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 as 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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Carelessness and immodesty of dress leads to impurity, episcopate of Quebec, 1946 Jean-Marie Rodrigue Cardinal Villeneuve (1883-1947) (…) 9. It is first of all in the dress in general that the carelessness manifests itself which, too often, unfortunately, leads to impurity. How many people are slaves to these fashions which ignore the elementary rules of modesty and which sometimes constitute a direct provocation to evil. 10. Thanks be to God, Christian women in our circles appear in church and, generally in public assemblies, only decently dressed. Likewise, we are pleased to note that most of the women go out onto the streets, suitably dressed. But what will it be tomorrow, if one thinks of the growing vogue for “these clothes so cramped or as they seem made rather to highlight more what they should veil”, as Pius XII observes ( 1). Too many young girls easily accept indecent, sometimes provocative shortcuts, daring necklines where they sometimes have the impudence to place the cross of Our Lord, Master of purity!
Too many of them are showing off in “shorts”, still timidly on the street, but without embarrassment in the game! Often they reduce their beach costume even further. Immodest by their very nature, these clothes should be banned from our mores, even in sports (2). Note also that wearing pants under the slightest pretext, or, what is worse, with the aim of showing off in public, is not worthy of a true Christian. 11. To the undressing and carelessness of life in the open air is added the deplorable and too widespread use among even practicing Christians of circulating inside their homes in the lightest attire. How far we are from the delicacies of our Christian mothers of old! 12. We pity women of dubious morals who accept these shortcuts, these necklines, these negligee. But that a Christian, a wife, a mother, a young girl, far from reacting against these perverse currents, too often engage in them to their heart’s content, gradually unlearn modesty, ignore it, even despise it, how not to be amazed and saddened to tears!
13. The man himself does not escape the taste for the exhibition of his flesh: we go topless in public, we wear pants or a tight-fitting jersey that is too short. We thereby commit offenses against the virtue of modesty, when we are not the occasion of sin, in thought or in desire, for our neighbor. 14. What seems even more serious to us, not certainly as a provocation to evil, but rather as a harmful habit which can lead very far, is, in the girls’ costume, the dress that is too cropped, the complete nudity of the arms and legs. legs, when it does not go up to that of the torso. Without knowing it, these poor children thus scandalize, and often, their little brothers. How can a Christian mother forget it? If these children see some cassock in the street, a sign of the guardian of modesty and morality, they hasten to pull off what remains of their clothing to cover themselves. These little girls will grow old. To be modest, and often to be pure, they will have to go up a whole current which has carried them so far. Will they really be able to? Poor mothers, you are violating, know it, your serious duties as educators. 15. Immorality therefore uses fashion to corrupt souls;
she also uses sport, yet so useful and so necessary for the health of the body. It is a ruse of Satan to divert from their end games, pleasures, amusements, amusements whose primary goal is to rest the body by making life in society more pleasant. Satan rejoices in these “sports parties which take place in conditions of clothing, exhibitions and camaraderie incompatible with even the least demanding modesty” (3). In fact, so much care is taken to create clothing for sport that undresses or that seduces, and, in truth, under the most fallacious pretexts; one participates with so much without embarrassment in those parties of pleasure which make young men and young girls life companions for a day, far from the eyes and protective glances; camaraderie quickly becomes misplaced familiarity, and, with the help of alcoholic liquors, familiarity turns into shameless companionship. Thus the excursions, the parts of ski or chalet, the exercise of the skating in all its forms, still other amusements, become directly or indirectly occasions of faults all the more tempting that they present themselves under the guise of ‘legitimate self-relaxation. (…)
42. This then is the Christian’s judgment on this agonizing problem of modern immorality. Aware of his dignity as a man and a Christian, aware of the disastrous consequences of immorality on the family and civil society, he esteems the beautiful virtue of purity at a high price and he practices it according to the requirements of his state of life. . He understands that morality is superior to pleasure and fashion, that there are limits that it is never allowed to cross without injuring his conscience and his faith. For him, morality, and especially purity, are treasures that must be protected against any violation. By protecting them, with all the necessary sacrifices, he has the joy of increasing the glory of his Mother Church and the satisfaction of helping his brothers. (…) 51. The struggle is therefore inevitable. You will accept it courageously, and to emerge victorious, you will watch out for the occasions of sin, you will avoid them with the grace of God: you will not entertain bad thoughts, you will not warm up any shameful desire, you will flee bad company, you will refuse to allow your mind to be corrupted by obscene literature and provocative illustrations, you will keep your heart firm and upright by avoiding risky dating, immoral dances, corrupting cinema, pagan social gatherings, idleness, mother of all vices, and intemperance in the use of intoxicating drinks. In short, to practice purity, you will cultivate modesty, which is an instinctive fear of the soul at the first approach of evil; you will cultivate modesty, which is moderation, a sense of proportion, which usually avoids anything that is likely to arouse sexual passion in yourself and in others. Modesty and modesty, such are the ornaments and the guardians of purity. (…) 57. Your [that of fathers and mothers of families] educative action will be exercised from an early age, at this period when habits are created which will influence all life. Please do not get your children used to the negligee, we dare say, to nudism. “O Christian mothers,”
exclaims the Sovereign Pontiff, “if you knew what future of anguish and perils, of ill-contained shame, you are preparing your sons and daughters by accustoming them imprudently to live barely covered, and making them lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves and you would dread the insult that you do to yourselves and the harm that you cause to the children whom Heaven has entrusted to you to bring up them in Christianity ”(4 )
Notes (1) Pie XII, La Mode, Discours du 22 mai 1941, E.S.P. (2) Synode de Québec (1940), décret 102, note : « Que si l’on demande en quoi consiste un habit modeste et décent pour une chrétienne, on comprendra que c’est celui qui couvre la poitrine et les bras d’étoffes non transparentes, qui descend au moins à mi-jambe, et dont la coupe d’une ampleur convenable protège la pudeur en dissimulant les lignes du corps » (Cardinal Rouleau, 8 décembre 1930, Mandements des Évêques de Québec, vol. XIII, Supplément 45) [en fait : 36]. S.[on] E.[xcellence] le Cardinal Villeneuve, Communication de l’Archevêché de Québec contre les modes païennes, 27 juin 1945. Semaine Religieuse de Québec, 57e année, n° 44, 5 juillet 1945. p. 690. S. E. Mgr Arthur Douville, Mandements des Évêques de Saint-Hyacinthe, vol. XXI, p. 354. (3) Pie XII, La Mode, Discours du 22 mai 1941, E.S.P. (4) Pie XII, ibid.
Référence Archevêques et évêques de la province de Québec, « Croisade de pureté », Lettre pastorale collective, n°114, 5 mai 1946 ; paru dans : Mandements, lettres pastorales et circulaires des évêques du Québec, volume 17, 1943-1954, Chancellerie de l’archevêché, Québec, 1955, p. 241-243 ; p. 253-254 ; p. 257 ; p. 259.
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.”
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 capital! 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.
Concerning dressing decently as Catholics, many have asked the question “What is so sinful about women’s shoulders!?” This is a perfectly valid question and we felt it deserved to be addressed in its very own post.
Temples of the Holy Spirit
“Do you not know, says St. Paul, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ”
First of all, shoulders are not sinful, just as the marital embrace, breasts, legs, ankles etc are not sinful. God made them, and He made them good. What makes something “sinful” is,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) defines SIN as, ” an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law (St. Augustine, Faust 22:PL 42, 418). It is an offense against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ. Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity. The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and the gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects. To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death.” (CCC 1871-74)
In every sinful act two things must be considered, the substance of the act and the want of rectitude or conformity (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxxii, a. 1). (CatholicAnswers) So, to make something sinful, it would be:
Perverting something from its God-given purpose: Like masturbation, Sex outside of marriage, unnatural marital relations between husband and wife, adultery…
Being in itself an evil act: Murder, stealing, vanity, pride…
The marital act, for example is not sinful when it is used how God ordained it: between husband and wife. But it can be perverted from its God-ordained use: masturbation, pornography, adultery, used outside of marriage, unnatural instances and so on. But this does not mean that the marital act, when proper, can be viewed by others, or spoken of crassly / in the wrong situations and so on. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.
Just as there is a right and wrong way of dressing in public. Pope Pius XII spoke on May 22nd, 1941, “Fashion itself isn’t bad. It arises spontaneously from human sociability, following the impulse which inclines to put oneself in harmony with one’s fellows and with the habits of the people among whom have lived. God does not ask you to live outside your time, to remain indifferent to the demands of fashion to the point of making yourself ridiculous by dressing yourself against the common tastes and customs of your contemporaries, without ever worrying about this. that they like. Thus, the angelic Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms that in the external things which man makes use of there is no vice, but that vice comes from man who uses it immoderately in relation to the uses of those with whom he lives, distinguishing himself in a strange way from others”
On November 8, 1957, Pope Pius presented the still-valid principles of modesty in dress.
Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are “so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”
Hygiene pertains mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness). Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defense of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.” Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need, more greatly felt by woman, to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”
Fashion “has achieved an indisputable importance in public life, whether as an aesthetic expression of customs, or as an interpretation of public demand and a focal point of substantial economic interests.
“The rapidity of change (in styles) is further stimulated by a kind of silent competition, not really new, between the ‘elite’ who wish to assert their own personality with original forms of clothing, and the public who immediately convert them to their own use with more or less good imitations.”
The Pontiff then isolated the difficulty with fashion. “The problem of fashion consists in the harmonious reconciliation of a person’s exterior ornamentation with the interior of a quiet and modest spirit.” Like other material objects, fashion can become an undue attachment–even perhaps an addiction–for some persons. The Church “does not censure or condemn styles when they are meant for the proper decorum and ornamentation of the body, but she never fails to warn the faithful against being casily led astray by them.” (Monsignor Charles M. Mangan)
Bare Arms / Serious Importance of Modesty in Dress Held by the Church
The problem that arose concerning women wearing sleeveless dresses and shirts to Mass arose in 1925. Many Bishops exhorted their priests to post a sign on the doors of the Churches to make sure women knew what was considered appropriate in the House of God. Their main concern, aside from the rising Vanity, Pride, Materialism that was becoming so fashionable was “bare arms” and “Décolleté / Décolletage” which is ” the upper part of a woman’s torso, comprising her neck, shoulders, back and chest, that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing. However, the term is most commonly applied to a neckline that reveals or emphasizes cleavage.”
In the Pastoral Letter of His Eminence Cardinal Luçon, Archbishop of Reims, the clergy and the faithful of his diocese, a scathing account is written concerning the seriousness of indecent dress at Mass, where he specifically mentions “bare arms” and low cut dresses, “There is at least one point on which we see ourselves as certain to encounter a unanimous obedience: that nobody will afford to appear to church with these unseemly fashion, that is to say, low-cut dress or bare arms. If there is one place where the frivolous fashions and nudity are particularly displaced, is not it the House of God?” he concluded, “
We strongly urge women and girls of our diocese to observe in their clothes the rules of Christian modesty.
They should absolutely abstain from appearing at the church, especially in the public offices and during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, cut dresses and bare arms.
They will not be admitted to in Confession nor the Holy Table.
And will be, this pastoral letter with the command which terminates, read and published in the main advocates of Mass in churches and chapels of our diocese on Sunday that following receipt.”
And in July, 1925, Mgr Besson bishop of Lausanne, ordered a letter to be read at all Masses in churches and chapels of the diocese that was very similar. He then also spoke to parents, concerning the upbringing of their children, “You have a moral duty to raise them and maintain them in modesty. You have to dress them with reserve and in particular require that the dresses of your girls cover their arms and down below their knees.“
Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili on 24 September 1928 issued Guidelines to help Catholic women with regard to Fashion – and what they could consider to be Modest and proper for Mass (and so on). “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.” There has been a concession with regard to sleeve length, because of market conditions.
Brother Raymond-Marie Rouleau, Archbishop of Quebec, wrote in 1930: (loosely translated from French) “In order to determine precisely what is to be considered what is appropriate, (or) improper attire to be worn by the person assisting at Mass…We take the following rule to the letter of His Eminence Cardinal Vicar [ Basilio Pompilj ] addressed on 24 September 1928 to all higher schools of sponsorships and girls in the city of Rome..We hope that all the girls and women of our diocese will be a duty to comply with these provisions and to set an example of Christian modesty with the submission to the will of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that sanctions brought by the Sacred Congregation must be applied with equal prudence and firmness , to stop immediately and as effectively as possible the scourge of immodesty.”
In 1945, Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve likewise, told those in his diocese ” The priests will not let people enter churches who are not dressed properly. Those who have sleeveless dresses, too low cut or too short, must put on a cloak before crossing the threshold of our temples.” While the Bishops Synod of Quebec stated, “What if we ask what is a modest and decent outfit for a Christian, it is understood that this is the one that covers the chest and arms non-transparent fabrics, coming down at least mid-leg, and whose cup a suitable extent protects modesty hiding body lines “(Cardinal Rouleau, December 8, 1930 . Mandements of Bishops of Quebec , vol. XIII, Supplement 45 [in fact: 36]).
Church Dress Code: Still A Practice Today
The standard of bare arms being improper for Mass and in Church still exists to this day; we can see it being enforced in the Vatican. In particular, the Papal Audience Dress code states that women must cover their shoulders.
Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.) “Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.” (An ADDRESS of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” November 8, 1957.)
Concerning the seriousness of modesty and purity, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests cried, “Oh God, how many souls does this sin drag down to Hell! . . . . No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known to those worldly and corrupt girls who make so many preparations and take so many cares to draw the eyes of the world towards themselves, who by their affected and indecent dress announce publicly that they are evil instruments which Hell makes use of to ruin souls- those souls which cost so much in labours and tears and torments to Jesus Christ! . . . .” Now he wasn’t one to mince words! Yet he had thousands and thousands flock to Mass and Confession because of it!
In 2016, Fr. Carmelo Arada of Manila Archdiocese Commission on Liturgy said certain decorum must always be observed for liturgical functions.“Going to Mass in the parish and going to Mass in the malls must be celebrated with the same disposition, including the attire. Dress properly,” said the priest. He called for the observance of the proper dress code during mass. “Male Catholics are also discouraged from wearing caps, basketball jerseys, tank tops or jersey shorts, and shorts while women are urged to refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap tops or tank tops, short skirts, skimpy shorts or sleeveless shirts with plunging necklines during Mass.” Which is the same dress code the Archdiocese of Manila had laid down back in 2007.
Fr. Dominic in a homily on EWTN spoke, “Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach. You should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tank-tops, dresses above the knees, bare shoulders, bare arms, low cut dresses, sleeveless shirts, very tight fitting clothing, etc. If you come to EWTN or the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL and you are not dressed properly don’t expect to get out of your car because we have a dress code here. And don’t even dare to come into the Chapel before our Lord. If you do, hopefully you will be caught by our security guards and asked to put on more clothing. We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.”
However, all this aside, what we wear to swim, or what we wear in our own homes is certainly a little less “standardized.” (see video below) Though we must never forget our proper role as Catholics; children of God and heirs of Heaven. And our duty to be holy examples to others, especially those under our care. When it comes to bare shoulders, it is more or less not much of an issue outside of Church. But of course then we are faced with the questions, “How thick must our strap be? Two inches? Spaghetti straps? How wide can our sleeves be? Does it even matter at all?” For we know that when we are wearing sleeveless shirts / dresses then the showing of our bra / breast can become an issue when there are large, gaping holes.. We recommend sleeveless shirts / dresses that do not show our bra, and cut close to under our arms, just so that we need not worry about our chest showing when we bend down or lift our arms.
Conclusion / Final Notes
The Catholic Church isn’t dumb; we are not expected to wear old fashioned or ugly clothing, covering our bodies likened to Sharia Law! Pope Pius XII actually calls us to follow the fashion, but with prudence! He called it an act of charity! He has even said that Fashion and Modesty go together.
We are called to look to these guidelines for the sole reason that we know without a doubt that our dress (and, remember we must be modest in our looks, thoughts, words and actions also!) will never be a source of scandal or sin to others.
It’s not “two more inches and you are sinning!” but rather “here is a Standard that will make it easier for you to be able to build a wardrobe around, without having to worry about Modesty at all!” And even if some willfully dress immodestly, it is never our place to hate those people, or treat them badly! Never! We are called to be examples, and to tell the truth when it is charitably necessary (if people don’t know what is modesty they cannot dress modestly), but we are not called to judge if a person is purposefully dressing sinfully to make men lust after them! Most people have no idea anymore! And then need our prayers, our charitable information when possible, and most of all … our example It would be really easy to believe that we could dress how we think is modest, but as mentioned before; something are more difficult than others when it comes to temptation. It is up to both genders to dress modestly, be pure in heart and mind, “flee thou youthful desires, and pursue justice, faith, charity, and peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” [2 Timothy 2:22]
If we tried to “cover up” parts of ourselves that were a “stumbling block” or “temptation” for others it would be impossible. As even the mere thought of a person can bring about temptation. It is up to us to fight these temptations, yet not making it harder for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Few “dress codes” have been made by some Christians that have proven to make no sense at all concerning “inches” and “situational outfits”. Is Original Sin merely situational? Prudence and common sense calls us as Catholics to follow a moral guideline, not our feelings, as most Catholic issues. As the Catholic Church has so very much pointed out the importance of Modesty in dress, as well as other areas, we should at least adhere to the seriousness, and the importance.
We must always remember WHY we are trying to dress with decency and modesty:
Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit
Because we are children of God and heirs of Heaven
Because it honors God
Because it allows us to become good examples for Christ, as well as keeps us pure
THOSE who have had the misfortune to give bad example, and to wound or cause the perdition of souls by scandal, must take care to repair all in this world, if they would not be subjected to the most terrible expiation in the other. It was not in vain that Jesus Christ cried out, Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh! (Matt. 18:7)
Hear what Father Rossignoli relates in his Merveilles du Purgatoire. A painter of great skill and otherwise exemplary life had once made a painting not at all conformable to the strict rules of Christian modesty. It was one of those paintings which, under the pretext of being works of art, are found in the best families, and the sight of which causes the loss of so many souls.
True art is an inspiration from Heaven, which elevates the soul to God; profane art, which appeals to the senses only, which presents to the eye nothing but the beauties of flesh and blood, is but an inspiration of the evil spirit; his works, brilliant though they may be, are not works of art, and the name is falsely attributed to them.
They are the infamous productions of a corrupt imagination.
The artist of whom we speak had allowed himself to be misled in this point by bad example. Soon, however, renouncing this pernicious style, he confined himself to the production of religious pictures, or at least of those which were perfectly irreproachable. Finally, he was painting a large picture in the convent of the discalced Carmelites, when he was attacked by a mortal malady.
Feeling that he was about to die, he asked the Prior to allow him to be interred in the church of the monastery, and bequeathed to the community his earnings, which amounted to a considerable sum of money, charging them to have Masses said for the repose of his soul. He died in pious sentiments, and a few days passed, when a Religious who had stayed in the choir after Matins saw him appear in the midst of flames and sighing piteously.
“What!” said the Religious, “have you to endure such pain, after leading so good a life and dying so holy a death?” “Alas!” replied he, “it is on account of the immodest picture that I painted some years ago. When I appeared before the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, a crowd of accusers came to give evidence against me. They declared that they had been excited to improper thoughts and evil desires by a picture, the work of my hand. In consequence of those bad thoughts some were in Purgatory, others in Hell. The latter cried for vengeance, saying that, having been the cause of their eternal perdition, I deserved, at least, the same punishment. Then the Blessed Virgin and the saints whom I had glorified by my pictures took up my defence. They represented to the Judge that that unfortunate painting had been the work of youth, and of which I had repented; that I had repaired it afterwards by religious objects which had been a source of edification to souls.
“In consideration of these and other reasons, the Sovereign Judge declared that, on account of my repentance and my good works, I should be exempt from damnation; but at the same time, He condemned me to these flames until that picture should be burned, so that it could no longer scandalise any one.“
Then the poor sufferer implored the Religious to take measures to have the painting destroyed “I beg of you,” he added, “go in my name to such a person, proprietor of the picture; tell him in what a condition I am for having yielded to his entreaties to paint it, and conjure him to make a sacrifice of it. If he refuses, woe to him! To prove that this is not an illusion, and to punish him for his own fault, tell him that before long he will lose his two children. Should he refuse to obey Him who has created us both, he will pay for it by a premature death.”
The Religious delayed not to do what the poor soul asked of him, and went to the owner of the picture. The latter, on hearing these things, seized the painting and cast it into the fire. Nevertheless, according to the words of the deceased, he lost his two children in less than a month. The remainder of his days he passed in penance, for having ordered and kept that immodest picture in his house.
If such are the consequences of an immodest picture, what, then, will be the punishment of the still more disastrous scandals resulting from bad books, bad papers, bad schools, and bad conversations?
Vae mundo a scandalis! Vae homini illi per quem scandalum venit! — “Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh!
Scandal makes great ravages in souls by the seduction of innocence. Ah! those accursed seducers! They shall render to God a terrible account of the blood of their victims.
Alas, my dear brethren, how little purity is known in the world; how little we value it; what little care we take to preserve it; what little zeal we have in asking God for it, since we cannot have it of ourselves. No, my dear brethren, it is not known to those notorious and seasoned libertines who wallow in and trail through the slime of their depravities, whose hearts are . . . . roasted and burned by an impure fire . . . . [sentence incomplete’Trans.] Alas, very far from seeking to extinguish it, they do not cease to inflame it and to stir it up by their glances, their desires, and their actions. What state will such a soul be in when it appears before its God! Purity! No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known by such a person whose lips are but an opening and a supply pipe which Hell uses to vomit its impurities upon the earth and who subsists upon these as upon his daily bread. Alas! That poor soul is only an object of horror in Heaven and on earth! No, my dear brethren, this gracious virtue of purity is not known to those young men whose eyes and hands are defiled by glances and . . . . [sentence incomplete’Trans.] Oh God, how many souls does this sin drag down to Hell! . . . . No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known to those worldly and corrupt girls who make so many preparations and take so many cares to draw the eyes of the world towards themselves, who by their affected and indecent dress announce publicly that they are evil instruments which Hell makes use of to ruin souls- those souls which cost so much in labours and tears and torments to Jesus Christ! . . . .
Look at them, these unfortunates, and you will see that a thousand devils surround their heads and their breasts. Oh, my God, how can the earth support such servants of Hell? An even more astounding thing to understand is how their mothers endure them in a state unworthy of a Christian! If I were not afraid of going too far, I would tell those mothers that they are worth no more than their daughters.
Alas! This sinful heart and those impure eyes are but sources of poison which bring death to anyone who looks at or listens to them. How do such monsters of iniquity dare to present themselves before a God Who is so holy and so set against impurity! Alas! Their poor lives are nothing but an accumulation of fuel which they amass to increase the flames of Hell through all eternity. But, my dear brethren, let us leave a subject which is so disgusting and so revolting to a Christian, whose purity should imitate that of Jesus Christ Himself, and let us return to our beautiful virtue, which raises us to Heaven, which opens to us the adorable Heart of our Lord and draws down upon us all sorts of spiritual and temporal blessings . . . .
St. James tells us that this virtue comes from Heaven and that we shall never have it unless we ask it of God. We should, therefore, frequently ask God to give us purity in our eyes, in our speech, and in all our actions. . . . Finally, we should have a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin if we wish to preserve this lovely virtue; that is very evident, since she is the queen, the model, and the patron of virgins . . . .
This is an article by FSSP priest Fr. William Rock. We thought it an excellent addition to our plethora of jewels here at OfficialCatholicModesty.com. Read original article here.
If one were to visit Cerami, Sicily on September 7, one would encounter young women wearing red tunics, harkening back to the time the island was Greek, and young men wearing blue shirts and black pants. Dressed in this festive attire, they are assisting at the annual Maria SS della Lavina celebration.
Devotion to the Maria SS della Lavina image is traced back to a Byzantine icon which was brought to the area at some unknown time in the past (several theories exist which attempt to explain the arrival of this Byzantine icon in Sicily). The icon, as it shows Our Lady suckling Our Lord, is interpreted by the locals as an image of Our Lady of Graces [la Madonna delle Grazie]. Such depictions of Our Lord and Our Lady are ancient. “The earliest images of Mary nursing the Child are of Coptic [Egyptian] and Palestinian origin…From the Monastery of Saint Sabas in Palestine, the composition spread to Italy (Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere) and, via Serbia, reached the monasteries of Mount Athos. In the seventh century, during the struggle with the Iconoclasts, Pope Gregory II (d. 731) wrote to his adversary, Emperor Leo III the Isaurian: ‘Among the icons to be worshiped there is also an image of the Holy Mother holding our Lord and God in her arms and nursing him with her milk.’” (Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, pg. 183)
The original Maria SS della Lavina icon was, according to the harmonized, pious local tradition, housed in a convent of Benedictine nuns. During a time of danger and iconoclasm, the icon was nailed to a beam in the ceiling in order to protect it. When that danger had passed, the icon was left in its hiding place. Eventually the nuns moved to a different location, leaving the icon behind, and the monastery fell into disrepair.
In the mid-seventeenth century, it is held that Our Lady appeared several times in a dream to one of the Benedictine nuns and directed her to request that the local Archpriest unearth from the ruins of the old monastery the sacred icon. The request was received with skepticism by the priest.
During the third apparition, Our Lady stated that because of the skepticism of the priest, she herself would bring the icon to light. Soon, a torrential rain fell which caused flooding. The day after, a farmer was leading his mule near the torrent caused by the rainfall. Inexplicably, the mule then stopped and, after striking the mud with his hoof, knelt. The farmer, struggling to get his mule to move, drew by this commotion the attention of those who were nearby. After digging, and to the astonishment of those present, the icon of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child was found buried in the mud. (It is claimed than an imprint of the mule’s hoof can still be seen on the sacred icon.)
As soon as the Archpriest heard of the episode, shaken and repentant, he made the bells ring out and, together with a large crowd of faithful, went to the site and the sacred icon was recovered with great devotion. In memory of this event, in May, Cerami celebrates the Feast of the Encounter and the icon is carried in procession.
From this time, the image received the title of “Lavina” from u lavinaru, which means in the local dialect “torrent,” a reference to how the image was discovered after the torrential rainfall carried the image out of the ruins and buried it in the mud caused by the flooding.
