Sep 22, 2009

Do You Wear Your Sunday Best?

Do you get dressed up for Sunday mass? I have to say it's not always a priority for me when I'm not in a ministry role at mass as a lector of eucharistic minister but I grew up with that being a mandatory practice in my home.

Deacon Greg pointed us to this blog article which mentions attire as "something Father should never say."

I have to say that I've seen this as a problematic practice on all sides of the equation. Some stories:

1) A colleague of mine went to his parent's parish one summer while visiting. He showed up with a nice pair of shorts on and a golf shirt on a day that was 95 degrees in the shade. The priest came up to him and said, "You don't usually come to mass here, do you?" My friend told the priest that this was his parent's parish and that he was visiting.

"Yeah, obviously," was the priest's response. "We don't wear shorts here."

Now if the priest thought that this style of dress was inappropriate for mass, then that is his opinion. Personally, I'd be happy to see that someone prioritized mass on their vacation--something that many people in the "three piece suit on Sunday variety" often don't do and excuse themselves from their obligation quietly. Secondly, way to welcome this visitor to the parish, Father Rude Pants!

I'd like to offer the following as poor form that seems to go out the window when it comes to church. If you has just met someone you didn't know, you'd hardly greet them with "Hey you really should dress better!" You'd offer some words of welcome, make small talk and ask them what brought them into your meeting. Not in the Church of the Holy Insulter, apparently is that good manners.

2) A young man was a lector in a parish that I was active in for some time and he showed up one Sunday wearing jeans and a nice crisp white shirt untucked. He looked fine, dressed up for perhaps a casual evening in the city. His hair was combed and his shirt ironed. A woman in the parish came up to him and "suggested" that maybe he should dress more appropriately if he was going to be on the altar.

Needless to say, the young man is yet to return after the incident. He was so insulted. This was a man who had gone through RCIA at the parish and had made it into his parish home. All gone! With one remark.

3) My favorite story: A Cantor in a parish I know is quite possibly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen (save my wife, of course). She always looked fabulous and he voice is amazing and inviting. In my opinion she is the perfect cantor. A woman once took issue with the length of her skirt.

"Young lady, your skirt is much too short!" she yelled at her one day after mass. (It wasn't, BTW)

Cantor woman rolled with it. "Oh no, most of the time they're much shorter."

This only infuriated the woman more. She ran to the pastor and raged at him.

"THAT....THAT....cantor's skirt is entirely inappropriate for mass, Father."

Father's response: "Lady, let me tell you something. That cantor is probably responsible for a good deal of people showing up here every week. I'd guess that 85% of the male population is here because of her and probably 16% of the women."

Lady stormed off. And pastor was right.

Now I will offer the following...

I think we should dress at least somewhat appropriate for mass. The larger question is that who becomes the arbiter for this? A golf shirt and a nice pair of pants is appropriate for men in my opinion,,,a button down shirt is even nicer. But some would say that anything less than a shirt and tie is awful. Women can wear a nice skirt or dress but certainly a nice pair of pants is fine as well. I would say we should think "business casual" while others favor a more formal style. I do sometimes wear jeans, but I don't wear torn jeans or filthy clothes and even that would be inappropriate for some.

I may also say that it's not our job to be the fashion police. And there are more than a few ministry professionals that could use some help from our good friend Peacebang, the esteemed Rev Victoria Weinstein who provides such fashionista advice and those who could use the most help are often the first to scream about others.

Beach attire is usually not appropriate for mass but I would also say that if given the choice of rushing back from the beach to make mass or missing it altogether because of what you're wearing, I'll permit the tank top and flip flops. Otherwise we kind of miss the point.

Lastly, some people claim that some people just can't afford nice clothes and to say something to someone about their attire is elitist. I say simply: Horsefeathers!

Those who can't afford good clothes are almost never the ones who are dressed inappropriately. In fact, they are often the best dressed. When I was In Nicaragua (a developing nation, I might add), it was very important to dress up for church. No bare shoulders for the women, a shirt with a collar for men, shoes, not sneakers or flip flops. It was a matter of respect.

And therein, lies our lesson. This is about respect on all sides. We should respect that this is special time and we should at least make an attempt to look our best or at least not disheveled. I don't think that's asking too much.

