This article first appeared in this week’s edition of Vidi Dominum, the parish bulletin of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church. Re-published here with permission.
If you Google Search – “how to dress for Mass”, you will find ten different articles explaining why it’s important to dress appropriately, and a lot of different opinions in the comments. The reasons given are, for the most part, very similar. With the arrival of warmer temperatures here in Arizona and other places around the country, we tend to dress more casually. Many of us dress casually when we come to Mass as well. Should we?
Before I really dive deeper into this topic, let me say one thing – I am not judging you in any way. As one who works for the parish, it is my job, in union with our Pastor, Fr. Will, to help lead you closer to Christ. It’s not about judgment, but helping you to grow in your faith. My hope is that many of you will read this article, understand it, and implement it.
How did I learn to dress for Mass appropriately?
It goes back to the very first time I attended Holy Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Steubenville, Ohio nearly nine years ago. I’ll never forget the feeling of being totally underdressed when I walked into church. Even though I was wearing a $200 pair of Joe’s Jeans, an expensive Banana Republic polo shirt, and a pair of Johnston and Murphy shoes, nearly everyone else was dressed in their “Sunday best.” This was how I was dressing for Mass for years before that day. At least four of my graduate school professors, including Scott Hahn, were dressed in full suits with ties and their families were dressed to the same degree. Even as I write these words to you now, the feeling of that moment still resides with me. My first thought I was, “I need to go home and change into better clothes.” In the end, I stayed for Mass but sat in a back corner hoping that none of my professors witnessed my attire. Some might think this is extreme, but I learned long ago from my Dad that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, and I was most certainly underdressed for Holy Mass.
From that moment on, I learned how to wear appropriate clothing to Mass every Sunday. Did I dress in a suit very Sunday? No, but I wore dress pants, dress shoes, a polo or button down shirt (most often button down with a sweater) and, on occasion, a tie. In recent years, I have begun to wear a tie nearly every week. I am grateful that this lesson was taught to me many years ago. Dressing appropriately for Mass completely changed my disposition at Mass. My outer disposition and clothing now reflect my inner disposition.
Although I am writing this article to all parishioners, I particularly hope that my fellow Catholic men who read this article will take my words to heart. If you wear dress pants/khaki’s and a polo shirt/button down to work every day, but come to Mass dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops – there is a disconnect. Why dress appropriately for work, but dress casually for Mass? Would you wear your work clothes to go to the pool, the beach or the lake? This seems like a common sense question, but if you were to visit the President of the United States or Pope Francis, would you wear shorts and t-shirt? In Rome, you aren’t even permitted to enter a church building if you are not dressed appropriately.
Men – we can do better than this! It may not be a perfect expression, but the phrase “the clothes make the man” does express that the clothes we wear often affects the way we are regarded.
Practical Guidelines Appropriate Dress for Mass
So we might be asking ourselves, “what is appropriate dress for Sunday Mass?” In order to assist you in this question, below are a few norms for your consideration:
1. Wear formal (dress) shoes to Church. Flip-flops, TOMS (I love mine, but not for Mass), beach sandals, or cross training/running shoes are not formal shoes.
2. Wear dress pants or khakis (not jeans).
3. Don’t wear shorts.
4. Wear a button down shirt or a polo shirt, but make sure the shirt has a collar. Tuck the shirt into the pants. T-shirts with no collars, sleeveless shirts, and sports jerseys are too informal.
5. [For the more daring types] – wear a tie, a suit, or a sport coat with your attire. Some may think this is too stuffy, but not long ago, men wore such clothes every day, every Sunday to Mass, and yes, even to sporting events. Go take a look at a baseball game from the 1930’s and 1940’s – the men are wearing suits!
Women… (these suggestions came from fellow female parishioners)
1. Wear decent shoes to Church. Flip-flops and tennis shoes should be avoided.
2. Remember that for a skirt or dress, three fingers above the knee, or longer, is appropriate. Skirts and dresses should not be “see through” or have long slits in them. Shorts, especially “short shorts” should not be worn.
