Monday November 20th: Who is really blind?
November 20, 2023
Tuesday November 21st: Trying to see Jesus.
November 21, 2023

Dressed to impress God? RC Church’s Clothing Guidelines Cause Controversy

The question of what to wear in a church generates different views. This was evident after a photo of a poster giving examples of “proper” and “improper” wear under ‘Dress Code for Mass and Church Events’ was displayed on the St Anthony’s RC Church’s (Petit Valley) Facebook page November 6.

The St Anthony’s post said, “While many have differing opinions on what attire is appropriate and whether we need to look the other way or not, please be guided by the fact that, first and foremost, we are to love and respect God first and love and respect each other as well. It is important that we are not judges, but rather we are encouragers to help others to dress and act in a reverential manner, especially when we are in a church consecrated to God and where His presence dwells. “Generally, our worshippers do dress appropriately. It is more amongst those who enter the church for funerals and weddings that we notice a marked difference in clothing styles.

Many of these people are not regular worshippers and may be oblivious of what is required. Let us remember to let our words always come from a heart of love and respect when we see the need to correct anyone on their attire. Blessings.

Members of the public commented on the photo. One person said: “A dress code to say who can come before God in a manmade bldg [building] and who cannot come is injurious to the very gospel we preach, and people did not deliberately intend to disrespect a church building or service, they just wanted to be comfortable.”

Another commented: “I am very sure they would not enter a Temple or Mosque dressed like that. Hmmm! They know exactly what they are doing! They will prefer not to attend the worship service than to disrespect the Temple or the Mosque. It’s only fair to show the same respect for The Lord’s House.”

Someone else asked: “In encouraging individuals to abide by a particular dress code – aren’t we judging them first? I believe that these topics need to be addressed in a more diplomatic and informed manner– taking care not to ‘other’ individuals (especially women as the image reflects mostly respectability standards placed on women’s bodies) which may unintentionally lead to perpetuating cycles of harm and discrimination.”

Vicar for Communications Fr Robert Christo weighs in on the topic. He has seen dress codes spoken about for restaurants, government buildings and even fetes however, he said there isn’t anything written in law about attire in the church.

Fr Christo believes the matter is complex and can be approached by looking at context, culture, climate, reality, affordability, and conditions. He said: “It can’t be a general put a signup and that’s it. I’ve had instances in my priesthood where I faltered. One, a woman once came dressed very inappropriately and she pulled me up, she said ‘Father, I’ve just been abused by my husband and out on the streets and I just wanted a place of respite, a place of worship. Somebody told her ‘No’ and she went to another church and was accepted. That threw me off a bit, looking at externals only and not condition.”

He gave another example of a man who was well-dressed for Mass but wore a hat that obscured the view of others in the congregation. “We had a situation where you were appropriately dressed but like in the gospel, you were in the wedding but your heart was not attuned to God, which is selfish and not accommodating the other.”

He added that people come into the church well-dressed but are speaking on their cell phones, chewing gum, leaving the Mass immediately after Communion.

Fr Christo went on: “They are walking around disrespectfully during Mass, during the homily, during consecration, so I think it is a deeper and more holistic issue. It is the interior that matters. The Word of God says God sees the inside, man sees the outside.”

In scripture, Jesus commented on how the Pharisees presented themselves as very religious and adhering to the law and rituals but inside they were like whitewashed tombs. “They obey all the stuff but inside they are like a bundle of bones,” Fr Christo said.

When Jesus got angry with the commerce taking place inside the temple (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15) and drove the money changers etc out, Fr Christo explained that it can refer not just to the sacred space of the physical temple but also to the body.

He commented, “I prefer to err on catechesis, accompaniment, and conscience development and maybe if you have to put signs up, a little more generic, ‘kindly have respect for the sacred space’ because in that case, it is not only how you dress, [it is] how you genuflect, how you stand and different parts of the Mass”.

Fr Christo stated that people are not taught the true presence of God in the Blessed Sacrament is within the church. “People are not taught from a catechetical point of view that you must give God your best, and your best is, you must also have self-respect.”

A consciousness of modesty and having conscience will not happen overnight and signage does not solve a problem; there must be accompaniment.

“When people grow in modesty, understand their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, it will inspire self-respect.” Fr Christo referred to 1 Peter 3: 3–5 which he said stressed, “Your beauty should not be outward but inward.”

In responding to how people may dress, there has to be a “good balance” of discretion while being open to providing catechesis, and accompaniment, and being non-judgemental. In some cases, he said something can be provided for example, at weddings shawls have been given.

Fr Christo said the issue requires a deeper, holistic approach “to look at the interior which will eventually move to the exterior.”

A Google search of what is proper or improper for inside the church—the sacred space shows several images of “proper attire” and articles from different perspectives.

The St Thomas More Priory in Orlando, United States begins its ‘Dress Code at Church’ with scripture:

“I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Their message to congregants is: “Out of respect for Our Lord Jesus Christ and for the edification of our neighbour, we beg all to appear in church decent in deportment and modest in dress.”

Under their dress code “For gentlemen and lads: Neither shorts, T-shirts nor sneakers meet the norms of modesty. For ladies and girls: neither shorts, slacks, sleeveless, nor low-cut dresses meet the norms of modesty. Furthermore, according to apostolic custom or Church law, gentlemen are bareheaded in church; and ladies are requested to cover their heads. However, no one has the right to question others, especially visitors. It belongs to the parish priest alone to instruct the laity when they repeatedly dress or deport below expectation.”

Pastor Jack Lash of the Gainesville Presbyterian Church stated: “The fact is that ties are not more holy than T-shirts. Dresses are not more holy than pants. Suits are not more holy than blue jeans. Dress shoes are not more holy than bare feet. Earrings are not more holy than nose rings. Beyond the things said in 1 Timothy 2:8–10, the way we dress in worship doesn’t make any difference to God. We are no more acceptable to Him dressed in our worst than in our best, as long as we’ve done it to His glory and in love for others.” 

Pastor Karl Vaters in his ‘Pivot’ blog on Christianity Today discusses ‘What Is Appropriate To Wear In Church? (2 Reasons It Doesn’t Matter And 3 Guidelines)’.

His three tips are: 1. Immodesty—Christians agree that clothing should not be immodest though he acknowledges there isn’t consensus on what “is or is not immodest”. Vaters said for both men and women, anything that emphasises sexuality is inappropriate for anyone other than one’s spouse.

2. Pride. He cites 1 Peter 3:3. He comments that while some have issues with T-shirts and baseball caps in church, they have no issues with displays of wealth and “tons of makeup”.

3. Rebellion. Vaters said like the teen rebelling by wearing clothing their parents dislike, those who want to counter the church’s cultural standards by what they wear “are being inappropriately rebellious and not very Christlike”.