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.

“A Priest Cries For Modesty!” – Fr. John Lyons, O.M.V. FSSP

reposted article from this website —> X

Cover photo.

“When I showed the article to the Pastor, he told me to be more charitable. So, you are getting the friendly version.”Father John Lyons, OMV

Parents are often obliged to correct their children over
and over again – about the same thing. They would
really prefer not to have to do it, but if they didn’t they
would be guilty of sinning by omission. Priests feel the
same way. One of the things that we often have to
correct people about is the use of immodest clothing.

Dressing Immodestly Is A Sin

At this time we most especially need to remind girls
and women to not wear immodest low-cut dresses or blouses.
Women and girls should be careful that their dress is
not revealing at all, even when they bend over or kneel
down. Maybe some women do not know that revealing
clothing is a source of temptation for most men. If you
doubt this, ask a man. If a woman knows that such is
the case, and still she would wear such clothing, then she
would be committing the sin of scandal.

Immodesty Is Wrong At All Ages

Unfortunately, even some older women of otherwise
upright character, even daily communicants, sometimes
wear such revealing clothing. Maybe they think that
they’re beyond the age of posing a temptation (and
maybe they are). However, they are giving bad
example to others – most notably their own daughters
and grandchildren. They, too, are committing scandal.
Those who see them will think: “She’s a good Catholic,
and she wears revealing clothing. It must be okay.”

Immodesty Does Not Fit God’s Standards

Someone might argue that the wearing of revealing
clothing now meets with society’s standards. It may
indeed meet with society’s standards; however, we can
safely say that it does not meet with God’s. As
Christians, we are not to be followers of society’s
standards, but the standards of Christ. We urge every
woman to examine her wardrobe (and that of her minor
children if she has any), and get rid of all clothing that
is immodest unless it can be adapted to be worn
modestly.

What Would Mary Do?

If a woman has doubts about the modest use of a
particular article of clothing, it may be helpful to ask
herself if our Blessed Mother would wear such clothing
if she lived in this day and age. Or, to ask herself if our
Blessed Mother would be pleased with her wearing the
article of clothing in question.

Let It Be Known

We suggest that you cut out this bulletin article, make
copies of it, and give it to women and girls who need to
hear this message. Even give or send the article
anonymously, if necessary. Those who desire to do
what is right will take the correction to heart and put it
into practice.

“Immodestly Dressing”

By Father John Lyons
Headlines by John Michael
St. Peter Chanel Church Bulletin, California

Showing proper dignity when attending supper of the Lamb – Bishop Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Summer is upon us, bringing vacations, picnics and beach parties. Actually we have been blessed with summer-like weather for several weeks. The warm weather has also brought out summer apparel earlier than usual. Unfortunately, skimpy garb more suitable for vacations, picnics and beach parties has also made its way into church as the clothing of choice for many people. In visiting many of our parishes this spring for confirmation as well as attending some commencement ceremonies, I have noticed more and more people wearing short shorts, tank-tops and flip-flops. Even the more formal wear with slit-leg dresses, bare midriffs and strapless tops looks more suited to a House of Blues than the House of God.

Now I’m sure some people will immediately object to my making these observations, rationalizing that it is better that these people come to church even if they’re not properly dressed rather than not have them there at all. They argue that we should just be happy that they’re in church, regardless of what they wear. I disagree. 

St. Paul said “to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,” adorned “not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Similarly, St. Peter wrote, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus said that “when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).

Of course, Jesus did not tell this parable to give a literal instruction on how to dress at a wedding, but to illustrate God’s righteousness as “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10), where the acquisition of these qualities is likened to clothing given us at a wedding. But Jesus could tell this parable because his listeners were familiar with the custom that refusal to wear a proper wedding garment was an insult to the father of the groom and could get a guest ejected from the festivities.

The church is the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27) and the faithful, clothed in their wedding garments, are called to the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:8-9). Our revised translation of the Roman Missal now brings out that imagery more clearly when the priest presents the Body and Blood of Christ to us at Mass saying, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” As we go up to receive Jesus in holy Communion, we should not insult the Father by not dressing properly for this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In contrast to the casual dress now commonly seen, people were much more formally attired at the Solemn Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form that I celebrated at the Shrine of St. Rose of Lima in Quincy last Sunday. During this celebration, I consecrated new altars, administered the sacrament of confirmation, offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession in honor of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The ceremony took fours hours, which is usually how long it takes me to run a 26.2 mile marathon, so one could say that this was certainly a marathon liturgy! 

St. Rose of Lima Church just marked its 100th anniversary, and it looked splendid for this grand occasion. I commend Father Arnauld Devillers, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and all the faithful who made this such a dignified event by which we gave glory and praise to God. 

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an Apostolic Letter called Summorum Pontificum, in which he said that it was “permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church.” Last year, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said that the pope hopes for the eventual development of a newly reformed liturgy, combining elements of both the traditional Latin Mass and the ordinary form of the liturgy that has commonly been used since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. Cardinal Koch said that Summorum Pontificum, with its call for expanded use of the traditional liturgy, is “only the beginning” of the pope’s overall scheme for liturgical reform.

For now, one very practical area that we could work on would be for everyone to dress with proper dignity for Mass, whether it is celebrated in the ordinary or the extraordinary form.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

A Few Thoughts on Men’s Dress at Sunday Mass – Br. André Marie

(Excerpted from a Sunday bulletin)

Original article.

Cover photo.

