Sunday, 17 May 2009

Modesty, Women and the Church

As my faith has grown I have noticed it making a difference in many aspects of my life, some of which I would not have thought would have been affected. One of the more surprising areas for me was the affect it has had on the way I choose to dress.

Over time I have noticed myself ruling out clothes I see in shops because I find them inappropriate and instead opting for something in a more conservative style, something I would not have perhaps done before. Now I am generally careful how much chest I show, choose skirts that are knee length or longer and trousers which are not too tight.

I have always liked to dress smartly to church. My reason for doing so at least when I was very new to the faith was simply because I was under the impression that’s what people who go to church did, later on it stopped being about the people and became something I did to honor God, which is the way it remains even till today.

My first reason however was quickly proved wrong, as before I could receive Holy Communion I would often watch other people as they walked to the front of church to do so and found myself disgusted by what I saw some people, especially young women were wearing.

By all means I don’t always wear my best clothes when I attend Mass as while I especially like to dress smartly for church on Sunday as it is the purpose of me going out, during the week I often attend Mass in the early evening after a day at work or university, consequently am usually wearing my uniform or trousers and a good pair of boots (I do a lot of walking when I am at university). Nonetheless feel I am always appropriately covered to attend church which is more than I would say for the women I saw.

With young children I have found positive reinforcement to be the best way to solve this problem however, have come up against a wall when it comes to influencing older children (and even adults).

On my travels I once went to a church with a dress code printed on a large piece of paper pinned to the notice board just outside the church. I did not like this idea. It made me feel uncomfortable and I would have felt unable to attend Mass if I had been in my university clothes as I more often than not wear jeans and I don’t like the idea of putting off or even preventing people from attending Mass. Neither is it tackling the source of the problem which in my opinion is the increasing lack of respect and reverence people have towards worship, the Eucharist and religious buildings.

While I would not confine this problem to women as I also like to see men and boys dressed smartly and hate to see unpolished shoes or trainer on altar boys I did manage to find a short piece about what one pope had to say on the matter.

From the encyclical "Sacra Propediem" of Pope Benedict XV-

19. From this point of view one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by desire to please, they do not see to what a degree the in decency of their clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God. Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toilettes as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on the public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seducing food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly Author of purity."

While researching this topic on the interest I also found this comment made by a priest concerning church attire:

I have found that it is not peoples regard for dress codes which have relaxed greatly in recent decades but the attitude, the respect and reverence people have for worship and church buildings. From brides walking down the aisle chewing gum to funeral pallbearers wearing tennis shoes, to members wearing flip-flops, shorts and tank tops on Sunday, the lack of respect and reverence to worship is disgusting.

These same people would never allow their children to play in a sporting event out of uniform, or apply for a job interview themselves dressed inappropriately. Sunday worship should be no different!

I also said I was raised to believe people should dress “respectfully” in the house of the Lord - and that means fully shod and covered up enough so it doesn’t distract other worshippers.
In contrast however this following comment left me with a lot to think

More important than what people are wearing is the reason for being in church in the first place. Maybe it would be better if we could all enter God’s house blind. If we can’t see what people are wearing, we can leave our judgments and prejudices outside and use the time to learn more about God’s purpose for our lives.

What do you think?

Would you like your church to have a dress code?
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Anonymous said...

This is interesting Catherine. when my children were teenagers, I never had to remind the girls to dress modestly and they were as shocked as I was when we saw quite an elderly woman attending Mass in a very brief vest and short shorts.(more like underwear). They were also as pleased as I was when the (quite easygoing) parish priest reminded the congregation to come to Church appropriately dressed.

But when it came to dressing smartly, I was less sure. On the one hand, I wanted them to respect the Mass and dress well. On the other hand, I was aware that they had different ideas from mine on what looked nice and were sometimes tired, cross and only coming to Mass to please me. It was hard to keep a balance sometimes and I tended to say nothing unless the clothing was particularly awful.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I am now 'Elizabeth from Sussex' as there were several other Elizabeths commenting on the same blogs - confusing!

Mrs.Pogle said...

Hi Catherine,

I voted yes, but I would like an informal code rather than a list of posted rules! Perhaps it should be discussed and preached upon! For me, modesty is the most important issue, and neat but not necessarily smart, iykwim? A pair of clean jeans and a jumper are fine...scruffy ripped or dirty jeans are not, IMO. We are, after all, going to meet with the King of Kings. Some of my protestant friends disagree, but they don't have the real presence in their services, do they? :¬)

When I was in Krackow, visitors (ie tourists) to the Catholic Church were given shawls to cover up bare shoulders at the door! Maybe we should do the same here!

I tend to dress in my best for Mass (my best is not showy, as I can't afford expensive clothes) but I will put on a clean blouse, and a pressed skirt. I also cover my head in Church.

I feel I am very lucky in my Parish, as no-one dresses glaringly innappropriately :¬)

Mrs.P xx

Catherine said...

Mrs Pogle,

Yes perhaps guidance rather than rules are appropriate.

and I think shawls for the larger church that attract a lot of tourists are a good idea.

When I was only young about 11 0r 12 I went to venice on a school trip I was quite a bit taller and shall we say developed for my age than my other smaller friends and cycling shorts and t shirts were in fashion at the time. Although we were all wearing very simpler things I remember being the only one in my group not permited to go into the basilica I was very disheartened as if I had known I would have happily covered up more (so disheartened in fact I still remember now at 26 trying to plead with the guard).

I also sometimes choose to cover my head but while I am happy to do so in my parish church here in birmingham when I travel home to my parents town the church there is quite different and I dont feel comfortable. I know that what people think should not matter and I am doing it to honor Christ not them and I should do it in all churches. Consequenly I feel I should either cover my head all the time or not at all and since me convictions dont seem stong enough I end up not wearing it at all although I remain angry with myself for not being stronger. Occassionally it does come out from time to time as I try to stand up for my convictions.