Apr 18, 2007

Casual Dress at Sunday Mass

My recent post "Should I Reconsider?" asked whether I should begin again to review Catholic church liturgies and their environments. The number of comments certainly exceeded my expectations, with the majority of people answering in the affirmative. Nevertheless, there is a significant opposition to my continuing to review Kansas City churches, especially to my descriptions of the church environment and people's casual dress at Sunday Mass. This post (and a future one) responds to those comments.

I did not advise on the suitability of people's dress and actions during Sunday Mass. I simply noted people most frequently dressed in a casual fashion (except for one traditional Latin Mass group where very few, if any, casual clothes were seen). I also noted whether a church had beautiful artifacts (e.g., stained glass windows, statues), altar girls, a crucifix, stations of the cross, etc. I attempted to describe those who attended Mass on Sunday. Only old people? Pregnant women? Children? Black, white, and Latino? Finally I tried to remember whether lay participants showed any outward signs of reverence, especially by silence or by staying after Mass to pray. I also commented on the special actions and prayers of the priest and others at Mass, such as kneeling for the introductory prayers of the Mass where the entire church asks God to forgive their sins.

I did not claim to see into people's hearts when I noted that many of the people at Sunday Mass wore jeans and almost all the women did not wear head coverings. I recognize these people came to Mass with the obviously good intention to fulfill God's solemn commandment to adore Him on the Sabbath (or on Sunday because of Christ's Resurrection). At a future point, I intended to discuss the suitability of casual clothes at Mass, and this post is that occasion.

My own experience shows that in the workplace, the visit of an important client or a key official means employees dress formally. Men continue to dress mostly in suits or sportcoats and dress slacks, and women typically wear dresses, nice blouses, or suits. Neither sex wears athletic shoes for the workplace visit of an important person. Yet these same people wear jeans and athletic shoes to Sunday Mass. In particular, some of the jeans I have seen at Sunday Masses I previously reviewed were well-worn, frayed, and had holes in them.

Let's put the issue of "dressing up" into perspective by returning to the World's Fair of 1939-40. More than 40 million people visited this Fair to see "The World of Tomorrow." A film projecting the lives of people in the future showed all of them were dressed up--just as they were when they went to public events in 1939 (and that continued for another ten or fifteen years. My Mother never went out of the home into the public without dressing up in those days, and she still keeps that habit. Most certainly Dad and Mom and their children never went to Mass on Sunday except in their "Sunday Best." In fact, our clean and pressed clothes were specially laid out the night before, and shoes were well polished.

So what happened? Fashions clearly slid downhill because it was easier, more comfortable, and often required less cost and time. Also people started doing alternative things on Sunday that they could not and would not have done before--such as shopping at the newly opened stores. Sunday dress became less important, and so did the worship of God. (to be continued)


cranky said...

You rock, Dusty.

Anonymous said...

As children (70's-'80's) we were always dressed in our best for Church. I expect the same with our kids. Obviously it's a sign of respect for Almighty God (if we can dress up for a funeral or wedding, why not for Mass? Which is the more important event in the scheme of things???).

On a more practical level, kids dressing up for Mass are thus taught in a very physical way that Mass is a special occasion, and their behaviour may even start to reflect that:). I believe that this small act helped me and my siblings understand that Mass is time set apart for God.

I understood that you were not vindictively "going after" casually dressed people, but merely giving a disinterested report. And if widespread "casual" dress is the norm, perhaps we need to take a look at ourselves, to see if our appearances reflect our inner attention and sense of the sacred at Mass. We are spiritual and physical beings, so giving our best to God is not just reserved to the mental and spiritual! Perhaps some of the "outcry" you mentioned reflects peoples' inner sense of conviction on this point. We pray as we believe, right?

Of course the caveat, as one dear priest said--"if you have lots of clothes and choose to wear ripped jeans to church, then you have a problem. If, however, the only pair of pants you have is a pair of ripped jeans, then that is a different matter entirely".

God Bless,

Embattled Catholic

Beggar Catholic said...

You are starting a fire. It scares me because I will get burned, AGAIN. My attire at Holy Mass is plenty dressy enough on Sundays and good enough on weekdays, as I come on my lunch hour from work. Yet ANY talk about clothing at Holy Mass gives license to the fashion police to go after me AGAIN. I come to Church as a beggar, knowing there are women who might prefer I be turned away at the door. I am afraid of my own parishioners because of the things said about my clothing. In our parish the priest has taught us to mind our own business. But for some reason my clothes are the other women's business. If I change and dress a little bit dressier to get them off my back, even more attention is paid to my clothes. So I try to wear the same thing all the time. That way people can go back to praying instead of watching what I wear. And now you are bringing it up again. May God have mercy on me. I am going to pay for this.

