It may seem at times that when a pastor dares to add a snippet in his sermon about dressing appropriately for Mass, or a paragraph in the Sunday bulletin on what attire is considered respectable for the Holy Sacrifice, it doesn’t usually go down well. Some parishioners may complain, or a visitor may become angry, the Bishop may even be called. But a pastor giving proper guidelines to his sheep on what the Church deems appropriate wear for THE Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not new, nor is it something the Church has ever condemned. In fact, it has been a longstanding tradition to guide the faithful in appropriate wear, and has been so for hundreds of years. And it is a part of the job of the pastor to guide his flock in all things moral, especially when it comes to the Mass.
The Church has always taught the importance of Christians dressing properly, specifically for inside the Church in front of God Himself truly Present in the Eucharist. There are numerous Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Popes and holy priests that have spoken on this very topic. Though because of the volume of information on this subject, we will only be focusing on the 19th to 21st centuries here, and focusing mostly on Bishops, Cardinals and so on. Not priests or saints.
The Outlines of the Dress Code which we can see is still promoted even today, we can trace back to Pope Benedict XV.
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In 1924, La Croix published an article that speaks loudly of Rome’s serious call to modesty in dress in Church, even citing Cardinal Basilio Pompili, before his 1928 Guidelines! (A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.”)
Against Fashions Contrary to Decency
We published in its time the great advertisement given to the pilgrims who of all the flock to Lourdes by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes. In this document, much noted, the prelate formally forbids access to the processions, the Grotto and the sanctuaries to all women and young girls who do not observe the prescriptions of Cardinal Pompili, vicar of Rome, and of the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice.
The cardinal had prescribed:
“A woman should enter the house of God only decently dressed in a rising garment and her head covered, because the immodesty of clothing, everywhere and always reprehensible, offends particularly the holiness of the temples, forbids the access to the Eucharist Table and often attracts terrible punishments from God.”
The Patriarch of Venice had prescribed for his part:
“The priests of our diocese will have noticed that, for some time, a fashion has been established in the costume of women which eliminates the sleeves and increases the neckline. He should therefore (warn the faithful that people who dare to come to church in such clothing (low-cut bodices, insufficiently long sleeves, not going below the elbow) will not be admitted to the sacraments and may be invited to leave the church. If therefore a woman or a young girl dressed in this way presented herself at the Holy Table to receive Communion, every priest should, without making any direct observation, pass in front of her; without giving her Holy Communion. If the pastor of this person could then find the opportunity to make him hear a fatherly warning, that he not omit this act of charity.”
Let us recall the opinion of Bishop Schoepfer:
“Seeing, to our deep sorrow, the overflow of the abuses which the venerable Cardinals Pompili and La Fontaine seek to remedy spread more and more and even invade the city of the Apparitions, we believe ourselves obliged to make our own and adopt as a line of conduct to be followed, in our whole diocese, but in Lourdes especially the serious decisions taken and promulgated by these drue. The illustrious princes of the Church. Consequently-, if, in our diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes, a person offending in her dress- aforementioned prescriptions, came to the Holy Table to receive Communion, any priest without, moreover, sending him an observation direct should refrain from giving him Holy Communion.
By thus echoing the defenses of the Eminent Cardinals Pompili and La Fontaine, we are also inspired by the example that came recently from Our Holy Father Pope Pius XI himself, who formally forbade the appearance in his presence of “the ladies or young girls whose dress would be more absolutely high and the sleeves are long enough We believe, moreover, with regard to Lourdes that we must add that the persons whose costume would be contrary to the orders reproduced above must take care as unworthy of being admitted to enter the miraculous Grotto, consecrated by the Apparitions of the Immaculate Virgin.”
We also remember that Mgr Quilliet, Bishop of Lille, a. specified that young girls must wear dresses that descend below the knee. Finally, the Religious Week of Clermont publishes this press release from the bishopric:
1 Immodest clothing is always wrong is especially in the holy place. Therefore anyone allowing to appear there with an inappropriate setting would be liable to be asked to leave the church;
2. The sacraments should be denied to women and girls reporting for the confessional or the holy table in some decent dress (Low necklines (corsage DÉCOLLETÉ, insufficiently long sleeves, not down below the elbow);
3. Regarding the refusal of the Holy Eucharist, the priest, without making any comments to the person whose isn’t dress appropriatly, will just pass her without giving her Holy Communion;
4. The pastor of a person to whom the sacraments would have been so rejected and could then find the opportunity to give him a fatherly admonition, and not omit this act of charity.
