The Catholic Church on Dressing for Mass: A Timeline

It may seem at times that when a pastor dares to add a snippet in his sermon about dressing appropriately for Mass, or a paragraph in the Sunday bulletin on what attire is considered respectable for the Holy Sacrifice, it doesn’t usually go down well. Some parishioners may complain, or a visitor may become angry, the Bishop may even be called. But a pastor giving proper guidelines to his sheep on what the Church deems appropriate wear for THE Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not new, nor is it something the Church has ever condemned. In fact, it has been a longstanding tradition to guide the faithful in appropriate wear, and has been so for hundreds of years. And it is a part of the job of the pastor to guide his flock in all things moral, especially when it comes to the Mass.

The Church as always taught the importance of Christians dressing properly, specifically for inside the Church in front of God Himself truly Present in the Eucharist. There are numerous Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Popes and holy priests that have spoken on this very topic. Though because of the volume of information on this subject, we will only be focusing on the 19th to 21st centuries here, and focusing mostly on Bishops, Cardinals and so on. Not priests or saints.

The Outlines of the Dress Code which we can see is still promoted even today, we can trace back to Pope Benedict XV.

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Scathing Letter on Immodesty by Cardinal Villeneuve, “Carelessness and immodesty of dress leads to impurity”

Carelessness and immodesty of dress leads to impurity, episcopate of Quebec, 1946 Jean-Marie Rodrigue Cardinal Villeneuve (1883-1947) (…) 9. It is first of all in the dress in general that the carelessness manifests itself which, too often, unfortunately, leads to impurity. How many people are slaves to these fashions which ignore the elementary rules of modesty and which sometimes constitute a direct provocation to evil. 10. Thanks be to God, Christian women in our circles appear in church and, generally in public assemblies, only decently dressed. Likewise, we are pleased to note that most of the women go out onto the streets, suitably dressed. But what will it be tomorrow, if one thinks of the growing vogue for “these clothes so cramped or as they seem made rather to highlight more what they should veil”, as Pius XII observes ( 1). Too many young girls easily accept indecent, sometimes provocative shortcuts, daring necklines where they sometimes have the impudence to place the cross of Our Lord, Master of purity!

Too many of them are showing off in “shorts”, still timidly on the street, but without embarrassment in the game! Often they reduce their beach costume even further. Immodest by their very nature, these clothes should be banned from our mores, even in sports (2). Note also that wearing pants under the slightest pretext, or, what is worse, with the aim of showing off in public, is not worthy of a true Christian. 11. To the undressing and carelessness of life in the open air is added the deplorable and too widespread use among even practicing Christians of circulating inside their homes in the lightest attire. How far we are from the delicacies of our Christian mothers of old! 12. We pity women of dubious morals who accept these shortcuts, these necklines, these negligee. But that a Christian, a wife, a mother, a young girl, far from reacting against these perverse currents, too often engage in them to their heart’s content, gradually unlearn modesty, ignore it, even despise it, how not to be amazed and saddened to tears!

13. The man himself does not escape the taste for the exhibition of his flesh: we go topless in public, we wear pants or a tight-fitting jersey that is too short. We thereby commit offenses against the virtue of modesty, when we are not the occasion of sin, in thought or in desire, for our neighbor. 14. What seems even more serious to us, not certainly as a provocation to evil, but rather as a harmful habit which can lead very far, is, in the girls’ costume, the dress that is too cropped, the complete nudity of the arms and legs. legs, when it does not go up to that of the torso. Without knowing it, these poor children thus scandalize, and often, their little brothers. How can a Christian mother forget it? If these children see some cassock in the street, a sign of the guardian of modesty and morality, they hasten to pull off what remains of their clothing to cover themselves. These little girls will grow old. To be modest, and often to be pure, they will have to go up a whole current which has carried them so far. Will they really be able to? Poor mothers, you are violating, know it, your serious duties as educators. 15. Immorality therefore uses fashion to corrupt souls;

she also uses sport, yet so useful and so necessary for the health of the body. It is a ruse of Satan to divert from their end games, pleasures, amusements, amusements whose primary goal is to rest the body by making life in society more pleasant. Satan rejoices in these “sports parties which take place in conditions of clothing, exhibitions and camaraderie incompatible with even the least demanding modesty” (3). In fact, so much care is taken to create clothing for sport that undresses or that seduces, and, in truth, under the most fallacious pretexts; one participates with so much without embarrassment in those parties of pleasure which make young men and young girls life companions for a day, far from the eyes and protective glances; camaraderie quickly becomes misplaced familiarity, and, with the help of alcoholic liquors, familiarity turns into shameless companionship. Thus the excursions, the parts of ski or chalet, the exercise of the skating in all its forms, still other amusements, become directly or indirectly occasions of faults all the more tempting that they present themselves under the guise of ‘legitimate self-relaxation. (…)