3. Don’t wear jeans (just like men). Slacks are a good option, but they should not be too tight. Your goal shouldn’t be to attract attention to the shape of your body when dressing for Mass.
4. Wear a nice blouse (if not wearing a dress). Tops should not be too tight for the same reason that pants shouldn’t be. Tank tops, spaghetti straps, and midriffs are not appropriate for Mass. It’s also important to make sure that undergarments remain undergarments. If any part of your bra can be seen by others, rethink your choice in top.
5. Cleavage should never be visible. You might think a shirt covers your cleavage, but take this quick test before you leave for Mass: Bow in front of the mirror. Whatever you see is what the Priest, Deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion will see when your bow before receiving the Eucharist.
With all of this in mind, let’s examine four common objections to dressing up for Mass –
1. “God doesn’t care what I wear to Mass”: This is often heard along with – “Come as you are! God doesn’t care what clothes you wear! He just wants you!” This objection is conjecture. God does care what you wear – don’t use this excuse because laziness has set in. No Bride on her wedding day is going to say to her Groom – “Come as you are to our wedding! I really don’t care what you wear.” Jesus explicitly demands respectful attire in Matthew 22:1-14 (The Parable of the Wedding Feast).
2. “It’s my personal prerogative – I don’t feel like dressing up”: Here we have the objection that, because I dress up all week for work, on Sunday it’s time to relax. Yes, Sunday is the Holy Sabbath – a day of rest. However, not dressing for Mass appropriately falls into the sin of sloth. Sloth lacks discipline and the willingness to suffer. If Our Lord suffered in agony on the cross for all of us, we can dress appropriately for a couple of hours on a Sunday to glorify His name, and yes, even when it’s 110 degrees.
3. “I never dress up”: Some people that make this argument are non-conformists, or have a tendency to rebel against authority, but this comment also comes from people who aren’t ever required to dress up for work. Some employers have become lax on their dress codes for their employees. Regardless, this argument doesn’t really hold up since those same people who say they never dress up, actually dress up for a lot of things. We wear sport jerseys to games, dresses or tuxedos for Prom and weddings, uniforms for teams, or specialty (sometimes expensive) clothes for hunting, fishing, hiking or even working out at the gym. We actually “dress for the occasion” pretty often. Shouldn’t that concept apply to Holy Mass as well?
4. “I don’t have money for dress clothes”: Dressing nice for Mass does not need to cost a lot. Those who have limited financial resources can find clothes that are decent for Mass at discount or thrift stores. However, if you are truly unable to purchase new clothes and don’t currently have anything appropriate for Mass, don’t be ashamed to call the office and ask for help!
How we Dress for Mass Really Matters
There are two main reasons why how we dress matters. First, how we dress conveys respect and honor. When we dress appropriately for Mass, we are saying to God, “You are worth the effort; you deserve my best.” It also communicates to your fellow parishioners that you take Mass seriously. It’s not just another casual event during the week.
Second, when we dress in a respectful manner it changes our interior disposition. Personally, when I have a suit on, or even just a tie, my words, thoughts, posture, and my general attitude is different. My father used to say to me – “a gentleman truly knows how to dress for every occasion.” Some will even argue that dressing up for Mass can be seen as spiritual discipline.
If you want to assist in bringing the changes needed for dressing appropriately, first make the commitment to dress more reverently at Mass yourself. Call up a friend from the parish and challenge each other to dress better for Mass. Next Sunday, make the effort to dress more appropriately. Once you are doing your best to express the seriousness of the sacrifice of the Mass in your outward appearance, then you can help your children to do the same.
Postscript: All comments are read by me and only approved with my discretion. Comments made should be done in regards to the article. Any comments attacking me, each other, or any entity associated with this post will not be approved. As long as these guidelines are followed, the comment box will remain open. If they are not followed, the comment section will be closed. Thank you.