But we also need to show some respect to those who come to church, to get to know them on some level before we issue a criticism to them. Would we dare turn away a homeless person who showed up for mass? I doubt it, but we can be a lot more haughty in our judgment with those who we think should know better.

What in your opinion is appropriate mass attire?

Photo credit: Getty Images


Fran said...

Oh for the love of blogging,I did not know that you were a FOPB! (Fan of Peace Bang)

Back on topic - I think that there are basic standards. While hardly a prude, I am often a bit taken aback when I see teenage girls in very, very short shorts at mass. I have a 13 year old, who does not have shorts that short, but she always asks why she can't wear any shorts to church. It is tough to get her clear on why.

Frankly, I am reminded of something that happened at my prior employer, a large company in NYC with a big office in Florida.

The FL office had become very casual and had grown more so over time. Ratty shorts, t shirts and flip flops were the norm. The office was in the process of relocating to a newly built technology center about 4 years ago and it was decided to upgrade the dress code... before they moved.

No more shorts, no rubber flip flops... khakis, decent sandals, polo shirts became the norm for both men and women.

The change was remarkable. After a lot of grumbling it became clear that the entire workplace atmosphere changed. More focused and professional.

So I think of that when I read this - just a thought. You don't have to wear the suit etc, but some attention might reflect attitude, even when one thinks it will not.

Me, I always dress for church. I coordinate the 4pm liturgy on Saturdays and am running around the altar and sanctuary getting things and people in place. We are often short an EM or a lector and I am generally the pinch hitter so...

All that said, I agree with what you say about people openly judging others. The need to criticize and ostracize is not really that of welcome... And shouldn't all be welcomed as if they were the Christ?

OK, I'll shut up now.

Jason said...

As a general rule, I think folks ought to dress modestly for church, if for no other reason that not to cause consternation among your brothers and sisters in the community (see Paul, I believe). Beyond that, I don't care what folks wear to church. I usually wear clean, neat jeans, a collared shirt, and avoid sneakers.

If a parish wants its liturgical ministers to dress a certain way, they need to communicate a policy up front, and when someone complains, present the written policy.

Sue said...

I need to share this with my kids!! Our family "dress code" for mass has been collared shirts and casual pants for the men and skirts or dress pants with a nice top for the ladies. In the summer shorts are allowed but not halters or T-shirts. (I must confess that jeans have been worn from time to time since our kids wear uniforms to school and don't have a wide range of "casual clothes".) Also, kids in sports uniforms when we are on our way to or from games is something I find appropriate. It shows that even though you have other activities, participating in mass is a priority. When my daughter played competitive softball and we traveled on weekends we always attended a local church before, after, or between games, oftentimes half the team together. It was a striking visual statement about the families' priorities.

god googler said...

Via Facebook: From: Elaine Kayser Griffiths

I agree 100%, Mike. My family and I dress up for church; I think it's a concrete way to show kids that this is something special. However, I am careful not to judge others dress, not knowing their circumstances in general or even for just that day. Also, my experience is various churches is the same as yours - usually the people in the neediest parishes are the best dressed, and in the upscale suburban areas you see women in work out clothes and kids in soccer uniforms. (that's another topic...why so many soccer games for kids on Sunday mornings???)

god googler said...

Via Facebook:
From:Susan Magan Karpovich

I have no problem with kids in sports uniforms. Our family's rule was if you can't get to mass you can't go to the games. So there were many times we were on the way to or from (or sometimes in between) games and went to mass. Our priority was attending and participating in mass--not what we wore to do it. However, on "normal days" when there were no games collared shirts and khakis (not jeans) are the rule.

god googler said...

Via Facebook

From: Elaine Kayser Griffiths

Susan, I guess I can't understand the idea of Mass as something you "work in" between games. I try to think of Sunday as being *about* attending Mass, church-related and family activities. I really wish they'd limit sports to Saturdays, but at this point it seems counter-cultural to keep Sunday as the Lord's Day!

god googler said...

Via Facebook:

From: Manny Lim

Certainly there are extenuating circumstances, and going to Mass isn't about fashion, but I find that people will often pay more attention to their appearance when going out to dinner or a club than they would to church.

When I was growing up, my family always dressed up for church. To this day, I won't wear jeans, shorts or sneakers to church, even if I'm not on the altar. Doing anything else just feels wrong to me. And workout clothes or professional or college fan jerseys ... really? Shouldn't people at least PRETEND that Mass is a special occasion?

