[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 .

Le Fide Post

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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DECENCY and MODESTY PASTORAL LETTER OF HIS EXCELLENCY THE MOST REVEREND ALBERT G. MEYER, S.T.D., S.S.L. ARCHBISHOP OF MILWAUKEE May 1, 1956

DECENCY
and MODESTY
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

  1. 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
  2. We are impelled to do this as we recall some of the recent
    forceful statements of our Holy Father, the Chief Shepherd and
    Teacher of the Church, particularly a special letter which he com-
    manded to be wnttcn 011 th1~ subject through the Sacred Congregation of the C ouncrl, under date of August 15, 1954 In this letter,
    the Cardmal Prefect of the Congregation, wntmg m the name of the
    Sovereign Pontiff, solemnly charged the Bishops of the world “by all
    means to consider the matter carefully, and to take under your care
    and promote with all your power everythmg which has to do wit~
    the protection of modesty and the furtherance of Chnstian morals.
    This solemn charge was in keeping with the whole purpose of
    the Marian Year of 1954, which was intended “not only to serve
    to revive Catholic Faith and earnest devotion to the Mother of
    God in the souls of all, but also . . . that each one of us ~hould
    according to his condition in life, avail of it for the acquisition of
    virtue. (For), the commemoration of the mystery of the Most Holy
    Virgin conceived immaculate and immune from all stam of ongmal
    sin, should, in the first place, urge us to that inn?cence and mte~tr,
    of life which flees from and abhors even the slightest stam of sm
    (Fulgens Corona, September 8, 1953).
    In the course of that Manan Year of 1954, our Holy Father referred
    many times to this important crusade for the revival and flowermg
    of Christian morals. Moreover, he did not confine l11S statements to
    general exhortations, but specifically pointed to practical areas of
    everyday life, where the application of Christian principles especially
    needs to be made.
    Thus, for example, wnting on January l, 1954, in a letter to the
    Bishops of Italy, on the general subject of television, h<;, called
    attention to the fact that this marvel of our modern day is very
    intimately bound up with the education of ~o~t~ and even the
    sanctity of the home.” Without in any way rnmmuzmg the actual,
    or, even more so, the potential good of television, th~ Holy Father
    warns nevertheless that there is much that it is failing to do. He
    savs therefore that “We cannot fail to proclaim to all who have
    a;y’ position ~f responsibility in television that _the1~ duties and
    responsibilities are most grave before God and s_oc1ety … There rests
    upon public authorities, the Holy Father continues, the duty. of
    taking every precaution that the air of punty and reserve which
    should pervade the home be m no way offended or disturbed.”
    In connection with television, he mentions that he has constantly
    in mmd “the painful spectacle of the power for evil and moral ruin
    of cinema films.” He is “horrified at the thought that the poisoned
    atmosphere of materialism, of frivolity, of hedonism, can by means
    of television be brought into the very sanctuary of the home.”
    Television, he says, requires a greater vigilance for secunng telecasts
    2
    unobjectionable from the moral point of view than is required for
    pubhc entertamment, precisely because this modern invention “penetrates the sanctuary of the family.” Here, in the bosom of the family,
    higher values are at stake “than the pretended nghts of absolute
    freedom of art, or of havmg recourse to the pretext of freedom of
    information and of thought.”
    Agam, m a notable address to the Swiss National Catholic Convention (May 16, 1954), our Holy Father spoke of the great dangers
    of matenalism. Among other thmgs he said: “Material progress
    through research and the exploitation of natural forces contmues
    its unceasing advance. The Church approves of this advance, even
    in regard to its principles. But, she adds an urgent warning concernmg it: When matenal progress is not counterbalanced by powerful
    religious and moral forces, rt nsks becommg the cancer of human
    society.”
    The Marian Year, our Holy Father further stated in the same
    address, was mtended to help strengthen our faith “as a dam against
    the rismg tide of materialism.” This materialism he defined as “the
    process of the secularization of all life.” He stated that “it is
    spreading in the spiritual and religious domain. The idea of God,
    respect for and fear of God are more and more being banished from
    public life, from the family, and, almost mevitably, therefore, from
    the hfe of the individual as well. THE PROCESS IS ALREADY
    FAR ADVANCED.”
    Hence, there falls upon us the duty of confronting this evil “by
    our prayers, our love for Chnst, our struggle against sin, and for
    purity of soul in every sense, by all those supreme values of the
    religious life and the things which are its fruit, and by our public
    enlistment in the cause of God, of Christ, and of His Church …
    In the fight against materialism the watchword must be, ‘Let us
    return to the Christianity of early days.’ This is especially applicable
    now. The Chnstians of those early times were confronted by a
    pagan and materialist culture, which reigned as mistress. They dared
    to attack it and, finally, to overcome it, thanks to their stubborn
    tenacity and by means of heavy sacrifices. IMITATE THEM!”
  3. Most pertinent to our present letter is the point frequently
    made by our Holy Father that the spread of so much immorality
    is due not to the lack of regulations, but “to the lack of reaction or
    the weakness of reaction of good people, who have not known how
    to make timely denunciations of violations against the public laws
    of morality.”
    This lack of the proper kind of public reaction is referred to agam
    3
    m the letter of August 15, 1954, and applied specifically to the matter
    of dress: “A” all can easily see, the current mode of dress among
    women and especially among girls ( during the summer months
    particularly) constitutes a senous offense against decency.” Because
    he is convinced of the intimate relationship between the decent
    and the modest, and between the modest and the chaste, the Holy
    Father exhorts: “Therefore, it is altogether imperative to admonish
    and exhort, m whatever way seems most apt, people of all stations,
    but particularly youth, to avoid the dangers of this kind of vice,
    which is so directly opposed and potentially so hazardous to Christian and civic virtue.”
    Hence, the Jetter continues: “It is the earnest desire of the
    August Pontiff that this cause be taken up enthusiastically. He desires
    that bishops m particular leave no stone unturned which can help
    remedy the situation; and that with their counsel and leadership the
    rest of the clergy work prudently, assiduously, and earnestly within
    their own jurisdiction, toward the happy attainment of this goal.”
    Further, “he wishes fathers and mothers of families to remove
    their children from these dangers, first by their own example, and
    then also by timely admonitions which come from a stern firmness of
    spirit as befits Christians; and that they never be satisfied until they
    see the faces of their children shine with the splendor of modesty.”
    As may be seen, the language of this letter constitutes a real
    challenge. It is directed to us in the form of an “imperative,” to
    “people of all stations,” to the Bishops and Clergy, to fathers and
    mothers of families. It is a cause to be taken up “enthusiastically,”
    in which “we leave no stone unturned which can help to remedy
    the situation.”
    b) Our Own Former Statements
  4. In keeping, therefore, with this and other repeated exhortations
    of our Holy Father, we have wished in vanous ways to fulfill our
    duty, and to bring this subject to your attention, either directly
    or indirectly.
    Thus, for example, toward the beginning of the Mauan Year, we
    addressed a pastoral letter under date of February 5, 1954, on the
    g~neral subject of modesty. At that time we wished particularly to
    give encouragement to the program of the Legion of Decency, and
    to the work which the vanous organizations of our Archdiocese were
    doing to promote the ideals of Chnstian modesty in the movies, in
    4
    literature, and in dress. Also, we called especially upon our fathers
    and mothers to defend the castles of their homes against the inroads
    of pagan standards of morality.
    Annually, we have exhorted you to take the pledge of the Legion
    of Decency, . in the full r~lization of the meaning of this pledge.
    We have tried to make it clear that decency involves more than
    motion pictures; that it extends to the whole realm of living. We
    have stressed the truth that decency in a special way is involved
    ~th public morality, and with the creation of strong public opinion
    m favor of. the moral orde~. Hence, we have insisted that the Pledge
    of the Legion of Decency is a call to crusade for decency in all walks
    of life, not merely in the field of motior pictures, but also in all
    related fields of public communications and public living. There is
    need today, we stressed, to apply the spirit of the Pledge to the
    matter of dress, of reading material, of radio and television and of
    company-keeping. ‘
    To. further implement these exhortations concerning the true
    me~ung of the Pledge, we have organized a special Archdiocesan
    Legion of Decency, which is intended to exert its influence and
    extend its help through other existing organizations of our men
    and women. Thus we have endeavored to give more practical direction and efficacy to the general crusade for decency.
    Again, ~ few months ago, we addressed a pastoral letter to you
    on the subject of the Catholic Family, in which we appealed, through
    the Holy Name Society, and especially to fathers of families to lead
    the way within the bosom of their own families for this much
    needed crusade on behalf of decency. We begged you to make the
    home a tr~~ sanctuary, so t~at those who live in it “will be guided
    by th~ spmt of reverence, m the decorations which hang on the
    walls, m the dress which is worn, in the magazines and papers which
    are read, in the words which are spoken, in the company which is
    kept, and in the manner itself of company-keeping.”
    . In_ our ~ent~n Pastoral of this year, we spoke at length upon the
    dignity which 1s conferred upon us by our Baptism, and we appealed
    to you to remember this dignity as Baptized Children of God:
    “P aren t s an d e d ucators, ” we state d , ” are urged to develop in children a profound sense of their dignity as children of God, and to
    teach them to recognize this dignity in others. Thus our children
    ~il! _develo~ tha~ sense of personal conscience and individual responsibility which is the fundamental solution to the problem of
    juvenile delinquency.”
  5. 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
  6. One phase of this problem in the moral cnsis was described
    in the letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council of August
    15, 1954, and referred to above 111 our letter. “Everyone knows,”
    this letter states, “that durmg the summer months particularly, thmgs
    are seen here and there which are certain to prove offensive to
    anyone who has retained some respect and regard for Chnstian
    virtue and human modesty. On the beaches, in summer resorts,
    almost everywhere, on the streets of cities and towns, in private and
    public places, and, indeed, often even 111 buildings dedicated to
    God, an unworthy and indecent mode of dress has prevailed …. Add
    to this fact that newspapers, magazmes and every kmd of pubhcation
    bla~ntly p_ublicize all the evil happenings m public and pnvate life.
    Motion pictures, also well attended as they are, present their
    attractions in such glowing light that not only weak and unwary
    youth but even the adult is swayed by their evil allurements.”
    6
  7. 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
  8. 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.”
  9. We do not mean to imply that others, outside the Church,
    are not also concerned about chastity, as well as the defensive virtues
    of decency and modesty. They are, even though their concern may
    not stem from the same motivation which impels us. A government
    report has this to state: “Pornography is big business. The extent to
    which the profit motive has brushed aside all generally accepted
    standards of decency and good taste and substituted inferior moral
    7
    standards, has become not only a national disgrace but a menace
    to our civic – elfare as well.”
    This report stems from the criterion of decency and good taste,
    and is based on sound mterest and responsibility for the good name
    cf our nation and the civic welfare of our people. As Christians
    and Catholics, however, we must proceed from a higher standard,
    and a more powerful motive. We proceed from the recognition of
    sin as a violation of the law of God, and we are motivated by the
    eternal salvation of souls; it is the welfare of souls, whom we wish
    to save from hell, that is at stake.
    There rs indeed much discussion of the topic of chastity in our
    secular magazines, but generally only to the extent that the spectacularly tragic forms of unchastity are highlighted, while little or no
    interest is shown in the virtue itself. The attitude of the world
    seems to be that if only we could do away with such things as
    juvenile delinquency in its external forms, unmarried motherhood,