A question I received in the question box recently claimed that much ado is made over women’s dress and little over men’s dress at our chapel. I’ve done some reflecting on it, and the point is taken. Prescinding from the particulars of the question, its general theme merits our attention as a Catholic community striving to be a miniature Christendom.

Therefore, I would like to address the subject of dress — this time, for men only (“no girlz allowed”).

I will state a blunt fact: Women’s dress is a concern because transgressions in this area are more often associated with the moral problem of immodesty, and the consequent problem of lust. As the male of the species are all fallen sons of Adam, female immodesty is something that adversely affects male morals quite strongly. (It usually does not work the other way round.) However, while women’s fashion misstatements err on the side of immodesty, men’s tend to err of the side of slovenliness. Therefore, another blunt point is in order: Men (notice I avoid saying gentlemen) — quit being slobs! Queer looking haircuts, T-shirts, jeans, and “the casual look” in general (much more, “the caveman look”) are not appropriate for Sunday Mass.

An anecdote is in order. When I first embraced tradition, I regularly attended the Mass of an Irish Holy Ghost Father, a former African missionary of many years, at St. Agnes Church is Baton Rouge, Louisiana (note: hot, steamy, sticky, sweltering Southern climate). In attendance was a rogues gallery of university students (from humble undergrads to doctoral candidates), LSU faculty, professional men, eccentric pro-life activists, and humble blue-collar workers with their families (the latter being the most normal of the lot). The old parish church was in the middle of what had become over time a poor black neighborhood, with corner Baptist and Pentecostal “churches” of various flavors. With his sharp Dublin accent, Father Maloney once upbraided his Latin-Mass attending congregation for letting the poor heretics dress better than they, who were going to the august Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, we could not avoid seeing these neighborhood folks in their “Sunday best” every Sunday, looking like modernized Numidian Royalty: women of all ages in modest, colorful dresses topped with big floppy hats, and men and boys in suits and ties. It was quite the handsome pageant.

I, for one, was ashamed. We all got Father’s point. Ties and jackets became the norm at St. Agnes.

From the “Art of Manliness” site, I excerpt the following norms concerning men’s dress. This site, by the way, is jam packed with practical information for “reviving the lost art of manliness” — from clothing to shaving to sports to etiquette. Note, this is a “secular” commentary; if your standard is lower, then we do have a problem:

“Whether you are attending as a believer or as a guest, a man who visits a place of worship or religious importance should always show respect, if not for himself, then for others and their beliefs. He does this by following the unstated dress code and never dressing below it. Because no church is the same, and no temple has the exact requirements as another, this varies not only from religion to religion but also from country to country. A safe guide is to always wear clothing that covers the body, is respectful in nature, and that is culturally acceptable. Think business casual to semi-formal wear.” (Emphasis added.)

Earlier in article, the author defined these categories:

“Semi-formal – a dark suit, crisp dress shirt with non-obtrusive pattern, and a conservative tie. No tuxedos are expected, and none should be worn.

“Business Casual – a tie is optional, but a dress shirt and nice trousers are required. A sports jacket or blazer should also be worn (this last one is my opinion, but alas is actually optional).”

The preferred male dress in our chapel is suit-(or jacket)-and-tie, but certainly no less than what he describes as “business casual.” I’m speaking of Sunday Mass. Weekdays are different, especially if you’re on the way to work and you are a manual laborer. Otherwise, “business casual” would be in order for weekdays.

If regular jackets are too hot for you during Summer, I suggest one of seersucker, a thin, all-cotton fabric, commonly striped or checkered. This fabric dissipates heat easily and doesn’t need to be ironed. Seersuckers were worn by British Colonials in India, and, in my experience, by Southern Gentleman.

Part of evangelizing our neighbors is showing them what we think is truly important. When we dress well for Mass, we silently testify that divine worship deserves our best effort. On the other hand, when we drag ourselves out of bed, half-comb our hair, and throw on wrinkled-up dungarees and a shirt with “My Mom Went to Paris and All I Got Was This Crummy T-Shirt” on it, we broadcast loud an clear that our religion is trivial.

One last thing: None of this has anything to do with money, so don’t offer that lame excuse, please. I’ve noticed that men and boys from poorer families in our community are among the most consistently well attired. Thrift stores abound. And if you don’t know how to shop for inexpensive but good-looking clothes, ask a lady to help. They’re good at that.

Dress, Demeanor, Discipline Show how We Value Holy Mass – Bishop Robert Vasa

Vol. VI, No. 8: November 2000

Dress, Demeanor, Discipline
Show how We Value Holy Mass

by Bishop Robert Vasa

Several years ago I had the opportunity, while visiting Washington, DC, to observe the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

I was so struck by the simple, deliberate elegance of the ceremony that I stayed for extra minutes simply to watch the young man march to and fro with that same simple, deliberate elegance. The uniforms were absolutely impeccable, the shoes shined to pure gloss, the faces of the guards set like granite, the measured steps precise, the entire person focused on the job at hand. It was clear from all of the above that the young men knew that what they were about was serious and important.

I have reflected repeatedly on the Arlington experience as it relates to what we do in our Catholic Churches. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most significant event in the world. As the priest and ministers enter the church and proceed down the aisle, there is not the expectation that they imitate the guards at Arlington, but it would be most appropriate to do so. The guard at Arlington processes solemnly in front of a tomb of national significance, and he is rightfully dignified. Every altar in every Catholic Church has eternal significance and deserves a regard greater than that demanded by the national tomb.

