The Catholic Church on Dressing for Mass: A Timeline

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

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

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

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS TIMELINE IN PDF FORMAT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRISH WOMEN START LEAGUE FOR MODEST DRESS following Irish Bishops Call

First published in the FRANCISCAN HERALD April, 1920, page 184. Following the call for Modesty in Fashion by the Irish Bishops in 1919…

IRISH WOMEN START LEAGUE FOR MODEST DRESS

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.”

Apparel Talk: “Dressing Well For Holy Mass” – By Agnes Modesta, The Franciscan Herald

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.

Elite Styles. 1920 – 04 (April).
Published by Elite Styles Company. New York. 04- 1920., 1920

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.”

PURGATORY: Matter of Expiation of Scandal from Immodest Paintings

From the book “PURGATORY”

THOSE who have had the misfortune to give bad example, and to wound or cause the perdition of souls by scandal, must take care to repair all in this world, if they would not be subjected to the most terrible expiation in the other. It was not in vain that Jesus Christ cried out, Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh! (Matt. 18:7)

Hear what Father Rossignoli relates in his Merveilles du Purgatoire. A painter of great skill and otherwise exemplary life had once made a painting not at all conformable to the strict rules of Christian modesty. It was one of those paintings which, under the pretext of being works of art, are found in the best families, and the sight of which causes the loss of so many souls.

True art is an inspiration from Heaven, which elevates the soul to God; profane art, which appeals to the senses only, which presents to the eye nothing but the beauties of flesh and blood, is but an inspiration of the evil spirit; his works, brilliant though they may be, are not works of art, and the name is falsely attributed to them.

They are the infamous productions of a corrupt imagination.

The artist of whom we speak had allowed himself to be misled in this point by bad example. Soon, however, renouncing this pernicious style, he confined himself to the production of religious pictures, or at least of those which were perfectly irreproachable. Finally, he was painting a large picture in the convent of the discalced Carmelites, when he was attacked by a mortal malady.

Feeling that he was about to die, he asked the Prior to allow him to be interred in the church of the monastery, and bequeathed to the community his earnings, which amounted to a considerable sum of money, charging them to have Masses said for the repose of his soul. He died in pious sentiments, and a few days passed, when a Religious who had stayed in the choir after Matins saw him appear in the midst of flames and sighing piteously.

“What!” said the Religious, “have you to endure such pain, after leading so good a life and dying so holy a death?” “Alas!” replied he, “it is on account of the immodest picture that I painted some years ago. When I appeared before the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, a crowd of accusers came to give evidence against me. They declared that they had been excited to improper thoughts and evil desires by a picture, the work of my hand. In consequence of those bad thoughts some were in Purgatory, others in Hell. The latter cried for vengeance, saying that, having been the cause of their eternal perdition, I deserved, at least, the same punishment. Then the Blessed Virgin and the saints whom I had glorified by my pictures took up my defence. They represented to the Judge that that unfortunate painting had been the work of youth, and of which I had repented; that I had repaired it afterwards by religious objects which had been a source of edification to souls.

“In consideration of these and other reasons, the Sovereign Judge declared that, on account of my repentance and my good works, I should be exempt from damnation; but at the same time, He condemned me to these flames until that picture should be burned, so that it could no longer scandalise any one.

Then the poor sufferer implored the Religious to take measures to have the painting destroyed “I beg of you,” he added, “go in my name to such a person, proprietor of the picture; tell him in what a condition I am for having yielded to his entreaties to paint it, and conjure him to make a sacrifice of it. If he refuses, woe to him! To prove that this is not an illusion, and to punish him for his own fault, tell him that before long he will lose his two children. Should he refuse to obey Him who has created us both, he will pay for it by a premature death.”

The Religious delayed not to do what the poor soul asked of him, and went to the owner of the picture. The latter, on hearing these things, seized the painting and cast it into the fire. Nevertheless, according to the words of the deceased, he lost his two children in less than a month. The remainder of his days he passed in penance, for having ordered and kept that immodest picture in his house.

If such are the consequences of an immodest picture, what, then, will be the punishment of the still more disastrous scandals resulting from bad books, bad papers, bad schools, and bad conversations?

Vae mundo a scandalis! Vae homini illi per quem scandalum venit! — “Woe to the world because of scandals! Woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh!

Scandal makes great ravages in souls by the seduction of innocence. Ah! those accursed seducers! They shall render to God a terrible account of the blood of their victims.

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

Christopher West’s Theology of the Body

David L. Schindler
Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family

Regarding his interview on Nightline, Christopher West says that his remarks were taken out of context. In some sense, this is surely true. However, the comments as aired are the latest in a long list of statements and actions not inconsistent with the context set by the Nightline editors.