The pious tradition also tells us that the discovery of the icon was crowned by some miraculous events: one of the best known is of a certain Giuseppe, blind for thirteen years, who, as soon as the news of what had happened reached him, was led by his relatives to the image, and, having kissed the holy icon, regained his sight.
While the miraculous icon itself was placed in the church of the new covenant, a chapel was built on the site where the icon was found. Due to damage received over the years, especially during the Second World War, this chapel has gone under several renovations since its original construction. Within this chapel was placed a newly produced painting (17th century) which depicted the same scene written on the icon, that of Our Lady nursing Our Lord. The new image along with the new chapel received the name of Maria SS della Lavina also, thus linking them with the devotion shown to the miraculous icon. It is this second image, the painting, which is carried in procession during the September celebration.
Devotion to this image of the Virgin and Christ Child was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants. A Maria SS della Lavina Society was organized at St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, New Jersey by the early 1900s which was legally chartered in 1912. This Society held yearly processions in the town originally with a banner and later with a painting. This painting, which still currently hangs at the church, was undertaken in 1934 by Mr. Onorio Ruotolo, founder of the New York City Leonardo da Vinci Art School.
Some may object to this presentation of the Virgin and Child on grounds of modesty. In our overly immodest culture, it is tempting to retreat into a puritanical position in this regard. Faithful Catholics, however, must ensure that they do not simply take a reactionary position, but should rather allow themselves to be formed in this matter by the perennial liturgical and devotional traditions of the Church. Such would do well to consider, for example, the Epistles read on the Thursday of the First Week of Lent and the Saturday of the Third Week of Lent and the Gospel assigned for the Saturday Mass of Our Lady during the Time After Pentecost in order to see what the Church allows to be read in her public liturgy and which she does not view as degrading to the dignity of the sacred action. Such should consider also the Marian hymn O gloriósa vírginum which is sung in the Divine Office. The first verse is as follows:
O gloriósa vírginum, Sublímis inter sídera, Qui te creávit, párvulum Lacténte nutris úbere.
O glorious of Virgins, Exalted among the stars, He Who created you, as a little one You suckle by your milk-filled breast.
Drawing from the letter of Pope Gregory II, we can see that the practice of depicting the Virgin suckling her Child has existed in the Church for over 1,000 years. In Bethlehem, one can even find a Chapel under the name “Milk Grotto of Our Lady.” According to pious tradition, the Holy Family stopped at this site during the Flight into Egypt, and there, while Our Lord was feeding, a drop of Mary’s milk fell, and the floor of the cave turned white. Let faithful Catholics then allow their position on this matter, as in all others, be formed according to the mind of the Church as perennially expressed in her approved liturgies and devotions.
May God bless you all and may you have a happy and blessed Maria SS della Lavina Feast Day!
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Mater Lavinæ!
Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently Assistant Pastor at Mater Misericordiae parish in Phoenix, AZ. Thanks are due to Msgr. Robert Emery, Pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, New Jersey, for his support and permission to use parish media, Mr. Fabio Sturchio for his translation work, Mr. Antonino Casabona for granting permission to use his photographs, Mr. Franco Digangi for providing historical information and review, and Mrs. Santa Rock and Ms. Ashleigh Grenci for photography.
To THE CLERGY, RELIGIOUS, AND FAITHFUL LAITY OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF MILWAUKEE: GREETINGS AND BLESSING! Dearly Beloved in Christ: I. INTRODUCTION – SUBJECT MATTER OF Tars PASTORAL
In the discharge of his pastoral office, a Bishop frequently remembers the solemn words which he heard chanted in the rite of his consecration as a Bishop: “Let him not put light for darkness, nor darkness for light; let him not call evil good, nor good evil.” In the desire to fulfill the charge given to us as your pastor, whose duty it is to protect his flock against the enemy (cf. Jn. 10:11-13), and as an appointed watchman of God, who must speak out m clear and explicit warnings, lest the sins of those who err be charged to his account (cf. Ezech. 33:8-9), we have decided to address this letter to you, on the occasion of the annual convention of our Chnstian Mothers’ Confratermty. In this letter, it is our thought to consider the general subject of Decency which has been a part of the special apostolate of this Confraternity. We wish to treat this subject only in several of the more obvious areas of everyday life, leavmg to future pastoral letters the further development of other topics which come under the general subject matter. a) Statements of Our Holy Father
We are impelled to do this as we recall some of the recent forceful statements of our Holy Father, the Chief Shepherd and Teacher of the Church, particularly a special letter which he com- manded to be wnttcn 011 th1~ subject through the Sacred Congregation of the C ouncrl, under date of August 15, 1954 In this letter, the Cardmal Prefect of the Congregation, wntmg m the name of the Sovereign Pontiff, solemnly charged the Bishops of the world “by all means to consider the matter carefully, and to take under your care and promote with all your power everythmg which has to do wit~ the protection of modesty and the furtherance of Chnstian morals. This solemn charge was in keeping with the whole purpose of the Marian Year of 1954, which was intended “not only to serve to revive Catholic Faith and earnest devotion to the Mother of God in the souls of all, but also . . . that each one of us ~hould according to his condition in life, avail of it for the acquisition of virtue. (For), the commemoration of the mystery of the Most Holy Virgin conceived immaculate and immune from all stam of ongmal sin, should, in the first place, urge us to that inn?cence and mte~tr, of life which flees from and abhors even the slightest stam of sm (Fulgens Corona, September 8, 1953). In the course of that Manan Year of 1954, our Holy Father referred many times to this important crusade for the revival and flowermg of Christian morals. Moreover, he did not confine l11S statements to general exhortations, but specifically pointed to practical areas of everyday life, where the application of Christian principles especially needs to be made. Thus, for example, wnting on January l, 1954, in a letter to the Bishops of Italy, on the general subject of television, h<;, called attention to the fact that this marvel of our modern day is very intimately bound up with the education of ~o~t~ and even the sanctity of the home.” Without in any way rnmmuzmg the actual, or, even more so, the potential good of television, th~ Holy Father warns nevertheless that there is much that it is failing to do. He savs therefore that “We cannot fail to proclaim to all who have a;y’ position ~f responsibility in television that _the1~ duties and responsibilities are most grave before God and s_oc1ety … There rests upon public authorities, the Holy Father continues, the duty. of taking every precaution that the air of punty and reserve which should pervade the home be m no way offended or disturbed.” In connection with television, he mentions that he has constantly in mmd “the painful spectacle of the power for evil and moral ruin of cinema films.” He is “horrified at the thought that the poisoned atmosphere of materialism, of frivolity, of hedonism, can by means of television be brought into the very sanctuary of the home.” Television, he says, requires a greater vigilance for secunng telecasts 2 unobjectionable from the moral point of view than is required for pubhc entertamment, precisely because this modern invention “penetrates the sanctuary of the family.” Here, in the bosom of the family, higher values are at stake “than the pretended nghts of absolute freedom of art, or of havmg recourse to the pretext of freedom of information and of thought.” Agam, m a notable address to the Swiss National Catholic Convention (May 16, 1954), our Holy Father spoke of the great dangers of matenalism. Among other thmgs he said: “Material progress through research and the exploitation of natural forces contmues its unceasing advance. The Church approves of this advance, even in regard to its principles. But, she adds an urgent warning concernmg it: When matenal progress is not counterbalanced by powerful religious and moral forces, rt nsks becommg the cancer of human society.” The Marian Year, our Holy Father further stated in the same address, was mtended to help strengthen our faith “as a dam against the rismg tide of materialism.” This materialism he defined as “the process of the secularization of all life.” He stated that “it is spreading in the spiritual and religious domain. The idea of God, respect for and fear of God are more and more being banished from public life, from the family, and, almost mevitably, therefore, from the hfe of the individual as well. THE PROCESS IS ALREADY FAR ADVANCED.” Hence, there falls upon us the duty of confronting this evil “by our prayers, our love for Chnst, our struggle against sin, and for purity of soul in every sense, by all those supreme values of the religious life and the things which are its fruit, and by our public enlistment in the cause of God, of Christ, and of His Church … In the fight against materialism the watchword must be, ‘Let us return to the Christianity of early days.’ This is especially applicable now. The Chnstians of those early times were confronted by a pagan and materialist culture, which reigned as mistress. They dared to attack it and, finally, to overcome it, thanks to their stubborn tenacity and by means of heavy sacrifices. IMITATE THEM!”
Most pertinent to our present letter is the point frequently made by our Holy Father that the spread of so much immorality is due not to the lack of regulations, but “to the lack of reaction or the weakness of reaction of good people, who have not known how to make timely denunciations of violations against the public laws of morality.” This lack of the proper kind of public reaction is referred to agam 3 m the letter of August 15, 1954, and applied specifically to the matter of dress: “A” all can easily see, the current mode of dress among women and especially among girls ( during the summer months particularly) constitutes a senous offense against decency.” Because he is convinced of the intimate relationship between the decent and the modest, and between the modest and the chaste, the Holy Father exhorts: “Therefore, it is altogether imperative to admonish and exhort, m whatever way seems most apt, people of all stations, but particularly youth, to avoid the dangers of this kind of vice, which is so directly opposed and potentially so hazardous to Christian and civic virtue.” Hence, the Jetter continues: “It is the earnest desire of the August Pontiff that this cause be taken up enthusiastically. He desires that bishops m particular leave no stone unturned which can help remedy the situation; and that with their counsel and leadership the rest of the clergy work prudently, assiduously, and earnestly within their own jurisdiction, toward the happy attainment of this goal.” Further, “he wishes fathers and mothers of families to remove their children from these dangers, first by their own example, and then also by timely admonitions which come from a stern firmness of spirit as befits Christians; and that they never be satisfied until they see the faces of their children shine with the splendor of modesty.” As may be seen, the language of this letter constitutes a real challenge. It is directed to us in the form of an “imperative,” to “people of all stations,” to the Bishops and Clergy, to fathers and mothers of families. It is a cause to be taken up “enthusiastically,” in which “we leave no stone unturned which can help to remedy the situation.” b) Our Own Former Statements
In keeping, therefore, with this and other repeated exhortations of our Holy Father, we have wished in vanous ways to fulfill our duty, and to bring this subject to your attention, either directly or indirectly. Thus, for example, toward the beginning of the Mauan Year, we addressed a pastoral letter under date of February 5, 1954, on the g~neral subject of modesty. At that time we wished particularly to give encouragement to the program of the Legion of Decency, and to the work which the vanous organizations of our Archdiocese were doing to promote the ideals of Chnstian modesty in the movies, in 4 literature, and in dress. Also, we called especially upon our fathers and mothers to defend the castles of their homes against the inroads of pagan standards of morality. Annually, we have exhorted you to take the pledge of the Legion of Decency, . in the full r~lization of the meaning of this pledge. We have tried to make it clear that decency involves more than motion pictures; that it extends to the whole realm of living. We have stressed the truth that decency in a special way is involved ~th public morality, and with the creation of strong public opinion m favor of. the moral orde~. Hence, we have insisted that the Pledge of the Legion of Decency is a call to crusade for decency in all walks of life, not merely in the field of motior pictures, but also in all related fields of public communications and public living. There is need today, we stressed, to apply the spirit of the Pledge to the matter of dress, of reading material, of radio and television and of company-keeping. ‘ To. further implement these exhortations concerning the true me~ung of the Pledge, we have organized a special Archdiocesan Legion of Decency, which is intended to exert its influence and extend its help through other existing organizations of our men and women. Thus we have endeavored to give more practical direction and efficacy to the general crusade for decency. Again, ~ few months ago, we addressed a pastoral letter to you on the subject of the Catholic Family, in which we appealed, through the Holy Name Society, and especially to fathers of families to lead the way within the bosom of their own families for this much needed crusade on behalf of decency. We begged you to make the home a tr~~ sanctuary, so t~at those who live in it “will be guided by th~ spmt of reverence, m the decorations which hang on the walls, m the dress which is worn, in the magazines and papers which are read, in the words which are spoken, in the company which is kept, and in the manner itself of company-keeping.” . In_ our ~ent~n Pastoral of this year, we spoke at length upon the dignity which 1s conferred upon us by our Baptism, and we appealed to you to remember this dignity as Baptized Children of God: “P aren t s an d e d ucators, ” we state d , ” are urged to develop in children a profound sense of their dignity as children of God, and to teach them to recognize this dignity in others. Thus our children ~il! _develo~ tha~ sense of personal conscience and individual responsibility which is the fundamental solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency.”
