Dress to Impress?
I want to make something clear from the outset. This article is NOT about dressing to impress on Sundays. The Church is not about fashion; though, there are many beautiful chasubles, habits, stoles, and the like in the Church’s two thousand year tradition.
So, how does our own personal dress as laity matter on Sundays? I would argue that it communicates in an external way our internal priorities.
The term “Sunday Best” used to be used often to describe the very best outfit you owned. Perhaps we have lost sight of the meaning of Sunday? Perhaps our priorities just need to be reexamined? I invite you to join me on taking a look at what our Sunday best can be when it comes to what we wear.
Priorities on Display
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. In 2010, three million people were affected by an earthquake that left 230,00 people dead. To this day, the Haitian people are still recovering. Unfortunately, the government of Haiti is very corrupt. The people, by and large, are materially destitute.
I was in a rural area of the country on a mission trip a few years ago. Many of the people that we met lived in very small dwellings. Some of them cannot even be called houses, properly speaking. They were dwellings pieced together from refuse concrete and sheet metal. Most of the clothing that was worn every day was not of good quality.
There were two exceptions to the quality of clothing. First, for the children fortunate enough to go to grade school, the boys and girls dressed very well in school uniforms. It was clear that this was something worthwhile to the people we encountered. School was valued and this priority was as apparent to me as daylight.
The second thing that I noticed was the way that the people dressed for Sunday Mass. In the humid, Caribbean weather, where some people walked for miles to get to church, the people were dressed in their Sunday best. The men wore pants and nice shoes. The women wore dresses with covered shoulders and knees. I was shocked by the powerful non-verbal testimony of these beautiful people.
Perhaps because of their seemingly-abject material poverty, the spiritual wealth of these faithful Catholics shined out all the more.
Sacrifice and Supper
What we wear to Sunday Mass matters. When we go to the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are entering into a sacred and transcendent reality. On Sunday, this occasion takes on a significantly special dimension.
First and most importantly, the Mass presents the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary in an unbloodied manner. Through the priesthood of Christ and the words of the ordained priest, we become present at the Last Supper and we are at the foot of the Cross. How you hold yourself, what you choose to wear, and how you participate all speak to whether you are acknowledging this reality or not.
Second, the Mass is a taste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The Mass has a nuptial character. Even when receiving our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist, we use wedding language. We say, “Amen,” which means, “yes,” “so be it,” and “I believe,” but it also means, “I do.” The Bridegroom comes to His Bride, the Church. Every Mass is a wedding feast.
How would you dress for a wedding? How do you dress for Sunday Mass?
Heaven Kissing Earth
Taking part in the action of the Mystical Body of Christ, we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the meeting of Heaven and Earth. Now, think about how you dress for Sunday Mass. Have you dressed appropriately for kneeling at the foot of the Cross where our redemption was won and His saving Blood is offered for us? Have you dressed appropriately for the Lamb’s Supper, the great Wedding Feast where Heaven and Earth kiss?
Chances are you, or someone you know, could dress for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass more appropriately. We need to make a statement without opening our mouths. This is not to impress anyone, but to really put our priorities in the correct order.
Is Mass important or not? Is the Eucharist the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ or not?
What to Wear for Mass?
To match the occasion, men ought to wear dress shoes, slacks, a dress shirt, a tie, and maybe even a sports coat or suit coat (air temperature permitting) to Sunday Mass.
T-shirts or sport’s jerseys are never appropriate for Sunday Mass. Wearing a jersey to Mass says to every single person in attendance, and to God, that you care more about the game later in the day than the Mass. Additionally, shorts are never acceptable at the Sunday Mass for men. Shorts are casual wear. If we would not wear them to a business meeting, then how can we approach the King of kings dressed so casually.
I am not a woman, and so this section will be concise. I will leave it to one of the ladies to explain further what might be the “Sunday Best.” For now, I will just offer some basic thoughts. The consensus for women is: modest tops, dresses, skirts, or pants are all great. Jeans are not appropriate, as they are casual. Shoulders ought to be covered, and no plunging necklines. Chapel veils are also a possibility, though they are optional. These are worn in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.
Stepping Up Our Sunday Wardrobe
When it comes to proper attire at Mass, the controversies never cease. I offer this writing as a guidepost and one Catholic’s opinion. Though, I think if you had to err on the side of caution, it is better to be more dressed up for the most amazing and incredible event on the planet, rather than too casual.
Think about this and pray about it. If your parish has a fairly casual feel on Sunday, perhaps you can be a trend-setter. Bringing more solemnity, joy, and decorum to the Sunday Mass is never a bad thing to do.