This week I engaged in an impromptu and very lively discussion/debate on Facebook which may have been one of the strangest I’ve gotten myself involved in. Yes, it involved religion, and the Catholic religion. It was really heated.
Now, hearing of a “heated” discussion involving our church, one might guess that the topic was about some moral or ethical topic, i.e., end-of-life-issues, Just War Theory, or maybe capital punishment. So was this exchange about something along these lines?
Nope. It was about having some kind of a reasonable standard of dress for Divine Liturgy (Mass).
Two things were clear from the Facebook exchange: those who were on the side of some kind of standard for dress were “other-centric”: they were looking at the idea of dressing up for church as a way to honor God and to show respect when one is going to be in His presence.
Those who argued for casual dress and for recognizing no real standard were “me-centric”. Comments from this side were as follows: dressing is not important, what is important is that I’m at liturgy; I don’t dress to impress; I’m poor and so next week I’ll dress in pajamas (and that’ll show you!); our current social constructs don’t assign this kind of meaning to dress. One person actually used the term “ontologically” in the same sentence with “shorts and flip-flops”. I was impressed.
I will disclose at this point that I was on the side of those who feel that asking people to dress reasonably well for liturgy is not asking too much. In fact, the first comment I added to this stream of consciousness exchange was as follows:
“All you need to do is ask yourself the following questions: if you were invited to meet the president, or the head of your company, or a foreign dignitary, would you show up in a t-shirt or tank top or beach flip-flops? I think if you are truthful, you will say ‘no’. So if you really, really believe that the Lord of the Universe is present at church, why would you not show the same respect?”
I don’t think this is an unreasonable position to take. I am not at all suggesting that everyone run out and spend a multitude of money on clothing for the family. I don’t mean that men should rent tuxedos or women ball gowns to go to liturgy. But I also don’t think asking a man or woman to dress as nicely as he or she would for a day at the office, even with business casual in mind, is asking too much.
Some people pointed out what is important isn’t dress but corporal works of charity, as was stated by another this way: “Love manifests itself outwardly. Feed the hungry. Work in a food pantry. Welcome the homeless. Be involved in prison ministry. Instruct the youth, etc.”
I’m not sure how dressing nice for church co-opts the above. One can dress nice for church and do all of the above.
What I also don’t understand is the level of ire that suggesting a modest standard of dress for liturgy invoked. Were some people traumatized while growing up by parents who insisted they wear certain kinds of clothes and are now venting their pent-up frustration at others? Or do they really think God wants us to come to liturgy in the same kind of clothes we might wear for an evening of recreation?
I also must confess I’m in some doubt by the people who poor-mouthed about not being able to afford decent clothes. My friends, this blogger works for a Fortune 500 company and I buy most of my clothes at Wal-Mart. I do not dress to the nines to attend liturgy but I dress decently and respectfully and at least as well as I would for a meeting with my company’s upper management.
I wonder how many who said they couldn’t afford nice-enough clothes for church answered the Facebook posts using an I-Phone or nice laptop?
No one who attends a Catholic liturgy is going to be turned away due to dress. And, of course, there are exceptions to anything. A man, for example, who has worked at a labor job and wants to attend a liturgy either before his workday begins or after it ends certainly should not let his wearing work clothes stop him from encountering the Lord. But if this same man isn’t working on Sunday and attends liturgy then, wouldn’t it be a little extra gift to give the Lord to dress in nicer clothes?
It’s just an extra little way to show love and respect for God. Consider.