Because this subject is from many different viewpoints so con5 tmuously urgent, we have wished to seize the occasion of this annual meeting of the Archdiocesan Confraternity of Chnstian Mothers to speak to you, and especially to the mothers of our families, about it. This meeting is being held close to the Sunday which our nation has set aside to honor our human mothers. In the words of a former president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, “the mother is the one supreme asset of national life, she is more important by far than the successful statesman or businessman or artist or scientist. In other words, we cannot as a nation get along at all 1£ we haven’t the right kind of home life. Such a hfe rs not only the supreme duty; but also the supreme reward of duty.” More sigmficant even than these considerations for us is the fact that this meeting is held in the month of May dedicated to our Blessed Mother. As Catholics we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Who willed to receive His own true membership in the human family through Mary, and Who also willed to confide to her maternal protection the whole human race in the person of John, when He said: “Behold thy mother.” We tum, therefore, to Mary in our modem days of crisis and penl, and call upon her to save us from ourselves. We ask her to bless us in our efforts to contribute toward the solution of the moral crisis as it affects our own mdividual lrves, and those of our family and our community. II. THE PROBLEM
One phase of this problem in the moral cnsis was described in the letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council of August 15, 1954, and referred to above 111 our letter. “Everyone knows,” this letter states, “that durmg the summer months particularly, thmgs are seen here and there which are certain to prove offensive to anyone who has retained some respect and regard for Chnstian virtue and human modesty. On the beaches, in summer resorts, almost everywhere, on the streets of cities and towns, in private and public places, and, indeed, often even 111 buildings dedicated to God, an unworthy and indecent mode of dress has prevailed …. Add to this fact that newspapers, magazmes and every kmd of pubhcation bla~ntly p_ublicize all the evil happenings m public and pnvate life. Motion pictures, also well attended as they are, present their attractions in such glowing light that not only weak and unwary youth but even the adult is swayed by their evil allurements.” 6
This problem is referred to from another viewpoint in the annual statement of the American Bishops of 1953, on the general subject of the Dignity of Man, in the following words: “Heedless that his nature has God for its origin and destiny, and reason and revelation for its divinely commissioned guide, man will do what no other creature can – he will deny his true nature and will destroy all that is good within himself. Such a process of degradation is viciously at work in our own country, where the deification of the flesh continues to enlist new devotees. Through its liturgy of advertisement, entertainment and literature, this cult bids fair to corrode our national sense of decency. . .. The Catholic Church has never failed to accord the human body an immense measure of honor. She affirms that it was originally created by God; in one instance actually assumed by Him; in every instance meant to be on earth His special temple, and destined eventually to rejoin the soul in His Beatific Presence. Whatever is uncompromising in her teaching about the body stems from her realism on two points: The body, though good, is not the highest good; and the undisciplined body is notoriously bad.” a) Concern for the Problem
This is a problem, then, which concerns the individual, the family, and society at large. Chastity, and the means of preserving it, have a tremendously important bearing on the family, on the eternal and temporal happiness of every individual, and indeed on the welfare of society at large. History is replete with the story of nations that once were great and that collapsed because the morals of the race ceased to control the lives of the people. The poet of ancient pagan Rome wrote: “Vice necessarily follows upon public nudity,” while its great orator, Cicero, lamented the decadence of civic virtue precisely because “we see too often those who are stripped of shame and who are past all hope of reformation.”
We do not mean to imply that others, outside the Church, are not also concerned about chastity, as well as the defensive virtues of decency and modesty. They are, even though their concern may not stem from the same motivation which impels us. A government report has this to state: “Pornography is big business. The extent to which the profit motive has brushed aside all generally accepted standards of decency and good taste and substituted inferior moral 7 standards, has become not only a national disgrace but a menace to our civic – elfare as well.” This report stems from the criterion of decency and good taste, and is based on sound mterest and responsibility for the good name cf our nation and the civic welfare of our people. As Christians and Catholics, however, we must proceed from a higher standard, and a more powerful motive. We proceed from the recognition of sin as a violation of the law of God, and we are motivated by the eternal salvation of souls; it is the welfare of souls, whom we wish to save from hell, that is at stake. There rs indeed much discussion of the topic of chastity in our secular magazines, but generally only to the extent that the spectacularly tragic forms of unchastity are highlighted, while little or no interest is shown in the virtue itself. The attitude of the world seems to be that if only we could do away with such things as juvenile delinquency in its external forms, unmarried motherhood, venereal disease, ugly degeneracy and rape, there would be no problem of unchastity left at all. As a matter of fact, many in the world have adopted and promote certain forms of unchastity, such as contraception and multiple successive marriages, not to mention the crime of abortion, without recognizing the inevitable connection between these things and the breakdown of chastity all along the line. In some of the very magazines and newspapers that carry articles deploring sex delinquency, there will often be found inflammatory incentives to lust in the form of seminude and suggestive pictures, or advertisements for the movies, or cartoons with suggestive dialogues, or even news stories with suggestive overtones. Even, at times, feature stories, highlighted by perfectly proper pictures, will suggest, with amusing ( to them) toleration or approval for public consumption, the bawdy attitude of the peek show or the burlesque performance – something which no self-respecting newspaper or magazine would have dared to do in former years when a less secularistie way of life prevailed. Such papers lead their readers to the doorstep of impurity and unchastity through these stones, pictures, cartoons, and advertisements, and then bewail the fact that so many of them step across the threshold.
Others show their concern for and recognition of the problem by advoca!ing an indiscriminate dissemination of knowledge, in the thought that knowledge alone will solve the problem. Surely, it is most important that our growing youth be properly instructed. All solid moral guidance is based upon adequate instruction. This is basic for the practice of the faith in general, and specifically for 8 the practice of the virtues under consideration in this letter. Nevertheless, we wish to seize this opportunity of calling attention to a fatal trend of our times which takes prerogatives that belong essentially to the family out of the home, and invests them in the State or an agency of the State. Here we would like to remind our people of the statement of the American Bishops in their pastoral letter of 1950: “We protest in strongest possible terms against the introduction of sex instruction into the schools. To be of benefit such instruction must be far broader than the imparting of information, and must be given individually. Sex rs more than a biological function. It is bound up with the sacredness and uniqueness of human personality. It can be fully and properly appreciated only within a religious and moral context. If treated otherwise, the child will see it apart from the controlling purpose of his life, which is the service to God.” This statement is not to be construed to mean that educators have no function whatsoever along these lines. Carrying through with the basic concept of the school as an extension of the home, we do recognize also in this field a place for the educator to assist the parent. But the obligation rests primarily with the parent; and education in these matters must always be within the religious and moral context which the home should give to it. That the Church is not opposed to the proper kind of instruction in these matters should be clear from this one quotation from our Holy Father: “Modesty will suggest and provide suitable words for parents and educators by which the youthful conscience will be formed in matters of chastity. ‘Wherefore,’ we said in a recent address, ‘this modesty is not to be so understood as to be equivalent to a perpetual silence on this subject, nor as allowing no place for sober and cautious discussion about these matters in imparting moral instruction.’ In modern times, however, there are some teachers and educators who too frequently think it their duty to initiate innocent boys and girls into the secrets of human generation in such a way as to offend their sense of shame. But in this matter a just temperance and moderation must be used, as Christian modesty demands” (Encyclical on Holy Virginity, March 25, 1954). b) Challenge and Opportunity for Our People
In confronting the problem, in the dimensions outlined in our present letter, we do so primarily for the guidance of our own 9 people, through an appeal particularly to our Christian Mothers. We are realistic enough to recognize that the simple writmg of a letter of this kmd is not gomg to change over those whose view of hfe sharply disagrees with our own. We think, however, that it is important to point out the truth that our society has become secularistic and materialistic to a degree that many of us have failed to recogmze. In the words of Pope Pius XII, quoted above, “the process is already far advanced.” Therefore, we address this letter primarily to om own people. We Catholics constitute a minority group m the general society m which we live and move This fact places before us both a challenge and an opportumty. In many ways, it is not unlike the situation which faced the early Christians. The challenge may be expressed in these words of our Holy Father: “The civilization of the Western people cannot sink into a materialism which, at least implicitly, finds its ideal in the enjoyment of the comforts of life. On the contrary, it must dedicate itself to liberatmg those spiritual values which are so bitterly opposed in many modem institutions” (September 18, 1955). This challenge must be met by a willmgness on our part to be different. We cannot compromise our traditional Catholic moral and cultural values, but rather we must bring these values to bear on public and private life, and must defend them as modem witnesses (martyrs) to Christ, Again, to quote our Holy Father: “If it is more than evident that evil tendencies and the forces of degradation and destruction are unceasingly attacking the hearts of individuals and the collective conscience of nations, is it not necessary to work at all levels of the social structure – the family, places of employment and amusement, political and cultural organizations
to eliminate demoralizing factors and all that keeps egoism alive and encourages a spmt of pleasure or power? Certainly, men are not lacking who are eager to meet the demands of their consciences” (ibid.). Hence we are pleased to encourage our Christian Mothers to recall here the challenging statement found in the resolutions drawn up by the National Council of Catholic Women at the close of their 1952 convention: “Offenses against decency are not only the cause of personal offense to women but give them serious concern for the welfare of their loved ones and their fellowmen. Not overlooking the praiseworthy exceptions, for which we are profoundly grateful, we are confronted on all sides, in newspapers, magazines, in every type of advertising 10 media and displays, in all fields of entertainment, including radio and television, in beauty contests, and elsewhere, with constant affronts to public decency and good taste. “This can only result, and has already resulted, in the lowering of ideals of modesty and decorum, assaults on purity and chastity, the degradation of womanhood, evil consequences for the sanctity of married life, stimulation of unworthy thoughts and desires, morbid emphasis on sex, with consequent corrupting influences on youth – and especially on the youth in the Armed Forces – an increase of sex crimes among adolescents, whose moral stamina has been undermined by constant pictorial assaults, scandal to the people of other countries, who obtain an entirely false impression of the American way of life, and the exploitation by communists of such pictures in their propaganda against the United States. “As individuals and organizations of Catholic women, we here express our determination to put a stop to the irresponsible or deliberately-evil flood that has had these alarming consequences. We are happy to acknowledge not only the concern of Catholics, but also of other men and women in private and in public life who have the discernment to see the extremely serious harm that is the result. “We pledge full support of corrective action programs that are suggested by the National Council, and assume individual responsibility for doing everything possible to restore decent standards where they have become debased. “Producers, publishers and distributors have a real and definite obligation to the nation that has made possible the opportunities that are theirs. If they make financial advantage their main end, they are unworthy of this great nation. If they cannot see higher considerations in these critical times, then at least they should open their eyes to what is at stake: Life in the fulness of moral integrity and responsible freedom, or slavery under a despotic state which forces all men and all media to serve its ends.”
We appeal, then, to our people to be, both through word and through example, a leaven in the modem world. It is up to us to prove ourselves useful for the spiritual and moral progress of the environment in which we live. In the specific matter under consideration in this pastoral letter, this challenge and this opportunity will prompt us to proclaim in every possible way the truth of the Christian virtue of purity and chastity, and the beauty of the Christian virtue of modesty and decency. “Thus may we hope to see emerging more clearly the true countenance of man, master 11 not only of things but above all of himself and aware of his transcendent destiny, individual and social, as well as his responsibilities as a creature made in God’s image” (Pius XII, September 18, 1955). Thus may we show to all the world our complete acceptance of the teaching of St. Paul, that “the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). m. THE VmTUE oF CHAsTITY
We cannot, Dearly Beloved, write intelligently about the virtue of modesty, unless we emphasize first of all in strong and clear terms the universal importance of chastity. For, modesty, by its very definition, is looked upon as the shield and safeguard of chastity. The breakdown in modesty is due fundamentally to a disregard of the virtue of chastity as a necessary virtue for all, in all the circumstances of life. The only right approach, therefore, to modesty is through a reaffirmation and a re-emphasizing of the universal importance of chastity, not merely for the sake of preventing sex crimes and tragedies, but for the eternal and temporal happiness of every immortal soul. Hence, we would like to explain briefly three incontrovertible teachings of our holy Faith, which impose a corresponding threefold obligation upon us. a) Teaching of Our Faith
The first teaching of our Faith is that the law of chastity is imposed on every human being. It binds him in public and in private, in marriage and outside of marriage, in youth and in old age. It is one of the serious laws that God has made, which means that it is one on which the salvation of our soul depends. It is quite obvious that this law of chastity forbids the evil deed and the evil word. St. Paul says: “Do you not know that neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor sodomites will possess the kingdom of God?” ( 1 Cor. 6:9-10.) And again: “But immorality and every uncleanness, let it not even be named among you” (Eph. 5:3). 12 However, it is most important to remember that the same law of chastity equally forbids the unchaste thought and the unchaste desire. The words of Christ in this regard are crystal clear: “I say to you that anyone who even looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5 :28). Unchastity, therefore, in thought and desire, as well as in word and in deed, is a serious violation of God’s law, and a transgression of the right order of nature, established by God Himself. Unchastity is seriously wrong precisely and primarily because it transgresses the law of God. The evil effects of unchastity, remote or proximate, private or public, spectacular or ordinary, merely confirm that it is a serious violation of God’s law. Whether these evil effects follow or not, the important point is that unchastity is a serious violation of God’s law. Moreover, the external act, which seems to be the sole concern of the world, when it is concerned at all, is merely the fruit of the internal thought and desire. It is this internal thought and desire which is the source of the external act: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, immorality, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15: 19).
