St. Francis of Assisi used to exhort his brethren frequently to guard and mortify their senses with the utmost care. He especially insisted on the custody of the eyes, and he used this parable of a King’s two messengers to demonstrate how the purity of the eyes reveals the chastity of the soul.A certain pious King sent two messengers successively to the Queen with a communication from himself. The first messenger returned and brought an answer from the Queen, which he delivered exactly. But of the Queen herself he said nothing because he had always kept his eyes modestly cast down and had not raised them to look at her.
The second messenger also returned. But after delivering in a few words the answer of the Queen, he began to speak warmly of her beauty. “Truly, my lord,” he said, “the Queen is the most fair and lovely woman I have ever seen, and thou art indeed happy and blessed to have her for thy spouse.”
At this the King was angry and said: “Wicked servant, how did you dare to cast your eyes upon my royal spouse? I believe that you may covet what you have so curiously gazed upon.”
Then he commanded the other messenger to be recalled, and said to him: “What do you think of the Queen?”
He replied, “She listened very willingly and humbly to the message of the King and replied most prudently.”
But the Monarch again asked him, “But what do you think of her countenance? Did she not seem to you very fair and beautiful, more so than any other woman?”
The servant replied, “My lord, I know nothing of the Queen’s beauty. Whether she be fair or not, it is for thee alone to know and judge. My duty was only to convey thy message to her.”
The King rejoined, “You have answered well and wisely. You who have such chaste and modest eyes shall be my chamberlain. From the purity of your eyes I see the chastity of your soul. You are worthy to have the care of the royal apartments confided to you.”
Then, turning to the other messenger, he said: “But you, who have such unmortified eyes, depart from the palace. You shall not remain in my house, for I have no confidence in your virtue.
The Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, London: R. Washbourne, 1882, pp. 254-255
Christian commitment seems to be catching on with young singles. And the acid test of that commitment is chastity. Are we willing to truly live the Gospel, including its sexual morality?
As people think more this way, they begin to think about the root causes of unchastity. One that comes to the fore is immodesty. The recovery of modesty is a key factor in the effort to return to a decent, biblical sexual ethic.
The issue of modest dress seems to rest mostly with women since they have more sexual values to conceal than men. Men, too, must be modest, although they have fewer sexual values about which to be modest. (T-shirts with the arms cut deep into the center of the shirt would be an example of immodest dress for men.)
Since women are more integrated than men, and see the whole person they are often unaware of how men are looking at them. Yet, at the same time, since the woman does not experience sensuality to the same degree as the man, she who should be more concerned about modesty does not feel the need for modesty. Pope John Paul II, in making this point in his book “Love and Responsibility,” concludes that, “The evolution of modesty in woman requires some initial insight into the male psychology.”
There are other problems in trying to talk about feminine modesty. First, one must be very careful in criticizing the way a woman dresses. Many men have learned this the hard way. Second, women generally dress to impress women, not men. Many women are not as sensitive to immodest dress (in women) as are men. And third, since men are the ones affected, it would seem appropriate that they be asked their thoughts about modest dress in women. Unfortunately, not all men have ever even given this a thought.
When I was a young bachelor, living on the beach in California, I believed in chastity, and tried hard to live it, but the idea of modest dress in women never crossed my mind. If I saw a woman dressed in a tight mini-skirt, or a minuscule bikini, my interior response was something like “Ooooeeh.” (Alas, an all too typical male response.) I was perfectly ready to visually exploit her, even though I had no intention to exploit her physically. Only later, when I began to think about the root causes of lust, did I realize that this sort of dress was having a negative effect on me.
Few men take the time to reflect on just what is happening when they face a sexily dressed woman. One who has is Father David Knight. He wrote the following:
“In the measure that a particular style of dress is consciously and deliberately provocative — whether the deliberate intent is on the part of the designer, or the wearer, or of both—this way of dressing must be recognized as a mild form of reverse rape by which a person arouses unsolicited sexual desire on another person who may not want to be aroused. Whenever this happens to men (who are more subject to this kind of arousal than women) it always causes some anger, whether recognized or not. This may explain some of the hostility and aggressive behavior that men are guilty of toward women.”
