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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dressing well for Mass - from the Archdiocese of Washington

Adore the Lord in Holy Attire - On Proper Dress for Mass

By Msgr. Charles Pope
May 24, 2010

Last week we had a discussion on the women wearing veils in Church. One of the themes that emerged in the comments was that the discussions about what to wear in Church should be broader than just a veil. More specifically BOTH men and women should consider how they dress when going into God’s house. Hence I would like to explore some background issues and  enunciate some principles. You of course will be able to add to them.

Scripture – There is very little in Scripture that seems to spell out the proper way to dress for sacred worship. There is the general directive toAdore the Lord in holy attire (Psalm 96:9; Ps 29:2) But this seems more an allusion to holiness (God’s and ours) more than to clothing per se. There are directives for the Passover meal that one should have staff in hand, with loins girt and sandals on their feet (Ex 12:11). But this seems a specific rule for the Passover meal only and hardly something that would done in the synagogue or temple. To gird one’s loins meant to pull up the lower part of one’s outer garment and tighten the belt. This exposed the lower legs and allowed greater mobility for them. It was a sign of being flight or of being at work. It is the ancient equivalent of “roll up your sleeves.”  (more HERE). As a general rule Jewish people would not show their legs unless circumstances strongly required it. They would surely not come to the synagogue or the Temple in this manner. Scripture also speaks ofPhylacteries and Prayer Shawls. But these sorts of clothing and accessories seem to have come under some critique in the New Testament (Matt 23:5) and their use was not continued in the New Testament Church worship.
2. Church norms and rules – There are no official and specific Church norms or requirement for lay persons who attend Mass mentioned in Canon Law or the Sacramentary. Surely for priests and other clergy there aremany rules and norms but I am unaware of any currently binding norms for the laity. Although the veils were once required for women, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was abrogated and the current code is silent on any requirement.
3. Hence it seems that Culture supplies most of the norms regarding what is considered appropriate attire for Church. And, alas our culture is currently quite unhelpful to us in this regard. Here in America we have become extremely casual about the way we dress for just about everything. It seems we almost never dress up anymore. This has changed somewhat dramatically in my own life time of just less than 50 years. “Sneakers” or “tennis shoes” as we called them were for sports or running around and playing in the neighborhood. But we would never even think of wearing them to school and certainly not to Church. I remember having a special set of shoes just for church. In the 1960s, it was also expected that I would go to Church in formal, pressed trousers, a button down shirt, and, except in the hottest months, a tie and even a suit jacket in winter. My sister and mother always wore a dress. Pants would not even have been considered for them. For the younger girls a skirt and a blouse might be OK but preferably a dress with a hat or veil.
But things changed dramatically around 1970. The photo above right was taken in 1969 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton, Massachusetts. It was the end of an era. Within five years neckties were lost and jeans and a t-shirts came to be the norm. Most of the women as we discussed lost the veil, and dresses gave way to more casual pants suits and then also to other more casual things like jeans etc. Shorts for men and women, unthinkable in previous years also began to appear in church as did tank tops and other beach attire. Within ten years the culture of dressing up for Church was almost wholly abandoned. Now  wearing a tie to Church would seem stuffy and formal.
But this is where our culture has gone. It is not just Church. Years ago when my family went out to eat we almost always dressed up. Maybe it wasn’t a full neck tie but at least trousers and a button down shirt. Maybe not a formal dress for mom and sis, but at least a skirt and blouse. A restaurant was considered a semi-formal outing. School was also considered a place where things like jeans and informal t-shirts were out of place. Going down town to shop meant we changed out of shorts and put on something appropriate. Shorts were basically for running around the house, playing in the yard and such. But you just didn’t go out to more public settings wearing shorts and flip flops or even sneakers.
Pardon me for sounding like and old fud but I am not really that old. My point is that culture has changed,  and changed rather quickly. This has affected the Church as well. What were fighting is a strong cultural swing to the extremely informal. Most people don’t even think of dressing up for most things any more let alone Church.
4. Hence at the cost of seeming old and stuffy I might like to suggest a few norms and I hope you’ll supply your own as well:
  1. Men should wear formal shoes to Church. We used to call these hard shoes (because they were) but today many formal shoes are actually quite comfortable.
  2. Men should wear trousers (not jeans).
  3. Men should never wear shorts to Church.
  4. Men should wear a decent shirt, preferably a button down shirt. If it is a pullover shirt it should include a collar. Wearing a plain t-shirt without a collar is too informal.
  5. Men should consider wearing a tie to Church and in cooler weather, a suit coat. Some may consider this a bit too stuffy and formal but who knows, you might be a trend setter!
  6. Now as I talk about women I know I’ll get in some trouble!
  7. Women should wear decent shoes to Church. Flip flops, beach sandals etc. seem inappropriate.
  8. Women should not wear shorts to Church.
  9. Women, if they wear pants, should never wear jeans to Church. Some nice slacks that are not too tight can be fine.
  10. Women should consider wearing a dress or at least a skirt in preference to pants. It just looks a bit more formal than pants.
  11. Women should wear a nice blouse (if they are not wearing a full dress). The blouse or shirt they wear should not be too tight.
  12. Sleeveless garments are pushing it a bit but can be acceptable.
  13. Women should never wear tank tops, tube tops, spaghetti straps, or bare midriffs to Church.
  14. Well, you may have at this list. Add or subtract as you will.
A final thought: Clothes say something about what we think, what we value. They also influence how we behave and feel. That our culture has become so casual about everything says something about us. I cannot exactly articulate it but it seems to say, “nothing is really all that important.” But that is not true. Going to God’s house IS  important. Being ministered to by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is astounding. Casual attire in these circumstances is simply inappropriate if we really think about what we are doing, where we are going and who it is we will meet. It does not necessarily follow that we must wear tuxedos and formal gowns. But decent semi-formal attire seems wholly appropriate. Sunday is special, God’s House is special. Somethings really ARE important and our clothing and demeanor ought to reflect this truth.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Mantilla Daily

A guest post by Mrs Eva H. 

