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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

Dress code for Mass?

Aug 7, 2017

I’m new to the Extraordinary Form (EF) Mass [that is, the Latin Mass offered according to the 1962 Roman Missal].  I heard a group of people in the narthex discussing a “dress code” for the EF Mass.  Could you explain please?

     I thank the questioner for an opportunity to speak of “how” we ought to dress for Mass – stating up front that this will be a two-fold answer of both some considerations for how we ought to dress for both forms of Mass, along with some additional considerations of how we ought to live charity toward God and neighbor regarding these matters.

     When it comes to how we “ought” to dress, it is important to realize that we are conditioned by our culture.  Social norms for dress (in terms of actual clothing articles that are judged acceptable and proper in varied settings) are not the same in every place.  However, what is universally the same when it comes to how we ought to approach our dress for Mass is that we should be conscious that the Mass is an encounter with God, our King, and a foretaste of eternal life in His presence.  That said, it is hopefully obvious that when we dress for Mass, we should be dressing with dignity and a total awareness that Mass is not a mere earthly activity, but an encounter with the perfect beauty of heaven.  Thus, without saying “what” types of clothes are fitting and what are not, I challenge and ask all who read this to ask yourself:  are the clothes you normally wear to Mass fitting for encountering God Himself?  Likewise, I invite you to consider (as the old expression “your Sunday best” implies) whether or not what you are wearing is an offering of the best that you have to this great encounter with God?

     Often when speaking of dressing in general, the term “modesty” is put forward as a measure for dressing.  However, even the defining of modest dress depends on
culture.  I believe the best way to define modesty in dressing is to say that your clothes should not draw undue attention to you in the given setting.  (Thus, at a ball game, a graduation, or a picnic, there are norms of proper attire and modesty in the interest of being dressed “properly for the occasion”).  What you wear should lead others to see you for who you are – and not by what you wear or look like.  That said, for Mass clothes that are too revealing (in the sense that they can be a source of temptation to impurity or unchastity for others), too ostentatious, or ones that have worldly and even sinful slogans/emblems upon them are not modest.  By keeping these principles in mind, people remain able to choose a wide variety of clothing styles while being reminded that participation in Mass has a dignity and purpose that ought to be reflected in our conduct, which includes how we dress.

     When it therefore comes to whether there is a specific dress code for the Extraordinary Form Mass (EF), know that what is presented above applies across the board.  What may be different between the two Masses, however, is that while many who come to the Ordinary Form Masses (the vast majority of people in fact) do not give what I would call “right consideration” to dressing well for Mass, many (if not most) regular participants at the EF have long practiced such proper ways of dressing, with the additional distinction that many women have retained the custom of wearing a veil (or dignified hat) on their heads.  That such distinction may be for some a source of awkwardness and for others a temptation to judge is unfortunate.  As an offering of advice for a remedy to these sentiments, I give the following three points:

1) Might we all, at every Mass, take seriously the importance of dressing well for Mass – as the Mass is (as said above) an encounter with Christ the King.

2) Might we all remember that we are also called to love our neighbor as ourselves – and therefore our dress should not cause us to be uncharitable to others (either in our own appearance becoming a distraction to others; or in any tending to see ourselves as “better” than others whom we deem as inappropriately dressed).

3) Finally, may we each strive to grow in setting a good example, so that others might follow our lead by what we do – with any fraternal correction always being done out of the motive to lift people up without putting down.

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