Though occasioned by West’s Nightline appearance, the present statement addresses his theology as a whole.

Let me stress that I agree with those who vigorously defend West’s intention of fidelity to the Church. Certainly he has had positive results in drawing many Catholics into a deeper understanding of their faith. As for myself, I do not initiate anything about West in my classes, but only respond when asked a question. Then I begin by emphasizing West’s intention of orthodoxy. As I have often put it, “he would throw himself in front of a bus for the Church.” It is important to understand, however, that good will is not synonymous with sound thought; and I must say, not without reluctance, that West’s work seems to me to misrepresent in significant ways the thought of John Paul II.

The following examples have been verified by persons directly involved or by things written by West himself (and I regret the necessary adoption of West’s own language).

West’s work has involved suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love; blessing the ovaries of women in his classes; advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame; using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle; criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002); referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06); stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity; and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

I offer these examples not merely because they are vulgar and in bad taste, not to mention sometimes bordering on the just plain silly, but because they indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized. West to be sure will point toward the “orthodox” intentions and context of the examples, but my criticism bears on the substance of his preoccupation as reflected in the examples. (As a Thomist friend of mine used to say: pay attention to a man’s subjects, not his predicates.)

What, then, are the objections to West’s theology?

First, West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence, stressing purity of intention one-sidedly when talking about problems of lust.

When I first pointed this problem out to him several years ago, his response was that he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us. My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.

Second, West has an inadequate notion of analogy. He conceives love in a reductive bodily-sexual sense, then reads the Christian mysteries as though they were somehow ever-greater and more perfect realizations of what he emphasizes as key in our own experience, namely, sex.

But sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries–the Eucharist, for example. Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse. To be sure, the spousal love between man and woman is central in man’s imaging of God, and the gendered body and sexual relations are an integral sign and expression of spousal love, which also includes what John Paul II calls all the other manifestations of affection. However, as Joseph Ratzinger says, it is only because man has a capacity for God that he also has a capacity for another human being. The former indicates the “content,” the latter the “consequence,” of man’s likeness to God.

In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.

Third, West’s treatment of shame and reverence is marred by a too-male vision of things–not only too much maleness but distorted maleness. If we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt, he seems to think, we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness. He has no discernible sense of the difference between what might be a feminine as distinct from masculine sense of unveiling. He (thus) lacks a reverence for the body entailing a modesty not reducible simply to shame, or again a patient reverence presupposing the “veiledness” proper to what essentially contains mystery. His work is preoccupied with what is external to the detriment of the interiority proper to persons. In this context, we can say that West’s theology ultimately lacks a Marian dimension: not in the sense that he fails to make references to Mary, but because his work is not adequately formed, in method or content, in Mary’s archetypal feminine-human sensibility.

Fourth, a style of preaching is not merely a matter of “style”–a difference in personality or taste. It is always-also a matter of theology itself. West often tends to treat resistance to the content of his lectures, for example during the question periods, as matters of resistance to the Holy Spirit (to the Spirit now speaking in and through West’s “charism”), urging questioners to pray to overcome the fear induced in them by their bad theological-spiritual formation. Well-balanced persons have spoken of how West makes them feel a sense of guilt, of resistance to the Holy Spirit, if they experience uneasiness about what he is saying.

Pope Benedict XVI’s sacramental “style,” integrated within the objectivity of a larger truth that always first calls ourselves into question even as we preach to others, provides a helpful lesson here.

Regarding Hefner: West fails to see that Hefner at root does not correct but misconceives and then only continues the error of America’s Puritan Protestantism. For both Puritanism and Hefner, the body is merely a tool, though to be manipulated differently: by the former exclusively for reproducing children and by Hefner for pleasure. It is not only Puritanism but also Hefner that fails to understand properly the body and bodily desires in their natural meaning as good.

In sum, West’s work provides a paradigm of what is most often criticized today in connection with John Paul II’s theology of the body–and rightly criticized, insofar as that theology is identified with West’s interpretation: namely, that it is too much about sex and too romantic.

West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible. His work often deflects people from the beauty and depth of what is the authentic meaning of John Paul II’s anthropology of love, and thus of what was wrought in and through the Second Vatican Council. It is scarcely the first time in the history of the Church that abundant good will did not suffice to make one’s theology and vision of reality altogether true.

West has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Church. However, if his work is to bear the Catholic fruit he so ardently desires, he needs to subject basic aspects of his theology to renewed reflection.

David L. Schindler
Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology
Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.

The Christopher West Show: A Neo-Catholic Scandal

Christopher A. Ferrara
REMNANT COLUMNIST, New Jersey

from the Remnant Newspaper

Christopher West at a recent Theology of theBody road show in Hawaii.

