There is a place in the Catholic blogosphere that is not for the faint of heart, where Sacred Tradition is defended to the last -- as well it should be. After all, Tevye was right about that fiddler on the roof.
But earlier this summer,
There arose such a clatter,
I had to put down my latest issue of The Latin Mass
To see what was the matter.
On, Athanasius! On, True Restoration!
All aboard the train at the Donegal station!
To the Rad Trad brothers, to Rorate Caeli,
INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI!!!
Anyway, I eventually learned the source of this tumult.
It's about the pants.
Some women like to wear them. This is a reported to be a problem, as it draws undue attention to their hips, and gives rise to all manner of evil designs on the part of the average male. Now in my experience, much depends on the male, the pants, and/or the hips in question. Yet there is a certain amount of truth to the prospect of provocative dress by young girls as an issue for young boys. Many of these girls simply expect the fellas to "get over it," as if gender never becomes an issue in life or living, but for mere biological incidentals. And yet, while in high school, my son had to admit that he found the wearing of skimpy tops with spaghetti straps by some of the girls to be a bit of a distraction, not to mention their occasional bending over to reveal the slightest trace of... a thong???
I'm afraid some people don't outgrow this problem. When I go zydeco dancing, there is one particular woman who has a rather slim and athletic build, except for an unusually generous... well, endowment. She appears to be rather proud of it, as she routinely wears a form-fitting top with a low neckline. (Did I mention an undergarment that permits her to leave little to the imagination?) If what nature has provided her does not spill out of the garment, it is likely to be all too apparent to (that is to say, "in the face of") a potential dance partner. This is why I never dance with her. It's out of respect, if not for her womanhood, but for my dignity as a man, if only to be able to maintain it.
Fortunately popes and prelates in the past century have raised concern. I believe it was the late Cardinal Siri, who sat down and determined the standards of modesty for female dress; you know, skirt length, shoulder and arm and neckline coverage, and so on. (It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.) The late Padre Pio wouldn't let a woman near his confessional without wearing a dress or skirt that was a minimum of eight inches below the knee. They say he could tell from his side of the grill. To non-Catholics, that's gotta sound really creepy. But at least you knew where someone drew the line, if not how.
One prelate who has addressed the issue of late is Bishop Richard Williamson of the kinda-sorta-depending-on-who-you-ask-schismatic SSPX. Francis of Filipino Flavour provides the text of that address.
There's another line drawn somewhere along the way. Someone had to determine that trousers were inherently male clothing, while skirts or dresses were inherently female. No one appears to be taking credit for this decision. Meanwhile, a trip around the planet would show that some parts of Asia, women wear pantaloons that are quite modest, in terms of both form and coverage. And in some other parts of the world, men wear what appear to be dresses every time they wear robes in the Arab world, or a religious habit in the Christian world, or even don cassocks to serve Mass. And what's up with wearing a lace surplice? Back in my neighborhood, even the altar boys would beat the crap out of a kid who wore lace. To this day, I can't bring myself to do it. Maybe that's why I didn't get called to serve for a long time. Hmmm...
At a parish where I was once a lay reader, they said I had to wear a tie. Since I had a preference for dress shirts with banded collars on occasion, and noticed that no such standards were set for women (which was painfully obvious more than once), I told the pastor's lap dog that I would stay my present course until the real issue was corrected. After citing Cardinal Siri, and making note of his lack of attention to men wearing neckties, the lackey withdrew. Now, the parish where I'm presently registered, they're much smarter than that. They have specific standards for women as lay readers, including skirts or dresses below the knee, no slacks, nothing sleeveless, and no extravagant jewelry. For that, I'll agree to wear a tie (although I manage to draw the line at certain choices in my collection).
Whenever I go home to Ohio, I have at least one suit packed, or at least a jacket and tie, for when I go to a wedding, or to Mass. I remember as a boy in the late sixties, when I wanted to wear a dress shirt to church with a color other than white, and the Old Man wouldn't have it. Fast forward to the present, when the cousins all get together in the summer, and my boy's the only one not allowed to wear shorts to Mass. Guess who's telling me it's not that big a deal. Beats the hell outa me. But a guy's gotta have standards, and a man has to pass that on to his son, along with the other important stuff like what fork to use, and why an outdoor grill is superior to anything indoors when it comes to a fresh slab of red meat.
You get the idea.
It happens that Sal and I attend church together regularly. She is quite the fashionable lady, and I've managed to convince her to err on the prudent side for those occasions. Obviously I have to measure up as well. Lately I've tried to convince her that, as a Filipina of half-Spanish ancestry -- a mestiza, if you will -- she would look especially stunning in a black mantilla of medium length.
Life would be simpler if there were a working standard that fit all times and all places, but there really isn't. Human nature doesn't change according to time or place, but what elicits a certain response does. I suppose it's like pornography; you know it when you see it.
On the other hand, maybe even that's not enough. Discuss.