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)
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