    venereal disease, ugly degeneracy and rape, there would be no problem of unchastity left at all. As a matter of fact, many in the world
    have adopted and promote certain forms of unchastity, such as
    contraception and multiple successive marriages, not to mention the
    crime of abortion, without recognizing the inevitable connection
    between these things and the breakdown of chastity all along the
    line. In some of the very magazines and newspapers that carry
    articles deploring sex delinquency, there will often be found inflammatory incentives to lust in the form of seminude and suggestive
    pictures, or advertisements for the movies, or cartoons with suggestive dialogues, or even news stories with suggestive overtones.
    Even, at times, feature stories, highlighted by perfectly proper
    pictures, will suggest, with amusing ( to them) toleration or approval
    for public consumption, the bawdy attitude of the peek show or the
    burlesque performance – something which no self-respecting newspaper or magazine would have dared to do in former years when
    a less secularistie way of life prevailed. Such papers lead their readers
    to the doorstep of impurity and unchastity through these stones,
    pictures, cartoons, and advertisements, and then bewail the fact
    that so many of them step across the threshold.
  10. Others show their concern for and recognition of the problem
    by advoca!ing an indiscriminate dissemination of knowledge, in the
    thought that knowledge alone will solve the problem. Surely, it is
    most important that our growing youth be properly instructed. All
    solid moral guidance is based upon adequate instruction. This is
    basic for the practice of the faith in general, and specifically for
    8
    the practice of the virtues under consideration in this letter.
    Nevertheless, we wish to seize this opportunity of calling attention
    to a fatal trend of our times which takes prerogatives that belong
    essentially to the family out of the home, and invests them in the
    State or an agency of the State. Here we would like to remind our
    people of the statement of the American Bishops in their pastoral
    letter of 1950: “We protest in strongest possible terms against the
    introduction of sex instruction into the schools. To be of benefit
    such instruction must be far broader than the imparting of information, and must be given individually. Sex rs more than a biological
    function. It is bound up with the sacredness and uniqueness of
    human personality. It can be fully and properly appreciated only
    within a religious and moral context. If treated otherwise, the child
    will see it apart from the controlling purpose of his life, which is
    the service to God.”
    This statement is not to be construed to mean that educators have
    no function whatsoever along these lines. Carrying through with the
    basic concept of the school as an extension of the home, we do
    recognize also in this field a place for the educator to assist the
    parent. But the obligation rests primarily with the parent; and
    education in these matters must always be within the religious and
    moral context which the home should give to it. That the Church
    is not opposed to the proper kind of instruction in these matters
    should be clear from this one quotation from our Holy Father:
    “Modesty will suggest and provide suitable words for parents and
    educators by which the youthful conscience will be formed in matters
    of chastity. ‘Wherefore,’ we said in a recent address, ‘this modesty
    is not to be so understood as to be equivalent to a perpetual silence
    on this subject, nor as allowing no place for sober and cautious
    discussion about these matters in imparting moral instruction.’ In
    modern times, however, there are some teachers and educators who
    too frequently think it their duty to initiate innocent boys and girls
    into the secrets of human generation in such a way as to offend their
    sense of shame. But in this matter a just temperance and moderation
    must be used, as Christian modesty demands” (Encyclical on Holy
    Virginity, March 25, 1954).
    b) Challenge and Opportunity for Our People
  11. In confronting the problem, in the dimensions outlined in
    our present letter, we do so primarily for the guidance of our own
    9
    people, through an appeal particularly to our Christian Mothers.
    We are realistic enough to recognize that the simple writmg of a
    letter of this kmd is not gomg to change over those whose view of
    hfe sharply disagrees with our own. We think, however, that it is
    important to point out the truth that our society has become secularistic and materialistic to a degree that many of us have failed
    to recogmze. In the words of Pope Pius XII, quoted above, “the
    process is already far advanced.”
    Therefore, we address this letter primarily to om own people.
    We Catholics constitute a minority group m the general society m
    which we live and move This fact places before us both a challenge
    and an opportumty. In many ways, it is not unlike the situation
    which faced the early Christians.
    The challenge may be expressed in these words of our Holy
    Father: “The civilization of the Western people cannot sink into
    a materialism which, at least implicitly, finds its ideal in the enjoyment of the comforts of life. On the contrary, it must dedicate
    itself to liberatmg those spiritual values which are so bitterly opposed
    in many modem institutions” (September 18, 1955).
    This challenge must be met by a willmgness on our part to be
    different. We cannot compromise our traditional Catholic moral
    and cultural values, but rather we must bring these values to bear
    on public and private life, and must defend them as modem witnesses (martyrs) to Christ, Again, to quote our Holy Father: “If
    it is more than evident that evil tendencies and the forces of
    degradation and destruction are unceasingly attacking the hearts of
    individuals and the collective conscience of nations, is it not necessary to work at all levels of the social structure – the family, places
    of employment and amusement, political and cultural organizations
  • to eliminate demoralizing factors and all that keeps egoism alive
    and encourages a spmt of pleasure or power? Certainly, men are
    not lacking who are eager to meet the demands of their consciences” (ibid.).
    Hence we are pleased to encourage our Christian Mothers to
    recall here the challenging statement found in the resolutions drawn
    up by the National Council of Catholic Women at the close of
    their 1952 convention:
    “Offenses against decency are not only the cause of personal offense
    to women but give them serious concern for the welfare of their
    loved ones and their fellowmen. Not overlooking the praiseworthy
    exceptions, for which we are profoundly grateful, we are confronted
    on all sides, in newspapers, magazines, in every type of advertising
    10
    media and displays, in all fields of entertainment, including radio
    and television, in beauty contests, and elsewhere, with constant
    affronts to public decency and good taste.
    “This can only result, and has already resulted, in the lowering of
    ideals of modesty and decorum, assaults on purity and chastity,
    the degradation of womanhood, evil consequences for the sanctity
    of married life, stimulation of unworthy thoughts and desires, morbid
    emphasis on sex, with consequent corrupting influences on youth –
    and especially on the youth in the Armed Forces – an increase of
    sex crimes among adolescents, whose moral stamina has been undermined by constant pictorial assaults, scandal to the people of other
    countries, who obtain an entirely false impression of the American
    way of life, and the exploitation by communists of such pictures in
    their propaganda against the United States.
    “As individuals and organizations of Catholic women, we here
    express our determination to put a stop to the irresponsible or
    deliberately-evil flood that has had these alarming consequences.
    We are happy to acknowledge not only the concern of Catholics,
    but also of other men and women in private and in public life
    who have the discernment to see the extremely serious harm that
    is the result.
    “We pledge full support of corrective action programs that are
    suggested by the National Council, and assume individual responsibility for doing everything possible to restore decent standards
    where they have become debased.
    “Producers, publishers and distributors have a real and definite
    obligation to the nation that has made possible the opportunities
    that are theirs. If they make financial advantage their main end, they
    are unworthy of this great nation. If they cannot see higher considerations in these critical times, then at least they should open
    their eyes to what is at stake: Life in the fulness of moral integrity
    and responsible freedom, or slavery under a despotic state which
    forces all men and all media to serve its ends.”
  1. We appeal, then, to our people to be, both through word
    and through example, a leaven in the modem world. It is up to
    us to prove ourselves useful for the spiritual and moral progress
    of the environment in which we live. In the specific matter under
    consideration in this pastoral letter, this challenge and this opportunity will prompt us to proclaim in every possible way the truth
    of the Christian virtue of purity and chastity, and the beauty of
    the Christian virtue of modesty and decency. “Thus may we hope
    to see emerging more clearly the true countenance of man, master
    11
    not only of things but above all of himself and aware of his transcendent destiny, individual and social, as well as his responsibilities
    as a creature made in God’s image” (Pius XII, September 18, 1955).
    Thus may we show to all the world our complete acceptance of the
    teaching of St. Paul, that “the body is not for immorality, but for
    the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13).
    m. THE VmTUE oF CHAsTITY
  2. We cannot, Dearly Beloved, write intelligently about the
    virtue of modesty, unless we emphasize first of all in strong and
    clear terms the universal importance of chastity. For, modesty, by
    its very definition, is looked upon as the shield and safeguard of
    chastity. The breakdown in modesty is due fundamentally to a disregard of the virtue of chastity as a necessary virtue for all, in all
    the circumstances of life.
    The only right approach, therefore, to modesty is through a
    reaffirmation and a re-emphasizing of the universal importance of
    chastity, not merely for the sake of preventing sex crimes and
    tragedies, but for the eternal and temporal happiness of every
    immortal soul.
    Hence, we would like to explain briefly three incontrovertible
    teachings of our holy Faith, which impose a corresponding threefold
    obligation upon us.
    a) Teaching of Our Faith
  3. The first teaching of our Faith is that the law of chastity is
    imposed on every human being. It binds him in public and in
    private, in marriage and outside of marriage, in youth and in old
    age. It is one of the serious laws that God has made, which means
    that it is one on which the salvation of our soul depends.
    It is quite obvious that this law of chastity forbids the evil deed
    and the evil word. St. Paul says: “Do you not know that neither
    fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor
    sodomites will possess the kingdom of God?” ( 1 Cor. 6:9-10.)
    And again: “But immorality and every uncleanness, let it not even
    be named among you” (Eph. 5:3).
    12
    However, it is most important to remember that the same law of
    chastity equally forbids the unchaste thought and the unchaste
    desire. The words of Christ in this regard are crystal clear: “I say
    to you that anyone who even looks with lust at a woman has already
    committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5 :28).
    Unchastity, therefore, in thought and desire, as well as in word
    and in deed, is a serious violation of God’s law, and a transgression
    of the right order of nature, established by God Himself. Unchastity
    is seriously wrong precisely and primarily because it transgresses the
    law of God. The evil effects of unchastity, remote or proximate,
    private or public, spectacular or ordinary, merely confirm that it is
    a serious violation of God’s law. Whether these evil effects follow
    or not, the important point is that unchastity is a serious violation
    of God’s law.
    Moreover, the external act, which seems to be the sole concern
    of the world, when it is concerned at all, is merely the fruit of the
    internal thought and desire. It is this internal thought and desire
    which is the source of the external act: “Out of the heart come
    evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, immorality, thefts, false witness,
    blasphemies” (Mt. 15: 19).
  4. The second teaching of our Faith which we ask you to recall
    here is the doctrine of original sin. Every human being, except the
    Immaculate Mother of God, has through original sin inherited a
    tainted nature, which manifests itself more intensively perhaps in
    inclinations to unchastity than in any other way. The resulting
    battle with concupiscence is not limited to a given age or state of
    life; it must be waged by all and at all times.
    It is fashionable to deny original sin. But to the Catholic, the
    doctrine of original sin is fundamental for the true understanding
    of the whole economy of grace and salvation. The denial of original
    sin ultimately leads to a denial of Christ and the purpose of His
    Incarnation and Redemption. The denial of original sin leads to a
    completely false appraisal of the meaning of life. Such a tragic denial,
    for example, underlies much of the theory of some progressive