In my previous article I wrote about my journey towards wearing a covering at mass.  The last paragraph of the article ended like this:

            “I am now openly covering.   Just recently a teenager asked my what I was wearing on my head?  I explained in a few words and she smiled and told me she thought that was pretty cool.  I smiled back and thought yes... yes it is.”

I like that ending.  At 34, this devotion is dear to my heart and I am a contented mantilla wearing Catholic.  At the same time, that paragraph sounds almost like the end of a romance novel or a fairytale.  “And they lived happily ever after.”  (My mantilla and I in this case.)

Yet day to day life, like marriage is a combination of fairytale and tugging children's hands.  The first story does not mention the time when my facebook page showed the status update: “Not good.  Burned a hole in my mantilla trying to iron it.”  or the fact that I have lost a very pretty, and slightly expensive, mantilla of Flemish lace, and after three years I still do not know where it went. 

It also doesn't mention the times when I dug up a crumpled mantilla from the bottom of my purse and cracker crumbs rained on my feet so I had to shake it out before putting it on.  See, if this was a fairytale, a cute set of wood critters or doves would have come to pick them up, but no such luck.  Take a tip from me after 5 years of covering: put your mantilla in a little pouch, plastic, organza or pretty lace, it doesn't matter.  Actually, it does.  If you have young children, chose a rather indestructible pouch.  Calico or plastic will work better than lace, because lace can be delicate and you want to be able to shove the mantilla in with one hand while keeping eyes on a toddler at the same time. (Your husband might be carrying a baby.)   

And of course 'happily ever after' does not mention those days when you look up in the mirror of the church bathroom -after marching a potty training toddler there- and instead of the serene picture of devotion that you expect, you see a wild woman with a birds nest of hair in which a comb is clinging with it's last two teeth, and the 'glorious crown of lace' hanging like a wet dishtowel.

Then there are the cases where you will suddenly have an opportunity for worship and don't have a mantilla on you.  Now of course this can't deter you from grabbing the chance, but you might feel slightly... naked.  It becomes such a part of your 'church going attitude' that you will miss it when it is not there and you are before Our Lord.  I have not gone to the length however that the nuns went when my mother went to school, if someone had forgotten their chapel cap: they put a tissue on the unfortunate student's head. 

No tissues for me!  What I do have, after 5 years, is a head covering 'wardrobe'.  There was of course the beautiful Flemish mantilla that I started out with and that got lost.  There is a lacy shawl that I can wear as mantilla if the others have gone missing.  There was that mantilla which had a hole ironed in it. Unfortunately that one could not be saved.  My current mantilla was bought online and was a bargain for pretty Victorian lace.  I did sew a comb in it. (Do! Do!  Especially if you have children.)  I also have a simple black chapel cap, and several wide, headband like covers in calico or lace.  What can I say?  I am weak.  I would almost say: some women have shoes, I have head covers.  But it's not really the same.  Each purchase has been made for a particular reason.  Because while there is no rule that says a mantilla has to make you look dowdy (it doesn't), you have to also make sure that it remains a devotion, and not just a fashion accessory. 

One of the reasons was 'ease of wear' while you are holding a new baby, and it shows that alternatives have their own charm.  Because it's not a matter of what you place on your head, but how it changes your heart.  And it does.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Colombo cathedral enforces dress code: women asked to veil

Published Date: September 20, 2010
Colombo cathedral enforces dress code thumbnail
Women wearing veils at Colombo's St. Lucia's Cathedral. Priests there are insisting that young women cover their heads while at Mass.
Priests at St Lucia’s Cathedral in Colombo are insisting that young women cover their heads while at Mass.

The move is part of a drive to have churchgoers dress appropriately during religious ceremonies.

Many Catholics have complained that churchgoers in Colombo turn up for services in short skirts, halter tops, low cut blouses and shorts.

In a recent Sunday homily, Father John Paul Vinoth, an assistant parish priest at the cathedral, said that modest dressing would help create an atmosphere that is more “conducive to a spiritual experience.”

Appropriate dress in church is as important as flowers, decorations and incense in creating the right setting, he said. “It is essentially preparing a devotee for coming to church,” Father Vinoth added.

Meanwhile, the administrator of the Madhu Marian shrine has also appealed to pilgrims to dress modestly.
“Modest dress is beginning to disappear,” said Father Anthony Victor Sosai, who is also vicar general of Mannar diocese.
The shrine follows traditional Catholic norms and customs on dress, Father Sosai said, noting that Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim places of worship have enforced a strict dress code for centuries.

Laypeople have also expressed concern over declining dress standards.

“Who is going stop these abuses in churches?” asked Lawrance Gonsalvaz Coonghe, a senior Catholic reporter.