“Ask a Priest: Since When Is Inappropriate Dress OK at Mass?”

Q: I have recently come back to the Catholic Church after about 15 years. Some of the changes in the new Mass are troubling for me. People in the pews don’t seem to have the reverence that I remember, especially in their attire, especially teenage girls and women. I notice this is very common throughout our diocese. I’ve looked on our diocesan website, and individual parish websites, and I see no mention made of this. Is it no longer considered disrespectful to present oneself in God’s house dressed inappropriately? – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to hear that you have returned to the practice of the Catholic faith. It brings joy to the heart of Jesus to have you home. In turn, it helps to keep your eyes on him. He is the reason why we are here.

You touch on a very real problem: the lack of decorum and immodesty in dress at Mass. It is a reflection of the times and the wider culture, unfortunately. It also reflects deep-seated attitudes toward the Mass itself. The faithful are there to worship Christ. Dressing in something that seems provocative or suited only for a secular venue is not so appropriate at Mass.

In some ways this problem is like the proverbial elephant in the corner. It’s big, it’s there, but few people seem to raise the issue in a high-profile way. So what to do?

Perhaps you could look for ways to promote more-distinguished dress in the parish. This might not be easy, but it is worth a shot. Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Bear in mind that many people have been deeply influenced by the media over the years. It simply wouldn’t occur to some people that their attire isn’t appropriate for a Eucharistic celebration. So there would be a need for a bit of education in this area.

You might broach the subject with other women at the parish and see if there is any support for an effort to promote better dress at Mass. Perhaps you can brainstorm and come up with a proposal, and then, with a companion or two, approach your pastor.

Just beware that this won’t likely be an easy subject to deal with, and the pastor is probably already loaded with work. So try to be realistic and positive. You might look for gradual and subtle ways to promote the idea of dignity and modesty.

In a roundabout way you might think of promoting an activity such as Pure Fashion at the parish. You might want to build on the ideas presented in the Pure Fashion website.

The key thing is to be loving and patient at every step. While a lot of people don’t have a deep understanding of, or appreciation for, modesty today, it could be assumed that anyone attending Mass has good intentions.

It would be good to take all this to prayer and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you.

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