After reading Father Knight, I began to observe my own reactions. I noticed that I did feel uncomfortable when I saw a woman walk into a room provocatively dressed. I noticed, too, that when a woman was modestly dressed, I felt quite comfortable. I can’t say I felt anger over immodestly dressed women, but I did feel a certain concern for the woman, whom I feared would perhaps be the object of exploitation by men.
So what are the elements of dress that cause reactions in men? The most common one I hear is short skirts. Several times I have heard from men, who were religious but in no way square, that they could not believe how short some of the dresses were on women coming in to Church for Mass. They saw such dress and devotion as somehow contradictory. I had to agree. Dresses or skirts more than a couple of inches above the knee do affect men sexually, at least in a mild way, but perhaps even more psychologically. Their opinion of the woman as a whole is affected more. Women wearing mid-calf dresses often look quite sharp, feminine and appealing to the man looking for a good, solid wife. Many men who have been burned before will shy away from a woman who wears short skirts.
Other things typically stir a certain sexual reaction in men: breasts partially clothed, tight dresses, “sexy hair.” Sometimes women are truly surprised to hear the way men are reacting to them, while at the same time other women are deeply aware of all this.
What it comes down to for a woman is this: Do you want to be remembered for your legs, your chest, or your curves? Or do you want to be remembered for your warmth, your femininity, your personality, your decency, your goodness. If a woman accentuates her physical values, she will surely drown out her other, more personal, more significant and more lasting values.
Some women respond, “Well, what will become of me if I don’t wear short skirts? Won’t I become a hopelessly outdated old maid?” There are several flaws in this argument. First, the same women will wear longer skirts from time to time and look quite fashionable.
Second, a good Christian woman has so much going for her, that even if short skirts were a benefit (which they aren’t), they would be of minimal importance. A woman living in the state of grace has a bit of an aura that far exceeds any fashion statement. As one person put it, “There is nothing more attractive than holiness.” Christian women sometimes underestimate their inner beauty, perhaps because the fashion designers have such a strong influence, placing so much stress on the exterior.
Now some may argue, “Well, we’ve come a long way (baby). Styles are much more revealing today than 60 years ago. It used to be risque for a woman to show her legs at the beach. The things that are called immodest today may seem quite commonplace 30 years from now.” True, but generally those who are committed to the Lord are not at the cutting edge of revealing styles. That sort of groundbreaking could be left to the pagans.
Others may argue, “Well, it’s too hot out.” Hot as it may be, there are modest clothes that allow you to be cool (those from India wear them). And, furthermore, which is more important, being comfortable or helping people avoid sin (and being treated better)?
When I see a woman modestly dressed, I think, ‘There’s a woman who doesn’t play up to the media, to the designers or to any man. She’s her own woman, or, better yet, she’s God’s woman.”
There are plenty of modest, chic women, who dress sharply, but not sexily, women who are in control of their own styles, to the extent that they are decent. These women are also in control of their social lives, and get less pressure for sexual favors.
Let’s face it, our world has virtually lost any sense of decency. Granted, it’s time for men to step forward and take part in the moral renewal of our culture. But women have their part to play as well, not only for the sake of the men who are trying to do the right thing, but for their own sakes as well. Women have the most to gain from chastity, and modesty is a good way to begin.
Father Morrow is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D. C.
It may seem at times that when a pastor dares to add a snippet in his sermon about dressing appropriately for Mass, or a paragraph in the Sunday bulletin on what attire is considered respectable for the Holy Sacrifice, it doesn’t usually go down well. Some parishioners may complain, or a visitor may become angry, the Bishop may even be called. But a pastor giving proper guidelines to his sheep on what the Church deems appropriate wear for THE Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not new, nor is it something the Church has ever condemned. In fact, it has been a longstanding tradition to guide the faithful in appropriate wear, and has been so for hundreds of years. And it is a part of the job of the pastor to guide his flock in all things moral, especially when it comes to the Mass.
The Church has always taught the importance of Christians dressing properly, specifically for inside the Church in front of God Himself truly Present in the Eucharist. There are numerous Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Popes and holy priests that have spoken on this very topic. Though because of the volume of information on this subject, we will only be focusing on the 19th to 21st centuries here, and focusing mostly on Bishops, Cardinals and so on. Not priests or saints.
The Outlines of the Dress Code which we can see is still promoted even today, we can trace back to Pope Benedict XV.
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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.