The second teaching of our Faith which we ask you to recall here is the doctrine of original sin. Every human being, except the Immaculate Mother of God, has through original sin inherited a tainted nature, which manifests itself more intensively perhaps in inclinations to unchastity than in any other way. The resulting battle with concupiscence is not limited to a given age or state of life; it must be waged by all and at all times. It is fashionable to deny original sin. But to the Catholic, the doctrine of original sin is fundamental for the true understanding of the whole economy of grace and salvation. The denial of original sin ultimately leads to a denial of Christ and the purpose of His Incarnation and Redemption. The denial of original sin leads to a completely false appraisal of the meaning of life. Such a tragic denial, for example, underlies much of the theory of some progressive educators. And such a tragic denial is implicit in much of the ostrichlike approach to the very real connection between modesty and chastity, between unchaste thoughts and unchaste deeds, between the unchaste picture or book or dress or film and these unchaste thoughts, desires, and deeds. It is the teaching of our Faith that through original sin man’s nature has been wounded, although not totally corrupted. The wound in our nature is universally experienced through the struggle which 13 we have to control our imagination and our passions. Imagination by itself, we know, is Simply a picture-making power. It certamly is of real use to the intellect of man, but because of original sin it plays a part in the mind’s affairs totally out of proportion to its ments, and has passed far beyond the condition of a useful servant. Hence, to feed the imagination with all sorts of pictures which serve to excite the passions in man’s bodily nature is obviously against God’s plans and God’s will. Such pictures tend to make the passions rebel against the control of the intellect and will, and to draw the will itself away from conformity to God’s will. That is sin. Original sin and its consequences in our fallen nature impose upon us the obligation of keeping the imagmation in proper subordination to the intellect and the will.
The third teachmg of our holy Faith is that this weakness of human nature, which is the result of original sin, can be met only by following the natural counsels of prudence and right reason, and by using the plentiful means of supernatural graces that have been provided for us by our Divine Savior. The world uses neither. Prudence tells us that we must reasonably avoid whatever tends to make the imaginauon rebellious to the intellect and will, and to draw both of these away from God. Prudence is a dictate of the natural law. Prudence sees the intimate and necessary connection between the thought and the deed, between the sensory impression of the imagination and the thought and desire. The prudence, therefore, which sees that the virtue of chastity is a desirable and necessary good, also sees that certain things must be avoided to assist the will in the pursuit of that good. The world does not use prudence in the matter of chastity, because, instead of avoiding, it provides a constant flow of incentives to lust, completely heedless of the intimate and necessary connection between modesty and chastity, and indeed often denying the sin of unchastity itself. Emphasizing the dictates of prudence, Christ requires that we also have recourse to both natural and supernatural means. How forceful are those warning words: “If thy hand or thy foot is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee! It is better for thee to enter life maimed or lame, than, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if thy eye is an occasion of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee! It is better to enter into life with one eve, than, having two eyes, to be cast into the hell of fire” (Mt. 18:8–9). The world does not heed this admonition of Christ because it denies the reality of the sin of scandal, and because it ignores or 14 despises !he supernatural means for preserving chastity, and the helps which come through the sacraments and prayer. b) Our Obligations
These three incontrovertible facts of our holy Faith point to a threefold obligation on our part. First, to love chastity for itself as bi~ding on all of us in all the public and private relationships of our lives, as necessary for the salvation of our immortal souls. Second, to use prudence and common sense to protect it. Third, to use the sup~rnatural means of prayer and the sacraments to preserve chastity. Listen to these words of our Holy Father in this regard: “It is abundantly clear that with this warning [quoted above from Mt. 18:8-9], our Divine Savior demands of us above all that we never consent to any sin, even internally, and that we steadfastly remove far from us anything that can even slightly tarnish the beautiful v~rtue of purity. In this matter no diligence, no severity can be considered exaggerated …. Flight and alert vigilance, by which we carefully avoid the occasions of sin, have always been considered by holy men and women as the most effective method of combat in this matter. ~o.day, however, it does not seem that everybody holds the same op1mon. . . . Moreover, to preserve chastity unstained neither vigilance nor modesty suffice. Those helps must also be used which entirely surpass the powers of nature, namely prayer to God, the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, a fervent devotion to the most Holy Mother of God” (Encyclical Letter on Sacred Virginity, March 25, 1954). IV. THE VIRTUE OF MODESTY
This brings us to a consideration of the virtue of modesty in the general scheme of virtues, and more especially as it relates to the virtue of chastity. The virtue of modesty, in general, may be described as that virtue which prompts us to be decorous, proper, and reserved, in the way we ~ress, sta~d, . walk, sit – in general in the way we behave exteriorly. This virtue of modesty bears a relation to other virtues besi~es that of chastity, especially to the virtue of humility. In a special manner, however, the virtue of modesty is particularly 15 regarded as tb guardian of chastity in thou~ht, word, and action. St. Thomas says that it is the virtue by which we nghtiy regulate our conduct in respect to those things that can lead to impure thoughts, desires, and actions, in ourselves and in others. He says that, while chastity deals with the regulation of difficult thin~s, powerful passions and strong desires for pleasure, modesty deals ~1th the regulation of easy things, the remote and proximate occasions and conditions that lead to unholy desires. Thus we see that modesty is a virtue allied to the virtue of temperance, or the general habit of self-restraint. It is this virtue of modesty, in its relation to chastity, which prompted the Holy Father to address himself to the Bishops of the world, through the Sacred Congregation of the Council, and to remind them that “it is altogether imperative to admonish and exhort, in whatever ways seem most apt, people of all stations, but particularly youth, to avoid the dangers of this kind of vice which is so directly opposed and potentially so hazardous to Christian and civic virtue. ‘How beautiful then is modesty and what a gem among virtues it is!’ Therefore, let it not be offended or violated by the easy allurements and attractions of vices which arise from that manner of dressing and from other actions what we have mentioned above and which decent people can but lament.” Again, in his encyclical letter on Holy Virginity, our Holy Father writes about modesty: “Educators of the young would render a more valuable and useful service, if they would inculcate in youthful minds the precepts of Christian modesty, which is so important for the preservation of perfect chastity, and which is truly called the prudence of chastity. For, modesty foresees threatening danger, forbids us to expose ourselves to risks, demands the avoidance of those occasions which the imprudent do not shun. It does not like impure or loose talk, it shrinks from the slightest immodesty, it carefully avoids suspect familiarity with persons of the other sex. … He who possesses the treasure of Christian modesty abominates every sin of impurity and instantly flees whenever he is tempted by its seductions.” Now, there are three areas of human life in which modesty particularly must exercise its influence on those who would be chaste and to help others preserve this virtue: in dress, in deportment, in the pnnted and pictured word. We would like to discuss these three points with you. 16 V. MODESTY AND CLOTHES
The first of these areas is in regard to dress and clothing. It is this matter which was specifically treated in the letter of our Holy Father referred to immediately above. It is not our purpose in this letter to give you an essay on clothing. Clothing unquestionably serves other purposes besides modesty, especially protection and adornment: “Clothing in addition to its obvious utilitarian aspect, has a truly esthetic character, visibly and in a permanent way expressing the position of a person” (Pius XII, Address to Tailors, September 10, 1954). Nevertheless, our Holy Father deplores “the materialistic spint that inspires so great a part of today’s civilization, which has not spared the field of fashion …. Instead of ennobling the human person, clothing sometimes tends to degrade and debase it” (ibid.). Indeed, the Pope does not hesitate to write through the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Council: “Yet as all can easily see, the current mode of dress among women and especially among girls constitutes a serious offense against decency, and ‘decency is the companion of modesty, in whose company chastity herself is safer.’ Feminine adornment, if it can be called adornment, femmine clothing, if that can be called clothing which contains nothing to protect either the body or modesty, are at times of such a nature that seem to serve lewdness rather than modesty.” a) Two Principles ~- With regard to clothing, modesty requires especially two thmgs: first, care that one does not make chastity difficult for oneself, or for others, by one’s own mode of dress; and, second, a prudent but firm and courageous resistance to the styles and customs, no matter how popular or widespread, or adopted by others, which are a danger to chastity. In setting down these two general principles, there is no thought on our part to attempt to define details. In general, that form of dress may be said to be immodest which serves to arouse the lust of men, or which serves as a scandal, that is, a stumbling block, to the practice of virtue. With an honest respect for the innate sense of shame with which every human being is endowed, and with 17 ordinary knowledge of human nature tainted. by the 7 ffects of original sin, one can wrth fair accuracy determme what is modest and what is nnmodest in given circumstances. Unquestionably, custom does help to establish some norms which can be safely followed up to a certain point. . It is here especially that our young people need to be guided by their elders, especially their mothers, and the mothers themselves need to remember that custom and style and fashion do not justify everything. Listen to these pointed words of the Holy Fath~r: “How many young girls there are who do not see any wrongdomg in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelmgs they evoke in those who see them” (July 17, 1954, Discourse to Children of Mary). Here, then, is also a call to parents to lead the way m en~ouraging their growing children not to make any compromise with immodest beach and summer wear, no matter how many thousands make use of such; with immodest evening gowns, though such may be seen m the most fashionable social gatherings; with immodest styles of dress that have been a feature of so much of the television entertainment almost from the beginning; with picture magazines that exploit nudity and suggestiveness in every issue; with dangerous associations, readings, shows. As our Holy Father exclaimed in the same context of the discourse quoted above: “How lax have consciences become, how pagan morals!”
We wish to repeat again: there is no thought on our part to attempt to define details. But we do hold that there are standards of modesty which are also objective, simply because of the fact of original sin. The very fact of the freer relationships which are tolerated in our environments, far from excusing submission to the pagan styles of the day, merely emphasizes the greater obligation that Christians and Catholics have to resist these pagan and materialistic trends. It simply is not true to human nature, tainted by origmal sin, to say as some do: “that one can become used to anythmg m matters of dress”; or, to say, “to the pure all things are pure.” Remember that our Lord condemned not only the act of adultery, but everything that leads to it. It is a fact of human nature that undue exposure and emphasis act as stimuli to evil thoughts and desires. The cult of nudism is promoted today in varying degrees. It is to be found not merely in the extreme form of those few who defend the belief that both sexes should hve together m the state 18 of complete nudity. Such an aberration is indeed an omi~1o~s sign of corruption of our public morals and manners. More significant, possibly is the constant partial exposure, and emphasis on such exposure, promoted and tolerated by dress, by picture, by the printed story, and the leering cartoon. Nourished by the sights of such exposure, the passions of fallen mar. constantly grow stronger. This is the teaching of all experience. ‘1 hough it may be true, in some instances, that external sins do not follow as readily as formerly because of the familiarity of the sight, still it cannot be denied that evil desires are fostered and even solicited by such exposure, or such emphasis in picture and print, which evil desires easily lead to external deeds of impurity. Again, we must emphasize in the strongest possible language that it is Catholic teaching, based on the most clear words of Christ Himself, that impure thoughts and desires freely indulged are senous sms. To mvite such impure thoughts and desires through dress, action, or the printed and pictured story cannot help but participate of the grave sin of scandal and co-operation. Hence, the grave sinfulness of certain features of beauty contests, particularly those which emphasize the undue exposure of the body, as the great majority of these contests do. It is encouragmg to note that such emphasis is condemned in these words of a prominent columnist: “This new and current obsession with a girl’s measurements, put into a news story, seems to me to be vulgar, even degenerate and a mark of a decaymg civilization” ( George Sokolsky, The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 14, 1956). For the Catholic, we add the most important consideration: it is not only vulgar, or degenerate, it is sinful. In this connection, it seems possible to apply a principle which our Holy Father stated about books: “You should be persuaded that there are bad books – books which are bad for everyone, like those poisons against which no one can claim immunity.” Thus, also, it seems to us we can say: there are certain modes of dress in vogue today, notably in summer time, or in beauty contests, or other similar exhibitions, which are a source of temptation to every normal person, who is a child of Adam, and against which no one can claim immunity. b) Higher Christian Standards
Here, we would like to go a step further, and also assert that there are standards of modesty in dress, which are rooted in our 19 traditional Christian cultural values, centering in the Blessed Mother of God. These are standards which view the whole problem not merely from the standpoint of what is actually sinful or leading to sin, but from the positive standpoint of what is truly helpful in assisting fallen man to observe the difficult virtue. Hence, as Catholics, we have a tradition to preserve which looks at the whole problem from the higher vantage point of virtue. On the basis of this consideration, we appeal to our Catholic people to maintain a firm and courageous resistance to pagan standards of naturalism in this matter. This does not mean a one-sided or wrong emphasis on a problem which admittedly extends to areas of greater sigmficance than dress. Neither does it mean that we Catholics must retire from the world, or adopt a purely negative attitude of condemnation. Our Holy Father met the difficulty head-on when he spoke to a group of master tailors. He pointed out to them the truth of history and of human nature that “it is altogether normal for man to try to enrich through the exterior brilliance of his clothes the extraordinary occurrences of life, and through them to show his feelings of joy, pride, or even grief.” Nevertheless, he insisted that we must “instead of following the materialistic current which is leading so many people astray today, deliberately put ourselves at the service of spiritual ends.” Here, then, we have a program which is positive, and which best defines the traditional ideals of the virtue of Christian modesty with regard to clothes. Those clothes are truly modest in the Christian tradition which serve spiritual ends. Clothing should have the purpose and effect of “elevating and ennobling the human person.” Speaking again to the tailors and to all those who participate in this kind of work, the Pope exhorted them: “As the maternal hands of the Blessed Virgin busied themselves to make Christ’s clothes, so it is God Whom you continue to clothe in the men of today.” c) Organized Efforts
It is our wish, therefore, through this letter to give encouragement to the efforts which various organizations, both here and elsewhere, are making to promote these traditional ideals of Christian modesty in the matter of dress. We do not believe that these organizations are creating oversensitiveness and confused consciences with regard to chastity, nor are they overemphasizing one aspect of 20 virtue at the expense of others. We recognize that their zeal may at times lead them to some undue excess in the promotion of their cause, and we caution against such excess, urging them to be guided by the norms set forth in statements of the Holy Father and of their Bishops. We wish, nevertheless, to give every encouragement to such organized efforts, because it is only through such united efforts that most individuals can achieve the moral courage not to succumb to the tyranny of custom. Listen to these clear words of Pope Pius XII on this point: “In your association, you will find not only light but strength. . . . You must give yourselves wholeheartedly and conquer human respect. A group of girls who have reflected and prayed together will fearlessly accept a clear-cut attitude which one girl by herself would hardly dare to adopt.” Such united effort is necessary, the Holy Father further stated, because “you live in a world which is constantly forgetful of God and the supernatural, where the only interest of the crowd seems to be the satisfaction of temporal needs, well-being, pleasure, vanity” (July 17, 1954). Therefore, we do not look upon such organizations as pressure groups to impose upon others a moral code which these others do not wish to accept. We look upon them as associations of our own, who are determined through united action to be willing courageously to set an example in defense of traditional standards – who are willing to be different, as the early Christians were different when they challenged the moral standards of the pagan world of Greece and Rome; who are unwilling to sit idly by while the evil spirit of immodesty goes about brazenly seeking whom he may devour. We look upon them as particularly needed forms of Catholic Action, to exemplify to the world the teaching of St. Paul: “Do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a great price. Glorify God and bear him in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
In this wise, we will carry out the injunction of our Holy Father “not to leave a stone unturned which can help remedy the situation.” “Let those,” he continues, “who serve in the ranks of Catholic Action take up the promotion of this wholesome enterprise as a principal duty. First, let them take care that everyone with whom they come into contact, whether close associates or not, can see in their manner of dress and action the shining beauty of Christian morals. Let their innocence of soul shine forth from their eyes. Let their words and deeds savor of virtue. For only then can 21 they easily move others by their persuasion and counsel to decent and proper d-essing and a good life” ( August 15, 1954). In seconding these words of the Holy Father, we earnestly remind parents of young and growing children that boys and girls must be taught as tiny tots to love modesty and must be corrected for immodesty. Even though they are too young to sin, they can and ought to be impressed with the beauty of modesty. Training in modesty is pre-eminently the function of the home, to be begun from earliest childhood. d) Sacred Places and Functions
J n this matter of dress, we would like finally to call your attention to the even higher standards of modesty required by the added consideration of the respect due to sacred places and sacred occasions. Our Holy Father mentions that “indeed, often even in buildings dedicated to God, an unworthy and indecent mode of dress has prevailed.” In this letter, we do not propose to lay down precise regulations, which it would be our right to do where matters regulating the House of God and Liturgical functions are concerned. In general, we are confident that our good people are fully conscious of these higher standards befitting the House of God. We appeal to them, therefore, to observe carefully that sense of propriety which is in keeping with the inspired words: “Holiness befits your house, 0 Lord, for length of days” ( Ps. 92: 5) .