42. This then is the Christian’s judgment on this agonizing problem of modern immorality. Aware of his dignity as a man and a Christian, aware of the disastrous consequences of immorality on the family and civil society, he esteems the beautiful virtue of purity at a high price and he practices it according to the requirements of his state of life. . He understands that morality is superior to pleasure and fashion, that there are limits that it is never allowed to cross without injuring his conscience and his faith. For him, morality, and especially purity, are treasures that must be protected against any violation. By protecting them, with all the necessary sacrifices, he has the joy of increasing the glory of his Mother Church and the satisfaction of helping his brothers. (…) 51. The struggle is therefore inevitable. You will accept it courageously, and to emerge victorious, you will watch out for the occasions of sin, you will avoid them with the grace of God: you will not entertain bad thoughts, you will not warm up any shameful desire, you will flee bad company, you will refuse to allow your mind to be corrupted by obscene literature and provocative illustrations, you will keep your heart firm and upright by avoiding risky dating, immoral dances, corrupting cinema, pagan social gatherings, idleness, mother of all vices, and intemperance in the use of intoxicating drinks. In short, to practice purity, you will cultivate modesty, which is an instinctive fear of the soul at the first approach of evil; you will cultivate modesty, which is moderation, a sense of proportion, which usually avoids anything that is likely to arouse sexual passion in yourself and in others. Modesty and modesty, such are the ornaments and the guardians of purity. (…) 57. Your [that of fathers and mothers of families] educative action will be exercised from an early age, at this period when habits are created which will influence all life. Please do not get your children used to the negligee, we dare say, to nudism. “O Christian mothers,”

exclaims the Sovereign Pontiff, “if you knew what future of anguish and perils, of ill-contained shame, you are preparing your sons and daughters by accustoming them imprudently to live barely covered, and making them lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of yourselves and you would dread the insult that you do to yourselves and the harm that you cause to the children whom Heaven has entrusted to you to bring up them in Christianity ”(4 )

Notes
(1) Pie XII, La Mode, Discours du 22 mai 1941, E.S.P. 
(2) Synode de Québec (1940), décret 102, note : « Que si l’on demande en quoi consiste un habit modeste et décent pour une chrétienne, on comprendra que c’est celui qui couvre la poitrine et les bras d’étoffes non transparentes, qui descend au moins à mi-jambe, et dont la coupe d’une ampleur convenable protège la pudeur en dissimulant les lignes du corps » (Cardinal Rouleau, 8 décembre 1930Mandements des Évêques de Québec, vol. XIII, Supplément 45) [en fait : 36].
S.[on] E.[xcellence] le Cardinal Villeneuve, Communication de l’Archevêché de Québec contre les modes païennes27 juin 1945.
Semaine Religieuse de Québec, 57e année, n° 44, 5 juillet 1945. p. 690.
S. E. Mgr Arthur Douville, Mandements des Évêques de Saint-Hyacinthe, vol. XXI, p. 354.
(3) Pie XII, La Mode, Discours du 22 mai 1941, E.S.P.
(4) Pie XII, ibid.

Référence
Archevêques et évêques de la province de Québec, « Croisade de pureté », Lettre pastorale collective, n°114, 5 mai 1946 ; paru dans : Mandements, lettres pastorales et circulaires des évêques du Québec, volume 17, 1943-1954, Chancellerie de l’archevêché, Québec, 1955, p. 241-243 ; p. 253-254 ; p. 257 ; p. 259.

ROME SPEAKS: “Against fashions contrary to decency”

In 1924, La Croix published an article that speaks loudly of Rome’s serious call to modesty in dress in Church, even citing Cardinal Basilio Pompili, before his 1928 Guidelines! (A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.”)

Postcard commemorating the 50th Anniversary (in 1908) of the vision of the Virgin Mary, which appeared to Marie Bernarde ‘Bernadette’ Soubirous (18441879) at Lourdes in 1858. The other potrtraits which surround the panorama of Lourdes show Pope Pius IX (1792-1878), Francois-Xavier Schoepfer, Bishop of Tarbes (1843-1927) and Abbe Dominique Peyramale (1811-1877). Date: 1908

Against Fashions Contrary to Decency

We published in its time the great advertisement given to the pilgrims who of all the flock to Lourdes by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes. In this document, much noted, the prelate formally forbids access to the processions, the Grotto and the sanctuaries to all women and young girls who do not observe the prescriptions of Cardinal Pompili, vicar of Rome, and of the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice.