    educators. And such a tragic denial is implicit in much of the
    ostrichlike approach to the very real connection between modesty
    and chastity, between unchaste thoughts and unchaste deeds, between
    the unchaste picture or book or dress or film and these unchaste
    thoughts, desires, and deeds.
    It is the teaching of our Faith that through original sin man’s
    nature has been wounded, although not totally corrupted. The wound
    in our nature is universally experienced through the struggle which
    13
    we have to control our imagination and our passions. Imagination
    by itself, we know, is Simply a picture-making power. It certamly
    is of real use to the intellect of man, but because of original sin it
    plays a part in the mind’s affairs totally out of proportion to its
    ments, and has passed far beyond the condition of a useful servant.
    Hence, to feed the imagination with all sorts of pictures which
    serve to excite the passions in man’s bodily nature is obviously
    against God’s plans and God’s will. Such pictures tend to make
    the passions rebel against the control of the intellect and will, and
    to draw the will itself away from conformity to God’s will. That is
    sin. Original sin and its consequences in our fallen nature impose
    upon us the obligation of keeping the imagmation in proper subordination to the intellect and the will.
  5. The third teachmg of our holy Faith is that this weakness
    of human nature, which is the result of original sin, can be met only
    by following the natural counsels of prudence and right reason, and
    by using the plentiful means of supernatural graces that have been
    provided for us by our Divine Savior. The world uses neither.
    Prudence tells us that we must reasonably avoid whatever tends
    to make the imaginauon rebellious to the intellect and will, and to
    draw both of these away from God. Prudence is a dictate of the
    natural law. Prudence sees the intimate and necessary connection
    between the thought and the deed, between the sensory impression
    of the imagination and the thought and desire. The prudence,
    therefore, which sees that the virtue of chastity is a desirable and
    necessary good, also sees that certain things must be avoided to
    assist the will in the pursuit of that good. The world does not use
    prudence in the matter of chastity, because, instead of avoiding, it
    provides a constant flow of incentives to lust, completely heedless
    of the intimate and necessary connection between modesty and
    chastity, and indeed often denying the sin of unchastity itself.
    Emphasizing the dictates of prudence, Christ requires that we
    also have recourse to both natural and supernatural means. How
    forceful are those warning words: “If thy hand or thy foot is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from thee! It is better for
    thee to enter life maimed or lame, than, having two hands or two
    feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if thy eye is an occasion
    of sin to thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee! It is better to enter
    into life with one eve, than, having two eyes, to be cast into the hell
    of fire” (Mt. 18:8–9).
    The world does not heed this admonition of Christ because it
    denies the reality of the sin of scandal, and because it ignores or
    14
    despises !he supernatural means for preserving chastity, and the
    helps which come through the sacraments and prayer.
    b) Our Obligations
  6. 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
  7. This brings us to a consideration of the virtue of modesty in
    the general scheme of virtues, and more especially as it relates to
    the virtue of chastity.
    The virtue of modesty, in general, may be described as that virtue
    which prompts us to be decorous, proper, and reserved, in the way
    we ~ress, sta~d, . walk, sit – in general in the way we behave
    exteriorly. This virtue of modesty bears a relation to other virtues
    besi~es that of chastity, especially to the virtue of humility. In a
    special manner, however, the virtue of modesty is particularly
    15
    regarded as tb guardian of chastity in thou~ht, word, and action.
    St. Thomas says that it is the virtue by which we nghtiy regulate
    our conduct in respect to those things that can lead to impure
    thoughts, desires, and actions, in ourselves and in others. He says
    that, while chastity deals with the regulation of difficult thin~s,
    powerful passions and strong desires for pleasure, modesty deals ~1th
    the regulation of easy things, the remote and proximate occasions
    and conditions that lead to unholy desires. Thus we see that modesty
    is a virtue allied to the virtue of temperance, or the general habit
    of self-restraint.
    It is this virtue of modesty, in its relation to chastity, which
    prompted the Holy Father to address himself to the Bishops of
    the world, through the Sacred Congregation of the Council, and to
    remind them that “it is altogether imperative to admonish and
    exhort, in whatever ways seem most apt, people of all stations, but
    particularly youth, to avoid the dangers of this kind of vice which
    is so directly opposed and potentially so hazardous to Christian
    and civic virtue. ‘How beautiful then is modesty and what a gem
    among virtues it is!’ Therefore, let it not be offended or violated
    by the easy allurements and attractions of vices which arise from
    that manner of dressing and from other actions what we have
    mentioned above and which decent people can but lament.” Again,
    in his encyclical letter on Holy Virginity, our Holy Father writes
    about modesty: “Educators of the young would render a more valuable and useful service, if they would inculcate in youthful minds
    the precepts of Christian modesty, which is so important for the
    preservation of perfect chastity, and which is truly called the
    prudence of chastity. For, modesty foresees threatening danger,
    forbids us to expose ourselves to risks, demands the avoidance of
    those occasions which the imprudent do not shun. It does not like
    impure or loose talk, it shrinks from the slightest immodesty, it
    carefully avoids suspect familiarity with persons of the other sex.
    … He who possesses the treasure of Christian modesty abominates
    every sin of impurity and instantly flees whenever he is tempted by
    its seductions.”
    Now, there are three areas of human life in which modesty particularly must exercise its influence on those who would be chaste
    and to help others preserve this virtue: in dress, in deportment, in
    the pnnted and pictured word. We would like to discuss these three
    points with you.
    16
    V. MODESTY AND CLOTHES
  8. The first of these areas is in regard to dress and clothing. It is
    this matter which was specifically treated in the letter of our Holy
    Father referred to immediately above. It is not our purpose in this
    letter to give you an essay on clothing. Clothing unquestionably
    serves other purposes besides modesty, especially protection and
    adornment: “Clothing in addition to its obvious utilitarian aspect,
    has a truly esthetic character, visibly and in a permanent way
    expressing the position of a person” (Pius XII, Address to Tailors,
    September 10, 1954).
    Nevertheless, our Holy Father deplores “the materialistic spint
    that inspires so great a part of today’s civilization, which has not
    spared the field of fashion …. Instead of ennobling the human
    person, clothing sometimes tends to degrade and debase it” (ibid.).
    Indeed, the Pope does not hesitate to write through the Prefect
    of the Sacred Congregation of the Council: “Yet as all can easily see,
    the current mode of dress among women and especially among girls
    constitutes a serious offense against decency, and ‘decency is the
    companion of modesty, in whose company chastity herself is safer.’
    Feminine adornment, if it can be called adornment, femmine
    clothing, if that can be called clothing which contains nothing to
    protect either the body or modesty, are at times of such a nature
    that seem to serve lewdness rather than modesty.”
    a) Two Principles
    ~- With regard to clothing, modesty requires especially two
    thmgs: first, care that one does not make chastity difficult for
    oneself, or for others, by one’s own mode of dress; and, second,
    a prudent but firm and courageous resistance to the styles and
    customs, no matter how popular or widespread, or adopted by
    others, which are a danger to chastity.
    In setting down these two general principles, there is no thought
    on our part to attempt to define details. In general, that form of
    dress may be said to be immodest which serves to arouse the lust of
    men, or which serves as a scandal, that is, a stumbling block, to the
    practice of virtue. With an honest respect for the innate sense of
    shame with which every human being is endowed, and with
    17
    ordinary knowledge of human nature tainted. by the 7
    ffects of
    original sin, one can wrth fair accuracy determme what is modest
    and what is nnmodest in given circumstances. Unquestionably,
    custom does help to establish some norms which can be safely
    followed up to a certain point. .
    It is here especially that our young people need to be guided
    by their elders, especially their mothers, and the mothers themselves
    need to remember that custom and style and fashion do not justify
    everything. Listen to these pointed words of the Holy Fath~r:
    “How many young girls there are who do not see any wrongdomg
    in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They
    certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make
    and the feelmgs they evoke in those who see them” (July 17, 1954,
    Discourse to Children of Mary).
    Here, then, is also a call to parents to lead the way m en~ouraging
    their growing children not to make any compromise with immodest
    beach and summer wear, no matter how many thousands make use
    of such; with immodest evening gowns, though such may be seen
    m the most fashionable social gatherings; with immodest styles of
    dress that have been a feature of so much of the television entertainment almost from the beginning; with picture magazines that
    exploit nudity and suggestiveness in every issue; with dangerous
    associations, readings, shows.
    As our Holy Father exclaimed in the same context of the discourse quoted above: “How lax have consciences become, how
    pagan morals!”
  9. We wish to repeat again: there is no thought on our part to
    attempt to define details. But we do hold that there are standards
    of modesty which are also objective, simply because of the fact of
    original sin. The very fact of the freer relationships which are
    tolerated in our environments, far from excusing submission to the
    pagan styles of the day, merely emphasizes the greater obligation that
    Christians and Catholics have to resist these pagan and materialistic
    trends. It simply is not true to human nature, tainted by origmal
    sin, to say as some do: “that one can become used to anythmg m
    matters of dress”; or, to say, “to the pure all things are pure.”
    Remember that our Lord condemned not only the act of adultery,
    but everything that leads to it. It is a fact of human nature that
    undue exposure and emphasis act as stimuli to evil thoughts and
    desires. The cult of nudism is promoted today in varying degrees.
    It is to be found not merely in the extreme form of those few who
    defend the belief that both sexes should hve together m the state
    18
    of complete nudity. Such an aberration is indeed an omi~1o~s sign
    of corruption of our public morals and manners. More significant,
    possibly is the constant partial exposure, and emphasis on such
    exposure, promoted and tolerated by dress, by picture, by the
    printed story, and the leering cartoon. Nourished by the sights of
    such exposure, the passions of fallen mar. constantly grow stronger.
    This is the teaching of all experience. ‘1 hough it may be true, in
    some instances, that external sins do not follow as readily as formerly
    because of the familiarity of the sight, still it cannot be denied that
    evil desires are fostered and even solicited by such exposure, or such
    emphasis in picture and print, which evil desires easily lead to
    external deeds of impurity. Again, we must emphasize in the
    strongest possible language that it is Catholic teaching, based on
    the most clear words of Christ Himself, that impure thoughts and
    desires freely indulged are senous sms. To mvite such impure
    thoughts and desires through dress, action, or the printed and pictured story cannot help but participate of the grave sin of scandal
    and co-operation.
    Hence, the grave sinfulness of certain features of beauty contests,
    particularly those which emphasize the undue exposure of the body,
    as the great majority of these contests do. It is encouragmg to note
    that such emphasis is condemned in these words of a prominent
    columnist: “This new and current obsession with a girl’s measurements, put into a news story, seems to me to be vulgar, even
    degenerate and a mark of a decaymg civilization” ( George Sokolsky,
    The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 14, 1956). For the Catholic, we add
    the most important consideration: it is not only vulgar, or degenerate, it is sinful.
    In this connection, it seems possible to apply a principle which
    our Holy Father stated about books: “You should be persuaded that
    there are bad books – books which are bad for everyone, like those
    poisons against which no one can claim immunity.” Thus, also, it
    seems to us we can say: there are certain modes of dress in vogue
    today, notably in summer time, or in beauty contests, or other
    similar exhibitions, which are a source of temptation to every
