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A PASTORAL LETTER OF
HIS EXCELLENCY THE MOST REVEREND
ALBERT G. MEYER, S.T.D., S.S.L.
ARCHBISHOP OF MILWAUKEE
May 1, 1956
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
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
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
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
This lack of the proper kind of public reaction is referred to agam
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.”
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
ordinary knowledge of human nature tainted. by the 7
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
- 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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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”
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
- 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,
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.
- 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
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
“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
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,
- 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.”
“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
“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
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
May 1, 1956
Cover photo: Caramia Caballero | @caramiaelenakatarinakristina
The basic idea of how we should behave in Church is summed up by the Second Council of Lyons, A.D. 1274:
It is fitting that He Whose abode has been established in peace should be worshipped in peace and with due reverence. Churches, then, should be entered humbly and devoutly; behaviour inside should be calm, pleasing to God, bringing peace to the beholders, a source not only of instruction but of mental refreshment. Those who assemble in church should extol with an act of special reverence that Name which is above every Name, than which no other under Heaven has been given to people, in which believers must be saved, the Name, that is, of Jesus Christ, Who will save His people from their sins. Each should fulfil in himself that which is written for all, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious Name is recalled, especially during the sacred Mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head. In churches the sacred solemnities should possess the whole heart and mind; the whole attention should be given to prayer.
People have no problem, it seems, dressing for weddings, funerals, office parties, or dates — but seem to think that dressing to meet Almighty God at the Mass is passé. But dressing for Mass is simply a matter of showing proper respect, not only for God, but for others around you. It’s certainly not a matter of showing off one’s finery — lots of people don’t even have fine clothes. Certainly, too, some people may attend certain Masses — say the 5:30 PM Masses — on their way home from their construction jobs. Fine! There is nothing to worry about in these things! Never let circumstances out of your control make you feel embarrassed or keep you away from the Sacraments! But one should always wear clothes that are modest, and, if possible, all things being equal, clean and the nicest clothes one has.
Below are some guidelines for proper attire (which also apply for other liturgies, such as Eucharistic Adoration or the Divine Office, etc.):
Shorts & Sweats:
Just say no.
Nice blue jeans can be “OK” (but just OK), especially if dressed up, but are not ideal. But if jeans are all you have, then, by golly, wear jeans!
Ties and Jackets:
Typical for men and considered the mark of the “well-dressed” male in the West. If you have no suit or jacket, then come in the best you have, if possible.
Laymen never wear hats in churches (except for rare ceremonial reasons on the part of some confraternities and lay associations).
On the other hand, women do cover their heads and have from the very first day of the Church. Headcoverings (mantillas, scarves, hats, etc.) are put on before entering the church — at least before entering the church proper; they aren’t necessary in the narthex) and are removed after leaving the church (or in the narthex). Please read more about veiling here. Some parishes and chapels will have veils available for women who don’t have any.
Like men, women should wear their “Sunday best,” which in the West is typically considered to be a dress or skirt. If dresses or skirts are worn, hemlines should cover the knees when standing and sitting, shoulders should be covered (i.e., “tank top” dresses and spaghetti straps are not kosher), and necklines should be modest. If you have no dress or skirt, then wear the best outfit you have, if possible.
This is beyond “etiquette,” but I will note here that you are to fast before receiving the Eucharist, and are to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if you are in a state of mortal sin. If you are a public, unrepentant sinner, the priest has every right and duty to not offer you the Body of Christ.
General deportment in a church and at the Mass should be based on these Truths:
Christ is present in the tabernacle. Therefore, respect the sanctuary as the holiest area of the church; it is the Holy of Holies.
During the Mass, we are at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the re-presentation of the Sacrifice at Calvary. How would you behave if you could see, in a way very apparent to the senses, Christ on the Cross, pouring out His Blood for you? What sort of gratitude and reverence would you exhibit? Look upon the Mass with the eyes of faith, and know that the all too common focus on the Mass only or primarily as “celebratory meal” or a “happy gathering” is in no way Catholic and in no way represents the Truth of what the Mass is.
If you’re not shy, greet newcomers outside or in the Narthex (NOT in the church itself!) as they come in or leave. Make them feel welcome; learn their names. Give them eye contact, a warm handshake, a friendly pat on the back. Introduce them to the priest after Mass if they haven’t already met. Let them know they are welcome, wanted, and entering the House of God. If they are new parishioners, talk to them sometime about events and associations in your parish. If there are coffee and donuts or some such being served after Mass, invite them! Go out of your way to make them feel at home. (Of course, on the other hand, some people are loners or are in very contemplative moods before Mass or just like to go to Mass and be left alone. Use your intuition and respect their wishes — but a smile never hurt a loner, either!)
When you enter the Church, cross yourself with Holy Water and thank God for the grace given to you at Baptism.
When you reach your pew, genuflect toward the Tabernacle in the Sanctuary before sitting down.
Keep sacred silence in the church. Avoid unecessary conversation and keep necessary conversation to a very low whisper. The Church is a lot holier than a library, eh?
Please try to be on time for Mass! Sometimes things can’t be helped, without doubt — cars break down, babies need changing, alarm clocks fail to go off — but chronic lateness for the Mass is rude and disruptive.
Confession: If you go to Confession right before Mass, let the priest know how many people are in line behind you for the Confessional. If you have an extremely long confession to make and there are many people behind you and Mass begins soon, mention only mortal sins or make your confession at a later date (and do NOT receive the Eucharist if any of the sins you need to confess are mortal!).
When someone is in the Confessional, keep a very wide berth of it. It’s very, very rude — very rude — to stand anywhere near the Confessional when it is in use by another. (I always put a hand over my ear that faces the Confessional if I have to pass by it and someone is in there with the priest. It’s not that one can overhear what is going on inside the Confessional — I never have, at least — but it helps signal to others that the Confessional is a very safe, private place that all Catholics understand needs to be respected as such).
Children: Children sometimes can’t help making a bit of noise at Mass — but it’s usually the kind of noise we Catholics love to hear (what’s better than new Catholics, especially little tiny ones?). If your child is out of control, though, or disruptive enough to distract people or makes it hard for others to hear or contemplate, take him to the Narthex, the “Cry Room,” or outside. Remember, too, that an acceptable level of noise to you as a parent might be one thing because you are so used to hearing your children that you take their sounds for granted; others might find that same noise very distracting. And, please, don’t let your children kick the backs of the pews or turn around and stare at people behind them.
Note that children under the age of reason (7 years old) aren’t required to assist at Mass, so, while it is extremely laudable to bring children of ALL ages to Mass, it is also OK to leave them at home, too, if it makes things easier on you or if they are particularly cranky or boisterous one day (my prayer, though, is that parents do bring their children to Mass as often as possible!).
It might be best if couples with tiny infants and very young toddlers sat in the back of the church and at the end of the pew, if possible, so that if you must leave to tend to your children, your departure won’t be distracting. Children who are old enough to pay some attention, though, might be better off sitting in front so that they can watch more closely what the priest and altar boys do. This will not only help them learn about the Mass, but will keep their attention occupied so they’ll be less restive. Children who are old enough to read should have children’s missals so they can follow along.
Encourage your child’s attention at the Mass by teaching him and by asking him questions beforehand, giving him things to watch for. As an example, you could ask him: how many times the priest makes the Sign of the Cross during the Mass, and let him try to count them; what side of the Altar the priest chants the Epistle from; at what times the bells ring; how often the exchange “Dominus vobiscum” and “Et cum spiritu tuo” is made; to discover what his favorite chanted melody is and what the words mean, etc. Ask him to look and listen for things that help us to know what liturgical season it is, for example the presence or absence of the alleluia or gloria, the liturgical colors used, etc.
Have him listen to the priest’s sermon and to the Gospel readings, and then have him repeat it back to you at the after-Mass breakfast or during dinner. Ask him questions about what he heard during the sermon and Gospel readings, what it means, what he thinks about what he heard, what questions he might have, to draw pictures that depict today’s Gospel, etc. Make these exchanges fun and interesting, though; we don’t want “Church” to be seen as a chore or a bore, and the child shouldn’t feel as if he’s being put through an inquisition.
Do not chew gum or bring food or drinks into the church. The only exceptions are discreetly breastfeeding or giving a bottle to an infant (or, of course, rare medical emergencies such as giving water to a person reviving from having fainted, etc. True charity trumps all law, and law exists to serve charity.).
Never applaud in church for any reason.