For these quotes, our readers see how the Church is moved to see the paganism in clothing invade us.
What did I say ? This is not only of paganism. The inhabitants of uncivilized country that brings the ease of travel in Europe, wonder, rightly, to see our civilization disrobe at will, while in the name of civilization, are invited to adopt them, the use of clothing. Insist is useless, absolutely blatant abuse, the glaring scandal. We certainly do not claim to be able to draw against the torrent of general indecency effective dike, but we beg Christian families to refuse to submit to the yoke of tyranny indecent fashions.
They owe it to God.
They owe to Jesus Christ they want to receive the Eucharist years.
They owe it to the Christian tradition.
They owe it to the building of the youth.
If we destroy modesty, we fall into the cesspool of corruption.
END OF ARTICLE
First published in the FRANCISCAN HERALD April, 1920, page 184. Following the call for Modesty in Fashion by the Irish Bishops in 1919…
IRISH WOMEN START LEAGUE FOR MODEST DRESS
Dublin cable reports state that war has been declared on the “Gladneck” by Irish women and a League of St. Brigid has been established, with the warm approval of the authorities of the Church, to combat immodest fashions. The convents and boarding schools are to be constituted headquarters for the new league, and thousands of young women missionaries are annually to carry on the fight in their home districts. All members of the new league will be required to sign the following pledge :
“For the glory of God and the honor of Erin, I promise to avoid in my own person all impropriety in the manner of dress, and to, maintain and hand down the traditional and proverbial purity and modesty of Irish womanhood.”
Published in the FRANCISCAN HERALD May, 1920:
IN a ringing pastoral letter, the Most
Rev. J. W. Shaw, Archbishop of New, Orleans, has recently issued a solemn
protest against immodesty of female at-
tire. With true apostolic freedom and
manly courage” he scores the modern
styles of woman’s dress; nor does he
mince his words in endeavoring to bring
the women of his diocese to a sense of
their duty in this matter. We are glad
to note that prominent members of the
hierarchy are lending their name and au-
thority to the crusade against indecent
female attire; for, unless the Bishops
raise their voice against this crying abuse,
private efforts must remain unavailing.
The evil is too deep-rooted and universal
to be combated successfully by the hap-
hazard and spasmodic, if well meant, ef-
forts of individual members of the clergy
and the laity. The latter, however, will
feel heartened to keep up the fight by the
outspoken pastoral of Archbishop Shaw.
It contains so much that is timely and
noteworthy that we shall take the liberty
to quote therefrom at some length :
While we are neither presumptuous nor
foolish enough to discuss “colors, forms
and fashions,” yet we are deeply concerned
with the morals of dress in the interest of
Christian purity and modesty. The pres-
ent shocking disregard in modern female
attire for the elementary principles of ordi-
nary decency is simply appalling. It is a
question whether the licentious woman of
the degenerate Roman Empire surpassed
her modern society sister in her immodesty
of dress. To say nothing from an eco-
nomic viewpoint of the large sums ex-
pended foolishly for the gratification of
female vanity, “to be dressed up and built
up and masqueraded” only to be looked at,
the disgusting realism of the modern fash-
ions is fast extinguishing in the hearts of
all noble-minded men that spirit of rever-
ence and chivalry which regarded women
of other days as something almost mystic and divine. How humiliating it must have
been to the painted and wanton beauties of
modern society to read not long ago in a
daily paper that their grotesque and shame-
less fashions originate in the minds of their
fallen sisters in a prominent European
Oh, the pity and the shame of it that so
many of our ordinarily good Catholic wo-
men of all classes and of nearly every age,
married as well as single, mothers as well
as daughters, are the servile imitators of
the immodest fashions of the day! To
such an extent have some of them lost the
natural modesty and shrinking delicacy of
their sex that they hesitate not to come
before the Holy of Holies and approach
the sacred table in such scant apparel as
must needs make the angels veil their faces
with their wings. We have seriously de-
bated with ourselves whether we are not
bound in conscience to exclude such-women
from the House of God Whose Vicar on
Earth would not tolerate their presence for
a moment. Our patient forbearance and
wish to spare them a painful humiliation
must not be considered as a weak conniv-
ance of their scandalous violation of the
sanctity of God’s. House.
