
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.
One bulletin item proclaimed, with a gag headline: “PLANS FOR PARISH SWIMMING POOL SCRAPPED! After much study, our finance committee has determined it would not be feasible to construct an indoor swimming pool in our church. … As a result, we can now announce with certainty that those who have been arriving for Mass as if dressed for the pool need not do so. Also, we hope to keep the air conditioning cranking all summer long. So you do not need to wear shorts, halter tops or bikinis to Mass.”
Other missives in this series warned that late-arriving parishioners with allegedly faulty alarm clocks might be injured during their attempts to “find a seat by climbing over the rope strung across the aisle. This can result in falls or — in some cases — embarrassing displays of underwear.”And about the many active cellphones: “New research indicates that people who bring cell phones to church are more likely to suffer serious head trauma, usually caused by the priest throwing the lectionary at them. Such people are also more likely to be wounded by hurled umbrellas and rolled up missals.”
It’s easy to determine what is going on in his parish and elsewhere, said 74-year-old Monsignor Joseph Funaro. Decades ago, worshippers would dress up to go to church and then would return home to change into more casual clothing before heading to picnics, baseball games, the local pool or away to the coast.
Today, the sprawl of suburban life and omnipresent traffic jams — especially close to Labor Day and beach-friendly weekends — have tempted Catholics to abandon the old church-first schedule. The clothes symbolize larger changes.
“We have reached the point that just about anything goes,” said Funaro. “We keep making appeals to our people, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is paying much attention. … Some of the ladies, well, you just have to wonder if they looked in a mirror before coming to church.”
The key, he said, is not that formal attire has evolved into casual attire. That change took place several decades ago for most Baby Boomer adults and their children. Now, more and more Catholics have moved past casual clothing and have started wearing clothing that is distracting, at best, or is often aggressively immodest.
As a priest, Funaro said that he now worries that some of his parishioners are not really focusing on the Mass at all. Instead, they are stopping by the church while on their way to other activities they consider more important than Mass.
“I often ask people this question: ‘Would you dress like that if you were going to meet the queen of England?’ Of course, they always say, ‘No, of course not.’ Then I remind them that they are coming to Mass in order to meet someone more special than the queen. They are coming to meet their King.”