Do not pray in the orans position (with arms extended upwards or outwards) during the liturgy. Though it is an ancient, natural, and beautiful prayer posture — rather like a child reaching up to his Father — and though it is commonly seen among the laity in the Novus Ordo Mass, it is a posture reserved for priests during the properly-offered Mass. Pray in the orans position all you want at home.
Hand-holding during the Our Father: This is not a traditional Catholic practice. It’s fine if you want to hold hands with family or friends you’ve come with, but don’t grab strangers’ hands or engage in the pew-jumping and running down the aisles to find someones’ hand that goes on during the Novus Ordo rite.
During the Offertory (the very first part of the Mass of the Faithful) is when the collection is taken. Have your offering prepared before you get to church and ready to pull out at this time. The ushers will move from the front of the church to the back, away from the Altar. How much to give is left to your discretion, as we are not bound by the Old Testament laws of tithing but are bound, as a precept of the Church, to support the Church as a general command.
If you’re not receiving the Eucharist, be sure to raise the kneeler, if necessary, and make room for people to cross in front of you so they can go stand in line.
When you receive the Host, don’t chew on it like it’s a piece of steak; let it soften in your mouth, then swallow. One does not respond “Amen” or with any gesture but the Sign of the Cross after receiving the Host, unlike in the Novus Ordo.
After receiving Communion, keep a “custody of the eyes.” Walk back to your seat with eyes in front of you, toward the floor. The most traditional posture after receving Communion is to walk with your hands in the “prayer position” — palms together, fingers pointing upward, held at chest level. When you reach your pew, it is customary to kneel after Communion.
Both before and after you’ve received, maintain this “custody of the eyes” and don’t watch people as they return to their seats. Though the Eucharist unites us into one Body, it is, paradoxically, a very intimate time that calls for intense gratitude and individual contemplation (you may see people cover their faces with their hands or veils for a sense of privacy).
The Mass is not truly over until the priest has left the Altar. Don’t sneak out after Communion.
When it is time to leave (i.e., after the priest has descended from the Altar and left the building), those sitting in the front pews generally leave first (“first in, first out”). This order should be maintained because we genuflect again upon leaving our pew — and we shouldn’t be genuflecting toward some guy walking toward us down the aisle or blocking his exit.
When you do exit your pew to leave the church, genuflect once again toward the Tabernacle. Some Catholics also again sign themselves with Holy Water when leaving the Church (a perfectly fine, pious custom, but one which isn’t related to the historically-rooted purposes of blessing oneself upon entering the church).
Non-Catholic Guests: If you bring a non-Catholic guest to Mass, explain to him the meaning of the Mass, its parts, what to expect, etc, beforehand. And definitely explain to him lovingly, before you arrive at church, why he is not allowed to receive the Eucharist. Assure him that he is most welcome, and that we are glad he is with us, but that we Catholics know that the apparent “mere bread and wine” are truly the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Tell him that if that is not how he sees it, we believe he would be eating and drinking judgment on himself — 1 Corinthians 11:29 — and that we would be absolutely remiss in allowing him to receive the Eucharist without discerning the Body of Christ. Explain that even if he does believe it, Catholics who are not in a state of grace and young Latin Catholics who haven’t yet been properly prepared for their “First Communion” don’t receive the Eucharist, so it’s nothing personal.
…and if he does believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, teach him about the rest of Catholic teaching and get him to convert!
Refraining from judgementalism: Do not sit in judgement of those who come to Mass not knowing the proper attire and etiquette (I speak here of the good-willed who are simply ignorant, not of public, persistent, unrepentant sinners who use the Mass for political purposes, who flaunt Divine Law intentionally, etc. Even with that latter group of people, we are to refrain from personal judgements and are to love them in Truth, even as we judge their actions and protect our Church).
Instruct those who are new to the Church gently and lovingly — and mostly by good example. Ideally, churches and chapels will have the basic expectations written somewhere in the Narthex, in parish bulletins, in pamphlets in the pews, etc, but in any case, dirty looks and an accusing tone hurled at a newcomer are uncalled for; much more Christian — and effective — is a simple, “Ah! You’re new here! Welcome! It’s great that you’re here! Here is some information that will help you feel comfortable at this parish; please, if you have any questions, just ask!” — all wrapped up in a warm, genuine smile.
Instead of thrusting a veil at an unveiled woman and looking at her as though she’s the devil incarnate, give her a big smile and a “Oh, sister, you don’t have a veil? Here’s one that would look pretty on you!” or some other such thing (assuming you can speak genuinely). If she isn’t receptive, just mind your own danged business and let Father deal with it his way.
Finally, don’t assume the ill-dressed even have better clothes or were in the circumstance of being able to access better clothes (maybe they’d been in an hospital waiting room all night, who knows? None of your business!). While we do owe our Lord our best, the Mass isn’t a fashion show, and we’ve lost the Christian message entirely if we are are “like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all filthiness” — which sitting in judgement of other people without knowing their situation and acting like holier-than-thou Pharisees would make us.
The Catholic website “FishEaters” has a terrific article on MODESTY. We repost it here.
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 19:26-27: “A man is known by his look, and a wise man, when thou meetest him, is known by his countenance. The attire of the body, and the laughter of the teeth, and the gait of the man, shew what he is.”
I Timothy 2:9-10: “In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire, But as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works.”
Modesty, like continence, humility, and meekness, is annexed to the cardinal virtue Temperance (Wisdom 8:7) and has the reining in of human passions as its goal. Modesty aims to conform the exterior of man — his clothing, way of talking, his bearing — to the interior sense of humility that all Christians should have.
Genesis 3:6-7, 13-21
And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband, who did eat… And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons… And the Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. To the woman also He said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee. And to Adam He said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee, that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.
God made Adam and Eve perfect and perfectly harmonious — with Himself and with each other. Then they sinned and saw themselves as they then were — fallen, separated from God and from each other. Having lost the grace with which they were created, they began to retreat into their own egos and blame each other, even God, for their sins: “the serpent deceived me,” “the woman you sent deceived me,” etc. The original harmony of the Garden broken, Adam and Eve no longer completed the other perfectly per God’s design, but were now in felt need of each other, a need they tried to fill by grasping the other through their concupiscence and brokenness. Their relationship was now tainted, and shame filled them as their nakedness came to be a sign of their incompleteness and vulnerability, and an inducement to lust. Sensing their isolation from each other and from God, they covered themselves with quickly-fashioned aprons. Then God Himself clothed them, replacing those fig leaf aprons with tunics (tunicas in the Vulgate, ktnvt in the Hebrew).
Given all the talk about the shame of immodesty, one might get the impression that the Church sees the body as a “bad” thing, and that we cover ourselves because we are ugly. But this is not the case! Adam and Eve didn’t cover themselves because they were created “bad” or “ugly”; they covered themselves because, through the Fall, they no longer reflected what God made them to be: perfect complements of one another and the perfect image of their Creator. In covering themselves, they attempted to recover the dignity that they’d lost.
The Church, on the contrary, 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 easily led astray by them.
This positive attitude of the Church derives from reasons far higher than the mere aesthetic or hedonistic considerations which have been assumed by a renewed paganism. The Church knows and teaches that the human body, which is God’s masterpiece in the visible world, and which has been placed at the service of the soul, was elevated by the Divine Redeemer to the rank of a temple and an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and as such must be respected. The body’s beauty must therefore not be exalted as an end in itself, much less in such guise as will defile the dignity it has been endowed with.
No, the body is not an evil thing (though it is quite prone to evil and must be ruled by the head); it is “God’s masterpiece in the visible world,” elevated by the Christ — Who Himself took on human flesh — and made a temple at Baptism. Further, Jesus raised marriage to the level of a Sacrament, restoring it to what it was “in the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). In marriage, the man and woman can stand before each other naked, with no shame at all, just as Adam and Eve did “in the beginning.” Outside of that marriage covenant and the “Eden” of holy matrimony, however, revealing the body immodestly is shameful and leads to a lust that doesn’t honor the other in all ways as a person, but degrades him or her as an object. Only in marriage, where the spouse is a total gift — body and soul — to the other, is there no shame in revealing the vulnerability of our incompleteness.
An analogy: the very word “modesty” comes from the Latin modus, which means limit; clothing limits accessibility to that should only be given in marriage. Now, think of fire: is fire “bad”? No, fire warms us, cooks our food, enchants us with its beauty, and so on; but an uncontrolled fire, a fire without limit, destroys. It is the same with the body (and sex): modesty sets limits on the unveiling of what is goodso that it does not destroy. To be immodest is to eradicate those limits and to give to the world that to which it has no right but belongs to one’s spouse alone. It is to profane what should be treated as holy and to cheapen the gift of oneself.