    normal person, who is a child of Adam, and against which no one
    can claim immunity.
    b) Higher Christian Standards
  10. Here, we would like to go a step further, and also assert that
    there are standards of modesty in dress, which are rooted in our
    19
    traditional Christian cultural values, centering in the Blessed Mother
    of God. These are standards which view the whole problem not
    merely from the standpoint of what is actually sinful or leading to
    sin, but from the positive standpoint of what is truly helpful in
    assisting fallen man to observe the difficult virtue.
    Hence, as Catholics, we have a tradition to preserve which looks
    at the whole problem from the higher vantage point of virtue. On
    the basis of this consideration, we appeal to our Catholic people
    to maintain a firm and courageous resistance to pagan standards of
    naturalism in this matter. This does not mean a one-sided or wrong
    emphasis on a problem which admittedly extends to areas of greater
    sigmficance than dress. Neither does it mean that we Catholics
    must retire from the world, or adopt a purely negative attitude
    of condemnation.
    Our Holy Father met the difficulty head-on when he spoke to a
    group of master tailors. He pointed out to them the truth of history
    and of human nature that “it is altogether normal for man to try
    to enrich through the exterior brilliance of his clothes the extraordinary occurrences of life, and through them to show his feelings of
    joy, pride, or even grief.” Nevertheless, he insisted that we must
    “instead of following the materialistic current which is leading so
    many people astray today, deliberately put ourselves at the service of
    spiritual ends.”
    Here, then, we have a program which is positive, and which best
    defines the traditional ideals of the virtue of Christian modesty with
    regard to clothes. Those clothes are truly modest in the Christian
    tradition which serve spiritual ends. Clothing should have the
    purpose and effect of “elevating and ennobling the human person.”
    Speaking again to the tailors and to all those who participate in this
    kind of work, the Pope exhorted them: “As the maternal hands of
    the Blessed Virgin busied themselves to make Christ’s clothes, so
    it is God Whom you continue to clothe in the men of today.”
    c) Organized Efforts
  11. It is our wish, therefore, through this letter to give encouragement to the efforts which various organizations, both here and elsewhere, are making to promote these traditional ideals of Christian
    modesty in the matter of dress. We do not believe that these
    organizations are creating oversensitiveness and confused consciences
    with regard to chastity, nor are they overemphasizing one aspect of
    20
    virtue at the expense of others. We recognize that their zeal may at
    times lead them to some undue excess in the promotion of their
    cause, and we caution against such excess, urging them to be guided
    by the norms set forth in statements of the Holy Father and of
    their Bishops.
    We wish, nevertheless, to give every encouragement to such
    organized efforts, because it is only through such united efforts
    that most individuals can achieve the moral courage not to succumb
    to the tyranny of custom. Listen to these clear words of Pope
    Pius XII on this point: “In your association, you will find not only
    light but strength. . . . You must give yourselves wholeheartedly
    and conquer human respect. A group of girls who have reflected
    and prayed together will fearlessly accept a clear-cut attitude which
    one girl by herself would hardly dare to adopt.” Such united effort
    is necessary, the Holy Father further stated, because “you live in a
    world which is constantly forgetful of God and the supernatural,
    where the only interest of the crowd seems to be the satisfaction
    of temporal needs, well-being, pleasure, vanity” (July 17, 1954).
    Therefore, we do not look upon such organizations as pressure
    groups to impose upon others a moral code which these others
    do not wish to accept. We look upon them as associations of our
    own, who are determined through united action to be willing
    courageously to set an example in defense of traditional standards –
    who are willing to be different, as the early Christians were different
    when they challenged the moral standards of the pagan world of
    Greece and Rome; who are unwilling to sit idly by while the evil
    spirit of immodesty goes about brazenly seeking whom he may
    devour. We look upon them as particularly needed forms of
    Catholic Action, to exemplify to the world the teaching of St. Paul:
    “Do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy
    Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are
    not your own? For you have been bought with a great price. Glorify
    God and bear him in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
  12. In this wise, we will carry out the injunction of our Holy
    Father “not to leave a stone unturned which can help remedy the
    situation.” “Let those,” he continues, “who serve in the ranks of
    Catholic Action take up the promotion of this wholesome enterprise
    as a principal duty. First, let them take care that everyone with
    whom they come into contact, whether close associates or not,
    can see in their manner of dress and action the shining beauty of
    Christian morals. Let their innocence of soul shine forth from their
    eyes. Let their words and deeds savor of virtue. For only then can
    21
    they easily move others by their persuasion and counsel to decent
    and proper d-essing and a good life” ( August 15, 1954).
    In seconding these words of the Holy Father, we earnestly remind
    parents of young and growing children that boys and girls must
    be taught as tiny tots to love modesty and must be corrected for
    immodesty. Even though they are too young to sin, they can and
    ought to be impressed with the beauty of modesty. Training in
    modesty is pre-eminently the function of the home, to be begun
    from earliest childhood.
    d) Sacred Places and Functions
  13. J n this matter of dress, we would like finally to call your
    attention to the even higher standards of modesty required by the
    added consideration of the respect due to sacred places and sacred
    occasions. Our Holy Father mentions that “indeed, often even in
    buildings dedicated to God, an unworthy and indecent mode of dress
    has prevailed.”
    In this letter, we do not propose to lay down precise regulations,
    which it would be our right to do where matters regulating the
    House of God and Liturgical functions are concerned. In general,
    we are confident that our good people are fully conscious of these
    higher standards befitting the House of God. We appeal to them,
    therefore, to observe carefully that sense of propriety which is in
    keeping with the inspired words: “Holiness befits your house, 0
    Lord, for length of days” ( Ps. 92: 5) .
  14. Nevertheless, we feel constrained to call special attention to
    the decorum required in the House of God on the occasion of
    weddings, and we call upon our pastors to be insistent on preserving
    that decorum. Our attention has been called from time to time to
    the fact that some bridal parties come to the Church attired in gowns
    which perhaps do not even satisfy the requirements of modesty,
    much less that decorum which befits a sacred place, and a sacred
    occasion such as the holy Sacrament of Matrimony. We cannot but
    deplore such a lack of the reverence due to the Church of God,
    and we wish to insist in earnest language that the dress of the
    bridal party be in all ways befitting the sacred place and the
    sacred occasion.
    In this connection we may also mention other solemn occasions
    such as First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Generally, there
    is no difficulty on the former occasion, since traditional standards
    22
    of dress are being maintained. Occasionally, however, it is a source
    of great embarrassment to notice how an innocent child has been
    allowed to present herself for confirmation in a style of dress not
    befitting the sacred occasion.
    These same general principles are easily applied to less formal
    occasions, and to the simple attendance at Church services. From
    time to time, we receive letters from people asking us whether we
    cannot do something to impress people with the importance of
    observing a special etiquette in this matter. We can only put it up
    to the people themselves, reminding them that there is a decorum
    befitting the Church of God, which is entirely compatible with
    simple and even poor clothes, and with the ordinary requirements
    of ease and comfort, even though the Church may not be airconditioned.
    VI. MODESTY AND BEHAVIOR
  15. 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
  16. Modesty is something more than good manners, but it is
    important first of all to stress the usefulness and necessity of good
    manners and the rules of politeness. These can and should serve
    as the natural basis for modesty of behavior. Good manners and
    the rules of politeness are fundamentally natural virtues. They are
    a partial recogrntion of our social obligations in our dealings with
    our fellow men, and also an exemplification of the golden rule. To
    tolerate or to neglect the correction of bad manners and impoliteness, particularly among the young, is to invite a disregard also of
    virtuous habits. For, grace builds upon nature, and presupposes
    nature. Good manners, and the rules of politeness, are intimately
    related to the Christian virtues of obedience, modesty, and charity,
    which ennoble and elevate the natural, and, where necessary, also
    correct it. Hence, good manners, important as they are, are in
    themselves not enough. In fact, when not elevated and directed
    by Christian virtue, good manners can merely serve as the cloak
    for hiding evil intentions.
    23
    b) Occasions of Sin
  17. It is an old saying that people do not plunge into impu~ty
    without first having cast modesty aside. Now modesty of behavior
    with others is intimately bound up with the question of the
    occasions of sin. Our catechism teaches us that we are seriously
    bound to avoid what is called the near or proximate occasion of
    sin unless there is a proportionately serious reason for exposing ourselves to such an occasion. When such a serious reason does exist,
    we are nevertheless bound to use all the natural and supernatural
    means needed to help us not to fall into sin. The near or
    proximate occasions of sin are, in general, all persons, places, ?r
    things that may easily lead us into sin. Hence, an occas:on of s1′?
    is called near or proximate when the person, place, or thing constitutes either in general a great danger of sin, or is such for some
    particular person because of his individual disposition ‘. Such a near
    or proximate occasion of sin may be a free one, that is, one freely
    chosen by us without there being any neces~ity; or, it ~a~ be a ~ecessary one, because of certain grave reasons, i.e., when 1~ is physically
    or morally impossible to avoid it without danger ~o life, health,. or
    reputation. Experience teaches us that there are various intermediary
    stages between the near and the remote occasions of sin. The greater
    the danger of sinning, the more serious must be the reasons to
    justify one in not avoiding the occasion of sin.
    Whoever does not want to avoid a near or proximate free occasion
    of sin, i.e., an occasion which is not justified by any serious reason,
    is not disposed to receive absolution in the sacrament of Penance.
    Again, one who finds himself in the near occasion of sin because of
    some necessity as mentioned above, but refuses to use the natural
    precautions of prudence and the supernatural means of grace, commits sin by that very fact.
    c) Company-Keeping
  18. These principles on the occasion of sin may be briefly considered in their application to the important question of “companykeeping.” We call it an important question, because there are many
    loose and false ideas on this subject, many of them proposed by way
    of advice to the teen-ager, the couple contemplating marriage, or
    24
    the person separated from a lawful spouse. In applying these principles, we do not wish to enter upon details, but merely to set forth
    some well-defined conclusions.
    WHAT IT Is
    First of all, we would hke to make clear what we understand
    here by “company-keeping.” We refer here to the “regular and
    frequent compamonship of man and woman which in the normal
    course of events leads to falling in love and wanting to marry.” In
    this description, the key words are “regular” and “frequent.” By
    the former, we mean to imply the kind of company-keeping which
    is based upon either a mutual understanding or an explicit planning
    to devote the time spent together to each other and morally to
    exclude others; generally, such company-keeping is referred to in
    popular language as “going steady.” The word, “frequent,” may
    vary from almost nightly to weekly, either personally or by letters.
    Now, company-keeping in this sense is looked upon by all moral
    theologians in the Church as a near or proximate occasion of sin.
    It should be noted that we have not said that it is looked upon as
    smful, but only as the occasion of sm. It is so looked upon as an
    occasion of sin simply because of the facts of experience based upon
    human nature in its fallen condition. Because it is a near or proximate
    occasion of sin, this kind of company-keeping can be justified only
    when certain circumstances are present. These circumstances are:
    ( l) if the parties involved are keeping company with a possible view