Anonymous said...

Your observations may be true as far as they go, but among American suburbanites today, blue jeans and knit shirts are almost all they wear. Not because they cannot afford better but because culturally there is no desire to present a better face to the world by dressing better.

Business casual has brought all the standards down. Coats and ties are seldom seen at work anymore. Ties are seldom worn and jeans are not uncommon, even on Mondays through Thursdays.

wolftracker said...

Dusty, do not let these comments dissuade you. Your posts spoke in generalities. You did not focus on individuals, nor did you photograph persons so that they could be judged. Those that worry about themselves in particular here seem to be missing the point.

Let us not forget, that as Catholics, we are part of a universal church. Our individual parish liturgies are not, in a spiritual sense, self-contained events. For if they were, we would be congregationalists. That frame of mind is decidedly unCatholic. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we have some accountability to one another--especially in how we worship--part of which is reflected in how we prepare our appearance. This mindset informed your pieces, but seems foreign to some commenters. If your fellow parishioners talk about you, rejoice that you have something to offer up to God for the conversion of sinners. Pray for those who persecute you. But do not make others believe that the use of the internet to raise the level of worship due to God is a bad thing. It is a very good thing, when done with discretion, equanimity (sp) and good intentions, such as Dusty has shown.

Radical Catholic Mom said...

There is a fine line between commenting on appropriate clothes and the person who wears them.

But, I don't think it is wrong to point out that we SHOULD be dressing up for Christ. If I go to a formal dinner, I wear a gown. In AK it is so casual there are no dress codes because they will be ignored. I don't like that. There are some things that should be dressy occasions; Mass is one of them.

feistymuse said...

I don't believe that *anyone* claims/claimed that one shouldn't dress appropriately in order to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The debate, as I read it, was instead one of the *appropriateness* of attending the Mass *with the intent of reporting* on it... with a portion of that report being a lineup of what people were wearing.
I can't for the life of me fathom why anyone would go to Mass with this purpose in mind, *regardless* of what other information was also mentally recorded (ie. whether or not parishoners kneel at certain times, are wearing veils, etc.).
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just that: the HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS... it should *never* be reduced to a checklist scorecard of what *other people* are doing. We are to attend to the Mass in *prayer*, not with a microscope directed toward others.
I would gather that the people in the pews who could benefit from gentle instruction regarding proper Mass attire are NOT the same people who take the time to peruse the Internet to read Catholic topics.
So, I ask, just *who* is being served by continuing this??? What *good* is it meant to convey???
Feisty Muse

Radical Catholic Mom said...

oops. I misunderstood. Well, how is it wrong to report what you see?

Anonymous said...

A very wise woman once reminded me that if I have a finger pointed at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at me.

Alison said...

When I originally stated my objections to this line of posts, I did not state my reasons as I really didn't know where to begin. I attended the Tridentine Mass for a long time and now I don't. I love the Latin Mass and I do not think the two Masses are equal. That being said, I can tell you that in my parish and for those not attending the Latin Mass, I do hear, Why do Latin Massers think they are better? And I try to be a good apologist for the Latin Mass. Yes, we are accountable to each other. But please tell me how an anonymous blogger on the internet is going to help the situation? How will liturgical norms be raised? Will this be seen more as an "us" and "you"? Yes, the church is "universal". It doesn't take much to figure out the universality is under attack. We kneel at some parishes and we don't at others. I've advocated that is not disobedient to kneel for communion and been accussed of being uncharitable. Sadly, I don't find an overwhelming universality in the Mass.
One thing I try to be when commenting on blogs is charitable. I hope I am here because in many ways I have benefited from this blog. I like you as much as I can like any anonymous blogger on the internet. I also try not emotional and stick to facts. I think I may miss the latter goal in this post. The point is that the original priest who objected to this line of posts hit the mark. We know what is going on in the novus ordo parishes. It's tough in the best of parishes. It's a battle for laity and priests alike. People come perhaps poorly prepared but searching for God. I this helping anyone's interior life? What are you achieving by telling me what I am enduring at a Mass or is it driving me to distraction? How are you helping me but putting my pain in black and white for me to read on the world wide web? What means are you giving for me to correct this? Will I go back in three months to a parish where you have been and see any of this changed in any parishes.? Is this really a good way to instruct? I am begging for the ever witty and charming Dusty. I know I don't have to read this blog but I do want to.