In the article on veiling, I note that the things that are considered holy are veiled, e.g., the ciborium, the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, etc. We must regain the Christian view that our bodies are worthy of such veiling. Resist what our post-“Enlightenment” culture tries to tell us, and don’t believe that our bodies are commodities to be displayed and bought and sold. That view rests on the lie of dualism which sees our bodies as something apart from who “we” are. But we are not “souls with bodies” or “bodies with souls”; we are a unity of soul and body, a unity that must be treated as a unity.
The soul is created at the moment of our conception, and even after death this profound link between body and soul remains (which is why Christians value relics of the Saints). At the Last Judgement, our bodies will be resurrected and, if we die in a state of grace, glorified. We cannot treat our bodies as “things” that we “own”; they are a fundamental part of who we are. Accordingly, our exterior should reflect the soul, and a Christian’s soul calls for his to be body adorned in a Christian manner, with modesty, dignity, and holiness in mind.
For a woman, reflecting her human dignity entails understanding how her humanity is uniquely feminine. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand speaks well of this and recalls the fourth chapter of Solomon’s Canticle of Canticles when she wrote:
…there is something extraordinarily great and mysterious about femininity. And why do I say it is so great and so mysterious? Because you all know that every little girl that is born, is born with a seal, so to speak, protecting the mystery of her femininity, which is the womb. There is a seal and if you understand, a seal always indicates something which is sacred. The seal, which doesn’t exist in the male body, is profoundly symbolic and says this belongs to God in a special way. This is a sphere which is so beautiful and so profound that it cannot be touched upon, except with God’s permission, in a Catholic marriage.
When a girl or young woman is permitted to give the keys of this mysterious domain, this closed garden, to her husband-to-be, she says: “Up until now I have kept this garden virginal, now God has given me the keys and is allowing me to give them to you and I know that you will penetrate into it, with trembling reverence and gratitude”. The moment that a woman is embraced by her husband and a few hours afterwards she conceives, in this very moment, something absolutely amazing happens which once again illuminates the greatness of femininity. Neither husband nor wife can create a human soul. God alone can.
Of course there is the male seed and there is the female egg. These are material realities that God has put into the bodies and when they are united, an amazing thing happens. God creates a new human soul, totally new, which never existed before. Where? In the mystery of the female body. This is where the soul is conceived. It has nothing to do with the husband. The husband is out of the game at this point and the very moment that God creates a soul he implies that there is a special contact between God and the female body, so to speak, touching it in creating it. Once again, what an extraordinary privilege.
We’ve all heard people who, when confronted with calls for modesty, love to go on about their “rights.” “I have a right to dress any way I want, and only have to please myself! Don’t judge! You think I dress like a slut, but that doesn’t make me one!”
Well, the exercising of one’s political “rights” has consequences. People have political “rights” to do a lot of things that are unwise. One has a “right” never to bathe, too, but has no “right” to expect others to think one smells like roses. It would obviously be a logical fallacy to state as a proof that one who dresses like a slut necessarily sells her body for profit; but a woman who dresses that way is just as obviously dressing as someone who does.
The fact is, we are judged by our appearances — sometimes too harshly (“her skirt is 1/2 inch too short!”), sometimes for evil reasons (“look at her clothes; she obviously has no money!”), and sometimes for ridiculous standards that a person has no control over (“her nose is too big!”), sometimes by people who haven’t removed the beam from their own eye. Appearance is often held to be the only thing of value, in a woman especially — an attitude that causes great suffering to women who don’t look like the models in magazines (no one looks like that, by the way; airbrushing, soft lights, surgery, and make-up lie). And some women can be completely catty, turning “looking good” into a huge competition, and dishing dirt on other women’s looks in order to put them down.
Nonetheless, the things we do have control over can rightfully be deemed to be expressive of who we are. The Jerry Springer people who admonish the audience with an upturned palm and a “don’t judge!” when the latter laughs at their circus freak attire really need to ask themselves what they are trying to tell the world by dressing like circus freaks in the first place. If you don’t want the world to think of you and treat you like a circus freak, or a slut, or what have you, then don’t dress in a way that invites it.
The way we dress is simply a part of how we communicate to the world. Of all the people in the world, the Catholic should know this intuitively. We worship using gesture and posture and a million things that are not based on word alone, such as bells and incense and art. This strange “disconnect” between the verbal and non-verbal on which our modern culture expects us to base our ways of being and seeing is simply not human and not rooted in the Truth of the body-soul unity mentioned above.
Fashions today often tend to be about putting out the message, “I am sexy! Look at me! Want me! Look how ‘hot’ I am!” Now, a person can look as “hot” as she wants for her spouse (here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas says about that), but for a person to want to induce lust in strangers is — well, it’s evil. Our Lord said that “whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28) — and adultery is a mortal sin. Why would a person want to tempt a another to mortal sin?
But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then, when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.
Think about it. Imagine, say, that you have a profound weakness for chocolate but are giving it up for Lent. Then imagine that almost every person of the opposite sex you see is carrying boxes of chocolate just to tease you with, that every time you turn on the television you see luscious chocolate presented in the most sensous way. On every other billboard you pass and every magazine you see, there is that chocolate in full-color glossy print, photographed precisely to tempt you. This is life for many, especially men, in our sex-saturated culture. Don’t add to the problem; keep the words of St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 – 407) in mind:
You carry your snare everywhere and spread your net in all places. You allege that you never invite others to sin. You did not indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and deportment and much more effectively than you could by your voice. When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges in court punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal portion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death-dealing drink and you are more criminal than those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride.
On top of that, being sexy is often counterproductive. As soon as a woman makes herself sexy, she instantly makes all the men in the room more stupid and all the women more tetchy. That sounds like the kind of curse a bad fairy bestows on birth, rather than a task that makes upper-leg waxing worthwhile.
Yes, the woman who’s dressed to be sexy makes men stupid and women more tetchy. But that’s not all she does. She also imposes pressure on the women around her to also dress that way in order to compete for male attention. You can see the downard spiraling of this phenomenon by looking at how women dress in general these days as opposed to how they dressed seventy years ago. When some women start dressing like whores, other women feel pressured to not only do the same, but to “top” them, to be even “sexier,” and we’ve reached the point where there is not much lower we can go. Women walk around with bellies hanging out, decolletage revealed, and skirts “up to there.” And no one but the players are “better off” (by wordly standards) because of it.
Women who dress like whores are traitors to their sex in that they create a social climate that does not benefit other women. The young, “hot” chick reading this might think, “well, that’s their problem! I look good, and men want me!” Well, sister, what do they want you for? To marry you — or something else? You might be able to get away with this sort of deportment for now, but when you start to age, put on a few pounds, and get a wrinkle or two, it’s all over – and that day comes a lot more quickly that you realize. What will you have built for yourself when your sexiness is gone? And if you ever do get married, do you want other women to be visually treating your husband by being dressed around him the way you are dressed now? Is this the sort of world you want to live in — a world in which growing older is terrifying, in which you’re always pressured to be “hot” no matter your age lest your husband be vamped away by some chick in a mini skirt?
We women are the gatekeepers (see The Garbage Generation on this site), and we have a very serious interest in keeping the price of sex high — if not for ourselves, which is reason enough, then for our daughters who will come after us. Do you want your daughters to be pressured into dressing like sluts? Then stop dressing like one yourself. Cultural change has to start somewhere; let it start with you. It is the right thing to do, and even a non-Christian can think in terms of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, if God’s desires for us aren’t enough for you to think seriously about morality, such as modesty, then, before deciding to do something (or not), ask yourself what the world would be like if everyone were to do (or refrain from doing) that act. Would you rather live in a world where everyone, including your future daughters, dressed like sluts or a world in which people dressed modestly? Dress accordingly.
Just because a Catholic shouldn’t dress “sexy” for strangers doesn’t mean that we should look ugly and boring! Clothing with brilliant color and texture, wonderfully cut, accessorized and worn by a nicely groomed person — this is a good thing!