I am not advocating a religious solemnity devoid of joy or humanity, but it appears that Arlington may have something which the Catholic Church needs. The dignity manifested by the guard points towards and accentuates the dignity of the place. Silence is observed at the National Tomb. Silence is a sign of respect for the place and the meaning of the place. Silence is appropriate and enforced vigorously there. Order is enforced there.

As I stood watching the guard making his seemingly routine and non-variable march, he suddenly broke out of line two steps at an angle to his right. He removed the rifle from his shoulder, held it in his hands, and said very forcefully, “Stay behind the barrier!” A couple of seconds later, he repeated the command, at which a woman who had crossed into forbidden territory to get a better picture retreated to the area reserved for visitors. He then returned to his line and resumed his march. No apology, no explanation; the sign said “No Trespassing”; what part of “No” was not understood?

The trespass onto sacred secular soil was deemed unacceptable. The dignity of the place demanded order and an observance of that order. Once again, I do not advocate this kind of rigid, cold enforcement, but the dignity of our churches needs to be fostered and preserved. The dignity of this sacred place will be lost as the sacredness of the area around the tomb would quickly be lost, if there is not a decided effort to preserve it.

Wouldn’t it be cute if four or six little 5-year-olds dressed up like Marines and marched back and forth with the guard? It might be cute, but it would not befit the dignity of the place or the solemnity of the occasion. Yet time and again, we try to introduce people and behaviors into our churches which are deemed “cute” and therefore somehow mandatory. I suggest that “cute” has its place, but Arlington National Cemetery is not one of them, and neither are our churches which house Jesus Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Several years ago, the Holy Father reinstituted a dress code for the churches of Rome, his diocese. No one in shorts or sleeveless shirts was to be admitted into the church building.

An American sense of rights and freedom rebels against such rules, calling them absurdities. Yet it was done and it was enforced. Tourists who had traveled across an ocean to see a church were turned back at the door unless they were properly attired. This was only to visit a church while no other liturgical action was going on. The Holy Father saw a need to institute a policy aimed at restoring, in a very concrete way, a proper sense of reverence for the house of God.

I have often heard the argument that the administrators of churches should be pleased to see that people come, regardless of how they are dressed. The other side of that is that people need to demonstrate in word and deed the proper disposition and attitude. I am certain the American people would be rightfully chagrined if the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were to show up in plaid shorts, a tank top and half-laced tennis shoes. It is hard to imagine that he could have a proper interior attitude to the job at hand were he to come to “work” dressed like that.

Our liturgy is a sacred “work”. How we come to that work is probably as important as the fact that we come. We must recognize that we come to church for sacred work, sacred worship. This demands a decorum commensurate with the dignity of the work to be done. Even if that “work” is to utter a private prayer, it still demands an appropriate decorum.

The soldiers at Arlington know the sacredness of the work which they do. Their dress, their demeanor, their discipline all speak of their recognition of that sacredness. Seeing them is a source of pride for me.

I am proud of what they represent, proud of the values which their discipline bespeaks, proud of the country which at heart still knows that honor and fidelity are worth defending.

For these values people live, and for these values people give their lives. The dress and demeanor of these troops says that they truly honor and respect the life and death of those represented at the Tomb of the Unknown.

Catholics likewise need to know the sacredness of the liturgical “work” which they do. Their dress, their demeanor, their discipline, ought all to speak of their recognition of that sacredness.

Seeing the dress and demeanor of Catholics in Church ought to be a source of pride. They ought to manifest a genuine respect for Jesus present, as well as for the values of the Catholic Church. For these values, saints, declared and not declared, gave their lives; for these values each Catholic must be willing to dress in a fashion which shows recognition and respect.

Bishop Vasa, a native of Lincoln, Nebraska, was made bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, in 1999.

This essay originally appeared in the Catholic Sentinel June 30, 2000.

Modesty Starts with Purifcation of the Heart – Bishop John W. Yanta

Original Article

Cover photo

Diocese of Amarillo, June 18, 2006

June 18, 2006
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the hot weather has descended on us and we are in summertime or vacation time, it is appropriate to speak of modesty of dress especially in participation in the Holy Eucharist, the receiving of Our Lord in Holy Communion, the privilege of being a lector of the Sunday Bible Readings, and serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

This time of the year, I (and am sure many of you also) hear complaints about a lack of respect and reverence for the house of God, the sacredness of the Lord’s presence in the liturgy, and lack of respect for others and the lack of consciousness of the battle for purity in which the opposite sex finds itself even while attending Sunday Mass.

Immodesty in dress is governed by two citations from God’s Law:

1) The Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17);
2) Jesus said: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

To live our daily Faith as children of God (baptism), disciples of Jesus, and temples of the Holy Spirit, we are faced with moral choices constantly, many times a day. Conscience can either make a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law, or on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them (CCC: Catechism of the Catholic Church#1799).

Dressing or putting on one’s clothes is a moral act and wearing them is a moral act. There are different appropriate modes of dress for different occasions, e.g. in the privacy of our home, with our spouse only or with our children in our home, at work or school, in mixed company, at the lake or swimming pool, grocery shopping, at church, etc.

The four cardinal virtues are in play here (Wisdom 8:5-7). The wise person is guided by wisdom, the highest of riches that guides us to be prudent (doing and saying the right thing), justice (respects the dignity of other persons), fortitude (courage to go against popular, suggestive, provocative styles), and temperance (insures mastery over sensual temptations as occasions of sin). You can read more about these four cardinal virtues that play a pivotal role in our lives (CCC 1803-1809).

