Apr 20, 2007

Our "Sunday Best"

This post continues the discussion of dressing up for Sunday Mass. To clarify, we are not talking about wearing our "Sunday Best" clothes for weekday Mass. People work during the week and often can attend Mass only if they wear their work clothes.

Millet's painting of peasants praying the Angelus shows the work clothes of European farmers of almost 200 years ago. These clothes might have been worn for daily Mass (probably after they washed their hands and the woman took off her dirty apron), yet the peasants would have worn their "Sunday Best" on God's Day.

A lot of time was required to dress in their "Sunday Best." My Grandma said that to obtain lye, she would filter water poured through wood ashes. She said the lye water would bleach the white shirts worn by the men to Sunday Mass. Washing was often done by hand using a washboard. [Does anyone even have one of those? I do, but now seldom use it.] Shoes were polished for Sunday. Regardless of how poor they were, everyone was expected to be dressed up, clean, and neat for Mass.

For over forty years, two of my aunts even dressed up in "church clothes" for early daily Mass (6:00 am), then changed into house and farm work clothes when they came home. It would have been unthinkable for both of them to wear their "everyday clothes" to church to greet God and receive the Eucharist.

The men who attended daily Mass were different because they had to wear their work clothes to church as most of them left Mass to go directly to work. Yet, work clothes were considered highly unsuitable to wear for Sunday Mass, unless the man had a job requiring him to leave Mass immediately to go to work on Sunday. Sunday jobs were not common (mostly firemen, a few policemen, and a small number of utility workers).

To give a feel for the effort to get ready for Sunday Mass, I remember my mother washing our shoe laces and restringing them, and polishing our white shoes on Saturday so that my siblings and I would look our best for Sunday Mass. We took weekly baths and washed our hair on Saturday, so that we would be our cleanest and smell nice for Sunday. Sunday was a much more special day then than it is now, and our appearance mattered because beauty, order, and cleanliness were highly valued. We believed God also valued these, and it was a common saying that "cleanliness (and neatness) is next to Godliness."

It may seem hard today to understand why these beliefs and practices were valued so highly when I was young. We believed that a person's Sunday appearance should reflect attention to beauty, order, and cleanliness. If it didn't, then it meant the person was sloppy or lazy and didn't take the time to prepare adequately for Sunday Mass.

Do I want the Church to enforce a "Sunday Best" clothes mandate? Of course not. I am also opposed to individuals posting themselves at the church doors believing God has authorized them to take on the role of "clothes police." Rather, the purpose of my posts is to encourage people (including myself!) to voluntarily prepare ourselves in our "Sunday Best" to meet our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the local Catholic church. And this means preparing ourselves both spiritually and physically for our great encounter with the Divine!


Anonymous said...

Very nice post -- thank you!


Chad Toney said...

I liked this post and always love your descriptions of your past experiences.

Most men in my parish do dress up, many in suits. I often just wear business casual, but their example and this post will cause me to think twice and hopefully step it up in the future!