In this connection we wish also to re-
mind parents of their grave obligation to
dress their young daughters, from the ten-
derest years, according to the laws of Chris-
tian modesty. Our Catholic women would
save themselves and others the guilt of
many sins and would win the respect and
esteem of all right-minded persons if they
would follow the example of the God-fear-
ing women of other days, who, in the mat-
ter of dress, took counsel of their good
sense and attired themselves according to
their station in life. These truly Christian
mothers and modest maidens knew how to
avoid the extreme of singularity of plain-
ness, which may be only the affectation of
vanity, and the extreme of servile imitation
of fashions which reflect the corrupt spirit
of the world. If the daughters of the
Church will be her glory in the chaste gen-
eration so highly praised by the Holy
Spirit, Christian mothers, by word and ex-
ample, in season and out of season, must
endeavor to eradicate the soul-destroying
evil of the modern immodest fashions.
These words have a manly ring, and
we hope they will have the desired effect.
His Grace deserves the hearty thanks of
all who are trying to avert what they re-
gard as one of the gravest dangers threat-
ening the morals of this country. Re-
form in matters of woman’s dress is im-
perative, and the sooner the movement
for reform is nationalized, the better for
the country. The Third Order of St.
Francis is a national organization, and the
members thereof are bound by their Rule
of life to observe moderation in dress.
What society, therefore, could be better
adapted to undertake this campaign
against indecent fashions than the Third
Order? In fact, we think that for these
reasons it is incumbent on them to do so.
We have at various times appealed to the
Directors and members of Third Order
fraternities tor take up this most laudable
reform work; but our appeals have gone
unheeded. Can it be that the Directors
and their charges are indifferent to the
widespread immorality superinduced by
the wanton and audacious styles displayed
by so many women ? We refuse to believe
it. But, if they are really concerned
about the spiritual welfare of their neigh-
bor, had they not better start something
to counteract the evil influence of the pre-
vailing fashions? The only thing for all
good Christian women to do, is to set
their faces resolutely against all extrava-
gance and indecency in dress by refusing
to wear any piece of clothing that does
not conform to the postulates of the
Christian modesty and by inducing others
to do the same. In this way, the shame-
less women will be driven under cover
and made to feel the impropriety of their
conduct. There are decent women enough
in every parish and community to make
their numbers felt, and it is their plain
duty to assert themselves.
Almost a year ago FRANCISCAN
HERALD established what it regarded as
a proper standard for woman’s dress and
embodied this standard in four points or
principles. We have since had these
principles, together with the Holy Fath-
er’s late appeal ‘ for modesty of dress,
printed on cards, which we shall mail, for
purposes of distribution, to all who are
interested in the matter of dress reform.
We have gone to considerable expense in
having these pledge cards printed, and
we hope there will be a sufficient demand
for them to justify the outlay on our part.
Let our readers remember that we shall
be glad to send these cards to anybody
that is willing to distribute them and en-
courage others to sign them.
A certain recurring column in the Franciscan Herald. This one in particular was published in, April, 1920. Here are some excerpts:
“We deck the House of God with; lights and flowers; we line the Tabernacle with fair embroidered satins, that it may be more worthy the Divine Tenant; but that part of us that becomes a living tabernacle in Holy Communion is prepared with indifference — all too often with downright slovenliness.
I do not advocate fads or fancies, nor have I any desire to inculcate harrowing novelties, but this point. I think, is nothing of that kind. I remember that in my own little girl days, a good Franciscan priest who taught us our catechism in the convent school that I frequented, used to bring up that very subject. He urged upon us to prepare our souls with all diligence for the reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, and also to prepare our bodies in a neat and seemly manner — not indeed in the height of fashion, but in attire that would be pleasing to the Lover that came to our hearts; pleasing in neatness and care according to the circumstances of each. When we think of it, such a system would go far toward remedying the evils into which the art of dress has fallen. Dress
to please the divine Lover, and it will follow that we please all others worthy of being pleased.
I do not wish to harp on the subject of neatness, but it seems advisable to bring it up once more for the simple reason that we can not look well without a firm foundation of good grooming. It is better to own but one gown which is kept spotless, and wear it with neat and becomingly dressed hair, carefully brushed shoes, immaculate teeth, and nails, than
to have ten gowns with buttons missing and the accompaniment of unkempt hair, run-over heels, and so on.
Let’s all resolve to pay some attention to our grooming between this and next month’s talk. I’ll warrant it won’t make us one whit less zealous in the pursuit of our soul’s salvation. My private opinion would have it that we’ll be a little better for the attempt. It stands to reason that anything done for the purpose of pleasing God is bound to brighten up these souls of ours a little.
About the Spring Fashions
A word or two may not be amiss concerning the spring fashions of 1920. We are met on all sides by the assurance that fashion has turned from the lengthening skirts of last fall, and that we must wear our skirts something like fifteen or twenty inches from the ground. Also that we must have our sleeves cut midway between elbow and shoulder, even in street gowns.