How modesty and beauty are reflected in our clothing is a matter of personal taste and ethnic identity. With regard to female fashions, you can find perfectly modest women dressed in clothes with a modern Western cut, all in the latest colors and with the latest accessories. You can find others in beautiful historical styles — e.g., drop-waist and cloche hat 1920s styles; sumptuously-colored fabrics shaped into long skirts; or clothes that are considered fashionably “retro,” such as what Jacqueline Kennedy might have worn. Others prefer a more “Bohemian,” peasant, “Gypsy,” “Goth,” or ethnic look (think of some of the beautiful outfits Stevie Nicks used to wear). And what is more beautiful than those gorgeous saris worn by Indian women? Some modest Christian women in the Middle East might look more like Muslims than typical Western Christians. Still other modest women like a “preppy,” “tweedy” look such as what the Princess of Wales would have worn when she was still Lady Diana, an upper-crust English schoolteacher. Some look really hard to find clothes from the latest designers that fit all the right criteria for modesty, and talented women might make their own patterns, with their own styles.
The point is that there is no need to believe that we all have to look like cookie-cutter, calico-laden “Little House on the Prairie refugees” with “Peter Pan collars” and tent-like skirts (Christ, spare us!). No! It is good to dress attractively! Proverbs 31:22 speaks of the “valiant woman” as being attired in “tapestry, fine linen, and purple.” Psalm 45 speaks of the “the Queen” in “gilded clothing.” Apocalypse 21:2 speaks of the Church as a bride “adorned for her husband.” Queen Esther, a type of Our Lady, is described as an “exceeding fair” woman whose “incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all” (Esther 2:15). Pope Pius XII wrote in an address to the Latin Union of High Fashion that the “penchant for the adornment of one’s own person clearly derives from nature, and is therefore legitimate.”
No, there is nothing wrong with adorning oneself and being attractive! As we Italians would say, it is good to “fare una bella figura!” — to “make a good showing” by making things beautiful! Why allow something to be unattractive when it could just as easily or with little effort be lovely? (this Italian attitude goes to everything — one’s home, clothes, dinner table, etc.)
Indeed, clothing should not only be comfortable, suitable to the task, and modest, but there is also nothing wrong with a girly-type woman wanting to look feminine relative to the culture in which she finds herself (assuming the culture in question has reasonable views of feminity). Know, though, that this is not a call to unreasonably exaggerate the differences between the sexes, to do the fashion equivalent of bringing back fainting couches, or for women to feign stupidity and an unnatural fragility; rather, it’s a call for girly-type women to be more genuine and to dress in a manner more consistent with their inner beings — and more likely to help them fulfill their deepest desires, which aren’t one-night-stands, but respect and a beautiful family life. When women go about consciously acting “like men,” dressing “like men,” training their emotions to be more “cool like a man’s,” quashing their fertility so they can be promiscuous “like men,” and so on, they are being male impersonators and untrue to themselves.
The “masculine” has for too long been seen as the standard of desired behavior; in the name of radical “feminism,” all that is feminine has been treated as unimportant. The typical natural, womanly desires — to be respected, and, for most, to be mothers, to stay home and raise our children, to care for a home and a husband — have been scoffed at as evidence of “Cinderella complexes” or simple weakness. Catholic women and the naturally virtuous, traditional women of false religions (may they come to Jesus) must not accept such a state of affairs!
We are not all the same, of course, and there are great overlaps in masculine and feminine behaviors. Some women are called to marriage, others to the religious life, and others to virginity, with or without a secular career, like the brilliant Maria Gaetana Agnesi (A.D. 1718-1799), whom Pope Benedict XIV appointed as the Chairwoman of higher mathematics at the University of Bologna in A.D. 1750. Some women are natural so-called “tomboys” and others are the frilly sort. We have role models as diverse as the perfectly maternal Blessed Virgin; the fiery St. Joan of Arc; the lyrical St. Hildegaard von Bingen; the philosophical St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; the artistic St. Catherine of Bologna; the mystical St. Teresa of Avila; the feisty St. Catherine of Siena; the industrious St. Frances Cabrini; the bookish St. Catherine of Alexandria; the domestic St. Martha; the been-around, penitent St. Mary Magdalen; and the child-like St. Thérèse of Lisieux — among many others! We can model ourselves after any or all of these types of women, but we are, thank God, not men and never will be. The denigration of the feminine must end.
Because pants had been, historically, in the West, a male article of clothing, you will find that sometraditional Catholic women in the West never wear pants, or only wear them when working in the yard, riding horses, skiing, or some such. Given the History of Western dress and the desire on the part of some traditionalists for a more apparent distinction in the sexes’ visual styles, some tradition-minded men tend to treat women with more appreciation when those women dress in a way considered by them to be feminine.
On the other hand with regard to pants, it is a fact that pants-wearing for women has been an accepted practice for some decades in the West, and pants are now made and sold for women and are, therefore “women’s clothing” (to those men who disagree, I challenge them to go buy a pair of pants for themselves from the women’s department of the nearest store). In the end, it is to each woman to prayerfully discern how to dress, and when and where, considering and respecting the feelings of her husband, if she has one. And it is to others to refrain from harsh judgments against those who might have come to different conclusions (or who simply can’t find or afford a wardrobe they themselves think would be more fitting); it’s very unwise to make the shunning of pants the sine qua non of orthodoxy. In fact, Pope St. Nicholas I, way back in A.D. 866, wrote to the newly Christianized Bulgarians, the females of whom wore pants, and said, “For whether you or your women wear or do not wear pants (femoralia) neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue.” 1
There are everyday benefits to dressing modestly, too, especially for women. Consider this: who is free and who is in bondage — the woman who sees herself as part of a “chosen generation, a kingly priesthood” (I Peter 2:9) and dresses modestly to reflect that fact, or a woman who:
For all the supposed “liberation” and sense of “empowerment” dressing like hookers is supposed to give us, in truth it turns us into a nation of obsessive, shallow, suffering anorexics who attract men who like hookers!
Will dressing sexy get you attention? Sure it will. And walking around an A.A. meeting with a case of beer will get you attention, too; there’s no great trick in appealing to the weakness of others. But the attention gotten is that of those who are either not Christian at all, or who are weak and prone to sins of the flesh. Is that the kind of attention you truly want? Is someone who wants you because you look “hot” the kind of person you want to marry? Is he the kind of person you’d trust in a marriage — to not commit adultery, to not leave you when you get a wrinkle or gain a few pounds? Is he the kind of person you want to even be the parent of your children? Is he the kind of person you want to grow oldwith?
On all levels — the theological, the sociological, the psychological, even in terms of simple comfort — dressing modestly is the smart thing to do. If you are called to the religious life or virginal singlehood, your path is easy to see. If you are called to marriage, dress now for the kind of person you want to marry; dress as the kind of person your ideal spouse would want for a mate, and keep the gift of yourself holy for that person alone. If you are already married, dress as you and your spouse want behind closed doors, but keep that gift for him or her alone.
Stand straight and ask yourself: Does the outfit cover my upper legs? Is the neckline decent? Are there any gaps or puckers over the breast area to indicate the top is too tight? If the top has buttons, is there any puckering so that my breasts might be visible from the side? Is the outfit too sheer so that one can see too much through the fabric?
Bend over at the waist as if you’re picking a flower. Ask yourself: does the neckline of the outfit droop to expose too much of my chest? If I wear such an outfit anyway, would I remember to hold the fabric close to my chest when I bend over? Am I decent from behind? Am I able to bend over comfortably?
Look at the overall picture in the mirror. Ask yourself: If I saw a woman walking toward me dressed as I am, what would I say her clothes are saying about her? Is she immodest? Unappreciative of beauty?
Men, no matter what a woman around you wears, you are ultimately responsible for your own lust. Attraction and simply recognizing the beauty or even the “sexiness” of a woman are one thing, but lust is something you consent to, indulge in. It is an act of the will. While the women around you can make purity more or less difficult for you, and while provocation is one of the nine ways we are responsible for others’s sins, it is still your responsibility to, first, not think of women as mere visual objects or stumblingblocks put in your way. Women are human beings who deserve human respect and need to be brought to Jesus if they don’t already know Him; they are your sisters or potential sisters in Lord Christ. Do not blame them for your failures, for your lack of purity of mind and heart. Don’t think that wrapping women in burqas will save you, for it is “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Don’t put the onus of your chastity on them. I implore you to read “The Story of Two Monks” and ponder what I am saying.
Secondly, reassess the kind of women you give your attention to and whom you allow to shape — even if pre-consciously but powerfully — your idea of “the feminine ideal.” For the love of all that’s holy, put away the porn.
And don’t think that the idea of dressing modestly doesn’t apply to you, too. Women are attracted to and lust after men just as men are attracted to and lust after women. If you think women aren’t noticing your strong arms and gorgeous thighs, you’re wrong and have an idea of women as “visually sexless” which isn’t true in the least. This section has mostly been devoted to women because of crazy state of women’s fashions, the incredible social pressure on women to look “hot,” and the fact that men, as a group, tend to be more visual and more sexually “immediate”; it isn’t aimed at female modesty because only men are capable of lust.