Cardinal Pompili


The cardinal had prescribed:
“A woman should enter the house of God only decently dressed in a rising garment and her head covered, because the immodesty of clothing, everywhere and always reprehensible, offends particularly the holiness of the temples, forbids the access to the Eucharist Table and often attracts terrible punishments from God.”

The Patriarch of Venice had prescribed for his part:
“The priests of our diocese will have noticed that, for some time, a fashion has been established in the costume of women which eliminates the sleeves and increases the neckline. He should therefore (warn the faithful that people who dare to come to church in such clothing (low-cut bodices, insufficiently long sleeves, not going below the elbow) will not be admitted to the sacraments and may be invited to leave the church. If therefore a woman or a young girl dressed in this way presented herself at the Holy Table to receive Communion, every priest should, without making any direct observation, pass in front of her; without giving her Holy Communion. If the pastor of this person could then find the opportunity to make him hear a fatherly warning, that he not omit this act of charity.”

Bishop François-Xavier Schoepfer (1843-1927)

Let us recall the opinion of Bishop Schoepfer:
“Seeing, to our deep sorrow, the overflow of the abuses which the venerable Cardinals Pompili and La Fontaine seek to remedy spread more and more and even invade the city of the Apparitions, we believe ourselves obliged to make our own and adopt as a line of conduct to be followed, in our whole diocese, but in Lourdes especially the serious decisions taken and promulgated by these drue. The illustrious princes of the Church. Consequently-, if, in our diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes, a person offending in her dress- aforementioned prescriptions, came to the Holy Table to receive Communion, any priest without, moreover, sending him an observation direct should refrain from giving him Holy Communion.
By thus echoing the defenses of the Eminent Cardinals Pompili and La Fontaine, we are also inspired by the example that came recently from Our Holy Father Pope Pius XI himself, who formally forbade the appearance in his presence of “the ladies or young girls whose dress would be more absolutely high and the sleeves are long enough We believe, moreover, with regard to Lourdes that we must add that the persons whose costume would be contrary to the orders reproduced above must take care as unworthy of being admitted to enter the miraculous Grotto, consecrated by the Apparitions of the Immaculate Virgin.”

Bishop Héctor Raphaël Quillet

We also remember that Mgr Quilliet, Bishop of Lille, a. specified that young girls must wear dresses that descend below the knee. Finally, the Religious Week of Clermont publishes this press release from the bishopric:

1  Immodest clothing is always wrong is especially in the holy place. Therefore anyone allowing to appear there with an inappropriate setting would be liable to be asked to leave the church;

2. The sacraments should be denied to women and girls reporting for the confessional or the holy table in some decent dress (Low necklines (corsage DÉCOLLETÉ, insufficiently long sleeves, not down below the elbow);

3. Regarding the refusal of the Holy Eucharist, the priest, without making any comments to the person whose isn’t dress appropriatly, will just pass her without giving her Holy Communion;

4. The pastor of a person to whom the sacraments would have been so rejected and could then find the opportunity to give him a fatherly admonition, and not omit this act of charity.

For these quotes, our readers see how the Church is moved to see the paganism in clothing invade us.

What did I say ? This is not only of paganism. The inhabitants of uncivilized country that brings the ease of travel in Europe, wonder, rightly, to see our civilization disrobe at will, while in the name of civilization, are invited to adopt them, the use of clothing. Insist is useless, absolutely blatant abuse, the glaring scandal. We certainly do not claim to be able to draw against the torrent of general indecency effective dike, but we beg Christian families to refuse to submit to the yoke of tyranny indecent fashions.

They owe it to God.

They owe to Jesus Christ they want to receive the Eucharist years.

They owe it to the Christian tradition.

They owe it to the building of the youth.

If we destroy modesty, we fall into the cesspool of corruption.