    to mamage within a reasonable time; ( 2) if they use the means necessary to prevent undue familiarities, namely the natural means of
    prudence, and the supernatural means of prayer and the sacraments.
    The possible view to marriage can be based only on the desire
    to marry and the freedom in the eyes of the Church to marry.
    If either of these conditions is not present, company-keeping as
    descnbed cannot be justified morally.
    1) Company-Keeping and the Teen-Ager
  19. These principles need to be carefully weighed, first of all, in
    the guidance given to the teen-ager, and must be conscientiously
    realized by the Catholic teen-agers themselves. It is well known
    that teen-agers often “go steady” simply because it is convenient,
    or because it is a matter of pride, to have a steady partner to the
    exclusion of others. In keeping this kind of “steady company” they
    25
    have no intention or desire of looking toward marriage. Again, even
    though such a desire or intention may be present, teen-agers often
    cannot contemplate marriage within a reasonable time, for a vanety
    of reasons, such as lack of the necessary parental consent, economic
    conditions, and the like.
    Hence, despite the views of so many who look with indulgence
    on this practice, we cannot condone it, and we must raise our voices
    against it, to let both parents and teen-agers know what we think
    about it, and what is the approved teaching of moral theologians of
    the Church. This kind of steady company-keeping on the part of
    teen-agers is the source of neglect of schoolwork, and of the serious
    preparation for life that schoolwork implies. More than this, however, it carries with it the grave dangers of sins against modesty,
    chastity, and purity, and ultimately also of attempted mamages
    contrary to the laws of the Church. As a free near occasion of sin,
    which is not justified by other circumstances, the practice of such
    company-keeping in itself must be classified as sinful.
    We wish, therefore, seriously to exhort parents to instruct their
    children more fully in these matters, to urge them to be interested
    in group activities, and to exercise prudent supervision over the
    conduct of their growmg children. We are not unmindful of the
    grave burdens which the responsibilities of parenthood place upon
    fathers and mothers. Such responsibilities can be met with the help
    of God’s grace, Who will assist parents to be kind and understanding, to be generous and loving, and yet at the same time to be
    prudent and firm in the direction which they give to the lives of their
    growing youngsters. In the words of our Holy Father: Let “fathers
    and mothers of families remove their children from these dangers,
    first by their own example, then also by timely admonitions which
    come from a stem firmness of spiiit as befits Christians” (August
    15, 1954).
  20. 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
  21. These principles need to be carefully weighed, in the second
    pl~ce, ~n connection with the question of company-keeping by or
    with divorced persons. Smee the prospect of a future valid marriage
    alone makes company-keeping, as described above, licit, it follows
    that such company-keeping is illicit and sinful when marriage is
    not possible either permanently, or for a long time, or probably
    27
    impossible. A penitent who persists in such kind of company-keeping
    is not properly disposed to receive absolution.
    It should be recalled here that all marriages are presumed to be
    valid until proved invalid by due process of Church law. Only
    Catholics and those marrying Catholics are bound to be married
    before a priest. Non-Catholics marrying non-Catholics before a civil
    official or minister contract valid marriages unless there is present
    an invalidating impediment. Divorced persons are still married in
    the eyes of God and must regulate their conduct with others
    accordingly. There are indeed marriages which are invalid from the
    beginning. The clearest of such cases are those which involve Catholics who have attempted marriage before a civil official or a minister.
    Nevertheless, the possibility of eventual freedom of a divorced
    person, based on a founded hope or not, does not change the nature
    of the voluntary proximate occasion of sin. Only the due process
    of Church Law can state definitely whether or not a given marriage
    was invalid from the beginning. No individual may use a private
    opinion, either his own or that of another, in this matter, as the
    basis for excusing company-keeping with such divorced persons.
    Company-keeping with or by divorced persons shows a public
    disregard of God’s law and the sacredness of the marriage vows.
    It is an invitation to others to act in like manner, and an encouragement to those already acting in this manner. Company-keeping with
    or by divorced persons carries with it all the dangers referred to
    above – the danger of committing sins against the sixth and ninth
    commandments, the danger of attempting a merely civil marriage
    with a consequent life of public sin, and of dying in this state. In
    fact, pastoral experience abundantly proves that it is the failure to
    apply these principles on company-keeping which more than anything else leads to so many invalid marriages involving divorced
    persons.
    Again, as we stated above, we would like to repeat here that these
    principles are based upon the law of Cod, and are bound up with
    the commandments of God and the doctrine of original sin. The
    doctrine of the morality involved in an occasion of sin is simply
    the logical conclusion which flows from the application of these
    principles to areas of practical living. It is obedience to God’s law,
    therefore, which obliges us in conscience to avoid the free near
    occasion of sin, and to take the proper precautions in the necessary
    near occasions of sin.
    It may be noted here in passing that it is also wrong to encourage
    or to abet such company-keeping by others. Even more so, it is
    28
    wrong to give encouragement or approval to any marriage attempted
    invalidly by or with a divorced person. Such encouragement and at
    least tacit approval is given by those who attend such weddings, or
    offer gifts on such an occasion, or otherwise through their words
    or actions seemingly approve of the sinful action.
    We fully realize the demands of Christian charity. Charity is
    the supreme law and criterion, but charity begins with the love of
    God. Love of God is expressed above all in the keeping of the commandments: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).
    Again: “He who says that he knows him, and does not keep his
    commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him” ( 1 Jn. 2:4).
    True love of neighbor can never give approval, therefore, of our
    neighbor’s sin, since love of neighbor is based upon love of God.
    Moreover, true love of neighbor considers especially the spiritual
    welfare of our neighbor. It is not true love of neighbor, therefore,
    which either explicitly or implicitly conveys to him the impression
    that we approve of his sinful action. It is also true that we should
    not judge lest we ourselves be judged (cf. Mt. 7: 1). It is not however
    an act of rash or hypocritical judgment of the actions of others to
    recognize the clearly sinful character of such actions. The subjective
    imputability of an action we must always leave to the judgment of
    God, Who alone can read the consciences of men. But over and
    above such subjective imputability, the actions of men have an
    objective morality according as they are, or are not, in conformity
    with the law of God. We not only have a right, but a duty to
    recognize this fact, and to regulate our own conduct accordingly. It
    is necessary that we state these principles in clear and precise terms,
    so that the proper application may be made to individual cases.
    d) The Church and Pleasure
  22. Nothing, therefore, of what we have said in the above, should
    be construed to conclude that pleasure in itself is wrong. It is not.
    Neither, therefore, that pleasure which is derived from association
    with others. Quite the contrary, our love of neighbor is an essential
    part of the great commandment (cf. Mt. 22:37-39), and the proof
    of the true follower of Christ (cf. Jn. 13:35). The notion that
    pleasure in itself is wrong is heretical in origin, and most harmful
    to the spiritual life of man. God made pleasure; man made pain.
    All pleasure that is not inordinate, no matter how intense it is, can
    be offered to God. It is only when pleasure becomes inordinate,
    29
    that is, contrary to the will of God, that it is wrong. No one can
    live without some pleasure, just as no one can live without some
    food and some rest.
    Hence, the Church does not make the mistake of condemning
    pleasure as evil. In fact, during the long course of her history the
    Church has been frequently accused of both extremes of laxity and
    of rigorism. The Church teaches that man is not evil or totally corrupted, even though he has within himself the effects of original
    sin. Nevertheless, the Church teaches that the passions of man
    need to be held in check by man’s spiritual nature, that his free
    will be guided by reason, and reason and conscience be guided by
    revelation. Hence, in her teaching about the obligation of avoiding
    the near free occasion of sin, the Church is merely insisting on
    the minimum mortification needed in order to avoid mortal sin.
    We fully realize that the viewpoint of many in the world runs
    counter to what we have been saying. The spirit of secularism, and
    of a militant paganism, resents the law of God for interfering
    with the full expression of human freedom. Even more so the
    spirit of secularism resents and rejects the guiding hand of authority
    which is evident in the obedience to the law of the Church required
    of every Catholic. Nevertheless, we speak out, because the heart of
    a shepherd is deeply moved by the sight of so many who are led
    astray by the viewpoint of secularism in these important matters.
    VII. MonESTY AND THE PRINTED WoRD
  23. The third general area in which modesty must particularly
    exercise its influence on those who would be chaste and help others
    to preserve this virtue is that of the printed and pictured word.
    Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are influenced by the
    books, magazines, and papers which we read, and all of these leave
    their imprint on us as individuals. Back in the eighteenth century,
    Samuel Johnson expressed the same idea when he said: “Books have
    alw~ys a se_cret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure
    obhte~ate ideas; ~e that _reads books of science, though without any
    fixed idea or desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he
    that ent:rtains himself w_ith religious treatises will imperceptibly
    advance m goodness; the ideas which are offered to the mind will
    at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.”
    Add to these observations the truth about our imagination already
    30
    referred to earlier in this letter. Our imagination is the power which
    we have of making mental pictures of the material umverse. The
    imagination can reproduce whatever our senses have experienced,
    either as these sense experiences came originally through the senses,
    or in any variety of combmations. The imagination cannot make
    pictures of what the senses cannot experience. Obviously, then,
    the picture-making power of the imagination is in direct proportion
    to the stimulation of the senses. Now, as a result of original sin,
    the imagination of man constantly tends to get out of hand. It is
    a commonplace of experience how the imagination can storm the
    will by conjuring up pictures to solicit and entice; and it is likewise
    commonplace to experience the interference of the imagination in
    the process of thinking by way of distraction, or by censoring or
    substituting for whatever the intellect is to accept.
    All these observations are true of adults, and even more so of
    children and young people, who have, as we say, impressionable
    minds. And these observations need to be kept in mind in applying
    the general principles discussed m this pastoral letter on decency
    applied to the printed and the pictured word.
  24. 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
  25. “Literature mirrors the times.” No better proof of the urgency
    to return to the living of God’s law is provided than by a visit to
    the local newsstands. We do not expect a sinless literature in a
    sinful world. Evil is not something new in the world. This is a
    smful world, and the readmg habits of people will all too frequently
    reflect this sad condition. But we have a right, and a duty, to call
    sin by its proper name, and to recognize it for what it is. Adultery
    is not romance, business cheatmg is not success. Love is more than
    sex, and religion more than a funny feelmg. Civilization and culture
    are based on the dignity of man and his living, and not on the
    sordid elements of life.
    31
    Now, the moral and mental attack made by much of the current
    literature is well calculated to promote the advance of irreligion
    and atheism, and thus also foster communism. This literature is a
    contributing factor to types of crimes progressively troubling our
    lawmakers and the great body of our people. Under the guise of art,
    or romance, or travel, or science a vast output of books, booklets,
    magazines, and comics continues to stream forth from the printing
    presses of our nation, to become, in the words of an objective
    governmental survey, “the media for dissemination of artful appeals