Anonymous said...

Our former priest once asked if we thought it would be proper to wear shorts to the White House. When we replied no, the priest said he was surprised that some would choose to wear shorts to God's house...enough said for me.

god googler said...

Sports Jerseys? Hmmmm. How do I feel about that? I'm of two minds. I would say that on one hand it makes a statement to kids that the other kids who play soccer also find it important to go to mass. I would say that sometimes I actually find it nice when the league is a Catholic one and the entire team(s) sit together at mass in uniform before the game. It shows that mass is a priority and because the athletes are a "known entity" amongst younger people, they make a large statement to others their own age as well as the rest of the community. I know a Catholic High school who once had their football team come to mass in uniform on Saturday night before the big game. Just seeing them walk to mass together was inspiring and the whole town followed them into church (maybe to pray for victory?) including several who had not been to mass in years and other young people who had never been to mass period.

But in general, I would say that we can dress more appropriately even before a big game. After all, pros don't show up for the game in uniform already! They change in the locker room and to not do so is considered "bush league."

god googler said...

Via Facebook: From: Maria Ingani

i only get dressed up for church when i'm in italy.

god googler said...

Via Facebook: From: Erin Oates

I'd rather have folks at Mass in clothes that might seem perhaps too casual than not at all, but I think as a society we've become so casual we forget often that dressing up a bit can be a good thing. I think what's appropriate doesn't have to be super dressy, but nice slacks/shirt for men, slacks or skirt/top or a dress for women. What I don't like are when EM's/Lectors wear jeans, sweatshirts, shorts, etc. - it doesn't set the right example. And in the summer I see way more skin on display (lots of cleavage esp) than I think is appropriate. This is probably a generational thing since it's the 20-somethings I see this on.

god googler said...


Would you feel the same way if this were a college campus? I see young people wearing very casual (but usually not ratty) clothing at mass on campus (as well as everywhere else). And when someone overdoes it and wears a suit or a dress to mass they become a spectacle and draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Business casual seems more appropriate to me either way but the fact that college students are there at all seems like the greater value to me (especially on secular campuses).

god googler said...

I often think that the White House or the palace comment that usually gets followed with "Then why do you not dress up for the King of Kings?" seems snotty and passive aggressive. But I do think that the idea of being more prepared and mindful at mass is a good one and we WOULD do this if we were in other venues.

And by the way..Father, doesn't really have to think about this for himself. It's like a school uniform for him. Slip on the clerics at home and the vestments at church and he's done.

tony said...

On a completely separate note, I admire you for working the word "Horsefeathers!" into your post. That's very Colonel Potter of you:-)

god googler said...

Tony...I think he'd say Horse puckey!

god googler said...

Via Facebook:

From: Susan Magan Karpovich

As the parent of 2 current and 2 former college students I agree. I would be happy for my kids to be in workout clothes as long as attending mass was their priority.

god googler said...

Via Facebook:
From: Susan Magan Karpovich

Elaine, I agree that there are too many things on Sundays. But I also know that our Jewish neighbors are in worse shape on Saturdays and our wish for respect for our Lord's Day becomes their problem when everything goes to Saturday. We didn't solve the problem we just dumped it in someone elses' lap. In the end it comes down to priority for the individual/family on what they will attend/participate in. That's the hard part...

god googler said...

Via Facebook:

From: Erin Oates

Mike, business casual is what I wrote in my post that I like (maybe I didn't make that clear). Yes, some of the very elderly ladies who grew up w/a more formal style will likely dress that way, but for most folks, I think biz casual works just fine. As for too much skin, I think it would be inappropriate whether at a Newman Center Mass or in a non-college town parish. The same problem is happening in corporate America as way - even 10 years ago HR at my large company was having to teach 20-somethings that short skirts, sheer tops, low-cut tops were not appropriate for work - and I don't think they're appropriate at Mass either!

god googler said...

Via Facebook: From: Elaine Kayser Griffiths

Susan, that's a very good point that I did not consider. You're right, it's the family's job to "hold the line" and keep true to our own values.

Anonymous said...