Finally, it is hoped that you try to have some pity for women and an understanding of the tightrope they walk while simultaneously wanting to attract and please you, wanting to be modest and Godly, feeling intensely pressured to compete with women who don’t dress modestly and who seem to get all the male attention — and enduring all this while struggling to find non-frumpy, modest clothing in the first place, something that is hard to do these days and which is much more difficult for women who are large-busted and need special sizes. And speaking of women who are just naturally curvy, don’t talk about their very bodies as something they should be ashamed of. Women have breasts and hips, some more than others; that’s how God made them. Women shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of being women just because you find them attractive. There’s not much one can do to hide the fact that one has large breasts.
In the end, women need to play their part in all this by loving and respecting men, being accepting of the natural general differences between the sexes, reminding themselves that we are our brother’s keeper, and then dressing accordingly, within reason and while considering comfort, beauty, and the demands of their duties; men need to play their part by owning their own sins, mastering their own temptations, eliminating any “porn mentality” they might have, minding their own modesty, and developing a basic respect for women that cuts through much of the problem of lust.
“We consider what you asked about pants (femoralia) to be irrelevant; for we do not wish the exterior style of your clothing to be changed, but rather the behavior of the inner man within you, nor do we desire to know what you are wearing except Christ — for however many of you have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ [Gal. 3:27] — but rather how you are progressing in faith and good works. But since you ask concerning these matters in your simplicity, namely because you were afraid lest it be held against you as a sin, if you diverge in the slightest way from the custom of other Christians, and lest we seem to take anything away from your desire, we declare that in our books, pants (femoralia) are ordered to be made, not in order that women may use them, but that men may. But act now so that, just as you passed from the old to the new man, [cf. Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10] you pass from your prior custom to ours in all things; but really do what you please. For whether you or your women wear or do not wear pants (femoralia) neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue.
“Of course, because we have said that pants are ordered to be made, it should be noted that we put on pants spiritually, when we restrain the lust of the flesh through abstinence; for those places are constrained by pants in which the seats of luxury are known to be. This is why the first humans, when they felt illicit motions in their members after sin, ran into the leaves of a fig tree and wove loin cloths for themselves.[cf. Gen. 3:7] But these are spiritual pants, which you still could not bear, and, if I may speak with the Apostle, you are not yet able; for you are still carnal.[I Cor. 3:2] And thus we have said a few things on this matter, although, with God’s gift, we could say many more.”
Mother explains the virtue of modesty and how as God’s temple, we should be well-informed on the way we dress.
This article is in response to a question concerning the idea supposedly promoted in the book, “Love & Responsibility’ by Karol Wojtyła, before becoming Pope John Paul II.
The book supposedly promotes the idea that, “an attire (he explicitly mentions attire that would include one being ‘partially nude’) in it’s proper place and function is modest! The Church teaches that our sexuality is to be integrated in the entire of our being. Not eliminated! It is not about ‘what’ is worn but about why and where it is worn. This includes bikinis.”
Here is our reply.
“Love and Responsibility” is a book written by Karol Wojtyła before he became Pope John Paul II. Therefore, it is not infallible and can be only taken as his opinion on the subject, and is not in any way an explicit example of what the Catholic Church in her entirety promotes and teaches concerning how we are to properly dress our bodies in a way that keeps with its dignity.
Also important to note, “Theology of the Body”, is not magisterial teaching. “In short, the whole argument is about a fascinating and potentially useful constellation of ideas that do not form part of the essential teaching of the Faith…. It’s just somebody’s opinion, not the End of the World or the Consummation of All Things.” source
Logically and Theologically, what the Church teaches concerning these matters has much more weight than one Cardinal who had an opinion, that seems to contradict previous Church Teaching, Theology, Papal Encyclicals, and Father / Doctors of the Church’s counsels on the matter.
Does this mean that men and women who are unaware of the dignity of their bodies and who dress immodestly are sinning? God knows the details. But those who are aware of the inherent dignity that our bodies have, will be held accountable.
Let us first break down the inherent dignity of our bodies.
We know that our bodies are not bad, for when God completed the six days of creation, “He saw that it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) They were created specifically to give honor and glory to God. Alice von Hildebrand, gives a good explanation of this in her article, “Nakedness or Nudity” :
” The most perfect among all the creatures mentioned in Genesis, is man, (homo) for he is made to God’s image and likeness. There is an endless hierarchy among creatures, but those that are “images” (imago) of God are greatly superior to those who are just traces (vestigium) of His power.”
” Adam and Eve were created beautiful. I am not only referring to the ontological beauty of creatures made to God’s image and likeness, but also “artistically” beautiful. The body of a human person is a masterpiece. Magnificent as animals are and can be, none of them has the dignity and nobility of a human body. “
” Nudity calls for covering because of its mystery, and this mystery should be unveiled only in the privileged moments when God allows the spouses to reveal themselves to each other in the sacrament of matrimony.” (Which is pretty much what Karol Wojtyła was talking about in his “Theology of the Body” and “Love & Responsibility”. He was not giving us the “OK” to walk around half naked.
Original Sin gave us Concupiscence; we now have the obligation to honor our God-given bodies by covering them with dignity and modesty, and are unable to live without being subject of the rebellions of the flesh, as Adam & Eve were before the Fall.
Before Original sin came about, Genesis Chapter 2: 25 says that “And they were both naked: to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed.” Then, in Genesis Chapter 3 verses 6-10 it relates:
” And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons. And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. “
The Douay-Rheims Bible has a footnote that explains something very important, ”  “And the eyes”: Not that they were blind before, (for the woman saw that the tree was fair to the eyes, ver. 6.) nor yet that their eyes were opened to any more perfect knowledge of good; but only to the unhappy experience of having lost the good of original grace and innocence, and incurred the dreadful evil of sin. From whence followed a shame of their being naked; which they minded not before; because being now stript of original grace, they quickly began to be subject to the shameful rebellions of the flesh.”
A question one might ask oneself is, “How exactly could something of such great importance, as called by the Church, suddenly no longer be so? Have we lost our concupiscence which we have been born with, thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin? Have we gained a miraculous ability to no longer be tempted? Is Original Sin merely situational? “
Alice von Hildebrand speaks volumes concerning this in her article, saying this of downplaying of temptation and the like, “King David’s sins underscore how sexual desire can degenerate into what Dietrich calls “diabolical” temptations. Some of the most atrocious perversions occur when the Devil takes over completely. And one should never downplay, or minimize, the gravity of these evils. It is plainly false to claim that such abuses are “tragic,” rather than “filthy.””
“ Never, absolutely never would a saint say, “I am beyond and above temptations of the flesh”. Never would a saint declare that, were he to see a naked woman, his acquaintance with the Theology of the Body would guarantee that he wouldn’t be subject to temptation. As Monsignor Knox points out, to believe a Christian, however faithful, can place himself in spiritual danger and never fall prey to it, is a common error among religious enthusiasts. The Beghards come to mind: Thus these enthusiasts “looked upon decency and modesty as marks of inward corruption, as the characters of a soul that was still under the dominion of the sensual, animal, and lascivious spirit, and that was not really united to the divine nature. This was the account they themselves gave of their promiscuous lodging, and the nudism practiced in their assemblies.” (Enthusiasm, 1950, p. 125) Such people, writes Msgr. Knox, believed that once “they yield their bodies to the Holy Ghost,” they ”would never sin again.” (p. 567) In the presence of a living woman, he continues, the enthusiast, is “ trained to feel as though he were standing by a wall of stone. His eye must be rendered cold, his pulse must be kept calm.” (p. 573). But this is to commit the sin of presumption.
It must be remarked, however, that there are situations in which a priest can find himself in dangerous situation “without being endangered”: for example when a slightly clad prostitute is struck by a car, and calls for help. It is the duty of a priest to respond to this call: God will give him the grace to concentrate exclusively on his mission, bringing the dying person to God. Professional grace is also given to doctors: otherwise, no doctor should accept operating on a very beautiful female body because, instead of operating on a sick patient, he would be preoccupied with sexual fantasies.”
And again, back to Genesis, Alice von Hildebrand notes ” we have been profoundly affected by original sin.
‘In paradise there was perfect harmony between Adam and Eve. There was no concupiscence.’