    to sensuality, immorality, filth, perversion and degeneracy.” In fact,
    according to this same report, “so great is the exaltation of passion
    above principle, and so prevalent is the identification of lust with
    love that the casual reader of such literature might easily conclude
    that all married persons are habitually adulterous and all teenagers completely devoid of any sex inhibitions” (U. S. Cong. Committee, Union Calendar, No. 797, House Report No. 2510, p. 3).
    Thus are our national morals sabotaged and our nation’s moral tone
    brought lower and lower.
    As we have stated above several times, we wish to repeat here
    again. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Divine Savior condenms
    not only adultery, but everything that leads to it – all impure looks,
    desires, thoughts and actions. “Anyone who even looks with lust
    at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart”
    (Mt. 5:27-28). In the light of these clear words, there can be no
    misunderstanding about the gravely sinful nature of reading material,
    or movie and television fare, which pander to such lustful thoughts,
    desires, and looks. This means, therefore, that generally speaking
    such material is sinful for all, and not merely for the young. “We
    would warn you that there are books which are bad for everyone”
    (Pius XII).
    b) Scandal and Co-operation
  26. On another occasion, when our Lord had dramatically placed
    a small child before the Apostles, He solemnly said: “Whoever
    causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were
    better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and
    to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because
    of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to
    the man through whom scandal does cornet” (Mt. 18:6-7.)
    Scandal is any word, act, or omission that is in itself evil or has
    32
    the appearance of evil and which can be the occasion of another’s
    sin. Closely allied to the sin of scandal is the sin of co-operation,
    by which one concurs in the sinful deed of another. Such co-operation
    can take place either by concurring in the evil intention of the one
    committing sin, and then it is called formal co-operation; or it can
    take place by concurring only in the sinful act, without agreeing
    with the evil intention, and then it is called material co-operation.
    There are many different ways in which one can co-operate with
    the sin of another. Whether or not we are allowed to co-operate in
    the sinful act of another ( material co-operation), without of course
    making his evil intention our own, will depend on different circumstances, and especially on the measure of our co-operation. There
    are some things which from their very nature can have only an
    evil use. When such is the caae, no matter what our intention may
    be, we cannot co-operate with another, even under grave moral
    pressure, precisely because it is impossible to dissociate ourselves
    from the evil nature of the thing or the act.
    Thus, material co-operation in the dissemination of some books
    and magazines is permissible only for a grave reason. But professedly
    immoral literature cannot be disseminated at all without committing grave sin. This is the clear teaching of our Faith, enforced
    by the Canon Law of the Church, which states that “booksellers
    shall not sell, lend, or retain books designedly treating of obscenities”
    ( Canon 1404).
    c) The “Designedly Obscene”
  27. That much of the stuff which is being peddled through pocketsize books, the magazines, and comics is “designedly obscene” can
    hardly be denied. This conclusion is true, despite the difficulties
    which the courts may have in arriving at a satisfactory definition
    of the word “obscene.” The teaching of both experience and competent theologians makes it abundantly clear that the “designedly
    obscene” would probably include a great deal more than our legislative statutes and our courts would or could include. Moreover, it
    is also evident from experience and the teaching of moral theology
    that even though much of this material might not qualify as
    “designedly obscene” in the strictly legal or canonical sense, it does
    serve as the proximate occasion of grave sin for the greater majority
    of people, both adults and young. In other words, no Catholic
    publisher, or distributor, or reader could guide himself in this ques33
    tion of scandal, or co-operation, or sin, on the basis of what a legal
    statute or a court decision may state is the meaning of the word
    “obscene.”
    d) The Current Situation
  28. There are some hopeful signs that the comic book mdustry
    has initiated a movement to regulate itself. How sincere this effort
    is or how effective it will be can only be judged after it has been
    in operation for several years. While comic books have been and
    continue to be detrimental to the welfare of our children, it does
    not seem to us that they have been the principal source of the harm
    being done, although certain types of publicity ( especially that
    promoted by the publishers of other kinds of literature) have tned
    to make it seem so.
    The magazines, in recent years, it seems to us, have become worse
    rather than better. The reason is to be found in the doleful fact
    that “pornography is big business.” The pressure of other types of
    publications, particularly the pocket-size books, has induced many
    magazines to lower their standards in order to meet “competition.”
    Even the best family magazines run occasional articles along these
    lines. Also, it is to be noted that some court decisions have opened
    the way to the adoption of these lower standards, by granting the
    use of the mails to magazines containing the pictures of untouched
    nudes. Thus the sensational type of picture or photography magazine
    has been economically pressured to become even more sensational
    in their photography and display. Added to these magazines is
    another type which specializes in gossip, slander, and the revelation
    of the secret facts of people’s lives, thus adding calumny and
    slander to the degrading list.
    The worst offenders continue to be the pocket-size books. This
    situation is at once the most difficult and the most pernicious. It is
    the most difficult because of the constant flux and quick turnover
    in the market, and because of the deceptive appearances of the
    covers. Sometimes, some of the finest classics bear very salacious
    frontpieces – a trick of advertising also noticeable in the film industry. It is the most pernicious, because the content of the bad
    pocket-size books continues to be very bad, and their number does
    not seem to diminish. It is the most pernicious, because this type
    of book is being sought out not only by our young people but by
    adults as well.
    34
    e) Our Challenge
  29. In striving to do something about this grave menace to the
    morals of our nation, it is important to begin with a recognition of
    the fact that there is a serious problem, and that we cannot remain
    silent or inert in the face of this problem, and thus by our silence
    to condone or to approve the evil.
    For some time now, our Christian Mothers’ Confraternity, together
    with other organizations in the Archdiocese, have engaged themselves
    to cope with this problem m one way or another. We are grateful
    for what has been accomplished in the past, and we wish to
    encourage them in their united efforts for the present and the
    future. From reports which reach us from time to time, we are
    convinced that it is necessary through these organizations to continue to bring this matter again and again to our people as a whole.
    For this reason, we wish to encourage our Christian Mothers in
    their particular apostolate, asking them to continue their co-operation
    with the National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL)
    and to bring the principles, classifications, and applications of the
    NODL work to other organizations in the Archdiocese, to parish
    societies, and to families and individuals as well.
    For this reason, also, we encouraged the establishment of an
    Archdiocesan unit of the Legion of Decency. The principal aim of
    the Legion of Decency, which was set up by the American Bishops
    in 1934, is to discourage the production and patronizing of films
    which are “not worthy of the rational nature of man” and “which
    are not morally healthy.” For this reason the Legion criticizes and
    classifies entertainment solely and exclusively from the viewpoint
    of Christian morality and decency. It is a fact that too many of our
    Catholics are frequenting motion pictures without being sufficiently
    informed as to the religious and moral quality of the film being
    shown. Some even do not seem to have any consciousness of their
    duty in this matter, particularly in protecting the young.
    The classifications of the Legion of Decency, as those also of the
    NODL, represent a practical application of the norms of moral
    theology, especially those dealing with the occasion of sin, the sin
    of co-operation, and the sin of scandal. These classifications enable
    the individual person to determine readily, promptly, and easily
    whether or not a certain film involves an occasion of sin, or the sin
    35
    of scandal or co-operation. In speaking of the right of the Church,
    through the Pope and the Bishops, to guide the faithful, our Holy
    Father, Pope Pius XII, calls that theory “reprehensible” which
    denies the Church the right to make such practical applications in
    the realm of moral conduct (November 2, 1954).
    We take this occasion, therefore, when speaking of the program
    of the Christian Mothers in the field of indecent literature, to
    encourage them and all our people to continue their co-operation
    with the Pledge of the Legion of Decency in the related fields of
    the movies and television entertainment. We remind them that our
    late Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, warmly praised the Pledge, and
    called upon all pastors of souls “to obtain each year from their
    people a pledge similar to this one, in which they promise to stay
    away from motion pictures which are offensive to truth and Christian
    morality” (Vigifanti Cura, June 29, 1936). We also call to the
    attention of our people, and particularly of our various Study and
    Group Discussion Clubs the complete address of Pope Pius XII
    on “The Ideal Film” (June 21, 1955, and October 28, 1955),
    and we ask them to make a study of this significant discourse.
    Hence, in presenting the challenge of Decency to our people,
    we do so in the realization that decency in all walks of life is most
    intimately bound up with the spirit of reverence, which has frequently been called the soul of religion. This reverence is a consciousness of the infinite holiness of God, which serves to make us
    remember our dignity as children of God, and temples of the Holy
    Ghost through divine grace, which is a participation in the holiness
    of God. We do not look upon our efforts, whether individually or
    through organizations, as “pressure movements” or as “censorship
    imposing our way of life on others, who disagree with us.” Rather,
    we look upon our efforts as the articulate voices of our people, of
    all good people, who band together for the strength that comes
    from union, and who stand up in defense of the holiness of God, and
    the standards of Christian morality.
    f) Recommendations
    With regard to the problem of Indecent Literature under discussion in this point of our pastoral letter, we would like to make
    the following recommendations.
  30. FIRST, we ought to face the fact that the problem is local
    36
    r
    as well as national. In the words of one of our Representatives: “The
    thing that has appalled me is that this stuff is very big business,
    that it is going out in millions.” Almost any visit to a local store,
    newsstand, or other place of distnbution, will make anyone aware
    of the fact that some of these millions have reached the local scene.
  31. SECOND, the important work has to be done on the local
    level as well as on the national level. We readily grant with a
    Congressional Committee Report that “the source of this pornographic stream is the publishing house, and while the distnbutor,
    the wholesaler, and the retailer all participate as purveyors, it is
    the publisher who is primarily responsible, since he is the architect
    and creator without whom the chain of distribution could not
    function.”
    These powerful sources, of course, have also to be reached on the
    national level, through some action resulting from Congressional
    investigations. It is hopeful to note here that the National Orgamzation for Decent Literature, of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, has had its influence felt through certain indications of
    some further attempt at self-regulation within the publishing industry.
    It is most hopeful that the concept of self -regulation has finally been
    mentioned and considered, since legal statutes will never suffice
    in matters of this kmd, The NODL, and all who co-operate with
    it, subscribe wholeheartedly to the principle of self-regulation,
    and sincerely hope that it progresses from the correction of salacious covers to the much more important correction of salacious
    content.
    On the local level, we have both the responsibility and the opportunity of achieving definite results. It is on the local level that the
    nation-wide protest began, which led to certain congressional investigations. Through such local protests, public opinion has been
    aroused, and can continue to be aroused. Through such local activity,
    greater diligence on the part of local prosecuting agencies, in
