Thursday, June 12, 2008

Does it Matter What You Wear to Church?

Surely God cares about the heart and not your clothing right? Oh I can just hear the excuses now! The archbishop of Davao recently reminded the Catholics in the Philippines that the Church is not a place for "personal expression" which is what got me thinking about this to begin with. Incidentally, it fits in nicely with my recent discussion of horizontal versus vertical worship.

So there are two extremes I suppose, and we have to draw the line somewhere. On one end, you'd need to be dressed up to your absolute best every Sunday and on the other, you could literally come in a Megadeth t-shirt, camo shorts and flip flops and God would just be happy to see you there. (Better in jeans and in Church than in a tux and at home I guess?)

And I have considered the fact that I might be tempted to criticize others for coming to mass in shorts or in jeans when if they truly believed Christ was present, they'd be dressed appropriately. For example, let's suppose that we all knew Jesus was going to be literally walking in to Church (in bodily form) would we wear shorts to mass that Sunday? Well supposedly, we Catholics believe that He is literally and bodily present at every mass. So why the flip flops? Yet for me personally, I don't dress in a suit & tie for every Sunday (I never dress in jeans) but if Christ were going to be walking in as described above, I think I'd wear a suit.

So there needs to be a line somewhere, I'm just not sure where. I think that a couple generations ago, not wearing a suit would have been as offensive to them as wearing jeans is to us.

There is though, a certain palpable disrespect and irreverence with most (if not all) of these clowns who show up to mass in their most casual attire week after week. They're the same ones whose teenager children (if they come at all) are wearing the same stuff and walking up to Communion, hands in pockets, disinterested look on their face, head down - "how long until this is over" aura about them.... There's something wrong. I see the dads who wear suits, their children are nicely dressed as well and they're well behaved. Their teenagers seem somehow mildly interested in the Eucharist!

The flip flop crowd is especially attracted to the folk mass. It should be a jamboree of exciting worship and a casual atmosphere . It's more uptight than the high Latin mass I'll tell you that first of all. It's not exciting. You can look at the very faces of every poor disillusioned individual there and see a dismay. Yea, something IS wrong. This isn't what Church is supposed to be like. You made your bed now lie in it. (I remember my wife's first folk mass, she leaned to me and whispered "this isn't like a mass" I said, "you're right, it isn't")

The flip flop Catholic envisions a liberal paradise where reverent liturgy has been upstaged by personal expression and communal diversity. They think by slipping on jeans and shorts, changing Latin into the vernacular and then replacing heraldic melodies with tunes fit only for nursery rhymes that suddenly there will be some outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (As if God is only comfortable in appearing when we are comfortable with ourselves or rather, when we are expressing ourselves fully).

At any rate, I say - dress up for Church. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.


George Weis said...


What is a worse condition is to have it all right on the outside, but have it completely wrong on the inside. Plenty of people go to church dressed fit to kill, and yet their hearts are far from God. We should first and foremost be concerned with the inward. If we have placed outward adornment over the inward state of the heart, we have missed it.

So, I would rather be a flip flop, jean wearer, and have a heart set on God, then to be a suite wearer who is far from desiring God.

The cover of the book can be quite deceiving. Let's not be white washed tombs!

Milehimama said...

"Megadeth t-shirt, camo shorts and flip flops"... have you been spying on our altar girls again? LOL

God knows if we are presenting our best to Him. It's not about wearing a tie or collared shirts only or pantyhose. It's about doing "our utmost for His Highest". St. Germain, a lowly shepherd girl, went to Mass in rags... but that WAS her best outfit!

A repentant heart and worshipful attitude do go along with putting on our Sunday best, inwardly and outwardly!

StBasil said...

"but that WAS her best outfit!" That's the key. If someone presents their best to Our Lord then that is all he asks of them and that is the best!

The argument "well someone can be dressed up externally but internally have their heart not set on Our Lord." True. But is that really a reason not to give Our Lord our best both internally as well as externally?

It is obviously true that first and foremost our hearts must be set on God - but when someone wears a suit to a wedding but flipflops to Holy Mass, we have to ask about their priorities? We can't exclude the body because of the heart.

Our Lord wants our best. We should give Him our best - our hearts foremost but in addition we should present our best external self. Would you go to the courts of a king dressed in flip flops? No. Would you meet the President that way? No. How much more for the one true King of all Creation!

We ought to dress our best for sure.

Pax Christi tecum.

StBasil said...

One other thought, think of Our Lord's parable about the wedding feast. Who gets thrown out? The one not dressed properly. Now we all agree, I am sure, that it primarily relates to the condition of our soul but it does say something that our best is required for Our Lord's Kingdom.