END OF ARTICLE

Archbishop Decries Immodesty in Dress

SHAMELESS WOMEN:
“In what does the great part of our modern life differ from what it would have been, if our Lord had never appeared on earth? The Vicar of Christ has recently been forced to protest, in the name of Christian morality, against the shameless audacity of female attire. How far removed we are from the spirit of the Gospel! According to the word of God, women should dress in decent apparel adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, as it becometh women professing godliness; but the modern woman too often flaunts along the streets, setting modesty at defiance. Can the gospel message ever have touched the hearts of those painted, leering, half-clad horrors which in- fest nearly all public resorts? Our modern morality seems to suffer them gladly.” —Archbishop of Birmingham.

Letter to the Editor – The Franciscan Herald 1920

[Modestie] Mgr. Marius Besson : Contre le scandale des modes actuelles (1925)

Bishop Besson of Lausanne, ordered the following letter to be read at all masses, in the churches and chapels of his diocese on July 19 or 26, 1925.

The indecency of fashions, especially in the city, has taken on scandalous proportions. The faithful, and especially mothers of families, must not however forget that there are, in this area as in others, rules of Christian modesty from which no one can, under any pretext, be exempted.

It is necessary that the moral level has fallen very low so that the woman resigns herself to the outrageous toilets which the whims of a perverted world make her wear. It is necessary that the sense of propriety has been singularly weakened so that we no longer know that it is incorrect to leave the house before having finished dressing.

We are disgusted to see that such aberrations manifest themselves not only in the bad-tempered people who inspired them, but in Christian women, even in those who should more, because of their social position, set a good example.

We are sorry to think that the lightness of so many mothers forever compromises the souls of poor children, especially poor girls, by accustoming them to certain ways of dressing which make them lose the feeling of modesty.

Against such a revival of paganism, we have a grave duty to react, and it is to the Christian spirit of the faithful that we appeal.

Whatever empty pretexts you may invoke, Ladies and Ladies, we are not afraid to assert that current fashions are often a source of sin for the unconscious who accept them and an occasion of sin for those they scandalize.

In the day when God will ask you to account for the evil you have done and the evil you have caused to be done, he will judge you neither according to your fashion journal, nor according to the false principles of a completely materialized hygiene, nor according to the pretended conveniences of worldly people, but according to the holy Gospel. Now, the divine Master said: “ Woe to him who is the cause of sandal! Heaven and earth will pass away; this word will not pass.

Mgr. Marius Besson, cited in Catholic Tunisia, August 30, 1925, p. 681-682 .

Fide Catholica

Mgr Besson évêque de Lausanne, a ordonné de lire la lettre suivante à toutes les messes, dans les églises et les chapelles de son diocèse le 19 ou le 26 juillet 1925.

L’indécence des modes, surtout à la ville, a pris des proportions scandaleuses. Les fidèles, et notamment les mères de famille, ne doivent pourtant pas oublier qu’il y a, dans ce domaine comme dans les autres, des règles de la modestie chrétienne dont nul ne peut, sous aucun prétexte, s’exempter.

Il faut que le niveau moral soit tombé bien bas pour que la femme se résigne aux toilettes outrageantes que les caprices d’un monde perverti lui font porter. Il faut que le sens des convenances ait été singulièrement affaibli pour qu’on ne sache plus qu’il est incorrect de sortir de chez soi avant d’avoir fini de s’habiller.

Nous sommes écœuré de constater que de telles aberrations se manifestent non…

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A Response to Christopher West

An excellent answer to the problematic theology of Christopher West. An article well worth a read!

Mary Victrix

In his long-awaited reply to his critics, West honestly admits that he did not want to say anything until he had received the all clear from the bishops, a boon given in abundance by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Rhoades.  While the bishops’ endorsement is significant, it does not mean that West’s teaching is magisterial or that it is on the level of those who themselves hold the teaching office of the Church. Even a theologian who has gained the endorsement of a pope, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar or Cardinal Walter Kasper, is not considered above respectful criticism when he articulates views that may legitimately be shown to be difficult to reconcile with the Church Fathers and Doctors.

West is gracious for thanking his supporters, but his reference to the “profound consolation” proffered by the faithful is a bit off-putting.  He has chosen the path of controversy of…

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Marian Modesty

Thank you Fr. Angelo – an interesting take on Marian Modesty.

Mary Victrix

We are not called to be mimics of the Blessed Mother, dressing as would be appropriate for a first-century Palestinian peasant woman (e.g., long veils, skirts to the floor, sandals). We are called to imitate the Blessed Mother in her virtues. In terms of modesty, that might mean dressing in a way that is appropriate to one’s culture and circumstances, not drawing undue attention to oneself either in one’s dress or undress, remaining circumspect about one’s own choices, and not denouncing the reasonable choices of others.