(Posted 07/01/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Christopher West’s appearance on Nightline, during which he praised Hugh Hefner and asserted that John Paul II advanced the sexual revolution “in the right direction,” is but the latest in a long series of scandals arising from West’s promotion of “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (TOB).  [Caveat: I am forced to quote some of that scandalous material here—not for the sake of multiplying scandal, but rather to demonstrate its existence as a warning to Catholics to keep themselves and their children away from this man’s morally offensive presentations, and those of his fellow “experts” in TOB.]

Based on his rendering of John Paul’s 129 deeply obscure audience addresses filled with the Pope’s clearly personal “reflections”  and “meditations” as a private doctor, West has turned TOB into a veritable branded product, complete with a Christopher West logo, which he markets in every conceivable venue with all the fervor and conviction of the late TV pitchman for OxiClean.  And the marketing pays off big: a million books and three million audios sold.  Yet another success story in Neo-Catholic Land.

TOB, West  exclaims, “has already begun a ‘sexual counter-revolution’ that’s changing lives around the world. The ‘fire’ is spreading and in due time we can expect global repercussions.”  Not impressed? Wait, there’s more!: “Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation…we will never view the world the same way again.

Oh come off it, will you?

The brilliant David L. Schindler, for one, has had quite enough of West, who was one of his students ten years ago at the John Paul II Institute.  After the Nightline appearance, Schindler wrote a subdued and (in my view) overly respectful but devastating critique of West’s “work,” including this catalogue of some of the countless examples of his former pupil’s notorious gutter-mouth at work (which I have separated into bullet points for easy reading).  The following are not to seen by children:

·                     suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love;

·                     blessing the ovaries of women in his classes;

·                     advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame;

·                     using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle;

·                     criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002);

·                     referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06);

·                     stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity;

·                     and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

Predictably enough, Janet Smith, the doyenne of neo-Catholicism, rushed to West’s defense against Schindler. “I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon,” she writes. In Neo-Catholic Land, you see, one must always applaud and defend the latest “phenomenon,” for phenomena and movements, rather than traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, dogma and liturgy, are what neo-Catholicism is all about—first and foremost the meta-phenomenon of Vatican II.

But what can one say in the face of the damning evidence Schindler presents?  One can only cavil about “context” and offer, as Smith does, the lame excuse that “it is important to keep in mind… who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.”

Poppycock. Smith knows quite well that West is not speaking to little groups of sexually abused people in hushed tones in the privacy of their homes or in small meeting halls. He shoots his big mouth off and struts the stage in front of cameras and large audiences of well-adjusted Catholics, including parents who have had to flee the room in horror with their children. He plies his trade on his website, on EWTN, on YouTube, on network radio and television.  He wants the whole world to hear his “message,” and millions have.

Schindler, in a terribly difficult position because he is criticizing one of his own students, nevertheless has the integrity and the concern for souls to declare that West’s statements “indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized.”   Spot on.

The necessary implication of Schindler’s assessment is that West himself is inflicting a form of sexual abuse on his listeners.  And indeed he is. Running amuck with the all-but-impenetrable ambiguities of the original audience addresses, which he has no authority to interpret for anyone, West has turned the Pope’s “reflections” into the neo-Catholic novelty I explored in EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong: the “sexualization” of Roman Catholicism by elevating the physical aspect of marital relations to the level of a quasi-sacrament.

“Sex is holy,” West assures us, along with a host of neo-Catholic TOB apostles vying for the pulpit on EWTN and elsewhere. These include the equally foul-mouthed Gregory Popcak, whose work is heartily endorsed by West.  Popcak’s utterances have included the filthy and blasphemous suggestion on EWTN (“The Abundant Life,” broadcast of November 15, 2001) that married couples pray a “Lover’s Prayer,” in which they  “say something like ‘Lord, help me to kiss her with your lips. Help me to touch her with your hands and to love her with your undying passion….”

According to Popcak the answer to Deepak Chopra’s question “Does God have orgasms?” is “Absolutely yes. My own faith tradition teaches that God is a lover and that the cosmological orgasm physicists refer to as the Big Bang… is the model for human sexuality. Who wouldn’t give their eyeteeth for a night like that with their beloved?”

West gleefully offers the following disgusting endorsement of Popcak’s book “Holy Sex”:

Think of this book as Thomas Aquinas meets Dr. Ruth and enjoy…. Popcak goes right between the sheets, shall we say, providing a very frank, honest, and practical discussion of the sexual joys and challenges of the marriage bed…. Give Holy Sex a prayerful read and you will be on your way, as the good doctor puts it in classic Popcak-style, to “a toe-curling, eye-popping, mind blowing, deeply spiritual, and profoundly sacramental sexuality.”