Nevertheless, we feel constrained to call special attention to the decorum required in the House of God on the occasion of weddings, and we call upon our pastors to be insistent on preserving that decorum. Our attention has been called from time to time to the fact that some bridal parties come to the Church attired in gowns which perhaps do not even satisfy the requirements of modesty, much less that decorum which befits a sacred place, and a sacred occasion such as the holy Sacrament of Matrimony. We cannot but deplore such a lack of the reverence due to the Church of God, and we wish to insist in earnest language that the dress of the bridal party be in all ways befitting the sacred place and the sacred occasion. In this connection we may also mention other solemn occasions such as First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Generally, there is no difficulty on the former occasion, since traditional standards 22 of dress are being maintained. Occasionally, however, it is a source of great embarrassment to notice how an innocent child has been allowed to present herself for confirmation in a style of dress not befitting the sacred occasion. These same general principles are easily applied to less formal occasions, and to the simple attendance at Church services. From time to time, we receive letters from people asking us whether we cannot do something to impress people with the importance of observing a special etiquette in this matter. We can only put it up to the people themselves, reminding them that there is a decorum befitting the Church of God, which is entirely compatible with simple and even poor clothes, and with the ordinary requirements of ease and comfort, even though the Church may not be airconditioned. VI. MODESTY AND BEHAVIOR
The second general area in which modesty particularly must exercise its influence on those who would be chaste and help others to preserve chastity is in regard to behavior with others. a) Good Manners
Modesty is something more than good manners, but it is important first of all to stress the usefulness and necessity of good manners and the rules of politeness. These can and should serve as the natural basis for modesty of behavior. Good manners and the rules of politeness are fundamentally natural virtues. They are a partial recogrntion of our social obligations in our dealings with our fellow men, and also an exemplification of the golden rule. To tolerate or to neglect the correction of bad manners and impoliteness, particularly among the young, is to invite a disregard also of virtuous habits. For, grace builds upon nature, and presupposes nature. Good manners, and the rules of politeness, are intimately related to the Christian virtues of obedience, modesty, and charity, which ennoble and elevate the natural, and, where necessary, also correct it. Hence, good manners, important as they are, are in themselves not enough. In fact, when not elevated and directed by Christian virtue, good manners can merely serve as the cloak for hiding evil intentions. 23 b) Occasions of Sin
It is an old saying that people do not plunge into impu~ty without first having cast modesty aside. Now modesty of behavior with others is intimately bound up with the question of the occasions of sin. Our catechism teaches us that we are seriously bound to avoid what is called the near or proximate occasion of sin unless there is a proportionately serious reason for exposing ourselves to such an occasion. When such a serious reason does exist, we are nevertheless bound to use all the natural and supernatural means needed to help us not to fall into sin. The near or proximate occasions of sin are, in general, all persons, places, ?r things that may easily lead us into sin. Hence, an occas:on of s1′? is called near or proximate when the person, place, or thing constitutes either in general a great danger of sin, or is such for some particular person because of his individual disposition ‘. Such a near or proximate occasion of sin may be a free one, that is, one freely chosen by us without there being any neces~ity; or, it ~a~ be a ~ecessary one, because of certain grave reasons, i.e., when 1~ is physically or morally impossible to avoid it without danger ~o life, health,. or reputation. Experience teaches us that there are various intermediary stages between the near and the remote occasions of sin. The greater the danger of sinning, the more serious must be the reasons to justify one in not avoiding the occasion of sin. Whoever does not want to avoid a near or proximate free occasion of sin, i.e., an occasion which is not justified by any serious reason, is not disposed to receive absolution in the sacrament of Penance. Again, one who finds himself in the near occasion of sin because of some necessity as mentioned above, but refuses to use the natural precautions of prudence and the supernatural means of grace, commits sin by that very fact. c) Company-Keeping
These principles on the occasion of sin may be briefly considered in their application to the important question of “companykeeping.” We call it an important question, because there are many loose and false ideas on this subject, many of them proposed by way of advice to the teen-ager, the couple contemplating marriage, or 24 the person separated from a lawful spouse. In applying these principles, we do not wish to enter upon details, but merely to set forth some well-defined conclusions. WHAT IT Is First of all, we would hke to make clear what we understand here by “company-keeping.” We refer here to the “regular and frequent compamonship of man and woman which in the normal course of events leads to falling in love and wanting to marry.” In this description, the key words are “regular” and “frequent.” By the former, we mean to imply the kind of company-keeping which is based upon either a mutual understanding or an explicit planning to devote the time spent together to each other and morally to exclude others; generally, such company-keeping is referred to in popular language as “going steady.” The word, “frequent,” may vary from almost nightly to weekly, either personally or by letters. Now, company-keeping in this sense is looked upon by all moral theologians in the Church as a near or proximate occasion of sin. It should be noted that we have not said that it is looked upon as smful, but only as the occasion of sm. It is so looked upon as an occasion of sin simply because of the facts of experience based upon human nature in its fallen condition. Because it is a near or proximate occasion of sin, this kind of company-keeping can be justified only when certain circumstances are present. These circumstances are: ( l) if the parties involved are keeping company with a possible view to mamage within a reasonable time; ( 2) if they use the means necessary to prevent undue familiarities, namely the natural means of prudence, and the supernatural means of prayer and the sacraments. The possible view to marriage can be based only on the desire to marry and the freedom in the eyes of the Church to marry. If either of these conditions is not present, company-keeping as descnbed cannot be justified morally. 1) Company-Keeping and the Teen-Ager
These principles need to be carefully weighed, first of all, in the guidance given to the teen-ager, and must be conscientiously realized by the Catholic teen-agers themselves. It is well known that teen-agers often “go steady” simply because it is convenient, or because it is a matter of pride, to have a steady partner to the exclusion of others. In keeping this kind of “steady company” they 25 have no intention or desire of looking toward marriage. Again, even though such a desire or intention may be present, teen-agers often cannot contemplate marriage within a reasonable time, for a vanety of reasons, such as lack of the necessary parental consent, economic conditions, and the like. Hence, despite the views of so many who look with indulgence on this practice, we cannot condone it, and we must raise our voices against it, to let both parents and teen-agers know what we think about it, and what is the approved teaching of moral theologians of the Church. This kind of steady company-keeping on the part of teen-agers is the source of neglect of schoolwork, and of the serious preparation for life that schoolwork implies. More than this, however, it carries with it the grave dangers of sins against modesty, chastity, and purity, and ultimately also of attempted mamages contrary to the laws of the Church. As a free near occasion of sin, which is not justified by other circumstances, the practice of such company-keeping in itself must be classified as sinful. We wish, therefore, seriously to exhort parents to instruct their children more fully in these matters, to urge them to be interested in group activities, and to exercise prudent supervision over the conduct of their growmg children. We are not unmindful of the grave burdens which the responsibilities of parenthood place upon fathers and mothers. Such responsibilities can be met with the help of God’s grace, Who will assist parents to be kind and understanding, to be generous and loving, and yet at the same time to be prudent and firm in the direction which they give to the lives of their growing youngsters. In the words of our Holy Father: Let “fathers and mothers of families remove their children from these dangers, first by their own example, then also by timely admonitions which come from a stem firmness of spiiit as befits Christians” (August 15, 1954).