My kids (now grown) and I dress nicely for mass. I grew up getting dressed up for church and I like it as part of setting aside a day for the Lord. Our parish welcomes all. We have movie stars and the homeless all at one mass. What I've observed over the years is that as a person's faith deepens, the clothing has a way of being taken care of. God deals with people so much better when we give Him the opportunity to work on their hearts.

Michelle said...

I find the "dress up for the King of Kings" argument to be a non-starter for me - particularly when it gets extended to mean that because you are not dressing up (whatever that means),you must not believe in the Real Presence. I dress up when I go to pray morning prayer, with my Lord two feet away in the tabernacle (the chapel where my monastic community gathers is SMALL)? No, I don't. I wear what I will wear for the days work: jeans, a suit, whatever. Do I dress up when I meditate in front of the Blessed Sacrament. No, I don't.

My very strong belief in the Real Presence is utterly unrelated to what I wear in that Presence. Jesus is just as present in the Tabernacle as he is during Mass. I might dress for Mass, but I'm not doing it for Jesus - I'm doing it to keep from distracting my neighbor.

I'm of the "don't distract" position. If most women in your parish don't regularly sport suits and heels and hat, you will call attention to yourself if you do. Ditto for jeans in a "dress up parish".

I travel quite a bit, attend Masses in lots of cities, frankly don't see this to be much of an issue. I might recommend to those who are feeling offended by dress they find immodest they take up another monastic practice: custody of the eyes.

Kensington said...

I say that if you're going to His house, show Him the respect of dressing up. Men should wear suits, and women should wear modest dresses.

But I wouldn't dream of trying to shame anyone who didn't follow my lead on this.

Kat said...

I find this conversation very interesting. I am not Catholic, although I was thoroughly blessed by the years I spent attending services at the Newman Center where I went to college. I currently attend a small non-denominational church in a very urban part of Portland, OR, and we have had something of the same conversation over the years.

It used to be that most people dressed up at least somewhat for Sunday services, and I was always in a nice dress, since I have sung on the worship team for years, but we have found that standard changing a bit as we have been reaching out to a new demographic in our neighborhood.

What used to make us as a congregation comfortable--i.e., dressing up to please the Lord, seems out of place and stand-offish now that we are making much more local connection with the less financially well off people in our area. We have become much more casual in our attire (still clean and modest), and have formed many more relationships with the poor and homeless who live in our part of town. They are comfortable bringing their friends, and our ministry in their lives has gone places we never expected it to go, meeting needs and sharing the Gospel. Some of these people have mentioned the casual dress as being something that made them feel like it was okay for them to be there.

Personally, I prefer to dress up a little, but putting aside our own preferences for the comfort of others has made our church a welcoming place to some lost people who would never have come in if things had stayed the way they were. We've realized that being culturally appropriate has its place in effective ministry.

PeaceBang said...

Hi, everyone! Manny Lim, I see you hiding in there!! When are we having dinner again? *waving*

Emily Case said...

I found this from PB...but I wonder if the real question in ALL your examples was less about what to wear, and more about how you talk to others about their attire. The way the priest in the first example and the other critical parishoners approached people may be the issue. There are times when maybe we should be offended by clothing in churches, but everyone has their own style. There are appropriate ways to confront people for a host of things. That's what the Bible calls us to do--right? To confront each other and hold each other accountable, LOVINGLY. Maybe its less about the clothes and more about the priority certain people put on clothes instead of putting it on being loving to all.


god googler said...


Excellent point! It's really not about being the fashion police.

Anonymous said...

I'm not catholic (some of you have already skipped my comment) but I would totally have to disagree that you must dress up on Sundays. I am a worship pastor and I wear jeans, tennis shoes (most sundays), and a button up shirt while I am leading worship. I have had a couple of people who tell me that I should wear my sunday best before God because we are the bride and I wouldn't wear what I have on to a wedding. Actually I would and do wear that to weddings (unless I am the marrying pastor). In I Samuel 16:7 it says that man looks at the outside appearance but God looks at the heart. The people I see wearing shirts and ties and all their get up at our church are the same ones I would classify as looking the saddest at our church. God worries about what our hearts look like not what clothes we are wearing. By the way i think I look very handsome in what I wear and don't intentionally dress down. I just don't have to put on a suit to think I look good. I think we should focus more on what we look like on the inside and don't worry so much about what everyone else's outside looks like.

The non catholic pastor

Googling God

Googling God
Buy Your Copy Now!