“Dr. Ruth,” in case anyone doesn’t know, is Ruth Westheimer, the Jewish TV “sex therapist” whose presentations are so sexually explicit that not even West would dare quote them. Yet West is delighted by a book that (so he claims) somehow combines her obscene approach with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor.

At any rate, the Magisterium has used a number of terms to describe the sexual act, but “holy” has never been one of them. The physical act involved in reproduction (as distinguished from the soul infused at conception) can no more be holy than eating a good meal can be holy. Both are bodily goods, but goodness and holiness are two different things—a distinction that has been lost in the general conflation of grace and nature in post-conciliar thinking.

Further, the sexual act involves a dark mystery to which West is apparently oblivious. As Pope Pius XI observes in Casti Connubii, a classic statement of traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality: “the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity…” (Casti Connubii, n. 14).

The sexual act, while of course not evil in itself, is nevertheless by the divine command an instrument for the transmission of death itself and the corruption of human nature on account of Adam’s transgression, even though it also results in the creation of an immortal soul. Then, of course, the sexual act is fraught with our inherited concupiscence. Hence as John Paul II himself admitted in his audience address of October 10, 1980: “Man can commit this adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.”  (There is nothing new here, as the Church has always spoken of the right use of the marital privilege, and the avoidance of a lustful abuse of it.) For these reasons alone, any attempt to declare the sex act “holy” is offensive to pious ears at best.

And if “sex is holy” (as opposed to being a mere bodily good) why does the Catholic mind reel in horror at the thought of Our Lord or Our Lady engaging in even legitimate nuptial relations?  Why is the celibate state exemplified by Christ Himself and the very Mother of God higher than the married state according to Sacred Scripture and all of Tradition?  Why will there be no “holy sex” of any kind in heaven, if holy it is?  The answer is that the sexual act is a lowly and passing thing of this world to which a penalty must attach because of original sin, and that in the divine plan it will never be anything but an ephemeral aspect of earthly existence having no part whatsoever in the life eternal of the blessed.

But the answer to the problem of Christopher West is really much more basic than all this. Has our sensus catholicus been so dulled, our standard of decency so abased by forty years of novelty in the Church and depravity in the culture, that we cannot muster enough outrage to declare that someone who says the things that West says is simply a vulgar pig who should be silenced by ecclesiastical authority for the good of souls?

As for the “theology of the body,” I see no duty to pay it any mind in the absence of a binding Magisterial pronouncement on what, if any, binding doctrinal content is to be found in 129 talks filled with such tentative expressions as “It can be said,” “we can think,” “can convince us,” “seems to confirm this,” “it can be affirmed,” “it is admittedly not possible to amplify this implication too much,” and “we are trying to penetrate the specific meaning of these words and these chapters.”

As even TOB enthusiast George Weigel has written: “A small, even microscopic percentage of the world’s Catholics even know that a ‘theology of the body’ exists.  Why? The density of John Paul’s material is one factor; a secondary literature capable of ‘translating’ John Paul’s thought into more accessible categories and vocabulary is badly needed.”  (Witness to Hope, p. 343).

I rather doubt that theological truths of momentous importance for the Church and the world were left unspoken for nearly 2,000 years, only to emerge suddenly in “John Paul’s thought” by way of little-known addresses so “dense” they need to be “translated” by “secondary literature.” Yet the lay “translators” of TOB preposterously “interpret” a series of opaque commentaries as nothing less than the hope of the world in our time, the implication being—and this is classic neo-Catholicism—that the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation before Vatican II was all pretty much worthless.

The Magisterium does not teach by “secondary literature” written by “translators.” It teaches by unequivocal pronouncements of Popes and Councils concerning what Catholics must believe. No such pronouncements have been forthcoming on this nebulous subject.

Much less does the Magisterium teach through the likes of Christopher West, the self-anointed lay prophet of a novel theology he seems to think is the Church’s only claim to credibility concerning marriage and procreation.  As one tribute to him explains:

Christopher West was not always a spokesperson for the teaching of the Pope and the Catholic Church…. A very passionate but not exactly chaste young man of 21, Christopher nearly left the Catholic Church because what he considered the repressed and antiquated teaching of the Church against contraception. But before checking out of the Church of his youth, West decided to allow the Church a chance to explain herself….  [H]e read Pope John Paul II’s  129 Wednesday audiences on the theology of the body.  “They changed the way I see the whole universe,” said West.  “I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life studying the pope’s theology of the body and making it accessible to others.”