    enforcing statutes already on the books, is brought about.
    We are happy here to commend the work which has been done
    by our Metropolitan Commission on Crime Prevention, which instructed its secretary to write to more than one hundred organizations
    in the Milwaukee area urging the formation of committees to attack
    the problem. These committees, the commission said, should carry
    out educational programs to arouse parental action to combat this
    ever mcreasing blight on the youth of our community.
    We are also pleased to note the Ordmance No. 662, to create
    Section 106-7.5 of the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances, relating to
    37
    the. sale or distribution of obscene literature in the City of Milwaukee,
    which was passed and approved by the Common Council and the
    Mayor on March 7, 1956, and March 9, 1956.
    A great many communities in Wisconsin have now begun organized action to cleanse the newsstands and other points of distribution
    of this sort of thing. Effective representations have been made by a
    number of our local organizations to our representatives and senators.
    We repeat, the Federal Government can and must continue to
    do its part to help preserve civic virtue. The post office, also, can
    take legal action wherever this is indicated, and law-enforcement
    officers can prosecute according to the tenor of the law. But there
    is no substitute for effective local enforcement and effective action,
    by groups such as our Christian Mothers, and all the other organizations of men and women – parents and citizens who are truly
    interested in the welfare of their children, of themselves, and of the
    community at large.
    Most important on the local level, the small distnbutor of such
    reading material can be reached and influenced. Perhaps with all
    the promises that the publishers give, there is little hope of obtaining
    lasting effective results from that quarter. But at least we can do our
    utmost to try to remove this occasion of sin on the local level.
    Without trying to minimize the evil which is done by the publisher,
    as indicated above in the words of the congressional report, or by
    the printers, the distributors, and wholesalers as well, in the last
    analysis, it is the retailer who actually unleashes the flood of filth
    on the reading public. The retailer has the right to refuse to accept
    them. He can refuse to display them. He can refuse to sell the
    dirty ones.
    That there are many retailers who are co-operating, is evident from
    the fact that the Congressional Report states that the amount of
    unsold salacious material returned by dealers to the distributors
    . ‘
    m some instances, runs as high as 40 per cent. The report further
    states that this action is due, in part at least, to local protests. The
    records also show, in other sources, that such local action has influenced the stores on the local level which are controlled by
    national chains.
    We submit that it is our conviction that the great majority of
    local dealers, the country over, are honest, God-fearing men. Even
    though many of them do not share the same Catholic Faith which
    we cherish, they believe in the natural law and in the ten commandmen~s, and_ are also bound by them. When we protest against this
    salacious literature, we are not trying to impose some specific
    38
    \
    “Catholic teachmg” on them. We are appealmg to their own sense
    of decency and belief m the natural law, and to their concern
    for the morals of their own children.
  32. Fmally, when we speak of the local level, we are thmkmg
    first and above all of the homes of our own people. This pastoral
    letter, we have said several times, is primarily directed at our own.
    What we have said about this particular point is therefore also an
    appeal to our own people to safeguard their own homes against this
    type of literature. And here may we mention again that we are
    thmkmg not merely of the evidently or designedly bad or indecent
    literature, but also of that vast output which mingles so much of
    the indecent with what is otherwise proper and decent. Hence, lest
    our recommendations be considered merely negative we exhort our
    people as follows.
    There are two pnncipal ways in which we can safeguard ourselves
    agamst the worldly mfluence of secular readmg. First, we can reduce
    the amount of such secular reading: and, second, we can increase the
    amount of our spmtual readmg. It is almost impossible to lay down
    ~ hard and. fast rule. Certainly, the layman in general must keep
    m touch with the world and modern society in which he lives and
    moves. But he must do so prudently, and in keepmg with his Chns-
    ~an vocation. The amount of secular readmg will surely vary accordmg to the particularized vocation that we have. Professional people,
    such as teachers and lawyers, will surely be required to do a great
    deal more. For all, however, it seems that we can lay down this
    general rule: we must be resolved to avoid that which is indecent
    and salacious, and that which endangers our faith. More positively,
    we must be resolved never to cease from regular reading of the
    right type.
  33. THIRD, we should always remember that we are working
    for the cause of Christ. Hence we should not become discouraged.
    We are working for the purity and the integrity of our children, and
    of ourselves. This is the kind of virtuous effort which requires constant renewal of intention, and the manly determination not to be
    ?iscour~ged by the lack of success on a large scale, or the seemingly
    impossible odds. If we succeed in persuadmg even one dealer to
    eliminate the distribution of such literature, we shall have done
    something very worthwhile. Nay much more, if we are God’s instruments in helping to prevent the commission of even one mortal
    sin, we shall be blessed by our Lord. We are also working for
    the welfare of our country, which can become greater and stronger
    only in proportion to the moral health of its citizens. Above all,
    39
    however, we are working for Christ, and therefore we must perform
    our work with great charity.
    In the light of these exhortations, we caution our Christian
    Mothers, and all others who unite with them in this work, not to
    expect too much from legal statutes and court decisions. These never
    will, nor can they take the place of the intensive personal, local
    activity, and the follow-through on such efforts which count. We
    urge them not to lose heart, in the remembrance that spiritual works
    of mercy are of greater value than corporal works of mercy. Hence,
    of spiritual works of mercy the words of our Lord apply with even
    greater force: “As long as you did it for one of these the least my
    brethren, you did it for me.” Most earnestly, do we caution against
    the resort to threats or recriminations. Charity, in the language
    of St. Paul, is tactful, charily is patiently persistent. We must not
    forget that there are many people who honestly disagree with us
    in fundamental issues. The fact that these people are sincere in their
    opinions does not mean that we must concede these opinions themselves, or that we ourselves should be less vigorous in the defense
    of what we hold to be the truth. But it does mean that we must
    treat them with charity and with respect, and that we cannot use
    force successfully in a cause of this kind.
    VIH. CONCLUSION
  34. Thus, Dearly Beloved, we have wished to bring these matters
    to your attention in conjunction with the annual convention of our
    Archdiocesan Confraternity of Christian Mothers. We have concluded the writing of these various points at the beginning of this
    month of May, which we dedicate to the Immaculate Mother of
    God. The convention of our Christian Mothers itself is annually
    held during this month, during which also our nation sets aside a
    special Sunday on which to honor mothers. Hence, we have felt
    that it is most fitting to appeal especially lo mothers to give us
    the greatest possible assistance in the important matters discussed
    in this letter.
    We have not indeed touched upon all the subjects which are of
    concern to us in the general matter of decency and modesty. Neither,
    as we have stated several times in this letter, have we attempted to
    spell out the detailed application of principles. Like St. John the
    Baptist, we have wanted, however, to be a voice crying out in defense
    40
    of our cherished Christian standards of modesty and punty. We
    realize fully that the aggressive attitude of modern matenalism and
    exaggerated freedom will dispute, or even scorn what we have said.
    Lest it be thought, however, that silence gives consent to these
    modem trends, as a shepherd of souls, heeding the call of our Chief
    Shepherd, the Vicar of Chnst, we have felt obligated to proclaim
    to our people that we cannot approve these violations of Christian
    modesty and decency: “If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked
    man from hrs way, that wicked man shall die m his irnquity, but
    I will require his blood at thy hand. But if thou tell the wicked
    man, that he may be converted from his ways, and he be not
    converted from his way, he shall die in his iniquity but thou hast
    delivered thy soul” ( Ezech. 3 3: 8-9) .
    Dearly Beloved, the struggle against immodesty is only part of
    everyone’s battle against the world, the devil, and the flesh. We do
    not say that modesty and purity are the chief virtues of the Christian.
    The chief virtue and adornment of the Clmstian soul is charity –
    love of God above all things, and love of neighbor for the love of
    God. Charity is the essence of Christian perfection. But we do
    say that the struggle for purity is a most important element in the
    warfare against the enemies of chanty. Immodesty and indecency
    are the chief means of enslaving men to the vice of unchastity and
    impurity, and this vice is particularly corrosive of true charity. Let
    us heed, therefore, the warnings of our Divine Savior to pluck out
    the eye that causes us scandal (cf. Mt. 18: 7-9). Let us hold high
    the true ideal of the Christian who accepts fully the charter of
    Christian perfection: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall
    see God” (Mt. 5:3-12).
    In calling particularly upon our Christian Mothers to assist us in
    this crusade, we ask them m their prayers, in their studies, and in
    their activities to strive to reduce what we have said to the practical
    level of everyday living. To encourage them further not to lose
    heart m the daily battle, I would like to recall these following words
    of Pope Pius XII, addressed several years ago to a gathenng of
    Catholic Mothers:
    “You have to prepare your sons and daughters so that they may
    pass with unfaltermg step, like those who pick their way among
    serpents, through that time of cnsis and physical change; and pass
    through it without losmg any of the joy of mnocence, preservmg
    that natural instinct of modesty, with which Providence has girt
    them as a check to wayward passion. That sense of modesty, which
    in its spontaneous abhorrence from the impure, is akin to the sense
    41
    of religion, is made of little account m these days. BUT YOU
    MOTHER:; WILL TAKE CARE that your children do not lose
    it through anything unbecoming in dress or self-adornment, through
    unbecommg famihanties of immoral spectacles; on the contrary,
    you will seek to make it more delicate, more alert, more upnght,
    more smcere.”
  35. Finally, we ask our people to make the following pledge to our
    Blessed Mother, with a prayer for her abidmg maternal assistance:
    a) Pledge of Modesty
    “I believe in the virtue of modesty as the guardian of chashty.
    I pledge myself to hve and fight for the ideals of the virtue of punty
    and the observance of modesty. In particular, I pledge myself to
    live and fight for more decency in the prmted and spoken word, and
    for a Mary-like modesty m dress and action. I promise also to set an
    example for my family and my associates, and to let others know
    where I stand m such matters, in the hope of leading them to greater
    punty of life. I hope to maintain these ideals by cultivating a strong
    personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate
    Heart of Mary.”
    b) Prayer
    “O Mary, thou art the most fruitful of mothers, and the most
    chaste of virgins. With the most profound respect, I venerate the
    mysterious union of these prerogatives in thee; and I congratulate
    thee on thy exemption from all these miseries of our condition –
    on thy spotless purity, and on thy divine motherhood for which it
    prepared thee.
    “O Virgin Mother! protect me through thy heavenly purity,
    and defend me against so many enemies who surround me, and seek
    to deprive me of this most precious possession. Obtain for me, most
    pure Virgin, the grace to aim at the perfection of this virtue, by
    cautious vigilance over my unruly passions, and by carefully avoidmg
    whatever might render me unworthy to be called thy child.
    “Help me to assist others, as far as it lies in my power, in the
    practice and observance of modesty and punty. I am resolved never
    to give scandal to others, and to do what I can to remove the occasions of sin. 0 Mary, Mother of pure souls, show thyself a mother
    42
    to me now and at the hour of my death, and bring me to the
    blessed happiness promised to those who are clean of heart – the
    contemplation and enjoyment of God m Heaven. Amen.”
    With blessing upon all, I remain
    Very sincerely yours m the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
  • ALBERT G. MEYER
    Archbishop of Milwaukee
    Given at the Chancery Office
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    May 1, 1956