Now it seems as if a warning in this regard should be unnecessary. Still, there are some young readers who may want to know what this department thinks of the fashions that make extremely short skirts and sleeves obligatory. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to read over the “Four Points” in this connection, but if more is needed, it isn’t hard to express my opinion. That type of gown is not only extreme and immodest but inartistic and absurd as well — heinous crimes, all according to Agnes Modesta. Let us be careful to note that there are conservative fashions even in this season, and set our faces staunchly in the direction of decency and good taste.”
“In what does the great part of our modern life differ from what it would have been, if our Lord had never appeared on earth? The Vicar of Christ has recently been forced to protest, in the name of Christian morality, against the shameless audacity of female attire. How far removed we are from the spirit of the Gospel! According to the word of God, women should dress in decent apparel adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, as it becometh women professing godliness; but the modern woman too often flaunts along the streets, setting modesty at defiance. Can the gospel message ever have touched the hearts of those painted, leering, half-clad horrors which in- fest nearly all public resorts? Our modern morality seems to suffer them gladly.” —Archbishop of Birmingham.
Letter to the Editor – The Franciscan Herald 1920
Bishop Besson of Lausanne, ordered the following letter to be read at all masses, in the churches and chapels of his diocese on July 19 or 26, 1925.
The indecency of fashions, especially in the city, has taken on scandalous proportions. The faithful, and especially mothers of families, must not however forget that there are, in this area as in others, rules of Christian modesty from which no one can, under any pretext, be exempted.
It is necessary that the moral level has fallen very low so that the woman resigns herself to the outrageous toilets which the whims of a perverted world make her wear. It is necessary that the sense of propriety has been singularly weakened so that we no longer know that it is incorrect to leave the house before having finished dressing.
We are disgusted to see that such aberrations manifest themselves not only in the bad-tempered people who inspired them, but in Christian women, even in those who should more, because of their social position, set a good example.
We are sorry to think that the lightness of so many mothers forever compromises the souls of poor children, especially poor girls, by accustoming them to certain ways of dressing which make them lose the feeling of modesty.
Against such a revival of paganism, we have a grave duty to react, and it is to the Christian spirit of the faithful that we appeal.
Whatever empty pretexts you may invoke, Ladies and Ladies, we are not afraid to assert that current fashions are often a source of sin for the unconscious who accept them and an occasion of sin for those they scandalize.
In the day when God will ask you to account for the evil you have done and the evil you have caused to be done, he will judge you neither according to your fashion journal, nor according to the false principles of a completely materialized hygiene, nor according to the pretended conveniences of worldly people, but according to the holy Gospel. Now, the divine Master said: “ Woe to him who is the cause of sandal! Heaven and earth will pass away; this word will not pass.
Mgr. Marius Besson, cited in Catholic Tunisia, August 30, 1925, p. 681-682 .
Mgr Besson évêque de Lausanne, a ordonné de lire la lettre suivante à toutes les messes, dans les églises et les chapelles de son diocèse le 19 ou le 26 juillet 1925.
L’indécence des modes, surtout à la ville, a pris des proportions scandaleuses. Les fidèles, et notamment les mères de famille, ne doivent pourtant pas oublier qu’il y a, dans ce domaine comme dans les autres, des règles de la modestie chrétienne dont nul ne peut, sous aucun prétexte, s’exempter.
Il faut que le niveau moral soit tombé bien bas pour que la femme se résigne aux toilettes outrageantes que les caprices d’un monde perverti lui font porter. Il faut que le sens des convenances ait été singulièrement affaibli pour qu’on ne sache plus qu’il est incorrect de sortir de chez soi avant d’avoir fini de s’habiller.
Nous sommes écœuré de constater que de telles aberrations se manifestent non…
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An excellent answer to the problematic theology of Christopher West. An article well worth a read!
In his long-awaited reply to his critics, West honestly admits that he did not want to say anything until he had received the all clear from the bishops, a boon given in abundance by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades. While the bishops’ endorsement is significant, it does not mean that West’s teaching is magisterial or that it is on the level of those who themselves hold the teaching office of the Church. Even a theologian who has gained the endorsement of a pope, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar or Cardinal Walter Kasper, is not considered above respectful criticism when he articulates views that may legitimately be shown to be difficult to reconcile with the Church Fathers and Doctors.
West is gracious for thanking his supporters, but his reference to the “profound consolation” proffered by the faithful is a bit off-putting. He has chosen the path of controversy of…
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