We see here the essence of neo-Catholic arrogance and selective deference to the Church: the sadly deficient Church was given a chance to explain herself and—lo and behold!—the Church restored her claim to allegiance with the novel remarks of John Paul II, which this layman will now “make accessible” to the world.

And this from a man who finds deep meaning in rock music and the movie Spiderman III (which he admits has occupied his thoughts for several  years), publicly brags about his own rock drumming, and pounds his chest to the beat of a U2 song while belting out “DEE-SIIIII-RE!” to illustrate one of his excruciatingly sophomoric “theology” lectures.

In a video available on his website, West expresses sympathy for Katy Perry, the rock star whose lesbian-tinged hit “I Kissed a Girl” represents, according to him, an example of how rock music explores themes “from the depths of the human heart…” whereas “saccharine Christian music” is “afraid to go there.” West contends that because Perry was “raised in a Christian home” in a “repressive Christian atmosphere” in which “her parents forbade her to listen to anything but Christian music,” she just had to turn to rock and roll to express how “deeply wounded” she is. West admits he is “only guessing” about Perry’s “repressive” upbringing, but this does not prevent him from calumniating her parents on the World Wide Web.

To appreciate how “deeply wounded” poor Katy is, West suggests watching her video on YouTube in which she is “in bed with one guy, thinking about this other guy” or another video in which “she is cutting herself with this knife, blood is all over her cleavage.”  We must not condemn this sort of thing mindlessly, he insists, but rather try to understand its meaning concerning the wounding of Perry’s soul by her Puritanical upbringing. “I am sick and tired of this Puritanical BS that passes for Christianity!” he declares to his worldwide audience.

And this is the man who peddles the product called “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”® to audiences filled with impressionable young Catholics. Have good Catholics completely lost their minds? Even if there were bona fide Catholic doctrine to be found in the “theology of the body,” could the situation in the Church have become so parlous that we would have to learn it from an oversexed man-child with a dirty mouth?

No matter what his intentions, Christopher West’s “mission” is but another sign of the apocalyptic decline of our time in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history. West deserves prayers for his conversion and repentance no less than the public condemnation his scandals require. And may God bless Dr. Schindler for having the courage to speak out against this wildly popular false prophet who was once his student.

Understanding Modesty: Objective Standards and Practical Insights

Originally posted on this website —> here.

BY STEFANIE NICHOLAS

This article is featured in the current Print Edition (August 2019) of Catholic Family News (subscribe HERE; current subscribers can access the E-Edition HERE).

Editor’s Note: In preparation for tomorrow’s great Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, we offer the following essay by Stefanie Nicholas, who candidly shares about her own journey from worldly to Marian standards of dress and behavior. Once again, her honesty about past faults, as well as her zeal for God and souls, is truly an inspiration and a gift for the Church at this critical time.

Miss Nicholas will be addressing the Fatima Youth Conference next month (Sept. 20-22, 2019) in Cleveland, Ohio. This conference, hosted by The Fatima Center, is designed specifically for young adults (under 30) and features first-class speakers and great Catholic camaraderie. Spread the word and consider either attending or sponsoring a young Catholic in your life to attend!

*****

Conversion to Modesty

By the time I converted to Catholicism in the spring of 2018, I already thought myself to be quite modest in my dress. I never wore shirts that showed my midsection or with super low necklines. I didn’t wear “daisy dukes”, or leggings as pants, or bikinis without a t-shirt and shorts, or skirts that would show my underclothes if I were to bend slightly over. When I first converted and began attending a Novus Ordo parish, I immediately started wearing only dresses or skirts on Sundays, and then over time I gave myself the same rule for daily Mass. At a minimum, I began wearing long shirts or sweaters that covered over the top of my jeans at Mass, and then outside of it, realizing that my favorite comfy skinny jeans showed pretty much everything.

Several months later, I attended a traditional Catholic conference in Ireland and realized that, compared to the majority of the women there, my dresses and skirts were far too short and my necklines were far too revealing. I feel the sting of humiliation when I look back on how I looked when speaking to holy nuns and priests, all of whom who treated me with the utmost kindness and respect despite my attire!

I felt a conviction stirring in my heart after that conference, but it was not a new longing. I remember that even years ago, while I was living an entirely secular life, I would look at photographs and blog posts from women who went “skirts only”. I saw the beauty of it, I wanted to take those steps myself, but I was terrified of what people would think. And, as a functional agnostic, I had no reason to really follow this wild dream! My conversion to Catholicism was a surprise to me. My conversion to modesty? Not so much.

Profound Impact of Veiling at Mass

My whole experience with dress parallels my journey to veiling at Mass, and I believe it was through the practice of veiling that I was able to find the courage to go the rest of the way. Truly, it’s often the little “unimportant” things we do that have the deepest impact!