Overall, I agree with this article of Michelle Arnold.  However, what tends to happen in discussions about modesty is that those on one side of the debate tend to present a caricature of the other side or generalize too much about the habits of the other side.  In particular, I disagree with her remark about Fatima.  I believe it is pretty clear what…

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Sinful Shoulders: We’ve Had It Wrong The Whole Time

Concerning dressing decently as Catholics, many have asked the question “What is so sinful about women’s shoulders!?” This is a perfectly valid question and we felt it deserved to be addressed in its very own post.

Temples of the Holy Spirit

“Do you not know, says St. Paul, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

First of all, shoulders are not sinful, just as the marital embrace, breasts, legs, ankles etc are not sinful. God made them, and He made them good. What makes something “sinful” is,

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) defines SIN as, ” an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law (St. Augustine, Faust 22:PL 42, 418). It is an offense against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ. Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity. The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and the gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects. To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death.” (CCC 1871-74)

In every sinful act two things must be considered, the substance of the act and the want of rectitude or conformity (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxxii, a. 1). (CatholicAnswers) So, to make something sinful, it would be:

  • Perverting something from its God-given purpose: Like masturbation, Sex outside of marriage, unnatural marital relations between husband and wife, adultery…
  • Being in itself an evil act: Murder, stealing, vanity, pride…

The marital act, for example is not sinful when it is used how God ordained it: between husband and wife. But it can be perverted from its God-ordained use: masturbation, pornography, adultery, used outside of marriage, unnatural instances and so on. But this does not mean that the marital act, when proper, can be viewed by others, or spoken of crassly / in the wrong situations and so on. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.

Just as there is a right and wrong way of dressing in public. Pope Pius XII spoke on May 22nd, 1941, “Fashion itself isn’t bad. It arises spontaneously from human sociability, following the impulse which inclines to put oneself in harmony with one’s fellows and with the habits of the people among whom have lived. God does not ask you to live outside your time, to remain indifferent to the demands of fashion to the point of making yourself ridiculous by dressing yourself against the common tastes and customs of your contemporaries, without ever worrying about this. that they like. Thus, the angelic Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms that in the external things which man makes use of there is no vice, but that vice comes from man who uses it immoderately in relation to the uses of those with whom he lives, distinguishing himself in a strange way from others”

On November 8, 1957, Pope Pius presented the still-valid principles of modesty in dress.

Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are “so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”

Hygiene pertains mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness). Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defense of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.” Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need, more greatly felt by woman, to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”

Fashion “has achieved an indisputable importance in public life, whether as an aesthetic expression of customs, or as an interpretation of public demand and a focal point of substantial economic interests.

“The rapidity of change (in styles) is further stimulated by a kind of silent competition, not really new, between the ‘elite’ who wish to assert their own personality with original forms of clothing, and the public who immediately convert them to their own use with more or less good imitations.”

The Pontiff then isolated the difficulty with fashion. “The problem of fashion consists in the harmonious reconciliation of a person’s exterior ornamentation with the interior of a quiet and modest spirit.” Like other material objects, fashion can become an undue attachment–even perhaps an addiction–for some persons. The Church “does not censure or condemn styles when they are meant for the proper decorum and ornamentation of the body, but she never fails to warn the faithful against being casily led astray by them.” (Monsignor Charles M. Mangan)

Bare Arms / Serious Importance of Modesty in Dress Held by the Church

The problem that arose concerning women wearing sleeveless dresses and shirts to Mass arose in 1925. Many Bishops exhorted their priests to post a sign on the doors of the Churches to make sure women knew what was considered appropriate in the House of God. Their main concern, aside from the rising Vanity, Pride, Materialism that was becoming so fashionable was “bare arms” and “Décolleté / Décolletage” which is ” the upper part of a woman’s torso, comprising her neck, shoulders, back and chest, that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing. However, the term is most commonly applied to a neckline that reveals or emphasizes cleavage.”

In the Pastoral Letter of His Eminence Cardinal Luçon, Archbishop of Reims, the clergy and the faithful of his diocese, a scathing account is written concerning the seriousness of indecent dress at Mass, where he specifically mentions “bare arms” and low cut dresses, “There is at least one point on which we see ourselves as certain to encounter a unanimous obedience: that nobody will afford to appear to church with these unseemly fashion, that is to say, low-cut dress or bare arms. If there is one place where the frivolous fashions and nudity are particularly displaced, is not it the House of God?” he concluded, “

  1. We strongly urge women and girls of our diocese to observe in their clothes the rules of Christian modesty.
  2. They should absolutely abstain from appearing at the church, especially in the public offices and during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, cut dresses and bare arms.
  3. They will not be admitted to in Confession nor the Holy Table.

