When I was last in Rome, a lifetime ago, I remember being so happy that the churches there has dress codes that were actually being enforced. There were signs everywhere, reminding both men and women to cover up our shoulders and knees and everything in between. It seemed to be reminding us also that, even though we were all on vacation to varying degrees, we were still entering a house of God, and even though we were tourists, some people might actually just be stopping in on their way home from work or to school to spend a quiet moment in prayer and we should be respectful of that. Taking those five seconds to pull on a long skirt over my shorts gave me just enough time to mentally adjust my focus from play time to quiet time. The clothing served as much as a physical a buffer between the outside world, the grime and the sweat, and the one inside the church, the cool and the calm, as it did a mental one, in that the added layers necessarily altered my pace to one where I had to slow down and appreciate the majesty of my surroundings. It wasn’t fancy, but it did the trick.
More recently, our pastor has been attempting, during the summer at least, to stress the need for a dress code specifically for Mass attendance, one that is both “modest and festive.” I for one am thrilled about this. I was raised with the importance of dressing “appropriately” for Mass being stressed constantly. There were to be no jeans, no flip flops, hardly a sandal and definitely not our “play” shoes. The boys wore at the very least dress pants and shirts and normally suits and ties, and we girls wore dresses, patent leather shoes, and frilly socks. It wasn’t enough for us to simply be dressed modestly, as that was just considered standard in our house. We had to dress in clothing that was special in some way, usually reserved just for Mass, hence our “Church clothes,” i. e. something “festive.” Often, although not as often as when I take my own children to Mass now, we were the only ones dressed like this, but my parents never saw “fitting in” with society as something to worry about (hello — 16 kids? Yeah.). What mattered to them was showing us and everyone else that Mass was not the same as every other hour of every other day. It was something special, set apart, and far more important than anything else we would ever do. As my mother explained to me once, Mass is a great feast, like a party, and we always get dressed up for parties.
Now that I have my own children, my husband and I try our best to emulate my parents and the way they always dressed us. The girls wear dresses that are separate from all their other dresses and are just for Mass; the boys wear suits and ties, and, much to my youngest man’s chagrin, dress shoes. Apparently, we’ve drilled the idea into them sufficiently because, one day,
when my son slipped on our way out the door to Mass, and got the back of his pants soaked to the point that he needed to change into the only clean pants he had, jeans, he threw a fit because, “We can’t wear play pants to Mass! We have to dress up for Mass!” I finally calmed him down by convincing him that God would rather see us at Mass than not, even in jeans. Perhaps we stressed it a bit too much? Actually, I don’t think so. I want my kids to understand that, while there may be no helping it some weeks, by and large, we should want to be dressed appropriately, “modestly and festively,” for Sunday Mass, and that we should, therefore, take the time to prepare our clothing the way we should take the time to prepare our souls. Just as we would make sure not to show up to a black-tie event in a pair of shorts by gathering our accoutrements in a timely manner before the party, we should take the same care with our Mass attire because it is the greatest party we will ever be invited to. Taking it seriously, dressing appropriately, is just another way we show God and the world our appreciation for the gift of the Mass that we are offered every week.
So I say, suit up. Every week. Don’t let it end there! Perhaps a frilly swing dress and heels is a bit much for a Wednesday afternoon, but is it too much to set some basic standards for ourselves? What about making Mass a sweatpants free zone? How about promising no holey clothing in the Chapel or Church? I know it can be hard, but again, it just takes a little time and effort to make sure that we are appropriately clothed for Mass, be it Sunday or daily. Remember, and I know I am taking Matt. 22 a little too literally here but still, it’s not enough just to come to the wedding banquet. We need to be wearing those wedding clothes, both spiritually and physically.