Our condition – all of us are beset with concupiscence. Concupiscence or covetousness: “Human appetites or desires that are disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism and which produce inclination to sin” (CCC, Glossary).

St. John identifies and distinguishes the three kinds of inclinations of all human beings: “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

The road to modesty starts with the purification of the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication…” (Matthew 15:19). Bible beginners should be encouraged to get the basic overview of Jesus’ teaching by starting with the beatitudes in Matt. 5 in Jesus’ first sermon: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Part of the essence of that teaching is a wholesome, orthodox, first hand appreciation of God’s plan for our sexuality – its sacredness, its fulfillment in marriage, its place in family, Church, and world.

The Catechism speaks next, after the purification of the heart, about “the battle for purity”. We, the baptized and the forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires (CCC 2520).

“Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden (CCC 2521).

“Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It is discreet (CCC 2522).

“There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies (CCC2523).

“Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person (CCC 2524).

“Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint (CCC 2525).

“So-called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law. Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man” (CCC 2526).

Yes, we can help the devil in many ways including the way we dress. In the Act of Contrition we promise “to avoid the near occasion of sin”. St. Paul writes about “provoking another” (Gal. 5:26).

The key to all modesty is rooted in our mother and daddy who model modesty for their children, i.e. a strong, but tender St. Joseph-like husband and father who is blessed with a wonderful wife and mother for their children. “Happy the husband of a good wife…choicest of his blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person” (Sirach 26: 1, 15).

When the community of believers comes together for the Eucharist (Mass) let no one be a distraction from Jesus or provide temptation (an occasion of sin) to another because of our manner of dress.

Lectors, Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, and Hospitality Ministers should model modesty of dress for the parish as parents do in the family, the domestic church.

May we cherish and bear witness to the virtues of prudence, temperance, chastity, and modesty for the sake of our own salvation and of others. St. Mary and St. Joseph, St. Ann and St. Joachim, parents and grandparents of their son and grandson, Jesus, intercede for us!

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Rev. John W. Yanta
Bishop of Amarillo

Observations

by Bishop John W. Yanta

Basics of modesty in dress

From the Catechism

“There are differences between male and female: physical, emotional, and spiritual differences. These differences result, by God’s plan, in a beautiful complementarity oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life” (CCC 2333).

“Men and women are equal but not the same obiously. There is equal personal dignity. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God” (CCC 2334-5).

“The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (CCC 2341).

“Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life” (CCC 2394).

“Temperance: The cardinal moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instinct, and keeps natural desires within proper limits” (CCC Glossary).

From the Dictionary

Modesty: “Propriety in dress, speech or conduct” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate p.798).

Dress, Apparel, Clothing: “Covering, adornment, or appearance appropriate or peculiar to a particular time” (Webster’s p.380).

Propriety: “Fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior esp. between the sexes; the customs and manners of polite society” (Webster’s p.997).

Compendium of the Catechism

“Purity requires modesty which, while protecting the intimate center of the person, expresses the sensitivity of chastity. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their communion. Purity frees one from wide-spread eroticism and avoids those things which foster morbid curiosity. Purity also requires a purification of the social climate by means of a constant struggle against moral permissiveness which is founded on an erroneous concept of human freedom” (Compendium of the Catechism 530).

On Reverence

“The Church, the house of God, is… the privileged place of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament” (CCC 2691).

Excerpts from a Homily Given by Fr. Dominic Mary, MFVA on EWTN Televised Mass (6-14-05)

“Included in the virtue of modesty is not only humility, but also in how one externally dresses (cf. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 356). But many today have rejected to practice this virtue so desperately needed in our current culture. Even to the most casual observer, immodesty in dress is seen as common place in our Churches.

We have got to do all we can to help people to wake up and realize they are dressing way too immodestly, especially when it comes to entering a Church to worship God. We must be like the Vatican — just one example (cf., www. cathnews.com) – When there are heat waves in Rome the Vatican dress police, neatly dressed in pants, shirts and ties, turn back all tourists in shorts and bare shoulders trying to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve seen them do this with my own eyes. These immodestly dressed people have to go and buy paper pants and shirts from vendors eagerly waiting outside.

“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, bare shoulders, low cut dresses, very tight fitting clothing, etc. “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.

“When a person dresses immodestly he or she can become an occasion of sin for other people. And this is the fashion for today. Each year it seems that the latest fashion is to see how little clothing one can wear and how much of one’s body can be shown. And what flesh is not shown is revealed by extremely tight clothing.

“To knowingly and intentionally dress like this is sinful, and can be even seriously sinful, because one can become a temptation to sin for other people. We are all weak and can easily fall into many sins of impurity by someone else’s immodesty.

“Before we go out or buy new clothes we should do a modesty check”.

Fr. Hathaway, FSSP on Modesty of Dress at Holy Mass

“We will speak on dress for women and men at the Holy Mass… especially on Sunday.

“But let me preface that I did not wake up this morning thinking, “I wonder how I can ruin their day?” I do not want to make you mad, but only advance your salvation. Our dress can be a touchy topic… but all of us should want to correct errors should they exist.

“First, we should give a definition. Modesty in dress is the virtue which regulates the type of clothing and the manner of its wearing so that it conforms to the purposes by which clothing is worn. Now the purpose of clothing is to protect against the weather, to reveal status or position or formality in society, and to preserve decency.