How I dress says something about the importance of the event I am at so I always dress up for Holy Mass. It's not about my comfort or style, it's about the best I can give to Our Lord.

Pax Christi tecum.

StBasil said...

And one last post (sorry!) is that immodest dress is de facto wrong for Holy Mass (i.e. short shorts, tight clothing, tight jeans, tank tops, etc.).

Pax Christi tecum.

Annette M. Heidmann said...

I grew up as a pastor's kid, so wearing dresses and shirt-and-tie was absolutely expected in our family. We would never have even thought about wearing flip-flops! So when my husband and I became involved in an inner city ministry, it was an adjustment to realize that the children coming to our church literally had nothing dressy to wear. They were lucky to have a pair of old, ill-fitting running shoes passed down through 3-4 siblings. When a family of 10 siblings plus five or six cousins are all living in one 3 bedroom house with one single unemployed mom, and routinely come to church on Sunday morning hungry because they have no food in the house for breakfast, we aren't going to be too fussy about what they're wearing. We are glad they want to come at all. And we have learned that in this context, to dress our own kids up to the 9's would be an extremely inappropriate parade of wealth. So yes, my son wears jeans to church; my girls wear "vintage" clothing from Value Village. Because we want the little children to come unto Him, and not be made to feel unworthy because of their social status.

I think this is a different situation, however, from one in which wealthy suburbanites "dress down" in order to prove that they are more sincere than those who dress up. That's a kind of reverse logic that one often hears -- that if you're dressing up, you can't really be doing it out of sincerity to honor Christ, it can only be that you are full of yourself and seeking the approval of man. I don't dispute that there are places where clothing takes far too high a priority, either because of pride or legalism. But the answer is not to prove your humility by grunging out when you go to church. It's just another way to seek man's approval, when you think about it.

Tim A. Troutman said...

George - I agree first things first but that doesn't mean we altogether neglect second things. In fact, if we neglect second things, we probably don't have first things right to begin with.

Milehimama - Yes, I totally agree. But... then again, we're in America and I don't think a solitary soul at my parish could say that the Peyton Manning Jersey is the nicest thing they could afford.

St. Basil - Thanks for the insightful comments. And concerning the parable of the wedding guests, you're right on that mark. I actually meant to include something of that nature in the original post. Yes, its obvious first meaning is spiritual but that does not (as even the great spiritualist Origen taught us) preclude it from having literal meaning!

In fact, the archbishop of Davao mentioned above also cited that same passage. Thanks for bringing it up.

Mrs. Heidmann - Thank you for pointing that out. It is in fact, like you said, the suburbanites dressing down to appeal to fellow man.

I haven't really factored wealth into all of this. It goes without saying that if all you can afford is rags - by all means, don't stop going to Church! I couldn't afford suits to wear to Church if it weren't for thrift stores & Wal-mart but I don't need to be dressed in Armani to show respect to the Lord.

I also want to return to George's point briefly - yes a beautiful outside and an ugly inside is far worse than the reverse but when both the outside and inside are beautiful it is the best. Settling for less than the best indicates a blemish on the inside.

That is, if you have the ability to dress up for Church and you don't, it is most likely caused by something faulty going on inside. It could be the shallow desire to dress down like your friends, it might just be laziness (which when I dont wear a tie, this is almost always the culprit for me), it might just be lack of culture - it's probably never an outright "I'm gonna be irreverent to God". But whatever it is, some selfish reason trumps our sense of duty to dress up to the occasion (or worse still, we don't feel the occasion worth dressing up to.. or we think that a football jersey IS appropriate for Church).

japhy said...

I don't think a solitary soul at my parish could say that the Peyton Manning Jersey is the nicest thing they could afford.

I dunno... an Manning jersey (whether Peyton or Eli) could be the most expensive piece of clothing they own. Sports jersies are awfully expensive.

Anyway, my take on it is: work on the modesty first, then the appropriateness, and then the "best"ness.

In other words, first get rid of the spaghetti tops, the tight pants, the shorts, the mid-thigh skirts, the cutoffs, etc. Then get rid of the commercial shirts (jersies, band t-shirts, etc.), motto shirts ("vote for pedro"), etc. Then get rid of jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, and sweatshirts.

For guys, I'd say: come to Mass in decent slacks, shoes, and a collared shirt (polo or button-down). Long sleeves are better than short sleeves, but in the summer time, even I opt for short sleeves at times. Button-downs with ties are good. I have a sweater-vest I wear often. Sometimes I'm in a full suit.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Japhy - totally agree and nice prioritizing. There's nothing worse than immodest dress at mass and I see it quite a bit.

Kim said...

Okay, so you wear your BEST jeans and t-shirt. ;D It's all about respect. Whatever is worn, it should be to show respect for Christ.

