St. Francis of Assisi used to exhort his brethren frequently to guard and mortify their senses with the utmost care. He especially insisted on the custody of the eyes, and he used this parable of a King’s two messengers to demonstrate how the purity of the eyes reveals the chastity of the soul.A certain pious King sent two messengers successively to the Queen with a communication from himself. The first messenger returned and brought an answer from the Queen, which he delivered exactly. But of the Queen herself he said nothing because he had always kept his eyes modestly cast down and had not raised them to look at her.
The second messenger also returned. But after delivering in a few words the answer of the Queen, he began to speak warmly of her beauty. “Truly, my lord,” he said, “the Queen is the most fair and lovely woman I have ever seen, and thou art indeed happy and blessed to have her for thy spouse.”
At this the King was angry and said: “Wicked servant, how did you dare to cast your eyes upon my royal spouse? I believe that you may covet what you have so curiously gazed upon.”
Then he commanded the other messenger to be recalled, and said to him: “What do you think of the Queen?”
He replied, “She listened very willingly and humbly to the message of the King and replied most prudently.”
But the Monarch again asked him, “But what do you think of her countenance? Did she not seem to you very fair and beautiful, more so than any other woman?”
The servant replied, “My lord, I know nothing of the Queen’s beauty. Whether she be fair or not, it is for thee alone to know and judge. My duty was only to convey thy message to her.”
The King rejoined, “You have answered well and wisely. You who have such chaste and modest eyes shall be my chamberlain. From the purity of your eyes I see the chastity of your soul. You are worthy to have the care of the royal apartments confided to you.”
Then, turning to the other messenger, he said: “But you, who have such unmortified eyes, depart from the palace. You shall not remain in my house, for I have no confidence in your virtue.
The Works of the Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, London: R. Washbourne, 1882, pp. 254-255
Have you ever begun reading a book and right away regret wasting your time with it ? Solely because it plops an inappropriate scene (or story in general…).
Here are 5 websites that can help you figure out which fiction books are worth reading, morally, without having to worry about stumbling upon garbage no one needs to read.
The standards of morality that these books rating websites hold are not usually as high as ours as Catholics are (or rather, should be), but they explain enough about the book that one gets the general idea, and can decided whether or not to just leave the book or take a chance.
It may seem at times that when a pastor dares to add a snippet in his sermon about dressing appropriately for Mass, or a paragraph in the Sunday bulletin on what attire is considered respectable for the Holy Sacrifice, it doesn’t usually go down well. Some parishioners may complain, or a visitor may become angry, the Bishop may even be called. But a pastor giving proper guidelines to his sheep on what the Church deems appropriate wear for THE Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not new, nor is it something the Church has ever condemned. In fact, it has been a longstanding tradition to guide the faithful in appropriate wear, and has been so for hundreds of years. And it is a part of the job of the pastor to guide his flock in all things moral, especially when it comes to the Mass.
The Church has always taught the importance of Christians dressing properly, specifically for inside the Church in front of God Himself truly Present in the Eucharist. There are numerous Saints, Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Popes and holy priests that have spoken on this very topic. Though because of the volume of information on this subject, we will only be focusing on the 19th to 21st centuries here, and focusing mostly on Bishops, Cardinals and so on. Not priests or saints.
The Outlines of the Dress Code which we can see is still promoted even today, we can trace back to Pope Benedict XV.
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Dublin cable reports state that war has been declared on the “Gladneck” by Irish women and a League of St. Brigid has been established, with the warm approval of the authorities of the Church, to combat immodest fashions. The convents and boarding schools are to be constituted headquarters for the new league, and thousands of young women missionaries are annually to carry on the fight in their home districts. All members of the new league will be required to sign the following pledge :
“For the glory of God and the honor of Erin, I promise to avoid in my own person all impropriety in the manner of dress, and to, maintain and hand down the traditional and proverbial purity and modesty of Irish womanhood.”
A certain recurring column in the Franciscan Herald. This one in particular was published in, April, 1920. Here are some excerpts:
“We deck the House of God with; lights and flowers; we line the Tabernacle with fair embroidered satins, that it may be more worthy the Divine Tenant; but that part of us that becomes a living tabernacle in Holy Communion is prepared with indifference — all too often with downright slovenliness.
