I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately. Post JVC, my wardrobe was pretty shabby. A year of working at a day care and a year of working at a homeless shelter meant I didn’t have much besides long t-shirts and jeans left in my closet. And sweaters. Definitely sweaters.
Post JVC, I bought some clothes. This was a big deal for me. I never was much one for shopping, and let me tell you, it was a little crazy to buy 2 pairs of jeans, 3 shirts, 2 shirts, a pair of capris and a pair of shorts all in the same day after having bought virtually nothing for the past 2 years. I realize that in “today’s world” clothes do play a part in how people perceive us, and I wanted to be able to look semi-professional in grad school when necessary. Over Christmas, I gratefully accepted a good bit of my sister’s hand-me-downs, bought a few new things with gift cards, and bought 2 pairs of new shoes. I have a lot (for me anyway, I don’t think it’s probably half of what other people have) of clothes in my closet. It’s kind of crazy. So I started reading fashion blogs like Academichic to learn how to dress myself.
But then there is always the question of, what to wear to Mass?
When I was growing up, we wore our “Sunday Best.” Matching sweaters and skirts, tights, and weather appropriate faux-leather shoes. I’m quite sure we were darling. When I was in high school, my home parish was too small to offer a confirmation program, so I started going to church in a nearby town. That church had a 6pm mass for teenagers, and the dress was casual. At first, I’ll admit, I found it odd. My older sister and I kept dressing up even though no one else did.
Eventually though, I gave in and wore jeans. And it was a spiritual experience.
For years, I had listened to folks in my church complain about those who “couldn’t bother to dress up for Church.” We were supposed to dress up as a sign of respect, right? “Look at the Protestants – they are always so much better dressed than the Catholics!” we would say.
I never really understood the concept of, “dress up for God.” When I would get dressed up for Mass, I had to wonder, “Does God care that I’m wearing my American Eagle skirt because it’s nicer than my not-so-dressy Belk one? Does he think I love him more because I choose one item of my closet than another?” I had a feeling the answer was no.
I got used to dressing down. And I loved it. I wasn’t worried about how I looked or whether I looked good enough, I was just there for God. My clothes were just keeping my covered. But when I left for college and came back to that church over the summer, my mom had informed me things had changed.
We were all set to leave for Mass, and I was wearing flip-flops. Scandalous, I know. My mom informed me that the priest had asked the teenagers not to wear flip-flops anymore. It wasn’t appropriate, she said. She mentioned one girl in particular, who tended to dress “alternatively” for mass. (Still conservatively, although she favored things like homemade skirts adorned with safety pins and converse tennis shoes).
“Um, hello?” I replied, “shouldn’t he just be happy that ‘girls like that’ come to mass? That she feels welcome to come as she is?” I wore flip-flops for the rest of the summer in protest.
Does the way we dress cause people to feel welcome, or un-welcome at our churches? I go to a church close to the homeless shelter where I work. I see our clients fairly regularly at Mass, and none are wearing their “Sunday best.” It pains me to think that they might feel as if they stand out, as if it is obvious that they are homeless, or that others are judging them for not dressing nicer. I want people to feel welcome at Mass, no matter how they are dressed.
From Dies Domini (the Day of God) 70:
Ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the very poor….More than ever, we need to listen once again to the stern warning which Paul addresses to the community at Corinth, guilty of having humiliated the poor in the fraternal agape which accompanied “the Lord’s Supper”: “…. Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Cor 11:20-22). James is equally forceful in what he writes: “If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Take a seat here, please’, while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:2-4).
Now, I’m not saying that people who dress up for mass think they are superior and judge those who don’t. But I am saying, we shouldn’t have a “policy” about it lest we exclude those who are suffering the most.
Recently, however, my own dress-down policy has shifted. I still don’t believe that God will be offended if I don’t dress up for him. I believe he doesn’t care what I am wearing, but cares what is in my heart.
From Dies Domini 4:
For Christians, Sunday is “the fundamental feastday”,(4) established not only to mark the succession of time but to reveal time’s deeper meaning.
Sunday Mass is a celebration. A feast. Now, I dress to celebrate. I dress no longer out of the obligation that “I should dress up” or as a rebellion against those who do dress up. And what is a celebration for me differs each week. This week, it’s a hand-me-down jean skirt, tights, boots, and a cardigan. The Sundays where I left work and went straight for Mass, it was jeans, converses, and a flannel shirt. Was it pretty? No, but I was happy knowing that God loved me anyway even if I didn’t have time to change out of my homeless-shelter-work-clothes into my “church clothes.” The clothes I did God’s work in were my “church clothes.” I avoid wearing sweats, cause those don’t put me in the right mindset. But I smile when I see the girl’s field hockey team rush straight from practice to make mass on time and are still wearing their uniforms. I avoid dressing immodestly, but when I see someone who is, I am happy that they chose to come to Mass.
What do you think? What do you wear to church services and why?
(this post was inspired in part by Getting over “Modesty” on No Wealth But Life. Interesting post, go check it out!)
Also, yes, that is a picture from my wedding. Yes, I chose to dress up for that.