When we were part of a Calvary Chapel, I felt very different from everyone else because I chose to wear dresses to church. Not even fancy ones. But especially if I wore fancy ones (on occasion). Now we go to a PCA church that is all about dressing up (although I do see casual wear dotted here and there). Personally, I think I was MORE focused on Christ and my brothers and sisters when I dressed down than when I dressed up. If you're used to wearing a suit it seems perfectly normal to wear one to church. But if the only time you wear one is to church and funerals ;) it feels kind of odd. More like you're someone else.

Tim A. Troutman said...

But Kim, the way you're talking about what you wear to Church, it sounds like the goal is to feel "normal" or "comfortable". I disagree though. I think the goal is to feel "solemn" and not in the modern sense of the word "solemn" but in its etymological roots which meant "not ordinary".

Church isn't like bbqing with your buddies or sitting around the living room and watching tv. It's not like going to a football game or going shopping for new shoes. It's something special, in fact, it's the most special occasion of any given week if we recognize the true importance of it. If it's not so special to us, something is wrong.

Why should we feel uncomfortable at weddings or funerals? The point of dressing up isn't to feel uncomfortable. The point of dressing up is to express the dignity of the occasion - the solemnity of what we believe is occurring - the extraordinariness of it. Our sister doesn't get married everyday, so when she does - you better believe I'm putting on my best suit! My grandmother doesn't die every day, it's a very serious occasion when she does. That's why, if you could rewind time and look at me, you wouldn't find me wearing shorts and sandals at her funeral. I wore the best clothes I had. In fact, I think I borrowed some to dress even better.

It's not because I didn't want to feel comfortable or normal. Those things never entered my mind. I wanted to show respect to my grandmother and to those grieving.

When I go to Church, I _WANT_ to feel like it's something special. If every other day is "normal", this one isn't. Something big is going on. If we universally recognize this for a wedding or a funeral (to juxtapose the two is helpful since they demonstrate that this is not a question of sadness, happiness or comfort - it's a matter of being special) then why can't we recognize it for Church?

I'm interested to hear your reactions.

Kim said...

Hmmm, well, you make good points. The thing I find frustrating with dressing up is that I find that I am focused more on my appearance than on God and others when I dress up. When we make a big to-do about the outward appearance we then begin looking at and judging each other to see if everyone "measures up".

I went dresses-only for 3 years when I got into the Truly Reformed camp (ugh). Up until then I was not really focused on how people dressed. But once I separated myself in my attire I started noticing all the pants-wearing women around me. And I will tell you honestly that I began to feel a mite superior to them...and I hated it! When I saw what it was doing to my heart I decided that pants weren't the worst thing in the world a woman could wear. Many godly women I knew were dressing modestly and in pants, but all I could see was PANTSPANTSPANTS.

I agree with you that flip flops don't belong in church unless you're doing a vacation Bible school with a Hawaiian theme! lol Neither do short shorts (or shorts in general) figure-clinging clothes or plunging necklines. Christians shouldn't be tempting others to sin anyway.

What about those who go to daily mass? Should they dress up every day? Or is general modesty perfectly acceptable?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kim, On daily mass, I don't want to detract in any way from the dignity of the Sabbath, but the mass itself is really the occasion for dressing up. I mean, after mass I typically switch to my casual dress.

But for daily mass, I guarantee you will find a much higher percentage of people dressed appropriately (maybe less wearing a three piece suit but certainly few or none in jeans or less) than on a Sunday. The reason is obvious: those most devoted are typically both those who refuse to dress casually at Church and those who are more likely to attend daily mass.

Now I have attended mass with jeans before maybe once or twice and I think at least one of those times was on vacation and it was sort of a necessity at the time or I cant really remember the occasion. But even when I went to the Philippines, I packed nice clothes specifically because I knew I would be attending mass.

Now your point is certainly worth consideration and it is a constant struggle for all of us. But here is my question, and you may have anticipated this: if we agree that dressing nice by itself (for the right reasons) is good but then we avoid doing it because it potentially leads to judging others who are not also doing this good, how much further could we take this logic?

1. I hold hands during the Our Father at mass because if I don't, I end up judging those who do. (no applicable in your case I know)

2. I show up late for Church occasionally because I otherwise judge those who do.

3. I leave Church early for the same reason.

How long until this becomes outright sin?

4. I drink merely because I dont want to judge others who do.

5. I murder people.. mm ok maybe thats a bit too far... I tell dirty jokes at work because otherwise I judge those who do.

I know it may seem like a stretch to go from 0 to 5 here, but I really don't see any reason that logic can't be applied to progressively more serious things.