“Now how should women dress at Holy Mass?

“Indecency of women’s dress at the Holy Sacrifice is not a new thing. In 1921, Pope Benedict XV (Sacra propediem) lamented the indecent dress of women at Holy Mass this way: ‘…one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by a desire to please, they do not see to what degree the indecency of the clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God.

“Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toiletries as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seductive food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly author of purity.

“Now how should a man dress at the Holy Sacrifice?

“If women exceed the virtue, it is common for men to come up short in practicing the virtue of modesty in dress. Men, we are inclined to be careless or slovenly about what we wear… (even at Holy Mass); and young men are prone to deliberately neglect their dress so as to attract attention.

“At Holy Mass, men should wear a coat and tie; or, at least, a collared shirt and nice slacks.

“Young men must be taught that baggy pants are not appropriate; that their hair be nicely cut and combed; that shirts be clean and without slogans or cross bones or a dragon,… or anything which may give Satan the appearance of being honored”.

On Galveston-Houston Archdiocese Website

“The Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Communion Under Both Kinds refers to reverent attire (cf. #29) but does not describe what is considered reverent. Does the Diocese of Galveston-Houston have guidelines describing what is considered appropriate attire for liturgical ministers?”

“Extraordinary Ministers should be appropriately dressed when distributing Communion during the liturgy. On several occasions I have directed that men, including young men, must wear a coat, and women modest dresses or pant suits. This directive is to be observed even for Youth Masses.”

The Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia

“I am often asked about the dress requirements for people who perform the roles of readers and special ministers of communion in a parish.

“This usually comes about because complaints have been made about the way these liturgical ministers present themselves at Mass.

“A good place to begin tackling this question is to revisit the meaning of the word ‘ministry’. Readers and special ministers serve the liturgy and the gathered assembly by proclaiming the Word of God and helping in the distribution of the sacred elements. Their manner of dress should reflect the importance and dignity of the ministry in which they serve. “The term ‘Sunday best’ is sometimes used to describe what is acceptable. This does not mean expensive or fancy, but it does mean clothing that is neat, clean and reasonably modest. Outlandish or clattering jewelry, tee shirts with slogans or insignia, jogging outfits or see-through clothing are probably universally considered inappropriate.

“Liturgical ministers become channels of God’s presence when they carry out their ministry. Anything that blocks that channel – whether gesture, demeanor or clothing – is out of place. If a reader’s dress attracts the attention of the assembly rather than what he or she is proclaiming, or if a communion minister’s outfit prevents communicants focusing on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, then something is clearly amiss”.

Ministers of Hospitality (Archdioces of Brisbane, Australia).

“Because all liturgical ministers, by their demeanor and attitude, send a message about the importance of what is taking place, it is helpful if they are attired in their ‘Sunday best’. “

In some parishes, ministers wear a uniform blazer for visibility so that they can be identified immediately in case of an emergency. In either case, a nametag identifying a person as a minister of hospitality would be helpful.

Diocese of Trenton, NJ

“Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should dress in secular clothing that is modest, clean, and appropriate for worship.

“If the local parish decides to use special dress for its Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, it must be distinctive and not confused with the dress of a priest or deacon.”

Diocese of Amarillo | Post Office Box 5644 | Amarillo, TX

This item 7056 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org

Does the Church Have a Dress Code?

Women must be decently dressed, especially when they go to church. The parish priest may, with due prudence, refuse them entrance to the church and access to the reception of the Sacraments, [each] and every time that they come to church immodestly dressed.” (General Pastoral Directive, 1915 A.D.)

Although immodesty in dress was not unheard of from the lips of the Popes, it was around the time of Pope Pius XI that a Dress Code of sorts came about.

Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) spoke of the deplorable immodesty in society, in his Encyclical to the Third Order St. Francis, “SACRA PROPEDIEM“, and encouraged especially the Tertiary Sisters, “by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”

He goes on to say, about society:

“..one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity. And We speak not of those exotic and barbarous dances recently imported into fashionable circles, one more shocking than the other; one cannot imagine anything more suitable for banishing all the remains of modesty.

In considering attentively this state of things, the Tertiaries will understand what it is that our epoch expects from the disciples of St. Francis. If they bring their gaze back to the life of their Father, they will see what perfect and living resemblance to Jesus Christ, above all in His flight from satisfactions and his love of trials in this life, had he whom they call the Poverello, and who had received in his flesh the stigmata of the Crucified. It is for them to show that they remain worthy of him by embracing poverty, at least in spirit, in renouncing themselves, and in bearing each one his cross.

In what concerns specially the Tertiary Sisters, We ask of them by their dress and manner of wearing it, to be models of holy modesty for other ladies and young girls; that they be thoroughly convinced that the best way for them to be of use to the Church and to Society is to labor for the improvement of morals.”

In “Remarks on the woman’s mission in society” to a delegation of the Union of Catholic Women, October 21, 1919, Pope Benedict XV said, “We must hasten, however, to We congratulate the resolution we just made, you will ensure that Catholic women feel obliged to not only be honest, but to prove his honesty by way of dressing. Such resolution recalls the need for the Catholic woman to set a good example.

Ignorance alone can explain the deplorable extension taken today by a fashion so contrary to modesty, the most beautiful ornament of the Christian woman; better informed, it seems to us that a woman could never have come to this excess wear indecent dressing into the holy place, under the gaze of natural masters and the most authoritative of Christian morality.” 