It took me a few months after wanting to veil while still in the Novus Ordo to actually take the plunge. Often, I was the only woman veiling in the entire building. Divine Providence is often incomprehensible, but I believe firmly that a large part of the reason God permitted me to remain in the Novus Ordo for as long as He did was so that He could teach me something very important: if I provide the will, He will provide the courage. Eventually, I realized I didn’t mind being one of two women wearing the veil anymore. I didn’t mind praying the Rosary in a public street or on an airplane anymore. I didn’t mind praying before eating at a restaurant. I stopped worrying about a whole lot of things that used to send my anxiety through the roof.

When I was blessed to begin attending a diocesan Traditional Latin Mass, I knew that it was time to do what the law written within my heart had been calling me to do for a very long time. It was during Advent, the season of joyous anticipation, and I prepared myself for the coming of my Lord as well as for the beginning of January, when I had decided I would stop wearing pants in public and try my best to adhere to what is commonly called Marian modesty standards (more on this subject later). It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I seek to keep making it for the rest of my life. It’s also a decision I share with joy, posting photos on my social media of this feminine creature God is molding me into, clad in skirts and dresses in snow and summer alike, a woman I hardly recognize when I think of my old self. It’s here where the trouble usually starts.

“Let Your Light Shine Before Men”

As is common whenever one shares anything about the good that God has done for them and within them, a handful of commenters will be quick to spout some portion of Matthew 6:1-5[1] while neglecting to recall Matthew 5:16[2]! I post these things not to receive praise or because I think I’m holy, but because I remember the impact that seeing real, relatable women in modest dress had on me, even while I was still living as a worldling. If I can be that example for one other woman, without falling into sins of spiritual pride myself (I know I need to pray for humility every single day), it’s worth it, particularly in a world where contemporary examples of modesty are virtually nonexistent.

These sorts of negative comments seem to follow the common idea that the internal disposition of modesty is not only disconnected from the exterior proof of the virtue but is somehow negated by it! Quite the contrary, modesty of heart and behavior are integrally connected to modesty of dress. St. Jerome, the great Scripture scholar and Doctor of the Church, once counseled a young widow in a letter to her that “we must either speak as we are dressed, or else dress as we speak. Why do we profess one thing, and practice another? The tongue talks of chastity, but the rest of the body reveals incontinence” (Letter 54, n. 7).

Recently, I prodded the subject of modesty standards with a ten-foot pole, posting on Facebook that “[…] choosing to wear skirts and dresses exclusively is a decision I wish I’d made sooner. I was so scared of what people would think that I was content to ignore God convicting my heart” and referring to it as a “countercultural choice”. It didn’t take long for a woman from Patheos Catholic to share the post to her page, spawning dozens of negative comments, many of them outright nasty personal attacks on my character. The problem, so far as I can ascertain it from the words of the commenters, was not that I chose only to wear skirts and dresses, or that I took photos of it, or that I personally felt like God called me to it and that it was best for me, but that I dared to even hint at the idea that “my way” was superior to the equally valid paths to modesty that other women have chosen.

Objective Standards of Modesty

We see this same acceptance of relativism-as-dogma in so many areas of Catholic life, and modesty is no exception. The vast majority of Catholics today, whether consciously or not, have accepted the idea that there exists no objective standard of modesty that is a morally binding norm for men and women, at least when it comes to calling them to a higher standard than they currently hold. However, barring the sort of “Catholics” who think that Pride parade attire is acceptable at Mass, even the more progressive among us would acknowledge that there is a line of decency somewhere. In other words, most people hopefully recognize that certain fashion choices are objectively unacceptable (although some do give evidence to the contrary), but very few seem willing to ask the question, “How does God want me to dress?”

I find it all the more disappointing that so many “conservative” Catholics are apparently unwilling to ask this basic question, those who would surely think short shorts and crop tops at Mass are unacceptable. It is here that the debate really comes to a head. These Catholics want people like me to provide authoritative, binding, magisterial documents proving that “my” modesty standards are the correct ones, while providing no such proof for their own claims. By their own standards of what rises to the level of binding Church teaching, how do they know that it’s unacceptable to wear short shorts and crop tops at Mass?

Oh, sure, they’ll cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) published by Pope John Paul II (likely unaware of the non-infallible nature of almost all catechisms as such), which includes the line, “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden” (CCC, n. 2521). Well, who is to say that short shorts and crop tops, which technically cover the obvious “intimate centers” of a person, aren’t modest? Many “conservative” Catholics have been rightly scandalized to see popular Catholic convert and YouTuber Lizzie Reezay defending the Victoria’s Secret fashion show on the specious grounds that “[m]odesty is completely cultural” (i.e. totally subjective – see here, time stamp 13:56-13:59), but their views of modesty differ from hers only in degree, not kind.