I do not advocate fads or fancies, nor have I any desire to inculcate harrowing novelties, but this point. I think, is nothing of that kind. I remember that in my own little girl days, a good Franciscan priest who taught us our catechism in the convent school that I frequented, used to bring up that very subject. He urged upon us to prepare our souls with all diligence for the reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, and also to prepare our bodies in a neat and seemly manner — not indeed in the height of fashion, but in attire that would be pleasing to the Lover that came to our hearts; pleasing in neatness and care according to the circumstances of each. When we think of it, such a system would go far toward remedying the evils into which the art of dress has fallen. Dress to please the divine Lover, and it will follow that we please all others worthy of being pleased.
I do not wish to harp on the subject of neatness, but it seems advisable to bring it up once more for the simple reason that we can not look well without a firm foundation of good grooming. It is better to own but one gown which is kept spotless, and wear it with neat and becomingly dressed hair, carefully brushed shoes, immaculate teeth, and nails, than to have ten gowns with buttons missing and the accompaniment of unkempt hair, run-over heels, and so on.
Let’s all resolve to pay some attention to our grooming between this and next month’s talk. I’ll warrant it won’t make us one whit less zealous in the pursuit of our soul’s salvation. My private opinion would have it that we’ll be a little better for the attempt. It stands to reason that anything done for the purpose of pleasing God is bound to brighten up these souls of ours a little.
About the Spring Fashions A word or two may not be amiss concerning the spring fashions of 1920. We are met on all sides by the assurance that fashion has turned from the lengthening skirts of last fall, and that we must wear our skirts something like fifteen or twenty inches from the ground. Also that we must have our sleeves cut midway between elbow and shoulder, even in street gowns.
Now it seems as if a warning in this regard should be unnecessary. Still, there are some young readers who may want to know what this department thinks of the fashions that make extremely short skirts and sleeves obligatory. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to read over the “Four Points” in this connection, but if more is needed, it isn’t hard to express my opinion. That type of gown is not only extreme and immodest but inartistic and absurd as well — heinous crimes, all according to Agnes Modesta. Let us be careful to note that there are conservative fashions even in this season, and set our faces staunchly in the direction of decency and good taste.”
Concerning dressing decently as Catholics, many have asked the question “What is so sinful about women’s shoulders!?” This is a perfectly valid question and we felt it deserved to be addressed in its very own post.
Temples of the Holy Spirit
“Do you not know, says St. Paul, that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the members of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ”
First of all, shoulders are not sinful, just as the marital embrace, breasts, legs, ankles etc are not sinful. God made them, and He made them good. What makes something “sinful” is,
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) defines SIN as, ” an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law (St. Augustine, Faust 22:PL 42, 418). It is an offense against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ. Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity. The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and the gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects. To choose deliberately – that is, both knowing it and willing it – something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death.” (CCC 1871-74)
In every sinful act two things must be considered, the substance of the act and the want of rectitude or conformity (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxxii, a. 1). (CatholicAnswers) So, to make something sinful, it would be:
Perverting something from its God-given purpose: Like masturbation, Sex outside of marriage, unnatural marital relations between husband and wife, adultery…
Being in itself an evil act: Murder, stealing, vanity, pride…
The marital act, for example is not sinful when it is used how God ordained it: between husband and wife. But it can be perverted from its God-ordained use: masturbation, pornography, adultery, used outside of marriage, unnatural instances and so on. But this does not mean that the marital act, when proper, can be viewed by others, or spoken of crassly / in the wrong situations and so on. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.
Just as there is a right and wrong way of dressing in public. Pope Pius XII spoke on May 22nd, 1941, “Fashion itself isn’t bad. It arises spontaneously from human sociability, following the impulse which inclines to put oneself in harmony with one’s fellows and with the habits of the people among whom have lived. God does not ask you to live outside your time, to remain indifferent to the demands of fashion to the point of making yourself ridiculous by dressing yourself against the common tastes and customs of your contemporaries, without ever worrying about this. that they like. Thus, the angelic Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms that in the external things which man makes use of there is no vice, but that vice comes from man who uses it immoderately in relation to the uses of those with whom he lives, distinguishing himself in a strange way from others”
On November 8, 1957, Pope Pius presented the still-valid principles of modesty in dress.
Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are “so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”
Hygiene pertains mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness). Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defense of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.” Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need, more greatly felt by woman, to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”
Fashion “has achieved an indisputable importance in public life, whether as an aesthetic expression of customs, or as an interpretation of public demand and a focal point of substantial economic interests.