‘After original sin, not only were we separated from God and condemned to losing eternity. On top of it, every single human faculty was affected. Our intelligence was darkened. Our will was weakened. And all of a sudden, we had the dreadful experience of something called concupiscence.
Before the Fall, there was no inner temptation to impurity between Adam and Eve even though they were naked, After they sinned, the two started to look at one another with concupiscence.
The Fall had consequences that are ‘so serious’ that it was only the Redemption and the grace of God could remedy.
The fight against concupiscence is not an easy process. It is something that calls for holiness, which very few of us achieve. It is a sheer illusion to believe that by some sort of new technique we can find the solution to the problem.”
Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote a last book that she finished on the 25th of March 1997 , in this book, Lucia speaks about the customs of her country at the time of the apparitions and, naturally, she speaks about the clothing:
“ God did not give us clothing as an adornment in order to feed our human vanity and frivolity. No! He gave it to us as a protection against sin, as a sign of penance for sin committed, and a punishment for it, as well as to remind us of the laws of God which we are all obliged to obey.
Let us begin by examining how it is a sign of punishment and penance for sin committed, and a protection against temptation. The sacred text tells us that, after they had sinned, Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves; but God did not think this was enough because, Sacred Scripture tells us, He “made clothes out of skins for the man and his wife, and they put them on.” (Gen. 3, 21).
Besides being a protection against sin, the modest clothing with which we must cover ourselves is a distinguishing mark setting us apart in the stream of immorality and enabling us to be, for the world, true witnesses of Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ” 2521 Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”
“Guiding how one looks at others” – aside from the Theological problems of immodest dress, the secular has brought some interesting data concerning Bikinis. Lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University recently published date in 2009, from brain scans revealing that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women. Fiske noted, “some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions” and, in fact, ” the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.” This means that these men see women “as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds,” Fiske said. “The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens.” – source –
Considering this automatic brain response, is it the Christian thing to do, whether we want make ourselves sexy or not, to dress this way? What would a Saint do?
And finally, the most important question: DOES THIS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD TO THE DIGNITY TO WOMEN!? Uhm, yes. Yes it does.
The Church decries immodesty in dress, not only in thought, word & speech.
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) spoke of the deplorable immodesty in society, in his Encyclical to the Third Order St. Francis, “SACRA PROPEDIEM“, and encouraged especially the Tertiary Sisters, “by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
He goes on to say, about society:
“..one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those fashions as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares…..
In what concerns specially the Tertiary Sisters, We ask of them by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
In the Encyclical, “Ad Salutem“, April 30, 1930, Pope Pius XI stated that, ” Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish immodest fashions of dress.”
Cardinal Sbarretti Sabine wrote in the Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries on Indecent Women’s Fashion by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930,
“Often when the occasion arose, the Pope disapproved and condemned severely indecent modes introduced everywhere today in the clothing habits of women and girls even Catholic; not only these modes gravely offend the dignity and feminine grace, but unfortunately cause temporal damage for the woman and, what is worse, his eternal loss and others.”
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.”
This was before the Bikini came out in 1946; Designer Louis Reard was unable to find a ‘respectable’ model for his costume and the job of displaying it went to 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. According to research, it was banned in Catholic Countries such as Spain, Brazil & Portugal and deemed sinful by the Vatican.
Father of the Church St. Clement of Alexandria wrote,
“But by no manner of means are women to be allotted to uncover and exhibit any part of their person, lest both fall — the men by being excited to look, the women by drawing on themselves the eyes of the men. But always must we conduct ourselves as in the Lord’s presence.”
We know that the Catholic Church is not Sharia Law, and does not mean to cover women’s bodies from head to toe. Prudence and common sense is called for, and for Mass there are Modesty Guidelines.
St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church also spoke of Modesty, “All outside appearances reveal the condition of our mind; although our passions are hidden, they manifest themselves exteriorly… Modesty is suitable for all ages and for all classes of persons; for all times and places.” (De Officiis 1:18-19)
St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church writes in his book, “True Spouse of Jesus Christ“,
” Almost all our rebellious passions spring from unguarded looks; for, generally speaking, it is by the sight that all inordinate affections and desires are excited.
The devil first tempts us to look, then to desire, and afterwards to consent. St. Jerome says that Satan requires ‘only a beginning on our part.’ If we begin, he will complete our destruction.”
He also speaks of immodesty in his “Full Ascetical Works:
“A mortal sin of scandal committed by women that go with them shamelessly exposed breast, or that expose their members incorrectly. Also by the actors in lewd comedies , and more par people who make up these comedies ; also by painters who paint obscene images or like, and by the heads of families who keep these photos in their homes . The father who speaks obscene or blasphemous saints in the presence of her children, and the mother who brings in her home to live among his girls young men who are in love with them Or fiancées or other suspects, are guilty of a more serious sin of scandal. Some mothers say, “I do not think any harm.” I reply that it is their duty to suspect; otherwise they shall give account to God for all the sins that can follow.”
( Full ascetical works of St. Alphonsus , vol 15, p. 399-400)
In Ven. Pope Pius XII , Allocution to the International Congress of High Fashion, (November 8, 1957, Petrópolis: Vozes, 1958, pp. 12-13.) He speaks thoroughly on fashions and the issues of immorality but also of prudence,
” The Church does not reprove or condemn a fashion when it is intended to be a fair decorum and adornment of the body. However, she never fails to warn the faithful against its easy deviations. This positive attitude of the Church derives from higher motives than the merely aesthetic and hedonist ends defended by a new paganism.
She knows and teaches that the human body, a masterpiece of God in the visible world at the service of the soul, was elevated by the Divine Redeemer to be a temple and instrument of the Holy Ghost, and must be respected as such.
Its beauty, therefore, should not be exalted as an end per se and still less as in a way that degrades that acquired dignity.
In point of fact, it is indisputable that, besides an honest fashion, there is another immoral one, which is a cause of disturbance – if not a stimulus to evil – to tranquil spirits.
It is always difficult to set out universal rules for the boundaries between honesty and immorality, since the moral evaluation of clothing relies on many factors. However, the alleged relativity of fashion regarding different times, places, persons and formations is not a valid reasont a priori not to issue a moral judgment about this or that fashion that transgresses the boundaries of a normal modesty.
Modesty, almost of itself, immediately sounds an alert to the presence of indecency and seduction, materialism and luxury – or even just frivolity. If the architects of the immoral fashions are skilfull in disguising perversion by mixing it with an ensemble of honest aesthetic elements, still more skilfull and quick is human sensuality to discover it and feel its fascination.
One who has sensitivity to discern the insidious character of evil should not be censured, as if this were an effect of an inner depravatity: on the contrary, such sensitivity is a sign of purity of spirit and vigilance over the passions.
No matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of fashion may be, when a danger is noticed,there is always an absolute norm to be maintained after having heard the admonition of conscience: fashion must never be a near occasion of sin.”
The Bikini and Nudity – a pagan practice?
Ven. Fulton Sheen spoke of the three Characteristics of the Diabolical, with “Love of nudity” being among them.
In a secular article titled, “Paganism: A Naked Rebellion: A look at paganism, its affinity for nudity, and how it differs from mainstream religions”, Brian Dunning, a science writer and author writes about the popularity of nudity in paganism:
“One popular allure of paganism is its embracing of free sex and public nudity. I’ve always believed that more people secretly appreciate free sex and public nudity than are willing to admit it. Wiccans have even institutionalized nudity, calling it ‘skyclad.’ “
The Jesuits in Brazil, 1549, had found the nudity of the Brazilian Indian women to be of the most trying native custom. But later, they found the newly-converted Christian women then wore clothing. (source)
Forms of the Bikini has been around for thousands of years: Archaeologist James Mellaart described the earliest bikini-like costume in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia in the Chalcolithic era (around 5600 BC), where a mother goddess is depicted astride two leopards wearing a costume somewhat like a bikini.
” In Rome, the first regular exercise was almost exclusively done for military preparedness. Agrippa wanted to extend athletic training to promote the practicality for both men and women. Thus, the two-piece garment became more of a daily item than a fashion statement.
In ‘Coronation of the Winner’, a mosaic on the floor of a Roman villa in Sicily that dates from the Diocletian period (286–305 AD), young women participate in weightlifting, discus throwing, and running ball games dressed in bikini-like garments. “ source
It was around the year 203 A.D. that Early Christian Martyr St. Perpetua was known to cover her legs as she was thrown to and fro in the lion dens – to cover her modesty! “When she was thrown into the air by a savage bull in the amphitheatre at Carthage, her first thought and action when she fell to the ground was to rearrange her dress to cover her thigh, because she was more concerned for modesty than pain.”
Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Girls of Catholic Action, speaking of St. Perpetua
This speaks volumes of the difference between the Pagans and Christians idea of modesty in dress.
To finish, Michael D. O’Brien of LifeSiteNews wrote, ” The naked human body will always be for us something about which we cannot remain absolutely neutral—precisely because this ‘something’ is not a thing, and never will be, no matter how determined we are to make it so.” and he adds, ” In former generations there was a good deal of unhealthy fear of the body, a kind of wound caused by the errors of puritanical sects or the heresy of Jansenism.”
Therefore, we can conclude with confidence, that nudity, partial or total is not Christian, nor is it promoted by Karol Wojtyła , and even if it was, it is not of Church Teaching and can be deemed invalid and not characteristic of Catholic Teaching.
Women must be decently dressed, especially when they go to church. The parish priest may, with due prudence, refuse them entrance to the church and access to the reception of the Sacraments, [each] and every time that they come to church immodestly dressed.” (General Pastoral Directive, 1915 A.D.)
Although immodesty in dress was not unheard of from the lips of the Popes, it was around the time of Pope Pius XI that a Dress Code of sorts came about.
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) spoke of the deplorable immodesty in society, in his Encyclical to the Third Order St. Francis, “SACRA PROPEDIEM“, and encouraged especially the Tertiary Sisters, “by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
He goes on to say, about society:
“..one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity. And We speak not of those exotic and barbarous dances recently imported into fashionable circles, one more shocking than the other; one cannot imagine anything more suitable for banishing all the remains of modesty.
In considering attentively this state of things, the Tertiaries will understand what it is that our epoch expects from the disciples of St. Francis. If they bring their gaze back to the life of their Father, they will see what perfect and living resemblance to Jesus Christ, above all in His flight from satisfactions and his love of trials in this life, had he whom they call the Poverello, and who had received in his flesh the stigmata of the Crucified. It is for them to show that they remain worthy of him by embracing poverty, at least in spirit, in renouncing themselves, and in bearing each one his cross.
In what concerns specially the Tertiary Sisters, We ask of them by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”
In “Remarks on the woman’s mission in society” to a delegation of the Union of Catholic Women, October 21, 1919, Pope Benedict XV said, “We must hasten, however, to We congratulate the resolution we just made, you will ensure that Catholic women feel obliged to not only be honest, but to prove his honesty by way of dressing. Such resolution recalls the need for the Catholic woman to set a good example.
Ignorance alone can explain the deplorable extension taken today by a fashion so contrary to modesty, the most beautiful ornament of the Christian woman; better informed, it seems to us that a woman could never have come to this excess wear indecent dressing into the holy place, under the gaze of natural masters and the most authoritative of Christian morality.”
Pope Benedict XV, ” Remarks on the woman’s mission in society” to a delegation of the Union of Catholic Women, October 21, 1919, inProceedings of Benedict XV,Volume II, House of the Good Press, Paris, 1926 p. 69-70
“Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion and from acting as sponsors at the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation; further, if the offense be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the church.”
(Original letter published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis of 1930 vol. 22, pp. 26-28)
He spoke again of the importance of modesty in sports, in his encyclical, “Divini Illius Magistri” DECEMBER 31, 1929.
In 1930 a letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1930 vol. 22, pp. 26-28) was issued. This was addressed to the whole world. It condemned emphatically “the immodest fashion of dress adopted by Catholic women and girls, which fashion not only offends the dignity of women, but conduces to the temporal ruin of the women and girls, and, what is still worse, to their eternal ruin, miserably dragging down others in their fall.”
These instructions were given (among others):
1. “The parish priest should command that feminine garb be based on modesty, and womanly ornament be a defence of virtue. Let them likewise admonish parents to cause their daughters to cease wearing indecorous dress.”
2. “Teachers must not receive in their colleges and schools immodestly dressed girls.”
3. “Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion … further, if the offence be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the Church.”
(I X . Puellae et mulieres, quae inhonestas vestes induunt, a Sancta Communione
et a munere matrinae in sacramentis Baptismi et Confirmationis
arceantur, atque, si casus ferat, ab ipso ecclesiae ingressu prohibeantur.)
In another Encyclical he wrote:
“It is abundantly clear that readers of Augustine will not be caught in the toils of that pernicious error, which was widespread during the eighteenth century, namely, that the inborn impulses of the will should neither be feared nor curbed, since all of them are right and sound. From its false principle sprang those educational methods, which We condemned not long ago in Our Encyclical on “The Christian Education of Youth.” Their effect is to allow a free mingling of the sexes and to employ no precaution in controlling the growing passions of boyhood and youth. From this false principle too comes that license in writing and reading, in presenting or frequenting plays, that do not merely threaten innocence and purity with dangerous occasions, but actually plot their ruin and destruction. From this source again are derived those immodest fashions of dress, which Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish.”
“Ad Salutem“, April 30, 1930 A.D.
The Pope’s weren’t the only ones who spoke out about the dangers of immodesty and indecent attire. In 1925 the Bishops of Belgium issued a serious call concerning indecent fashions, quoting, “People who are not well dressed are asked not to approach the communion rail.”
(The Catholic Tunisia , October 11, 1925, p. 750 -752)
An article in Le Figaro, published on December 20, 1920 by His Eminence Cardinal Louis-Ernest Dubois spoke of a letter that “was read from the pulpit in every church in the diocese, the following warning of the new archbishop of Paris, ‘against indecent modes and unseemly dances.'” quoting, “We urge our diocesan react against the opposing modes to Christian decency.”
Le Figaro , 66 th year, 3 E Series, No. 354, Monday, December 20, 1920, p. 2 .
Continues letters and calls to decent Fashions streamed from chanceries and pulpits during these years (1920s-1940s), as it was becoming the “mode” to throw off old ways and do whatever was scandalous (for those days).
One must understand that the fashions of the 1920’s were not of such terrible immodesty as was the intent of scandal that was behind it. The lifestyle of the “Flapper Girl” that was behind much of the new crazes pushed for a “freer” lifestyle. One that, without the Church reminding Catholic’s of their duties, would easily cause many souls of forget all Modesty in dress, speech, and so on.
The new dances may not be of such concern today, but when they first came out in the 20’s, it was to be as much of a scandal as possible. Shaking parts of their bodies that were so un-exposed before. Hiking up their skirts to expose their knees – a “scandalous” deed back then. Smoking and drinking excessively, sleeping around freely, flirting with every person that came their way. Moving pictures gave the public more freedom concerning dirty movies. All of these immodesties called for the Church to openly speak about the dangers of such acts. For who knew where and when it would stop?
Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili (photo on left), 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.”
Circular clergy” , Part No. I, April 6, 1930, published in Mandements, pastoral letters and circulars of the bishops of Quebec , Supplement No. 33, p. 15 , New Series, Volume 9, Quebec, in 1925.
Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, quotes these guidelines as “The Church’s stand concerning modesty in dress” in his Pastoral of December 6, 1959. He was known for launching many religious crusades, including the Purity Crusade for Mary Immaculate.
The Bishops in Quebec, Canada also wrote a lengthy Joint Pastoral Letter titled, “Purity Crusade“, concerning the grave importance of Modesty in Dress, published May 5th 1946. Earlier they had quoted,
“Synod of Quebec (1940), Decree 102, notes: “What if we ask what is a modest and decent attire ( minimum ) for a Christian, as we understand it’s one that covers the chest and the arms of non-transparent fabric, which goes 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) [made in: 36].
Address of Pope Pius XII to young girls of Catholic Action of Rome, members of the Crusade for Purity, on May 22, 1941. ‘How many girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them.’ Pope Pius XII
Address of Pope Pius XII to young girls of Catholic Action of Rome, members of the Crusade for Purity, on May 22, 1941. An telling instruction from the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930, speaks volumes of the importance that Pope Pius XII held modesty in dress to: “Under the supreme apostolate which God has entrusted the performance of the whole Church, His Holiness Pope Pius XI has never ceased to teach by word and writings the precept of St. Paul: “That women wear decent clothes, adorning themselves with modesty and simplicity (…) and as befits women who profess to worship God through good works. “
Often when the occasion arose, the Pope disapproved and condemned severely indecent modes introduced everywhere today in the clothing habits of women and girls even Catholic; not only these modes gravely offend the dignity and feminine grace, but unfortunately cause temporal damage for the woman and, what is worse, his eternal loss and others.”