And will be, this pastoral letter with the command which terminates, read and published in the main advocates of Mass in churches and chapels of our diocese on Sunday that following receipt.”

And in July, 1925, Mgr Besson bishop of Lausanne, ordered a letter to be read at all Masses in churches and chapels of the diocese that was very similar. He then also spoke to parents, concerning the upbringing of their children, “You have a moral duty to raise them and maintain them in modesty. You have to dress them with reserve and in particular require that the dresses of your girls cover their arms and down below their knees.

Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili on 24 September 1928 issued Guidelines to help Catholic women with regard to Fashion – and what they could consider to be Modest and proper for Mass (and so on). “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.” There has been a concession with regard to sleeve length, because of market conditions.

Felix-Raymond-Marie Rouleau

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.”

Cdl. Basilio Pompili

In 1945, Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve likewise, told those in his diocese ” The priests will not let people enter churches who are not dressed properly. Those who have sleeveless dresses, too low cut or too short, must put on a cloak before crossing the threshold of our temples.” While the Bishops Synod of Quebec stated, “What if we ask what is a modest and decent outfit for a Christian, it is understood that this is the one that covers the chest and arms non-transparent fabrics, coming down at least mid-leg, and whose cup a suitable extent protects modesty hiding body lines “(Cardinal Rouleau, December 8, 1930 . Mandements of Bishops of Quebec , vol. XIII, Supplement 45 [in fact: 36]).

Church Dress Code: Still A Practice Today

The standard of bare arms being improper for Mass and in Church still exists to this day; we can see it being enforced in the Vatican. In particular, the Papal Audience Dress code states that women must cover their shoulders.

Bishop Robert Vasa, in his article on modesty in dress writes, “Several years ago, the Holy Father re instituted a dress code for the churches of Rome, his diocese. No one in shorts or sleeveless shirts was to be admitted into the church building.”

Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.) “Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.” (An ADDRESS of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” November 8, 1957.)

Concerning the seriousness of modesty and purity, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests cried, “Oh God, how many souls does this sin drag down to Hell! . . . . No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known to those worldly and corrupt girls who make so many preparations and take so many cares to draw the eyes of the world towards themselves, who by their affected and indecent dress announce publicly that they are evil instruments which Hell makes use of to ruin souls- those souls which cost so much in labours and tears and torments to Jesus Christ! . . . .” Now he wasn’t one to mince words! Yet he had thousands and thousands flock to Mass and Confession because of it!

In 2016, Fr. Carmelo Arada of Manila Archdiocese Commission on Liturgy said certain decorum must always be observed for liturgical functions.“Going to Mass in the parish and going to Mass in the malls must be celebrated with the same disposition, including the attire. Dress properly,” said the priest. He called for the observance of the proper dress code during mass.  “Male Catholics are also discouraged from wearing caps, basketball jerseys, tank tops or jersey shorts, and shorts while women are urged to refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap tops or tank tops, short skirts, skimpy shorts or sleeveless shirts with plunging necklines during Mass.” Which is the same dress code the Archdiocese of Manila had laid down back in 2007.

https://officialcatholicmodesty.com/2019/01/23/does-the-church-have-a-dress-code/

Rightful Place

Fr. Dominic in a homily on EWTN spoke, “Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach. You should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tank-tops, dresses above the knees, bare shoulders, bare arms, low cut dresses, sleeveless shirts, very tight fitting clothing, etc. If you come to EWTN or the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL and you are not dressed properly don’t expect to get out of your car because we have a dress code here. And don’t even dare to come into the Chapel before our Lord. If you do, hopefully you will be caught by our security guards and asked to put on more clothing. We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.”

However, all this aside, what we wear to swim, or what we wear in our own homes is certainly a little less “standardized.” (see video below) Though we must never forget our proper role as Catholics; children of God and heirs of Heaven. And our duty to be holy examples to others, especially those under our care. When it comes to bare shoulders, it is more or less not much of an issue outside of Church. But of course then we are faced with the questions, “How thick must our strap be? Two inches? Spaghetti straps? How wide can our sleeves be? Does it even matter at all?” For we know that when we are wearing sleeveless shirts / dresses then the showing of our bra / breast can become an issue when there are large, gaping holes.. We recommend sleeveless shirts / dresses that do not show our bra, and cut close to under our arms, just so that we need not worry about our chest showing when we bend down or lift our arms.