“The rapidity of change (in styles) is further stimulated by a kind of silent competition, not really new, between the ‘elite’ who wish to assert their own personality with original forms of clothing, and the public who immediately convert them to their own use with more or less good imitations.”
The Pontiff then isolated the difficulty with fashion. “The problem of fashion consists in the harmonious reconciliation of a person’s exterior ornamentation with the interior of a quiet and modest spirit.” Like other material objects, fashion can become an undue attachment–even perhaps an addiction–for some persons. The Church “does not censure or condemn styles when they are meant for the proper decorum and ornamentation of the body, but she never fails to warn the faithful against being casily led astray by them.” (Monsignor Charles M. Mangan)
Bare Arms / Serious Importance of Modesty in Dress Held by the Church
The problem that arose concerning women wearing sleeveless dresses and shirts to Mass arose in 1925. Many Bishops exhorted their priests to post a sign on the doors of the Churches to make sure women knew what was considered appropriate in the House of God. Their main concern, aside from the rising Vanity, Pride, Materialism that was becoming so fashionable was “bare arms” and “Décolleté / Décolletage” which is ” the upper part of a woman’s torso, comprising her neck, shoulders, back and chest, that is exposed by the neckline of her clothing. However, the term is most commonly applied to a neckline that reveals or emphasizes cleavage.”
In the Pastoral Letter of His Eminence Cardinal Luçon, Archbishop of Reims, the clergy and the faithful of his diocese, a scathing account is written concerning the seriousness of indecent dress at Mass, where he specifically mentions “bare arms” and low cut dresses, “There is at least one point on which we see ourselves as certain to encounter a unanimous obedience: that nobody will afford to appear to church with these unseemly fashion, that is to say, low-cut dress or bare arms. If there is one place where the frivolous fashions and nudity are particularly displaced, is not it the House of God?” he concluded, “
We strongly urge women and girls of our diocese to observe in their clothes the rules of Christian modesty.
They should absolutely abstain from appearing at the church, especially in the public offices and during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, cut dresses and bare arms.
They will not be admitted to in Confession nor the Holy Table.
And will be, this pastoral letter with the command which terminates, read and published in the main advocates of Mass in churches and chapels of our diocese on Sunday that following receipt.”
And in July, 1925, Mgr Besson bishop of Lausanne, ordered a letter to be read at all Masses in churches and chapels of the diocese that was very similar. He then also spoke to parents, concerning the upbringing of their children, “You have a moral duty to raise them and maintain them in modesty. You have to dress them with reserve and in particular require that the dresses of your girls cover their arms and down below their knees.“
Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili on 24 September 1928 issued Guidelines to help Catholic women with regard to Fashion – and what they could consider to be Modest and proper for Mass (and so on). “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.” There has been a concession with regard to sleeve length, because of market conditions.
Brother Raymond-Marie Rouleau, Archbishop of Quebec, wrote in 1930: (loosely translated from French) “In order to determine precisely what is to be considered what is appropriate, (or) improper attire to be worn by the person assisting at Mass…We take the following rule to the letter of His Eminence Cardinal Vicar [ Basilio Pompilj ] addressed on 24 September 1928 to all higher schools of sponsorships and girls in the city of Rome..We hope that all the girls and women of our diocese will be a duty to comply with these provisions and to set an example of Christian modesty with the submission to the will of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that sanctions brought by the Sacred Congregation must be applied with equal prudence and firmness , to stop immediately and as effectively as possible the scourge of immodesty.”
In 1945, Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve likewise, told those in his diocese ” The priests will not let people enter churches who are not dressed properly. Those who have sleeveless dresses, too low cut or too short, must put on a cloak before crossing the threshold of our temples.” While the Bishops Synod of Quebec stated, “What if we ask what is a modest and decent outfit for a Christian, it is understood that this is the one that covers the chest and arms non-transparent fabrics, coming down at least mid-leg, and whose cup a suitable extent protects modesty hiding body lines “(Cardinal Rouleau, December 8, 1930 . Mandements of Bishops of Quebec , vol. XIII, Supplement 45 [in fact: 36]).
Church Dress Code: Still A Practice Today
The standard of bare arms being improper for Mass and in Church still exists to this day; we can see it being enforced in the Vatican. In particular, the Papal Audience Dress code states that women must cover their shoulders.
Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.) “Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.” (An ADDRESS of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” November 8, 1957.)