Pope Benedict XV, ”  Remarks on the woman’s mission in society” to a delegation of the Union of Catholic Women, October 21, 1919, inProceedings of Benedict XV,Volume II, House of the Good Press, Paris, 1926 p. 69-70

Pope Pius XI had decried the Immodesty of women and called for those who dressed immodestly TO BE DE-BARRED FROM HOLY COMMUNION:

“Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion and from acting as sponsors at the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation; further, if the offense be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the church.”

(Original letter published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis of 1930 vol. 22, pp. 26-28)

He spoke again of the importance of modesty in sports, in his encyclical, “Divini Illius Magistri” DECEMBER 31, 1929.

In 1930 a letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Council (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1930 vol. 22, pp. 26-28) was issued. This was addressed to the whole world. It condemned emphatically “the immodest fashion of dress adopted by Catholic women and girls, which fashion not only offends the dignity of women, but conduces to the temporal ruin of the women and girls, and, what is still worse, to their eternal ruin, miserably dragging down others in their fall.”

These instructions were given (among others):

1. “The parish priest should command that feminine garb be based on modesty, and womanly ornament be a defence of virtue. Let them likewise admonish parents to cause their daughters to cease wearing indecorous dress.”

2. “Teachers must not receive in their colleges and schools immodestly dressed girls.”

3. “Maidens and women dressed immodestly are to be debarred from Holy Communion … further, if the offence be extreme, they may even be forbidden to enter the Church.”

(I X . Puellae et mulieres, quae inhonestas vestes induunt, a Sancta Communione
et a munere matrinae in sacramentis Baptismi et Confirmationis
arceantur, atque, si casus ferat, ab ipso ecclesiae ingressu prohibeantur.)

In another Encyclical he wrote:

“It is abundantly clear that readers of Augustine will not be caught in the toils of that pernicious error, which was widespread during the eighteenth century, namely, that the inborn impulses of the will should neither be feared nor curbed, since all of them are right and sound. From its false principle sprang those educational methods, which We condemned not long ago in Our Encyclical on “The Christian Education of Youth.” Their effect is to allow a free mingling of the sexes and to employ no precaution in controlling the growing passions of boyhood and youth. From this false principle too comes that license in writing and reading, in presenting or frequenting plays, that do not merely threaten innocence and purity with dangerous occasions, but actually plot their ruin and destruction. From this source again are derived those immodest fashions of dress, which Christian women can never be at too great pains to abolish.”

Ad Salutem“, April 30, 1930 A.D.

The Pope’s weren’t the only ones who spoke out about the dangers of immodesty and indecent attire. In 1925 the Bishops of Belgium issued a serious call concerning indecent fashions, quoting, People who are not well dressed are asked not to approach the communion rail.”

(The Catholic Tunisia , October 11, 1925, p. 750 -752)

An article in Le Figaro, published on December 20, 1920 by His Eminence Cardinal Louis-Ernest Dubois spoke of a letter that “was read from the pulpit in every church in the diocese, the following warning of the new archbishop of Paris, ‘against indecent modes and unseemly dances.'” quoting, “We urge our diocesan react against the opposing modes to Christian decency.”

Le Figaro , 66 th year, 3 E Series, No. 354, Monday, December 20, 1920, p. 2 .

Continues letters and calls to decent Fashions streamed from chanceries and pulpits during these years (1920s-1940s), as it was becoming the “mode” to throw off old ways and do whatever was scandalous (for those days).

One must understand that the fashions of the 1920’s were not of such terrible immodesty as was the intent of scandal that was behind it. The lifestyle of the “Flapper Girl” that was behind much of the new crazes pushed for a “freer” lifestyle. One that, without the Church reminding Catholic’s of their duties, would easily cause many souls of forget all Modesty in dress, speech, and so on.

The new dances may not be of such concern today, but when they first came out in the 20’s, it was to be as much of a scandal as possible. Shaking parts of their bodies that were so un-exposed before. Hiking up their skirts to expose their knees – a “scandalous” deed back then. Smoking and drinking excessively, sleeping around freely, flirting with every person that came their way. Moving pictures gave the public more  freedom concerning dirty movies. All of these immodesties called for the Church to openly speak about the dangers of such acts. For who knew where and when it would stop?

Cardinal-Vicar of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Pompili (photo on left), on 24 September 1928 issued Guidelines to help Catholic women with regard to Fashion – and what they could consider to be Modest and proper for Mass (and so on).

 “A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers’ breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper.”

There has been a concession with regard to sleeve length, because of market conditions.

Brother Raymond-Marie Rouleau, Archbishop of Quebec, wrote in 1930: (loosely translated from French)In order to determine precisely what is to be considered what is appropriate, (or) improper attire to be worn by the person assisting at Mass…We take the following rule to the letter of His Eminence Cardinal Vicar [ Basilio Pompilj ] addressed on 24 September 1928 to all higher schools of sponsorships and girls in the city of Rome..

We hope that all the girls and women of our diocese will be a duty to comply with these provisions and to set an example of Christian modesty with the submission to the will of the Vicar of Jesus Christ. It goes without saying that sanctions brought by the Sacred Congregation must be applied with equal prudence and firmness , to stop immediately and as effectively as possible the scourge of immodesty.

Circular clergy” , Part No. I, April 6, 1930, published in Mandements, pastoral letters and circulars of the bishops of Quebec , Supplement No. 33, p. 15 , New Series, Volume 9, Quebec, in 1925.

Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, quotes these guidelines as “The Church’s stand concerning modesty in dress” in his Pastoral of December 6, 1959. He was known for launching many religious crusades, including the Purity Crusade for Mary Immaculate.

The Bishops in Quebec, Canada also wrote a lengthy Joint Pastoral Letter titled, “Purity Crusade“, concerning the grave importance of Modesty in Dress, published May 5th 1946. Earlier they had quoted,

“Synod of Quebec (1940), Decree 102, notes: “What if we ask what is a modest and decent attire ( minimum ) for a Christian, as we understand it’s one that covers the chest and the arms of non-transparent fabric, which goes down at least mid-leg, and whose cup a suitable extent protects modesty hiding body lines ” (Cardinal Rouleau,  December 8, 1930 ,  Mandements of Bishops of Quebec , . vol XIII, Supplement 45) [made in: 36].

Address of Pope Pius XII to young girls of Catholic Action of Rome, members of the Crusade for Purity, on May 22, 1941. ‘How many girls there are who do not see any wrongdoing in following certain shameless styles like so many sheep. They certainly would blush if they could guess the impression they make and the feelings they evoke in those who see them.’ Pope Pius XII

Address of Pope Pius XII to young girls of Catholic Action of Rome, members of the Crusade for Purity, on May 22, 1941. An telling instruction from the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930, speaks volumes of the importance that Pope Pius XII held modesty in dress to: “Under the supreme apostolate which God has entrusted the performance of the whole Church, His Holiness Pope Pius XI has never ceased to teach by word and writings the precept of St. Paul: “That women wear decent clothes, adorning themselves with modesty and simplicity (…) and as befits women who profess to worship God through good works. “

Often when the occasion arose, the Pope disapproved and condemned severely indecent modes introduced everywhere today in the clothing habits of women and girls even Catholic; not only these modes gravely offend the dignity and feminine grace, but unfortunately cause temporal damage for the woman and, what is worse, his eternal loss and others.” 

(D. Card. Sbarretti Sabine bishop and Poggio Mirteto, Prefect. JULES, Bishop of Lampsacus, Secretary. Instruction to Diocesan Ordinaries on Indecent Women’s Fashion by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, January 12, 1930)

Is it still Relevant Today?

There is still a sign outside the Vatican which tells the visitors how to dress. And if you are dressed more immodestly you will be thrown out or given paper clothing to wear! And as you can see, they still adhere to the original Modesty Guidelines, “shoulder and knees covered, nothing too low-cut… etc.”  The Papal Audience Dress Code should at least be thought about adhering to when in the Presence of, not just the Pope, but the Blessed Sacrament! 

Pope Pius XII condemned the idea that a sin such as wearing an immodest fashion is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) if it is customary at a given time and/or place. The principle of majority is no rule of conduct. (There are many evil practices that are widely accepted.)

“Yet, no matter how broad and changeable the relative morals of styles may be, there is always an absolute norm to be kept after having heard the admonition of conscience warning against approaching danger: style must never be a proximate occasion of sin.”(An ADDRESS of Pope Pius XII to a Congress of the “Latin Union of High Fashion” November 8, 1957.)

The SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH: PERSONA HUMANA : DECLARATION ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS CONCERNING SEXUAL ETHICS says,“In moral matters man cannot make value judgments according to his personal whim: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. . . . For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.””

The virtue of chastity, however, is in no way confined solely to avoiding the faults already listed. It is aimed at attaining higher and more positive goals. It is a virtue which concerns the whole personality, as regards both interior and outward behavior.” Learn to respect and love one another. But do it completely. 

Are we a “generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.” [Proverbs 30:12] ?

 In 2006 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement titled, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist”, in the statement is this portion on dressing well for Holy Mass; “Appropriate attire — We should also come to the sacred liturgy appropriately dressed. As Christians we should dress in a modest manner, wearing clothes that reflect our reverence for God and that manifest our respect for the dignity of the liturgy and for one another.”

As we can see, the importance of the issue of modesty, especially in the Presence of the Holy Eucharist is still very important.

A question one might ask oneself is, “How exactly could something of such great importance, as called by the Church, suddenly no longer be so? Have we lost our concupiscence which we have been born with, thanks to Adam and Eve’s sin? Have we gained a miraculous ability to no longer be tempted?”

Alice von Hildebrand speaks volumes concerning this in her article, saying this of downplaying of temptation and the like, “King David’s sins underscore how sexual desire can degenerate into what Dietrich calls “diabolical” temptations.  Some of the most atrocious perversions occur when the Devil takes over completely.  And one should never downplay, or minimize, the gravity of these evils. It is plainly false to claim that such abuses are “tragic,” rather than “filthy.”” Her book, “The Dark Night of the Body” is another interesting and great source on this topic. Even secular sources’ findings concerning the primal feelings that man, in general, have, when it comes to the Bikini (As well as the mini skirt) is a loud warning bell to any Catholic. One can learn to love the other for their God-given beauty and their Temple of the Holy Spirit as much as they can, but even great Saints take steps to fight temptation. St. Thomas Aquinas for one example – threw a burning log at a prostitute coming into his room to tempt him.

St. Padre Pio had a great love for Modesty, take a look at some of his letter:“Most of all it was modest in the way of dressing that was most dear to the Padre’s heart, no matter where one lived. The reason that the Saint worried was that an indecent way of dressing can be scandalous and an occasion of sin for anyone.’”

