Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Does your parish have a dress code?

Here is the dress code that appeared in the bulletin of a parish that shall remain anonymous:

We want the greatest reverence and respect for Our Lord at "St. John's." Our attire is an outward expression of our love for the Lord and shows how important He is to us. It is also a sign of our respect for the House of God. Therefore, one should always wear (his) "Sunday best" to Mass: modesty, good taste, and common sense should prevail. Accordingly, the following rules apply:


--Women: No revealing clothing, low necklines, short skirts or bare midriffs. Please dress modestly with dignity and self-respect -- It is highly suggested that women, as is the traditional custom, wear a head covering in church.

--Men: No tattered, soiled work clothes, old jeans or gym clothes. Please wear "business or business casual attire" to set a good example for our young men and boys.

Another pithier but nearly as effective dress code for another anonymous parish reads thus:

Out of respect for our Blessed Lord and for the edification of our neighbour, all -- young and old -- are asked to appear in Church with appropriate clothing. Tank tops, shorts, low cut, backless and minidresses, halters, bare midriffs, sleepwear, tight fitting clothes etc. do not meet the norm of Christian modesty and respect which applies in the house of God and gate of Heaven.

Now, this may seem to be, well, "elementary," especially for a forum such as this one, but truthfully, this is what one might call a "level one" implementation of the reform of the reform. For if we cannot convince people to dress properly for Mass, how will we ever be able to persuade them of the necessity for a more dignified ars celebrandi?

Now many church leaders, especially pastors of a certain mindset, don't want to enforce a dress code of any type out of a fear that people will leave either the parish or the Church entirely. Many of these same folks would say that they're just glad the people are there. However, how many people who are willing to wear gym clothes to church really understand what their presence at such a sacred event is all about? (So...maybe they need to be taught.) Moreover, someone who leaves over such an issue would probably already have had one foot out the door by virtue of their insistence of dressing appropriately for the golf game rather than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Such a decision betrays their real priorities.

Truth be told, I don't think that many people would leave, especially if a dress code were enforced along with strong catechesis. Moreover, I'd bet, judging from conversations I've heard in all manner of places, that the pastor who had the intestinal fortitude to implement a dress code would receive the profound gratitude of the great majority of his parishioners.

So, I urge all pastors, when it comes to dress codes: Be not afraid.

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