(First published May 14, 2013)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As we enter warmer months, I want to address the issue of summer apparel at Mass. It has been brought to my attention that this is an issue requiring some pastoral guidance. I have had requests to address this topic from a diverse group of individuals: men and women, youth, young adults, adults, and seniors.
Why should we care about our attire? As Catholics, we strive to promote the dignity of the human person and to avoid leading others into temptation. We also hold human sexuality in high regard and would never willingly choose to exploit our sexuality or appearance, or that of another, to garner attention or affirmation. As we live out our Christian calling, we should dress to promote human dignity not only at Mass, but also in other settings such as work and school.
The majority of our congregation dresses quite well for Mass. It is obvious that many people, whether they are in business attire, business-casual, or casual attire take a great deal of care and concern to select a wardrobe that is fitting for Mass. While many people are tastefully dressed and put a lot of care into their appearance, some aspects of modesty continually present a real issue for our parish community. Certain garments can be quite revealing: lower-cut collars and necklines, higher hem lines, shorts that are indeed “short”, and form-fitting apparel, that while in fashion, are inappropriate for Mass. Some may feel that this is a matter of personal discretion, “If I’m comfortable with this garment, what does it matter to anyone else?” However, this point of view is exclusive of those seated around us while attending Mass.
Revealing garments can be a serious distraction when they become a source of temptation, shock, or embarrassment for the onlooker. For this reason I would ask that you put great care into selecting modest attire for Mass. In my judgment this means that shorts, skirts, and dresses should cover the majority of one’s legs above the knee. Men’s shirts should have sleeves. One should use great discretion with regard to women’s sleeveless shirts so that a chaste and tasteful appearance is still presented perhaps wearing a sweater or shawl over the shoulders. Open-backed apparel should be avoided. One may read this and assume that this message is directed mostly at women’s apparel. However, it should be noted that these issues apply to men as well, especially in regard to shorts and sleeveless shirts.
On a final note, charity is vitally important in living out our Christian witness. That means when one of our brothers or sisters is improperly attired, we should refrain from judgment, gossip, and ridicule. One should consider whether they really have the type of relationship with another that makes it appropriate to address these issues before offering advice or commentary. In the end we each are on a journey that sometimes expresses itself in the clothing we wear. Let us strive to build up one another and our community by-mirroring the light, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Steven Voss
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