Holy Mass Etiquette and Attire – What Every Good Catholic Must Know

Reposted from FishEaters

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.

Attire

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.

Blue Jeans:

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.

Head Coverings:

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.

Special to Women:

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.

Just a note on lipstick: if you wear some, be sure to blot really well before kissing icons, statues, the priest’s hands, etc. (“Girlfriend Tip”: get the kind that doesn’t “kiss off” or smudge…)

Cell Phones/Pagers:

Turn them off. Oh, please, turn them off. Or at least set them to vibrate if you truly need to know if you’re getting a call.

Etiquette

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 Best Catholic Modesty Article – A Must Read!

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.

Now, because he lives in a fallen state, man is to be clothed. It is more than a matter of our need of protection from the elements as the very first book of the Bible reveals:

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).

Our bodies are holy gifts to be revealed and given to another person only in marriage

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.

Pope Pius XII wrote in an address to those in the fashion industry:

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.

The soul and body are one

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 are not radically isolated individuals, but a part of a community — a community with which we communicate

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.

What many modern fashions tend to communicate

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?

James 1:14-15
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.

And, though she writes humorously, consider the reality behind the words of Caitlin Moran, who wrote in the U.K.’s Times:

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.

The Sexual Marketplace

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.

Catholics appreciate beauty (or should anyway)

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.)

For women: reclaim the feminine if that reflects who you are

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.

Which brings us to the controversy of controversies: women and pants

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

The temporal benefits of dressing modestly

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:

starves herself to a size 4 so she can fit into those midriff-bearing Britney Spears-style tops;

stuffs her breasts into Wonder bras so they’ll look good in those plunging necklines;

has to worry about what’s “hanging out” every time she bends over or sits down or stands up or reaches for something;

is totally uncomfortable, a-l-l d-a-y l-o-n-g, who feels stuffed after eating a cup of yogurt, because her clothes are just too tight;

feels compelled to work out 2 hours a day so she can wear bikinis;

has liposuction because she feels “too fat” to wear what Beyonce is wearing;

has a “butt-lift” or implants so her backside can better fill a pair of “low-rider” jeans;

has to buy a new wardrobe every new “fashion season”;

gets breast implants so the boys will look at her;

has surgery on her toes so she can fit into those “Sex and the City” pointy-toed stilletos — and then suffers with every step she takes when wearing them?

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.

A mental checklist for girls and women
to consider when trying on clothes

Men have it easy when trying to find modest clothes, but here is a general rule of thumb for women:

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?

Walk a few steps and ask yourself: If there is any kind of slit, does walking reveal too much? Is the outfit loose enough to walk comfortably in?

Sit down and ask yourself: Are my legs still covered? Am I still decent when I cross and uncross my legs? Am I able to sit comfortably?

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?

Stretch your hands up over your head as if you’re reaching for something on a tall shelf. Ask yourself: Are my belly or legs exposed? Can I reach 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?

For Men

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. 

Footnotes:
1 Excerpt from “The Responses of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars” (Letter 99), Chapter LVIIII, A.D. 866:

“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.”