Conclusion / Final Notes

The Catholic Church isn’t dumb; we are not expected to wear old fashioned or ugly clothing, covering our bodies likened to Sharia Law! Pope Pius XII actually calls us to follow the fashion, but with prudence! He called it an act of charity! He has even said that Fashion and Modesty go together.

We are called to look to these guidelines for the sole reason that we know without a doubt that our dress (and, remember we must be modest in our looks, thoughts, words and actions also!) will never be a source of scandal or sin to others.

It’s not “two more inches and you are sinning!” but rather “here is a Standard that will make it easier for you to be able to build a wardrobe around, without having to worry about Modesty at all!” And even if some willfully dress immodestly, it is never our place to hate those people, or treat them badly! Never! We are called to be examples, and to tell the truth when it is charitably necessary (if people don’t know what is modesty they cannot dress modestly), but we are not called to judge if a person is purposefully dressing sinfully to make men lust after them! Most people have no idea anymore! And then need our prayers, our charitable information when possible, and most of all … our example It would be really easy to believe that we could dress how we think is modest, but as mentioned before; something are more difficult than others when it comes to temptation. It is up to both genders to dress modestly, be pure in heart and mind, “flee thou youthful desires, and pursue justice, faith, charity, and peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” [2 Timothy 2:22]

If we tried to “cover up” parts of ourselves that were a “stumbling block” or “temptation” for others it would be impossible. As even the mere thought of a person can bring about temptation. It is up to us to fight these temptations, yet not making it harder for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

Few “dress codes” have been made by some Christians that have proven to make no sense at all concerning “inches” and “situational outfits”. Is Original Sin merely situational? Prudence and common sense calls us as Catholics to follow a moral guideline, not our feelings, as most Catholic issues. As the Catholic Church has so very much pointed out the importance of Modesty in dress, as well as other areas, we should at least adhere to the seriousness, and the importance.

We must always remember WHY we are trying to dress with decency and modesty:

  • Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit
  • Because we are children of God and heirs of Heaven
  • Because it honors God
  • Because it allows us to become good examples for Christ, as well as keeps us pure

Our Lady Breastfeeding // Maria SS. della Lavina: Torrents of Water and Drops of Milk

This is an article by FSSP priest Fr. William Rock. We thought it an excellent addition to our plethora of jewels here at OfficialCatholicModesty.com. Read original article here.

If one were to visit Cerami, Sicily on September 7, one would encounter young women wearing red tunics, harkening back to the time the island was Greek, and young men wearing blue shirts and black pants.  Dressed in this festive attire, they are assisting at the annual Maria SS della Lavina celebration.

The original icon of Maria SS della Lavina.

Devotion to the Maria SS della Lavina image is traced back to a Byzantine icon which was brought to the area at some unknown time in the past (several theories exist which attempt to explain the arrival of this Byzantine icon in Sicily).  The icon, as it shows Our Lady suckling Our Lord, is interpreted by the locals as an image of Our Lady of Graces [la Madonna delle Grazie].  Such depictions of Our Lord and Our Lady are ancient.  “The earliest images of Mary nursing the Child are of Coptic [Egyptian] and Palestinian origin…From the Monastery of Saint Sabas in Palestine, the composition spread to Italy (Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere) and, via Serbia, reached the monasteries of Mount Athos. In the seventh century, during the struggle with the Iconoclasts, Pope Gregory II (d. 731) wrote to his adversary, Emperor Leo III the Isaurian: ‘Among the icons to be worshiped there is also an image of the Holy Mother holding our Lord and God in her arms and nursing him with her milk.’” (Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, pg. 183)

The original Maria SS della Lavina icon was, according to the harmonized, pious local tradition, housed in a convent of Benedictine nuns.  During a time of danger and iconoclasm, the icon was nailed to a beam in the ceiling in order to protect it.  When that danger had passed, the icon was left in its hiding place. Eventually the nuns moved to a different location, leaving the icon behind, and the monastery fell into disrepair.

The 17th century painting, which is the one carried in procession.

In the mid-seventeenth century, it is held that Our Lady appeared several times in a dream to one of the Benedictine nuns and directed her to request that the local Archpriest unearth from the ruins of the old monastery the sacred icon.  The request was received with skepticism by the priest.