For the teen-agers themselves, we wish to remind them of the obligations placed upon them by the fourth commandment. The law of obedience binds children as long as they are minors and unmarried. Disobedience is a grievous sin if it concerns an important matter and the parents have given a real command. Even adult children, as long as they stay at home, must obey in all things necessary for domestic order, e.g., to return home at a reasonable hour of the night. O_bedien~e to t?e law of G?d, of co~rse, ~ust be . the supreme motive. It is obedience to God s law which obliges us m conscience to avoid the free near occasions of sin, and to take the proper pre26 cautions in the necessary near occasions of sin. “He who loves danger will pens~ in it” is the inspired word of the Wise Man (Ecclus. 3:27); while the Apostle St. John wntes: “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, th; love of the Father is not in him; because all that is m the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of hfe: which is not from the Father, but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16)’. No o~e, surely, wishes to deprive our young people of the legitimate diversion and recreation which come from association with other~. Ne~erthel.ess, i_t must be pointed out that there are many ways m which this legitimate diversion can be had without recourse to company-keeping as described above. It should also be noted that aside from the kind of company-keeping described above, there is also such a thing as immodesty of place and circumstance. Suffice it to mention the out-of-the-way parked car, or the intimacies which so many in the world look upon with indulgence and condone in the name of experience or of growing up. Modesty of behavior with others must govern all so-called expressions of affection. The kissing and embracing which so many defend under the name of affection or simply because it is the accepted thing, are in reality but a surrender to immodesty that destroys the last defense of chastity in the world. Thus also the type of dancing indulged in by some lovers is but an invitation to the spint of impurity to take possession of their souls. In defense, therefore, of Christian virtue, and in the discharge of our pastoral duty to our people, both young and old we must state in certain and clear terms the teaching of the catechism which in~ists: “W_e must avoid as far as possible any person, place, or thm? that is hkely to tempt us to immodesty and impurity, and special care must be taken to avoid the near occasions of sin.” Let us always recall the exhortation of St. Paul: “I exhort you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice living, holy, pleasing to God-your spintual service” (Rom. 12:1)’. 2) Company-Keeping and Divorced Persons
These principles need to be carefully weighed, in the second pl~ce, ~n connection with the question of company-keeping by or with divorced persons. Smee the prospect of a future valid marriage alone makes company-keeping, as described above, licit, it follows that such company-keeping is illicit and sinful when marriage is not possible either permanently, or for a long time, or probably 27 impossible. A penitent who persists in such kind of company-keeping is not properly disposed to receive absolution. It should be recalled here that all marriages are presumed to be valid until proved invalid by due process of Church law. Only Catholics and those marrying Catholics are bound to be married before a priest. Non-Catholics marrying non-Catholics before a civil official or minister contract valid marriages unless there is present an invalidating impediment. Divorced persons are still married in the eyes of God and must regulate their conduct with others accordingly. There are indeed marriages which are invalid from the beginning. The clearest of such cases are those which involve Catholics who have attempted marriage before a civil official or a minister. Nevertheless, the possibility of eventual freedom of a divorced person, based on a founded hope or not, does not change the nature of the voluntary proximate occasion of sin. Only the due process of Church Law can state definitely whether or not a given marriage was invalid from the beginning. No individual may use a private opinion, either his own or that of another, in this matter, as the basis for excusing company-keeping with such divorced persons. Company-keeping with or by divorced persons shows a public disregard of God’s law and the sacredness of the marriage vows. It is an invitation to others to act in like manner, and an encouragement to those already acting in this manner. Company-keeping with or by divorced persons carries with it all the dangers referred to above – the danger of committing sins against the sixth and ninth commandments, the danger of attempting a merely civil marriage with a consequent life of public sin, and of dying in this state. In fact, pastoral experience abundantly proves that it is the failure to apply these principles on company-keeping which more than anything else leads to so many invalid marriages involving divorced persons. Again, as we stated above, we would like to repeat here that these principles are based upon the law of Cod, and are bound up with the commandments of God and the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of the morality involved in an occasion of sin is simply the logical conclusion which flows from the application of these principles to areas of practical living. It is obedience to God’s law, therefore, which obliges us in conscience to avoid the free near occasion of sin, and to take the proper precautions in the necessary near occasions of sin. It may be noted here in passing that it is also wrong to encourage or to abet such company-keeping by others. Even more so, it is 28 wrong to give encouragement or approval to any marriage attempted invalidly by or with a divorced person. Such encouragement and at least tacit approval is given by those who attend such weddings, or offer gifts on such an occasion, or otherwise through their words or actions seemingly approve of the sinful action. We fully realize the demands of Christian charity. Charity is the supreme law and criterion, but charity begins with the love of God. Love of God is expressed above all in the keeping of the commandments: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). Again: “He who says that he knows him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him” ( 1 Jn. 2:4). True love of neighbor can never give approval, therefore, of our neighbor’s sin, since love of neighbor is based upon love of God. Moreover, true love of neighbor considers especially the spiritual welfare of our neighbor. It is not true love of neighbor, therefore, which either explicitly or implicitly conveys to him the impression that we approve of his sinful action. It is also true that we should not judge lest we ourselves be judged (cf. Mt. 7: 1). It is not however an act of rash or hypocritical judgment of the actions of others to recognize the clearly sinful character of such actions. The subjective imputability of an action we must always leave to the judgment of God, Who alone can read the consciences of men. But over and above such subjective imputability, the actions of men have an objective morality according as they are, or are not, in conformity with the law of God. We not only have a right, but a duty to recognize this fact, and to regulate our own conduct accordingly. It is necessary that we state these principles in clear and precise terms, so that the proper application may be made to individual cases. d) The Church and Pleasure
Nothing, therefore, of what we have said in the above, should be construed to conclude that pleasure in itself is wrong. It is not. Neither, therefore, that pleasure which is derived from association with others. Quite the contrary, our love of neighbor is an essential part of the great commandment (cf. Mt. 22:37-39), and the proof of the true follower of Christ (cf. Jn. 13:35). The notion that pleasure in itself is wrong is heretical in origin, and most harmful to the spiritual life of man. God made pleasure; man made pain. All pleasure that is not inordinate, no matter how intense it is, can be offered to God. It is only when pleasure becomes inordinate, 29 that is, contrary to the will of God, that it is wrong. No one can live without some pleasure, just as no one can live without some food and some rest. Hence, the Church does not make the mistake of condemning pleasure as evil. In fact, during the long course of her history the Church has been frequently accused of both extremes of laxity and of rigorism. The Church teaches that man is not evil or totally corrupted, even though he has within himself the effects of original sin. Nevertheless, the Church teaches that the passions of man need to be held in check by man’s spiritual nature, that his free will be guided by reason, and reason and conscience be guided by revelation. Hence, in her teaching about the obligation of avoiding the near free occasion of sin, the Church is merely insisting on the minimum mortification needed in order to avoid mortal sin. We fully realize that the viewpoint of many in the world runs counter to what we have been saying. The spirit of secularism, and of a militant paganism, resents the law of God for interfering with the full expression of human freedom. Even more so the spirit of secularism resents and rejects the guiding hand of authority which is evident in the obedience to the law of the Church required of every Catholic. Nevertheless, we speak out, because the heart of a shepherd is deeply moved by the sight of so many who are led astray by the viewpoint of secularism in these important matters. VII. MonESTY AND THE PRINTED WoRD
The third general area in which modesty must particularly exercise its influence on those who would be chaste and help others to preserve this virtue is that of the printed and pictured word. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are influenced by the books, magazines, and papers which we read, and all of these leave their imprint on us as individuals. Back in the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson expressed the same idea when he said: “Books have alw~ys a se_cret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obhte~ate ideas; ~e that _reads books of science, though without any fixed idea or desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that ent:rtains himself w_ith religious treatises will imperceptibly advance m goodness; the ideas which are offered to the mind will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.” Add to these observations the truth about our imagination already 30 referred to earlier in this letter. Our imagination is the power which we have of making mental pictures of the material umverse. The imagination can reproduce whatever our senses have experienced, either as these sense experiences came originally through the senses, or in any variety of combmations. The imagination cannot make pictures of what the senses cannot experience. Obviously, then, the picture-making power of the imagination is in direct proportion to the stimulation of the senses. Now, as a result of original sin, the imagination of man constantly tends to get out of hand. It is a commonplace of experience how the imagination can storm the will by conjuring up pictures to solicit and entice; and it is likewise commonplace to experience the interference of the imagination in the process of thinking by way of distraction, or by censoring or substituting for whatever the intellect is to accept. All these observations are true of adults, and even more so of children and young people, who have, as we say, impressionable minds. And these observations need to be kept in mind in applying the general principles discussed m this pastoral letter on decency applied to the printed and the pictured word.
Again, we wish to point out that it is not our purpose to attempt to detail every possible application of these principles to the printed and pictured word. Thus, for example, there would be much that should be said with regard to this problem as it is involved in the ethics of advertising. Limiting ourselves to the problem of decency and modesty in the printed and pictured word, whatever is said about books and magazines in this regard can readily be applied to the field of advertising. a) The Problem of Indecent Literature
“Literature mirrors the times.” No better proof of the urgency to return to the living of God’s law is provided than by a visit to the local newsstands. We do not expect a sinless literature in a sinful world. Evil is not something new in the world. This is a smful world, and the readmg habits of people will all too frequently reflect this sad condition. But we have a right, and a duty, to call sin by its proper name, and to recognize it for what it is. Adultery is not romance, business cheatmg is not success. Love is more than sex, and religion more than a funny feelmg. Civilization and culture are based on the dignity of man and his living, and not on the sordid elements of life. 31 Now, the moral and mental attack made by much of the current literature is well calculated to promote the advance of irreligion and atheism, and thus also foster communism. This literature is a contributing factor to types of crimes progressively troubling our lawmakers and the great body of our people. Under the guise of art, or romance, or travel, or science a vast output of books, booklets, magazines, and comics continues to stream forth from the printing presses of our nation, to become, in the words of an objective governmental survey, “the media for dissemination of artful appeals to sensuality, immorality, filth, perversion and degeneracy.” In fact, according to this same report, “so great is the exaltation of passion above principle, and so prevalent is the identification of lust with love that the casual reader of such literature might easily conclude that all married persons are habitually adulterous and all teenagers completely devoid of any sex inhibitions” (U. S. Cong. Committee, Union Calendar, No. 797, House Report No. 2510, p. 3). Thus are our national morals sabotaged and our nation’s moral tone brought lower and lower. As we have stated above several times, we wish to repeat here again. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Divine Savior condenms not only adultery, but everything that leads to it – all impure looks, desires, thoughts and actions. “Anyone who even looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-28). In the light of these clear words, there can be no misunderstanding about the gravely sinful nature of reading material, or movie and television fare, which pander to such lustful thoughts, desires, and looks. This means, therefore, that generally speaking such material is sinful for all, and not merely for the young. “We would warn you that there are books which are bad for everyone” (Pius XII). b) Scandal and Co-operation
On another occasion, when our Lord had dramatically placed a small child before the Apostles, He solemnly said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does cornet” (Mt. 18:6-7.) Scandal is any word, act, or omission that is in itself evil or has 32 the appearance of evil and which can be the occasion of another’s sin. Closely allied to the sin of scandal is the sin of co-operation, by which one concurs in the sinful deed of another. Such co-operation can take place either by concurring in the evil intention of the one committing sin, and then it is called formal co-operation; or it can take place by concurring only in the sinful act, without agreeing with the evil intention, and then it is called material co-operation. There are many different ways in which one can co-operate with the sin of another. Whether or not we are allowed to co-operate in the sinful act of another ( material co-operation), without of course making his evil intention our own, will depend on different circumstances, and especially on the measure of our co-operation. There are some things which from their very nature can have only an evil use. When such is the caae, no matter what our intention may be, we cannot co-operate with another, even under grave moral pressure, precisely because it is impossible to dissociate ourselves from the evil nature of the thing or the act. Thus, material co-operation in the dissemination of some books and magazines is permissible only for a grave reason. But professedly immoral literature cannot be disseminated at all without committing grave sin. This is the clear teaching of our Faith, enforced by the Canon Law of the Church, which states that “booksellers shall not sell, lend, or retain books designedly treating of obscenities” ( Canon 1404). c) The “Designedly Obscene”
That much of the stuff which is being peddled through pocketsize books, the magazines, and comics is “designedly obscene” can hardly be denied. This conclusion is true, despite the difficulties which the courts may have in arriving at a satisfactory definition of the word “obscene.” The teaching of both experience and competent theologians makes it abundantly clear that the “designedly obscene” would probably include a great deal more than our legislative statutes and our courts would or could include. Moreover, it is also evident from experience and the teaching of moral theology that even though much of this material might not qualify as “designedly obscene” in the strictly legal or canonical sense, it does serve as the proximate occasion of grave sin for the greater majority of people, both adults and young. In other words, no Catholic publisher, or distributor, or reader could guide himself in this ques33 tion of scandal, or co-operation, or sin, on the basis of what a legal statute or a court decision may state is the meaning of the word “obscene.” d) The Current Situation
There are some hopeful signs that the comic book mdustry has initiated a movement to regulate itself. How sincere this effort is or how effective it will be can only be judged after it has been in operation for several years. While comic books have been and continue to be detrimental to the welfare of our children, it does not seem to us that they have been the principal source of the harm being done, although certain types of publicity ( especially that promoted by the publishers of other kinds of literature) have tned to make it seem so. The magazines, in recent years, it seems to us, have become worse rather than better. The reason is to be found in the doleful fact that “pornography is big business.” The pressure of other types of publications, particularly the pocket-size books, has induced many magazines to lower their standards in order to meet “competition.” Even the best family magazines run occasional articles along these lines. Also, it is to be noted that some court decisions have opened the way to the adoption of these lower standards, by granting the use of the mails to magazines containing the pictures of untouched nudes. Thus the sensational type of picture or photography magazine has been economically pressured to become even more sensational in their photography and display. Added to these magazines is another type which specializes in gossip, slander, and the revelation of the secret facts of people’s lives, thus adding calumny and slander to the degrading list. The worst offenders continue to be the pocket-size books. This situation is at once the most difficult and the most pernicious. It is the most difficult because of the constant flux and quick turnover in the market, and because of the deceptive appearances of the covers. Sometimes, some of the finest classics bear very salacious frontpieces – a trick of advertising also noticeable in the film industry. It is the most pernicious, because the content of the bad pocket-size books continues to be very bad, and their number does not seem to diminish. It is the most pernicious, because this type of book is being sought out not only by our young people but by adults as well. 34 e) Our Challenge
In striving to do something about this grave menace to the morals of our nation, it is important to begin with a recognition of the fact that there is a serious problem, and that we cannot remain silent or inert in the face of this problem, and thus by our silence to condone or to approve the evil. For some time now, our Christian Mothers’ Confraternity, together with other organizations in the Archdiocese, have engaged themselves to cope with this problem m one way or another. We are grateful for what has been accomplished in the past, and we wish to encourage them in their united efforts for the present and the future. From reports which reach us from time to time, we are convinced that it is necessary through these organizations to continue to bring this matter again and again to our people as a whole. For this reason, we wish to encourage our Christian Mothers in their particular apostolate, asking them to continue their co-operation with the National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL) and to bring the principles, classifications, and applications of the NODL work to other organizations in the Archdiocese, to parish societies, and to families and individuals as well. For this reason, also, we encouraged the establishment of an Archdiocesan unit of the Legion of Decency. The principal aim of the Legion of Decency, which was set up by the American Bishops in 1934, is to discourage the production and patronizing of films which are “not worthy of the rational nature of man” and “which are not morally healthy.” For this reason the Legion criticizes and classifies entertainment solely and exclusively from the viewpoint of Christian morality and decency. It is a fact that too many of our Catholics are frequenting motion pictures without being sufficiently informed as to the religious and moral quality of the film being shown. Some even do not seem to have any consciousness of their duty in this matter, particularly in protecting the young. The classifications of the Legion of Decency, as those also of the NODL, represent a practical application of the norms of moral theology, especially those dealing with the occasion of sin, the sin of co-operation, and the sin of scandal. These classifications enable the individual person to determine readily, promptly, and easily whether or not a certain film involves an occasion of sin, or the sin 35 of scandal or co-operation. In speaking of the right of the Church, through the Pope and the Bishops, to guide the faithful, our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, calls that theory “reprehensible” which denies the Church the right to make such practical applications in the realm of moral conduct (November 2, 1954). We take this occasion, therefore, when speaking of the program of the Christian Mothers in the field of indecent literature, to encourage them and all our people to continue their co-operation with the Pledge of the Legion of Decency in the related fields of the movies and television entertainment. We remind them that our late Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, warmly praised the Pledge, and called upon all pastors of souls “to obtain each year from their people a pledge similar to this one, in which they promise to stay away from motion pictures which are offensive to truth and Christian morality” (Vigifanti Cura, June 29, 1936). We also call to the attention of our people, and particularly of our various Study and Group Discussion Clubs the complete address of Pope Pius XII on “The Ideal Film” (June 21, 1955, and October 28, 1955), and we ask them to make a study of this significant discourse. Hence, in presenting the challenge of Decency to our people, we do so in the realization that decency in all walks of life is most intimately bound up with the spirit of reverence, which has frequently been called the soul of religion. This reverence is a consciousness of the infinite holiness of God, which serves to make us remember our dignity as children of God, and temples of the Holy Ghost through divine grace, which is a participation in the holiness of God. We do not look upon our efforts, whether individually or through organizations, as “pressure movements” or as “censorship imposing our way of life on others, who disagree with us.” Rather, we look upon our efforts as the articulate voices of our people, of all good people, who band together for the strength that comes from union, and who stand up in defense of the holiness of God, and the standards of Christian morality. f) Recommendations With regard to the problem of Indecent Literature under discussion in this point of our pastoral letter, we would like to make the following recommendations.