The reality is that popular standards today for what is “modest” – the same standards to which I myself used to subscribe – are based entirely on their relation to more extreme present trends. In other words, they are subjective by definition and are not tied to any fixed norm of modesty. Our Lady of Fatima, on the other hand, made it very clear to little Jacinta Marto, the youngest of the three child seers, that modesty is something objective and unchanging, as evidenced by the following words of Jacinta to one of her caregivers shortly before her death in 1920:

“My dear Mother [Godinho], the sins that bring most souls to Hell are the sins of the flesh. Certain fashions are going to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much. Those who serve God should not follow these fashions. The Church has no fashions; Our Lord is always the same.”[3]

Authoritative Sources on Modesty Standards

It’s common when engaging a debate about modesty for the other side to demand a universal, infallible, and thus binding list of what is modest and what isn’t. From time to time, I witness fellow traditional Catholic women believing that they are obliging this request by linking to the “Marylike Standards” document released under Pope Pius XI, and far too often doing so from poorly designed personal websites that do not appear credible and in some cases add their own words to those of the Cardinal-Vicar who approved the document. While it is true that truth is truth even if presented poorly, and also true that these guidelines are excellent, we must be careful not to seek to prove too much and lose entirely the spirit of the law, that is, the proper Catholic principles pertaining to discerning modest attire. However, that being said, this document is likely the most specific set of guidelines the Church has ever given on this issue, so it is not something we should dismiss as unworthy of our obedience in conscience.

It’s important to note there are some elements of modest dress that can be relative to other factors, and that those who debate with members of the Marian modesty movement are right in that the Church has not decreed definitively that a dress must always reach the ankles, or that sleeves must always extend to the wrist, or even that women wearing any form of pants is an intrinsic evil in all circumstances. The very documents used to argue in favor of the Marian modesty movement, for example, often “contradict” each other in terms of things like whether sleeves can be quarter length or must go past the elbow. In light of correct principles these differences represent no contradiction at all, but they do speak to the peril of desiring to defend objective standards in a way that lacks nuance.

In the May 2019 edition of Catholic Family News, I wrote about the modern problems surrounding Natural Family Planning (namely, the idea that it is acceptable to use it for any reason whatsoever within marriage), and I dealt with very similar objections. In both debates, we find the same apparent dearth of binding magisterial documents that pertain to specifics. And in both debates, the reason for this is the same: during the time period when the Pope and the Bishops were still bothering themselves with guiding souls, these popular ideas being preached today were so alien to Christian sentiment that they scarcely needed mentioning. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter that the Church has never released a document explicitly condemning the common wearing of pants by women. Even setting aside the implicit conclusion of the teaching in the “Marylike Modesty Standards” document (mentioned above), it seems evident to me that in light of unchanging moral principles, common sense, and the natural law that wearing pants (without perhaps some grave reason) would have been unthinkable to our foremothers. To understand this in our confused age, we must look first to the reason that modesty is mandated by Divine decree.

Reasons for Modesty

It is popular today to proclaim that the purpose of modesty is solely to preserve personal dignity before God and within society. While that is of course a very good reason to dress oneself properly, it is not the only reason. We have a moral obligation in charity to dress in such a way that we do not intentionally or carelessly lead others to sin. As Pope Pius XII stated in a pamphlet written for women’s organizations in Italy (quoted here), “The good of our soul is more important than that of our body; and we have to prefer the spiritual welfare of our neighbor to our bodily comforts. If a certain kind of dress constitutes a grave and proximate occasion of sin, and endangers the salvation of your soul and others, it is your duty to give it up.”

St. John Chrysostom, another fourth-century Doctor of the Church (like St. Jerome), preached about the serious need for men to practice custody of the eyes in reference to Our Lord’s prohibition against looking with lust (cf. Matt. 5:27-30). At the same time, though, he did not hesitate to affirm the importance of women dressing modestly, stating that “assuredly, should one deck herself out, and invite towards herself the eyes of such as fall in her way; even though she smite not him that meets with her, she incurs the utmost penalty: for she mixed the poison, she prepared the hemlock, even though she did not offer the cup” (Homily 17 on St. Matthew’s Gospel, n. 2). We could point to many similar quotes by Saints and Popes, and the fact that they were not given as part of a solemn decree is irrelevant. The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church has always taught that causing a man to sin by dressing immodestly is in itself sinful, and in many cases mortally sinful.