During the third apparition, Our Lady stated that because of the skepticism of the priest, she herself would bring the icon to light.  Soon, a torrential rain fell which caused flooding.  The day after, a farmer was leading his mule near the torrent caused by the rainfall.  Inexplicably, the mule then stopped and, after striking the mud with his hoof, knelt.  The farmer, struggling to get his mule to move, drew by this commotion the attention of those who were nearby.  After digging, and to the astonishment of those present, the icon of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child was found buried in the mud.  (It is claimed than an imprint of the mule’s hoof can still be seen on the sacred icon.)

As soon as the Archpriest heard of the episode, shaken and repentant, he made the bells ring out and, together with a large crowd of faithful, went to the site and the sacred icon was recovered with great devotion.  In memory of this event, in May, Cerami celebrates the Feast of the Encounter and the icon is carried in procession.

From this time, the image received the title of “Lavina” from u lavinaru, which means in the local dialect “torrent,” a reference to how the image was discovered after the torrential rainfall carried the image out of the ruins and buried it in the mud caused by the flooding.

The pious tradition also tells us that the discovery of the icon was crowned by some miraculous events: one of the best known is of a certain Giuseppe, blind for thirteen years, who, as soon as the news of what had happened reached him, was led by his relatives to the image, and, having kissed the holy icon, regained his sight.

The chapel as it currently stands.

While the miraculous icon itself was placed in the church of the new covenant, a chapel was built on the site where the icon was found.  Due to damage received over the years, especially during the Second World War, this chapel has gone under several renovations since its original construction.  Within this chapel was placed a newly produced painting (17th century) which depicted the same scene written on the icon, that of Our Lady nursing Our Lord.  The new image along with the new chapel received the name of Maria SS della Lavina also, thus linking them with the devotion shown to the miraculous icon.  It is this second image, the painting, which is carried in procession during the September celebration.

Procession in honor of Maria SS della Lavina. Caldwell, New Jersey, 1914.

Devotion to this image of the Virgin and Christ Child was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants.  A Maria SS della Lavina Society was organized at St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, New Jersey by the early 1900s which was legally chartered in 1912.  This Society held yearly processions in the town originally with a banner and later with a painting.  This painting, which still currently hangs at the church, was undertaken in 1934 by Mr. Onorio Ruotolo, founder of the New York City Leonardo da Vinci Art School.

Maria SS. della Lavina, painted by Onorio Ruotolo, 1934.

Some may object to this presentation of the Virgin and Child on grounds of modesty.  In our overly immodest culture, it is tempting to retreat into a puritanical position in this regard.  Faithful Catholics, however, must ensure that they do not simply take a reactionary position, but should rather allow themselves to be formed in this matter by the perennial liturgical and devotional traditions of the Church.  Such would do well to consider, for example, the Epistles read on the Thursday of the First Week of Lent and the Saturday of the Third Week of Lent and the Gospel assigned for the Saturday Mass of Our Lady during the Time After Pentecost in order to see what the Church allows to be read in her public liturgy and which she does not view as degrading to the dignity of the sacred action.  Such should consider also the Marian hymn O gloriósa vírginum which is sung in the Divine Office.  The first verse is as follows:

O gloriósa vírginum,
Sublímis inter sídera,
Qui te creávit, párvulum        
Lacténte nutris úbere.
O glorious of Virgins,
Exalted among the stars,
He Who created you, as a little one
You suckle by your milk-filled breast.

Drawing from the letter of Pope Gregory II, we can see that the practice of depicting the Virgin suckling her Child has existed in the Church for over 1,000 years.  In Bethlehem, one can even find a Chapel under the name “Milk Grotto of Our Lady.”  According to pious tradition, the Holy Family stopped at this site during the Flight into Egypt, and there, while Our Lord was feeding, a drop of Mary’s milk fell, and the floor of the cave turned white.  Let faithful Catholics then allow their position on this matter, as in all others, be formed according to the mind of the Church as perennially expressed in her approved liturgies and devotions.

May God bless you all and may you have a happy and blessed Maria SS della Lavina Feast Day!

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Mater Lavinæ!

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently Assistant Pastor at Mater Misericordiae parish in Phoenix, AZ.  Thanks are due to Msgr. Robert Emery, Pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, New Jersey, for his support and permission to use parish media, Mr. Fabio Sturchio for his translation work, Mr. Antonino Casabona for granting permission to use his photographs, Mr. Franco Digangi for providing historical information and review, and Mrs. Santa Rock and Ms. Ashleigh Grenci for photography.

September 7, 2020

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