(IASENZANIRO, FR. MARCELLINO. PADRE PIO TESTIMONIES. VOL 1. SAN GIOVANNO ROTUNDO, ITALY: EZIOLINI POADRE PIO PIETRELCINA, P 149.)

Although one story in particular has not held true concerning St. Padre Pio and modesty, and that is the story of his “putting a sign debarring certain women with certain dress lengths from confession.” This story has been proven to be false.

St. Dominic Savio was also a great lover and promoter of purity and modesty.

St. Maria Goretti as well.

Even an early Christian martyr, St. Perpetua was known to cover her legs as she was thrown to and fro in the lion dens – to cover her modesty!’When she was thrown into the air by a savage bull in the amphitheatre at Carthage, her first thought and action when she fell to the ground was to rearrange her dress to cover her thigh, because she was more concerned for modesty than pain.’ 

Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Girls of Catholic Action, speaking of St. Perpetua

Conclusion / Final Notes

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

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

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

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

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

We will continue to update this portion of the website as we obtain more information concerning Modesty in Dress & the Church.

Modesty & The Catholic Church – Fr. Dominic Mary, MFVA

Homily Given by Fr. Dominic Mary, MFVA on EWTN’s Televised Mass – 6.14.05

2 Cor 8:1-9 OLA Chapel – 7am TV Mass

Psalm 146:2, 5-9 Tues week 11 – Year I

St. Matthew 5:43-48 June 14, 2005

Today is Tuesday of the 11th week of Ordinary Time. In today’s gospel we see the Lord Jesus continuing His Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel. He tells the people, and us through this holy Gospel, that they and we are to no longer hate our enemies, but rather, we are to love them. Furthermore, we are to pray for those who persecute us. We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We are called to holiness – and holiness includes loving and praying for those who do us wrong.

But you know, one of the things that comes to mind, especially with summer well under way in this part of the world, is the lack of love shown by so many people to their neighbor in the poor and immodest way in which they dress, especially while attending Holy Mass. And this immodesty is very much tied to the widespread impurity in our culture and society today. Immodesty is one of the biggest problems we have to face in dealing with purity in the West. The Ninth Commandment says that thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. As the Catechism tells us, the struggle against carnal covetousness entails purifying the heart and practicing temperance (CCC, no. 2517). And purity requires modesty, which is an integral part of temperance (CCC, no. 2521). Modesty

protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons. (CCC, no. 2521)

Modesty protects the mystery of the person. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. (CCC, no. 2522)

And so modesty is a virtue. Included in the virtue of modesty is not only humility, but also in how one externally dresses (cf. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 356). But many today have rejected to practice this virtue so desperately needed in our current culture. Even to the most casual observer, immodesty in dress is seen as common place in our Churches. We have got to do all we can to help people to wake up and realize they are dressing way to immodestly, especially when it comes to entering a Church to worship God. We must be like the Vatican – just one example (cf. www. cathnews.com) – when there are heat waves in Rome the Vatican dress police, neatly dressed in pants, shirts and ties, turn back all tourists in shorts and bare shoulders trying to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve seen them do with my own eyes. These immodestly dressed people have to go and buy paper pants and shirts from vendors eagerly waiting outside.

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.

When a person dresses immodestly he or she can become an occasion of sin for other people. And this is the fashion for today. Each year it seems that the latest fashion is to see how little clothing one can wear and how much of one’s body can be shown. And what flesh is not shown is revealed by extremely tight clothing. To knowingly and intentionally dress like this is sinful, and can be even seriously sinful, because one become a temptation to sin for other people. We are all weak and can easily fall into many sins of impurity by someone else’s immodesty.

Before we go out or buy new clothes we should do a modesty check. Ladies, remember some simple guidelines in buying and wearing an outfit, which are modeled here after a well known modesty promoter (cf. Collen Hammond, Dressing with Dignity, http://www.valoramedia.com):

1. First of all, one guideline which can prove to very helpful (developed by either the Sacred Congregation of the Council under Pope Pius XI or from a Cardinal from Pope Pius XII=s office in 1956): 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 a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.

2. Does my back, belly or shoulders show? Does my back or belly show when I am bending or stretching? When bending over does my blouse hang down and open for all to see through?

3. Is my blouse or top to tight? Is it more loose fitting or is it too tight and revealing? Can one see the outline of my underwear through my tight-fitting clothing? Blouses and tops that are too tight are very immodest and say a lot about the woman who wears such a blouse or top.

4. Lastly, we are concerned about how much flesh is showing, but as one well known modesty promoter put it, modesty is not just about how much of our skin is showing, but how much of our feminine shape is showing (cf. Collen Hammond, Dressing with Dignity, http://www.valoramedia.com).

The way one dresses is a big determinant in what kind of person one will attract. Ladies, if you dress immodestly, what do you think you will attract? If you dress like a woman of the night you attract men of the night – men who want to use you, not to love you for who you are. Women want to be loved for who they are, not for the pleasure they can give to a man. Yet many dress so immodestly that all they attract is men who wish to love them for their body. If you want to attract a decent man, who will truly love you, then start by dressing like a woman who respects herself and her dignity as a woman. What you wear says a lot about you. By how you dress sends many messages to those who see you.

Let us love our neighbor, even our enemies: first, in relation to today’s Gospel, by dressing properly and modestly. Second, let us love, with a Christian love, those who do dress immodestly. Let us pray for them and try to gently help them. Let us dress properly. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).