Though modesty is mandated for both men and women, it is my experience that women in particular find these teachings to be “hard sayings”. Men frequently sin against the virtue of modesty in our day and age, but it is my honest opinion that women do so more commonly and more gravely, particularly because of the biological differences between men and women in how they react to visual stimuli. Most women today, and even devout Catholic women, are operating under very innovative ideas about how God created men and women. This should come as no surprise when we examine the history of feminism in general, and note the ways in which changes in women’s dress was part of the broader ideological subversion of natural gender roles.

The Pants Question

It is here that the “pants question” finds real context. Anyone who has ever dared to state publicly that pants are not fitting attire for women (let alone implied that they can be sinful to wear!) knows that doing so draws more ire than defending the Inquisitions ever could! I agree entirely with this presently controversial position, but as with Marian modesty in general, it’s often too easy to make true arguments which still miss the crux of the issue. In a 1960 document entitled, “Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women”, Giuseppe Cardinal Siri rightly noted that some women’s pants cover more and cling to the figure less than certain skirt and dress styles do. However, the Cardinal further stated that “it is a different aspect of women’s wearing of men’s trousers which seems to us the gravest.”

The entire document is well worth reading and rather prophetic, noting the ways in which this egalitarian and utilitarian shift in women’s attire has affected her own psychology, her relationships with men, and her dignity in the eyes of her children. Of particular note is this passage:

“In truth, the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent. This motivation shows clearly that male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man.’ Secondly, ever since men have been men, the clothing a person wears, demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside.”

In light of the Cardinal’s words, an important question comes to mind: Who was it who began the trend of women wearing pants in Christian societies? It should come as no surprise that it was feminist activists, including such big names as Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton, who first began to clothe themselves in trousers. These early advocates of trousers for women were unambiguous in their belief that women were not simply wearing pants for simple stylistic interest or even for comfort, but as part of their broader attempts to craft a more “egalitarian” society. In other words, trousers began as a direct attack on natural gender roles. As much as certain people may wish to twist themselves into knots in order to try and prove that women wearing pants doesn’t really contradict Deuteronomy 22:5,[4] in light of the deep impact this simple shift in clothing has had on modern society it seems these words of Holy Scripture are just as relevant and convicting today as they were at the time they were written.

Conclusion – Imitate Our Lady

In a little-known but excellent 1957 address entitled, “Moral Problems In Fashion Design”, Pope Pius XII concluded his remarks with these poignant words: “It is often said almost with passive resignation that fashions reflect the customs of a people. But it would be more exact and much more useful to say that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization.”

Perhaps instead of asking how far we can go without overstepping the customs of modesty, we should be asking how we can dress in such a way that strengthens the whole of society by bringing it up to a higher level of Christian virtue. As faithful Catholics, our models of conduct should not be culled from the exalted figures of the ever-changing world, but from the Saints who gloried God in their bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20) and are now with Him eternally in Heaven. What better way is there to bring the world closer to Christ than by placing ourselves as willing servants in the hands of she who brought Christ to the world?

It is the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the standard for modesty, and though the Church in using her as a model has given us trustworthy and necessary guidelines, we must never forget that Our Lady is a person, not a simple list of hem lengths and preferred fabrics. She dressed with perfect modesty, which reflected the perfection of the internal virtue of modesty within her soul. She certainly did not wear pants, nor did she feel the need to “wear the pants” in any way pertaining to her behavior or even her internal dispositions. Despite being the Queen Mother of Christ the King, she submitted in perfect charity and humility to her carpenter husband Saint Joseph.

My main reason for choosing to wear exclusively dresses and skirts is simple: If it’s good enough for the Mother of God, it’s an honor for me to imitate her.

Want more great Catholic content? SUBSCRIBE to Catholic Family News and help support our work! DONATIONS are also accepted and greatly appreciated. God bless you and thanks for reading!

[1] “Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).

[2] “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

[3] This is quote is found in The True Story of Fatima: A Complete Account of the Fatima Apparitions (originally published in 1947) by Fr. John de Marchi, I.M.C. (p. 72 of the paperback edition printed by The Fatima Center). As Sister Lucia (in her Memoirs) and Fr. de Marchi both relate, Jacinta continued receiving private apparitions of Our Lady until her death on Feb. 20, 1920. “After each visit of Our Lady,” Fr. Marchi explains, “Jacinta spoke with wisdom far beyond her age, education or experience.” (True Story of Fatima, p. 72). For an excellent resource on modesty from The Fatima Center, see the booklet “Our Lady of Fatima Stressed … Modesty in Dress”.

[4] “A woman shall not be clothed with man’s apparel, neither shall a man use woman’s apparel: for he that doeth these things is abominable before God” (Deut. 22:5).

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.