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.
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.
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.