(D. Card. Sbarretti Sabine bishop and Poggio Mirteto, Prefect. JULES, Bishop of Lampsacus, Secretary. Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries on Indecent Women’s Fashion by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930)
Is it still Relevant Today?
There is still a sign outside the Vatican which tells the visitors how to dress. And if you are dressed more immodestly you will be thrown out or given paper clothing to wear! And as you can see, they still adhere to the original Modesty Guidelines, “shoulder and knees covered, nothing too low-cut… etc.” The Papal Audience Dress Code should at least be thought about adhering to when in the Presence of, not just the Pope, but the Blessed Sacrament!
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.)
The SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH: PERSONA HUMANA : DECLARATION ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS CONCERNING SEXUAL ETHICS says,“In moral matters man cannot make value judgments according to his personal whim: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. . . . For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.””
The virtue of chastity, however, is in no way confined solely to avoiding the faults already listed. It is aimed at attaining higher and more positive goals. It is a virtue which concerns the whole personality, as regards both interior and outward behavior.” Learn to respect and love one another. But do it completely.
Are we a “generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.” [Proverbs 30:12] ?
In 2006 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement titled, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist”, in the statement is this portion on dressing well for Holy Mass; “Appropriate attire — We should also come to the sacred liturgy appropriately dressed. As Christians we should dress in a modest manner, wearing clothes that reflect our reverence for God and that manifest our respect for the dignity of the liturgy and for one another.”
As we can see, the importance of the issue of modesty, especially in the Presence of the Holy Eucharist is still very important.
A question one might ask oneself is, “How exactly could something of such great importance, as called by the Church, suddenly no longer be so? Have we lost our concupiscence which we have been born with, thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin? Have we gained a miraculous ability to no longer be tempted?”
Alice von Hildebrand speaks volumes concerning this in her article, saying this of downplaying of temptation and the like, “King David’s sins underscore how sexual desire can degenerate into what Dietrich calls “diabolical” temptations. Some of the most atrocious perversions occur when the Devil takes over completely. And one should never downplay, or minimize, the gravity of these evils. It is plainly false to claim that such abuses are “tragic,” rather than “filthy.”” Her book, “The Dark Night of the Body” is another interesting and great source on this topic. Even secular sources’ findings concerning the primal feelings that man, in general, have, when it comes to the Bikini (As well as the mini skirt) is a loud warning bell to any Catholic. One can learn to love the other for their God-given beauty and their Temple of the Holy Spirit as much as they can, but even great Saints take steps to fight temptation. St. Thomas Aquinas for one example – threw a burning log at a prostitute coming into his room to tempt him.
St. Padre Pio had a great love for Modesty, take a look at some of his letter:“Most of all it was modest in the way of dressing that was most dear to the Padre’s heart, no matter where one lived. The reason that the Saint worried was that an indecent way of dressing can be scandalous and an occasion of sin for anyone.’”
(IASENZANIRO, FR. MARCELLINO. PADRE PIO TESTIMONIES. VOL 1. SAN GIOVANNO ROTUNDO, ITALY: EZIOLINI POADRE PIO PIETRELCINA, P 149.)
Although one story in particular has not held true concerning St. Padre Pio and modesty, and that is the story of his “putting a sign debarring certain women with certain dress lengths from confession.” This story has been proven to be false.
St. Dominic Savio was also a great lover and promoter of purity and modesty.
St. Maria Goretti as well.
Even an early Christian martyr, St. Perpetua was known to cover her legs as she was thrown to and fro in the lion dens – to cover her modesty!’When she was thrown into the air by a savage bull in the amphitheatre at Carthage, her first thought and action when she fell to the ground was to rearrange her dress to cover her thigh, because she was more concerned for modesty than pain.’
Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Girls of Catholic Action, speaking of St. Perpetua
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 will continue to update this portion of the website as we obtain more information concerning Modesty in Dress & the Church.
Most of these articles have been translated from French loosely, so please pardon us.
Please do not take these articles as something to follow word for word, as a papal magisterial document; these wonderful clergymen’s opinions certainly have the weight of their office, but not as such of a Magisterial document of course.
These articles are to show the importance and weight that Modesty and Immodesty have, and the great number of good clergy who spoke against it. Please take into consideration the times in which these were written when reading about exact details and rules concerning non-religious things (example: money). These great clergymen are give ideas and such for us which are very helpful – but if it comes to the reader becoming scrupulous, then please avoid your reading them.
source – MEGAN FINEGAN
Is this too short?
I’ve been asking myself this question since I tried on my new dress in the store. It’s really cute, figure flattering, a new style, and exactly what I’ve been looking for. It seemed like a good enough length since it’s longer than most dresses. It could use a few more inches of fabric but it’s close enough. Besides, it has a high neckline so that evens it out on the modesty scale, right?
It’s all too easy to justify a cute new outfit. “Better than most,” though, is that really what I’m going for? I can’t help but think that’s not a good reason to buy a dress. Yes, it’s cute and I really like it, but every time I try it on I can’t get myself to commit to keeping it by ripping off the tags.
Would I want another woman to wear this in front of my (future) husband? No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t appreciate it if another woman was in front of my husband or boyfriend for that matter in a dress that seems “modest enough” until they bend over or sit down and the fabric might no longer cover what should be covered. So since I don’t want this from another woman, I need to show the same respect to them.
So, is it too short? The very fact that I’m asking myself this question means I already know the answer. Yes, my dress is too short.
Just being “better than most” does not make it modest. Modesty is not a competition. It’s also not easy. What would be easy would be to wear the dress, fit in with the trends, and pretend it’s long enough. Here’s the thing though: In making the extra effort to dress modestly through raising my standards in the way I dress, I have more freedom.
I’m not going to have to constantly check or readjust what I’m wearing. I’ll be free of all these worries because I’m going to find a dress I can throw on, know I look fabulous, and am completely comfortable in without showing too much skin. There aren’t going to be nagging questions in the back of my mind.
I’m going to return it and try again. Because there’s no reason I should need to question if what I’m wearing is too short.
source – KATIE HARTFIEL
When it comes to purity, often the hardest topic to sell to young women is that of modesty. As a teenager I had a close and personal relationship with my closet. Part of me would rather sacrifice my right arm than some of my favorite outfits. However, sanctity comes with sacrifice, and your sacrifice will not go unrewarded. Each time you grab your garb and find yourself questioning its modesty quotient I encourage you to wear your crown of virtue instead.
“To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thorn bush, Saint Bernard plunged himself into an icy pond. You, what have you done?”
-Saint Josemaria Escriva
However, thankfully, a life of modesty doesn’t have to exclusively mean wearing a muumuu or habits. Before you flail yourself on your bed and wail, “I have nothing to wear,” check out these tips that can baptize some of your favorite fashions:
Extender: While not every crop top or short skirt can receive a stamp of modesty approval with a lace extender—many can! These garments go under a top or bottom to provide some extra inches. Purchase one or make your own to add a feminine layer of class and style.
Bandeaus: Wait…What? A bandeau hardly seems to fit into a modesty discussion. However, as many of you have realized—Modest is hottest—and I mean that in the most literal sense. As a Texas resident, I can assure you that adding a layer in hot weather can sometimes be torturous. A wide bandeau can add the perfect amount of height under a low cut top without adding unwanted insulation. Plus, at just a few bucks a piece, I’ll take one in every color, please!
Go Strapless… Sort of: Let’s be honest—bra straps are not classy. Sometimes a perfectly modest scoop neck or thick racer back can maneuver in a way that allows others to see something they shouldn’t. It makes sense that sneaky straps would call to mind their hidden counterparts when they escape. For those unpredictable tops, choose a strapless undergarment and forget about it.
The Faithful Cami: I am often shocked at how often I can see right through a stranger’s clothing. Before anyone accuses me of being “judgy” my reaction is generally just embarrassment! To prevent unintentional indecent exposure, place your hand inside clothing items before putting them on and hold them up in front of a good light. If you can see through, then throw a simple cami under a shirt or a ½ slip under a skirt/dress.
The Bolero: My favorite thing about a bolero is that it rarely sacrifices your over-all look. This no-frump option can be used in a casual setting, or dressed up for Mass, weddings or evening. I may or may not have an over abundance of these babies.
If you’re the adventurous, treasure hunting type, I recommend my favorite clothing sources: Ross or Marshall’s. They regularly carry five dollar bandeaus and camis and ten dollar boleros and shrugs. Sometimes modesty can be frustrating, but this sort of retail therapy just feels oh-so-good.