Catholic Values Columnist
I think that casual dress should be banned at the Mass. Such a simple proposition elicits such a vehement reaction from most, if not all, people it is shared with.
Until quite recently, I would share in that fury. I habitually wore olive green cargo shorts to every occasion, be it a Mass, a pool party or Thursday bowling night with “the bros.”
Why, then, should formal dress be required, or at least recommended, for liturgy?
Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Mass in the United States, along with society in general, has steadily and intentionally moved from a formal occasion to a “family meal,” provoking at most a polo shirt and pants with a belt, but more often just whatever is on top of the dresser.
To understand why this is a dangerous notion, and why we as a Church should move away from this notion of casual dress, we must first examine what the Mass truly is, and what tribute is due to an event of its station.
The Mass, according to Church Tradition, is simply the Sacrifice of Calvary, in which our Lord was stricken with our sins and hung on a wooden cross until dead as sacrifice for our transgressions.
We believe that the holy Mass is not merely a repeat or symbolic playback of that sacrifice, but that every Mass is literally and physically taken back to the day of the passion to share in that sacrifice.
This notion alone — that at every Mass we are quite literally present at our salvation with St. John and the Blessed Mother — should floor us. But the fact that, during that sacrifice, we get to receive that same sacrifice in the most physical, intimate way, should be humbling beyond belief.
These core facts of the Mass seem lost on much of the general population of the Church, however. Indeed, recent polling conducted by Pew Research shows that nearly half of all Catholics do not believe, in some form or another, that the Eucharist is truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and two-thirds of Catholics in America self-profess to church attendance “less than weekly.”
But how does this tie back to formal dress?
Why do we dress up for weddings? Why do we dress up for funerals? Why do we dress up for important job interviews, graduations and awards ceremonies? Because we recognize that these are all special occasions. And we recognize that these occasions are worth going out of our way to show that they are special.
How much more, then, should we recognize the importance of the Sacrifice of Calvary?
When we show up to Christ the King Chapel (or, more aptly for today’s purposes, the fieldhouse) in cargo shorts and a flannel (a wardrobe that I have worn to Mass on more than one occasion), what are we signaling to ourselves and outsiders? That the Mass is the holiest Christian experience imaginable, the source and summit of our lives? Or that it is something that we “get over with” in order to continue with our day?
In all of this, I am not saying that every Mass should be full of people in full length ball gowns and tuxedos. But they also should not be full of shorts and T-shirts.
The Mass is a sacred occasion. What we wear and how we act should reflect that. If it does not belong at the foot of the cross, why do we think that it could belong at the Mass?