FIRST, we ought to face the fact that the problem is local 36 r as well as national. In the words of one of our Representatives: “The thing that has appalled me is that this stuff is very big business, that it is going out in millions.” Almost any visit to a local store, newsstand, or other place of distnbution, will make anyone aware of the fact that some of these millions have reached the local scene.
SECOND, the important work has to be done on the local level as well as on the national level. We readily grant with a Congressional Committee Report that “the source of this pornographic stream is the publishing house, and while the distnbutor, the wholesaler, and the retailer all participate as purveyors, it is the publisher who is primarily responsible, since he is the architect and creator without whom the chain of distribution could not function.” These powerful sources, of course, have also to be reached on the national level, through some action resulting from Congressional investigations. It is hopeful to note here that the National Orgamzation for Decent Literature, of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, has had its influence felt through certain indications of some further attempt at self-regulation within the publishing industry. It is most hopeful that the concept of self -regulation has finally been mentioned and considered, since legal statutes will never suffice in matters of this kmd, The NODL, and all who co-operate with it, subscribe wholeheartedly to the principle of self-regulation, and sincerely hope that it progresses from the correction of salacious covers to the much more important correction of salacious content. On the local level, we have both the responsibility and the opportunity of achieving definite results. It is on the local level that the nation-wide protest began, which led to certain congressional investigations. Through such local protests, public opinion has been aroused, and can continue to be aroused. Through such local activity, greater diligence on the part of local prosecuting agencies, in enforcing statutes already on the books, is brought about. We are happy here to commend the work which has been done by our Metropolitan Commission on Crime Prevention, which instructed its secretary to write to more than one hundred organizations in the Milwaukee area urging the formation of committees to attack the problem. These committees, the commission said, should carry out educational programs to arouse parental action to combat this ever mcreasing blight on the youth of our community. We are also pleased to note the Ordmance No. 662, to create Section 106-7.5 of the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances, relating to 37 the. sale or distribution of obscene literature in the City of Milwaukee, which was passed and approved by the Common Council and the Mayor on March 7, 1956, and March 9, 1956. A great many communities in Wisconsin have now begun organized action to cleanse the newsstands and other points of distribution of this sort of thing. Effective representations have been made by a number of our local organizations to our representatives and senators. We repeat, the Federal Government can and must continue to do its part to help preserve civic virtue. The post office, also, can take legal action wherever this is indicated, and law-enforcement officers can prosecute according to the tenor of the law. But there is no substitute for effective local enforcement and effective action, by groups such as our Christian Mothers, and all the other organizations of men and women – parents and citizens who are truly interested in the welfare of their children, of themselves, and of the community at large. Most important on the local level, the small distnbutor of such reading material can be reached and influenced. Perhaps with all the promises that the publishers give, there is little hope of obtaining lasting effective results from that quarter. But at least we can do our utmost to try to remove this occasion of sin on the local level. Without trying to minimize the evil which is done by the publisher, as indicated above in the words of the congressional report, or by the printers, the distributors, and wholesalers as well, in the last analysis, it is the retailer who actually unleashes the flood of filth on the reading public. The retailer has the right to refuse to accept them. He can refuse to display them. He can refuse to sell the dirty ones. That there are many retailers who are co-operating, is evident from the fact that the Congressional Report states that the amount of unsold salacious material returned by dealers to the distributors . ‘ m some instances, runs as high as 40 per cent. The report further states that this action is due, in part at least, to local protests. The records also show, in other sources, that such local action has influenced the stores on the local level which are controlled by national chains. We submit that it is our conviction that the great majority of local dealers, the country over, are honest, God-fearing men. Even though many of them do not share the same Catholic Faith which we cherish, they believe in the natural law and in the ten commandmen~s, and_ are also bound by them. When we protest against this salacious literature, we are not trying to impose some specific 38 \ “Catholic teachmg” on them. We are appealmg to their own sense of decency and belief m the natural law, and to their concern for the morals of their own children.
Fmally, when we speak of the local level, we are thmkmg first and above all of the homes of our own people. This pastoral letter, we have said several times, is primarily directed at our own. What we have said about this particular point is therefore also an appeal to our own people to safeguard their own homes against this type of literature. And here may we mention again that we are thmkmg not merely of the evidently or designedly bad or indecent literature, but also of that vast output which mingles so much of the indecent with what is otherwise proper and decent. Hence, lest our recommendations be considered merely negative we exhort our people as follows. There are two pnncipal ways in which we can safeguard ourselves agamst the worldly mfluence of secular readmg. First, we can reduce the amount of such secular reading: and, second, we can increase the amount of our spmtual readmg. It is almost impossible to lay down ~ hard and. fast rule. Certainly, the layman in general must keep m touch with the world and modern society in which he lives and moves. But he must do so prudently, and in keepmg with his Chns- ~an vocation. The amount of secular readmg will surely vary accordmg to the particularized vocation that we have. Professional people, such as teachers and lawyers, will surely be required to do a great deal more. For all, however, it seems that we can lay down this general rule: we must be resolved to avoid that which is indecent and salacious, and that which endangers our faith. More positively, we must be resolved never to cease from regular reading of the right type.
THIRD, we should always remember that we are working for the cause of Christ. Hence we should not become discouraged. We are working for the purity and the integrity of our children, and of ourselves. This is the kind of virtuous effort which requires constant renewal of intention, and the manly determination not to be ?iscour~ged by the lack of success on a large scale, or the seemingly impossible odds. If we succeed in persuadmg even one dealer to eliminate the distribution of such literature, we shall have done something very worthwhile. Nay much more, if we are God’s instruments in helping to prevent the commission of even one mortal sin, we shall be blessed by our Lord. We are also working for the welfare of our country, which can become greater and stronger only in proportion to the moral health of its citizens. Above all, 39 however, we are working for Christ, and therefore we must perform our work with great charity. In the light of these exhortations, we caution our Christian Mothers, and all others who unite with them in this work, not to expect too much from legal statutes and court decisions. These never will, nor can they take the place of the intensive personal, local activity, and the follow-through on such efforts which count. We urge them not to lose heart, in the remembrance that spiritual works of mercy are of greater value than corporal works of mercy. Hence, of spiritual works of mercy the words of our Lord apply with even greater force: “As long as you did it for one of these the least my brethren, you did it for me.” Most earnestly, do we caution against the resort to threats or recriminations. Charity, in the language of St. Paul, is tactful, charily is patiently persistent. We must not forget that there are many people who honestly disagree with us in fundamental issues. The fact that these people are sincere in their opinions does not mean that we must concede these opinions themselves, or that we ourselves should be less vigorous in the defense of what we hold to be the truth. But it does mean that we must treat them with charity and with respect, and that we cannot use force successfully in a cause of this kind. VIH. CONCLUSION
Thus, Dearly Beloved, we have wished to bring these matters to your attention in conjunction with the annual convention of our Archdiocesan Confraternity of Christian Mothers. We have concluded the writing of these various points at the beginning of this month of May, which we dedicate to the Immaculate Mother of God. The convention of our Christian Mothers itself is annually held during this month, during which also our nation sets aside a special Sunday on which to honor mothers. Hence, we have felt that it is most fitting to appeal especially lo mothers to give us the greatest possible assistance in the important matters discussed in this letter. We have not indeed touched upon all the subjects which are of concern to us in the general matter of decency and modesty. Neither, as we have stated several times in this letter, have we attempted to spell out the detailed application of principles. Like St. John the Baptist, we have wanted, however, to be a voice crying out in defense 40 of our cherished Christian standards of modesty and punty. We realize fully that the aggressive attitude of modern matenalism and exaggerated freedom will dispute, or even scorn what we have said. Lest it be thought, however, that silence gives consent to these modem trends, as a shepherd of souls, heeding the call of our Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Chnst, we have felt obligated to proclaim to our people that we cannot approve these violations of Christian modesty and decency: “If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from hrs way, that wicked man shall die m his irnquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand. But if thou tell the wicked man, that he may be converted from his ways, and he be not converted from his way, he shall die in his iniquity but thou hast delivered thy soul” ( Ezech. 3 3: 8-9) . Dearly Beloved, the struggle against immodesty is only part of everyone’s battle against the world, the devil, and the flesh. We do not say that modesty and purity are the chief virtues of the Christian. The chief virtue and adornment of the Clmstian soul is charity – love of God above all things, and love of neighbor for the love of God. Charity is the essence of Christian perfection. But we do say that the struggle for purity is a most important element in the warfare against the enemies of chanty. Immodesty and indecency are the chief means of enslaving men to the vice of unchastity and impurity, and this vice is particularly corrosive of true charity. Let us heed, therefore, the warnings of our Divine Savior to pluck out the eye that causes us scandal (cf. Mt. 18: 7-9). Let us hold high the true ideal of the Christian who accepts fully the charter of Christian perfection: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:3-12). In calling particularly upon our Christian Mothers to assist us in this crusade, we ask them m their prayers, in their studies, and in their activities to strive to reduce what we have said to the practical level of everyday living. To encourage them further not to lose heart m the daily battle, I would like to recall these following words of Pope Pius XII, addressed several years ago to a gathenng of Catholic Mothers: “You have to prepare your sons and daughters so that they may pass with unfaltermg step, like those who pick their way among serpents, through that time of cnsis and physical change; and pass through it without losmg any of the joy of mnocence, preservmg that natural instinct of modesty, with which Providence has girt them as a check to wayward passion. That sense of modesty, which in its spontaneous abhorrence from the impure, is akin to the sense 41 of religion, is made of little account m these days. BUT YOU MOTHER:; WILL TAKE CARE that your children do not lose it through anything unbecoming in dress or self-adornment, through unbecommg famihanties of immoral spectacles; on the contrary, you will seek to make it more delicate, more alert, more upnght, more smcere.”
Finally, we ask our people to make the following pledge to our Blessed Mother, with a prayer for her abidmg maternal assistance: a) Pledge of Modesty “I believe in the virtue of modesty as the guardian of chashty. I pledge myself to hve and fight for the ideals of the virtue of punty and the observance of modesty. In particular, I pledge myself to live and fight for more decency in the prmted and spoken word, and for a Mary-like modesty m dress and action. I promise also to set an example for my family and my associates, and to let others know where I stand m such matters, in the hope of leading them to greater punty of life. I hope to maintain these ideals by cultivating a strong personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” b) Prayer “O Mary, thou art the most fruitful of mothers, and the most chaste of virgins. With the most profound respect, I venerate the mysterious union of these prerogatives in thee; and I congratulate thee on thy exemption from all these miseries of our condition – on thy spotless purity, and on thy divine motherhood for which it prepared thee. “O Virgin Mother! protect me through thy heavenly purity, and defend me against so many enemies who surround me, and seek to deprive me of this most precious possession. Obtain for me, most pure Virgin, the grace to aim at the perfection of this virtue, by cautious vigilance over my unruly passions, and by carefully avoidmg whatever might render me unworthy to be called thy child. “Help me to assist others, as far as it lies in my power, in the practice and observance of modesty and punty. I am resolved never to give scandal to others, and to do what I can to remove the occasions of sin. 0 Mary, Mother of pure souls, show thyself a mother 42 to me now and at the hour of my death, and bring me to the blessed happiness promised to those who are clean of heart – the contemplation and enjoyment of God m Heaven. Amen.” With blessing upon all, I remain Very sincerely yours m the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
ALBERT G. MEYER Archbishop of Milwaukee Given at the Chancery Office Milwaukee, Wisconsin May 1, 1956