Monday, June 06, 2005

"You're going to church wearing THAT???"

Dom Bettinelli describes his experience with this year's confirmation class at his parish. He brings up two issues worthy of notice. One is the "aw, shucks" demeanor of a visiting bishop while in the midst of the ritual (and you wonder where the pastor gets it).

The other issue has to do with immodest dress, especially by young girls.

I remember as a child in the 60s, when my dad was adamant that I wear a white shirt with a tie on Sunday. Even when different colors of dress shirts became popular late in the decade, it took a bit of convincing to allow for some color in my wardrobe. Closer to the present, I was the one holdout in the family when it comes to how our kids dressed for church. My siblings would think nothing of my nephews wearing shorts to church in the summer. Even on vacation back to Ohio, I wouldn't allow my son to wear shorts to church; I didn't care what the others did. It was a bit of irony that my parents, now getting on in years, wouldn't understand why I made a case out of it.

Funny how life works that way.

My typical involvement in parish life is as a lector. In all humility, I happen to be quite good at it.* And when I do, I dress for the part, even in summer. Whatever the time of year, I don't always wear the traditional tie. Sometimes a dress shirt with a banded collar, sometimes a non-traditional tie more suited to whatever else I have on. If the place were not air-conditioned, I'd likely wear a barong tagalog with the appropriate neckwear. Anyway, the layman in charge of lectors will sometimes give me a hard time about it. I'd simply give him or her the example of a statement once issued by Pius XII on modesty in dress, then call his attention to the number of young girls in the sanctuary with hemlines halfway to (shall we say?) kingdom come. I'd then point out that His Holiness says nothing about a tie.

That usually shuts them up. Bottom line is, I'm still the best dressed guy in the house.

Guidelines about "appropriate length" mean little to a fourteen- to sixteen-year-old girl, whose mother didn't tell her any better, and whose father is too clueless to notice. Whatever a gal can get away with at the nightclub (or in my case, the nearest roadhouse), I'd be the one to tell them: "At or below the knee, nothing sleeveless."

I don't know why more pastors don't say anything. Most of the ones I meet are girly-men anyway, who couldn't stand up to their own shadows. Ah, yes, another story for another day...


* The vast majority are not. Many sound muffled or indistinct, even with a PA system. Still others are clear enough, but have that sing-song tone of inflection to their voice, that is not only as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard, but renders the words of the Prophets indistinct from St Paul's epistles. Even for special occasions in a cathedral church, they are appointed more for their position outside the sanctuary, than for their delivery within. I understand the Episcopal Church requires its lay readers to be commissioned by their local bishop, even provisionally. Not a bad idea.


carrie said...

I remember as a child of the 50s how much effort went into coordinating hat, shoes, purse, coat or dress, and gloves when getting ready for Mass. Mass, back then, was the weekend event in family life, the one you dressed up for.

Of course the negative side of it was that all the women put their attention on what their friends were wearing instead of praying before Mass began.

The departure from dress standards may have solved that problem, but it created a much more serious problem of exposed skin, and the ultimate expression of the current problem is the strapless wedding dress. I'll take the fashion show any day.

David L Alexander said...


"I'll take the fashion show any day." Whatever show was put on, at least it served a higher purpose. Going to an Old Latin Mass today, I can still see that. In the typical suburban parish, I have to concede to being too easily distracted. I honestly don't understand what some parents are thinking on Sunday morning. Perhaps they have so little control over their children. Thank God I never had a daughter!