Concerning the seriousness of modesty and purity, St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests cried, “Oh God, how many souls does this sin drag down to Hell! . . . . No, my dear brethren, this beautiful virtue is not known to those worldly and corrupt girls who make so many preparations and take so many cares to draw the eyes of the world towards themselves, who by their affected and indecent dress announce publicly that they are evil instruments which Hell makes use of to ruin souls- those souls which cost so much in labours and tears and torments to Jesus Christ! . . . .” Now he wasn’t one to mince words! Yet he had thousands and thousands flock to Mass and Confession because of it!
In 2016, Fr. Carmelo Arada of Manila Archdiocese Commission on Liturgy said certain decorum must always be observed for liturgical functions.“Going to Mass in the parish and going to Mass in the malls must be celebrated with the same disposition, including the attire. Dress properly,” said the priest. He called for the observance of the proper dress code during mass. “Male Catholics are also discouraged from wearing caps, basketball jerseys, tank tops or jersey shorts, and shorts while women are urged to refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap tops or tank tops, short skirts, skimpy shorts or sleeveless shirts with plunging necklines during Mass.” Which is the same dress code the Archdiocese of Manila had laid down back in 2007.
Fr. Dominic in a homily on EWTN spoke, “Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach. You should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tank-tops, dresses above the knees, bare shoulders, bare arms, low cut dresses, sleeveless shirts, very tight fitting clothing, etc. If you come to EWTN or the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL and you are not dressed properly don’t expect to get out of your car because we have a dress code here. And don’t even dare to come into the Chapel before our Lord. If you do, hopefully you will be caught by our security guards and asked to put on more clothing. We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.”
However, all this aside, what we wear to swim, or what we wear in our own homes is certainly a little less “standardized.” (see video below) Though we must never forget our proper role as Catholics; children of God and heirs of Heaven. And our duty to be holy examples to others, especially those under our care. When it comes to bare shoulders, it is more or less not much of an issue outside of Church. But of course then we are faced with the questions, “How thick must our strap be? Two inches? Spaghetti straps? How wide can our sleeves be? Does it even matter at all?” For we know that when we are wearing sleeveless shirts / dresses then the showing of our bra / breast can become an issue when there are large, gaping holes.. We recommend sleeveless shirts / dresses that do not show our bra, and cut close to under our arms, just so that we need not worry about our chest showing when we bend down or lift our arms.
Conclusion / Final Notes
The Catholic Church isn’t dumb; we are not expected to wear old fashioned or ugly clothing, covering our bodies likened to Sharia Law! Pope Pius XII actually calls us to follow the fashion, but with prudence! He called it an act of charity! He has even said that Fashion and Modesty go together.
We are called to look to these guidelines for the sole reason that we know without a doubt that our dress (and, remember we must be modest in our looks, thoughts, words and actions also!) will never be a source of scandal or sin to others.
It’s not “two more inches and you are sinning!” but rather “here is a Standard that will make it easier for you to be able to build a wardrobe around, without having to worry about Modesty at all!” And even if some willfully dress immodestly, it is never our place to hate those people, or treat them badly! Never! We are called to be examples, and to tell the truth when it is charitably necessary (if people don’t know what is modesty they cannot dress modestly), but we are not called to judge if a person is purposefully dressing sinfully to make men lust after them! Most people have no idea anymore! And then need our prayers, our charitable information when possible, and most of all … our example It would be really easy to believe that we could dress how we think is modest, but as mentioned before; something are more difficult than others when it comes to temptation. It is up to both genders to dress modestly, be pure in heart and mind, “flee thou youthful desires, and pursue justice, faith, charity, and peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” [2 Timothy 2:22]
If we tried to “cover up” parts of ourselves that were a “stumbling block” or “temptation” for others it would be impossible. As even the mere thought of a person can bring about temptation. It is up to us to fight these temptations, yet not making it harder for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Few “dress codes” have been made by some Christians that have proven to make no sense at all concerning “inches” and “situational outfits”. Is Original Sin merely situational? Prudence and common sense calls us as Catholics to follow a moral guideline, not our feelings, as most Catholic issues. As the Catholic Church has so very much pointed out the importance of Modesty in dress, as well as other areas, we should at least adhere to the seriousness, and the importance.
We must always remember WHY we are trying to dress with decency and modesty:
Because we are temples of the Holy Spirit
Because we are children of God and heirs of Heaven
Because it honors God
Because it allows us to become good examples for Christ, as well as keeps us pure