You know, Luther encouraged "small sins" here and there (as I understand) such as over-sleeping to keep one from being prideful.. Well I for one have no need to try and add "small sins" - I have big ones to keep me humble/ashamed.

At any rate, I think you see where I'm going. I don't think we can stop doing what we know is right and good simply because others aren't doing it and it causes us to judge. The act of judging though is something serious that needs to be dealt with and it's a constant struggle.

On the other hand, we are to flee temptation as we all know. So this may be more of an issue with some than with others I don't know and there may certainly be occasions where it is purely justifiable for your given reasons. I don't know. For me though, I am usually guilty of judging for other reasons and those are ones which I am certainly not willing to compromise my own behavior on.

Kim said...

Well, I am no logician so you would get me every time. ;)

First of all, I don't wear pants except to exercise in and occasionally to just dress casually (like on a date with my honey). The one time I went to mass I fretted over what to wear, so I wore the homeschool mom's uniform - a denim jumper. Ha! And I even wondered if that was too casual (being denim and all). So fear not, I will not be setting foot in a mass with flip flops on, nor shorts, nor a plunging neckline, get the picture.

But saying all that, I still don't want judge others who don't dress up. It's interesting what you said about daily mass. I think that those who go to daily mass are the people to hang out with, don't you? The serious ones.

And I will also say that I despair of seeing the absolutely sloppy way many people dress in public. Compare that to days gone by when what we wore mattered and most people stuck with the cultural dress code. But how to change that, I don't know! I'm just happy if I see modesty! So little of even that! :-P

I do think our dress does reflect the inner attitude. We have become lax in many areas, and our clothes say so, but not necessarily everyone is aware of that influence. For instance, I've been a Protestant for 18 years. I didn't become a "Protestant" because I protested Catholicism. I became one because that was what all the churches around me were. I wasn't surrounded by Catholics or Catholic churches, so I didn't have their influence. I was ignorantly a Protestant, just as many are ignorantly sloppy and immodest dressers. It's the influence around them.

What say ye?

Kim said...

Tim, do you think we have bought into a gnostic view of the body and that is why we treat it with so little care and respect?

I remember in Baptist and Pentecostal churches I was a part of that there was a de-emphasis on the body. We were to desire to flee these bodies of ours for a heavenly dwelling. The message was that the body is of no use other than to house our spirits. Paul even called his body a tent. Was that a form of gnosticism? I'm reading (veeeery sloooowly) Thomas Howard's Evangelical is Not Enough. He seems to say that the physical is as important as the spiritual. While I can see that being a worthy view, how does it gibe with the Scriptures that emphasize the putting off of the flesh? Am I rabbit-trailing here? :-P

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kim, you always make for great discussion. You're not rabbit-trailing - I think these issues are related.

First of all I agree with you and especially about the modesty part. That is first and foremost as Japhy also mentioned.

About the Gnostic view - I think this has influenced us (not only Christians but western culture) but especially Christians.

I don't know how we can quantify whether the physical is as important as the spiritual but I think there is a systematic way of thinking about things that needs to be present in Christians if we are to have a healthy theology.

I went off on such a rabbit trail that I just made a new post.

George Weis said...


Before a Holy God, our clothing matters very little. God knows the heart of man. I would say if someone had issue with dressing up, that there is clearly a dilemma, however, if they are neither here more there about it, and seek to have their heart set on God, than what would it matter?

In a small church in a Africa, where someone owns only one set of clothing, but is fully devoted to God... do you think God is more or less pleased with them compared to the all to comfortable upper middle class american who wears prada to church?

I have strong feelings in regards to this. In the garden of eden when all was right and God walked with Adam and Eve... they had no clothes! That was the perfect situation... Now, I'm not telling people to get naked either :D


japhy said...

In a small church in a Africa, where someone owns only one set of clothing, but is fully devoted to God... do you think God is more or less pleased with them compared to the all to comfortable upper middle class american who wears prada to church?

Congratulations, you just retold the parable of the widow and the two coins. The point is, the person in Africa who wears their only clothing to church is giving God their all; the affluent family in the US that wears expensive but inappropriate clothing to church is not.

Mick said...

In my family growing up, we never wore jeans and certainly never wore shorts to church.

I became a bit more relaxed in college, as our Newman Center was extremely casual. My wife did not grow up with any pressure to dress any particular way.

As I've gotten older, I never wear shorts to mass, and I never wear a tee shirt, but you might find me in jeans 30% of the time. My wife hasn't worn a skirt outside of weddings and funerals since we've been married.

Now that we have kids, I want to start dressing up for mass more, because I believe it's an important precident.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Mick I hear ya. And you know what, I think I just feel better when I dress up (if even only a little).