Mass Attendance Dress Code – Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope Addresses Scandalous Clothing!

Msgr. Charles Pope gives us some background issues and principles before he gives us his dress code.

1. Scripture – There is very little in Scripture that seems to spell out the proper way to dress for sacred worship. There is the general directive to Adore the Lord in holy attire (Psalm 96:9; Ps 29:2)

2. Church norms and rules – There are no official and specific Church norms or requirement for lay persons who attend Mass mentioned in Canon Law or the Sacramentary. Surely for priests and other clergy there are many rules and norms but I am unaware of any currently binding norms for the laity. Although the veils were once required for women, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was abrogated and the current code is silent on any requirement.

3. Hence it seems that Culture supplies most of the norms regarding what is considered appropriate attire for Church. And, alas our culture is currently quite unhelpful to us in this regard. Here in America we have become extremely casual about the way we dress for just about everything. It seems we almost never dress up anymore. This has changed somewhat dramatically in my own life time of just less than 50 years. “Sneakers” or “tennis shoes” as we called them were for sports or running around and playing in the neighborhood. But we would never even think of wearing them to school and certainly not to Church. I remember having a special set of shoes just for church. In the 1960s, it was also expected that I would go to Church in formal, pressed trousers, a button down shirt, and, except in the hottest months, a tie and even a suit jacket in winter. My sister and mother always wore a dress. Pants would not even have been considered for them. For the younger girls a skirt and a blouse might be OK but preferably a dress with a hat or veil.

But things changed dramatically around 1970. The photo above right was taken in 1969 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton, Massachusetts. It was the end of an era. Within five years neckties were lost and jeans and a t-shirts came to be the norm. Most of the women as we discussed lost the veil, and dresses gave way to more casual pants suits and then also to other more casual things like jeans etc. Shorts for men and women, unthinkable in previous years also began to appear in church as did tank tops and other beach attire. Within ten years the culture of dressing up for Church was almost wholly abandoned. Now  wearing a tie to Church would seem stuffy and formal.

4. Hence at the cost of seeming old and stuffy I might like to suggest a few norms and I hope you’ll supply your own as well:

  1. Men should wear formal shoes to Church. We used to call these hard shoes (because they were) but today many formal shoes are actually quite comfortable.
  2. Men should wear trousers (not jeans).
  3. Men should never wear shorts to Church.
  4. Men should wear a decent shirt, preferably a button down shirt. If it is a pullover shirt it should include a collar. Wearing a plain t-shirt without a collar is too informal.
  5. Men should consider wearing a tie to Church and in cooler weather, a suit coat. Some may consider this a bit too stuffy and formal but who knows, you might be a trend setter!
  6. Now as I talk about women I know I’ll get in some trouble!
  7. Women should wear decent shoes to Church. Flip flops, beach sandals etc. seem inappropriate.
  8. Women should not wear shorts to Church.
  9. Women, if they wear pants, should never wear jeans to Church. Some nice slacks that are not too tight can be fine.
  10. Women should consider wearing a dress or at least a skirt in preference to pants. It just looks a bit more formal than pants.
  11. Women should wear a nice blouse (if they are not wearing a full dress). The blouse or shirt they wear should not be too tight.
  12. Sleeveless garments are pushing it a bit but can be acceptable.
  13. Women should never wear tank tops, tube tops, spaghetti straps, or bare midriffs to Church.  Editor’s Note: How about adding low-cut or tight shirts and blouses.
  14. Well, you may have at this list. Add or subtract as you will.

A final thought: Clothes say something about what we think, what we value. They also influence how we behave and feel. That our culture has become so casual about everything says something about us. I cannot exactly articulate it but it seems to say, “nothing is really all that important.” But that is not true. Going to God’s house IS  important. Being ministered to by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is astounding. Casual attire in these circumstances is simply inappropriate if we really think about what we are doing, where we are going and who it is we will meet. It does not necessarily follow that we must wear tuxedos and formal gowns. But decent semi-formal attire seems wholly appropriate. Sunday is special, God’s House is special. Somethings really ARE important and our clothing and demeanor ought to reflect this truth.

Edited for length.  Full article here:

Sound off!  What do you think?

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19 comments to Mass Attendance Dress Code – Msgr. Charles Pope

  • Someone

    Help Me!

    What about for Palm Sunday mass? I need to know if I should wear a dress or the formal clothing in this list?

  • Ursula Kiiza

    Thank you courageous Priest for bringing up this topic; this is an area where; we need to reawaken the public collectively namely the parents;Teachers and the Priests who should talk openly to the people without favor or fear about the dressing code!In the Catholic Mass Jesus is physically present at the entire Mass.How can we dress carelessly in front of Him who is our God and creator? If we always dress in our best attire for our earthly President; what then should stop us from dressing in our best attire for our God? We should respect ourselves and dress decently because our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.The society is sick! Things have gone out of control! Can the few who still have good morals change the Changing world by taking the lead!! Wishing you God’s blessings.
    Ursula.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly agree that the dress at Mass has gotten out of hand! My pastor write a short article in the bulletin about dressing correctly for church. I find it disgusting how people come in shorts, t shirts, flip flops, and skimpy clothing. I wore uniforms for thirteen years. Time to bring back class at Mass!

  • Gloria

    Modesty care sacrifice respect. These words are lost.Here is what I do Pray for them.The priest must minister to the whole person. Priest will give an account for us one day.

  • john luke evangelista

    Now that we will be having the 51st International Eucharistic Congress here in Cebu, Philippines on January 24 to 31, 2016. I am asking all readers to please help me pray that full respect and reverence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist will be restored and that all abuses against His Most Precious Body and Blood will be stopped. And that the manner in which all bishops and priests worldwide officiate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (not Eucharistic Celebration please…) will be observed in full sacredness.
    I am praying that these will happen first starting in my own country, the Philippines.

  • Joe Martinez

    I’m a little late to the this party, but I liked all of the responses w/ the exception of Spence’s. I especially appreciated Kathie Mullens and Catherine’s response

  • Scott

    I think it might be helpful to add, along with considering a dress or skirt, that the hem of the dress or skirt should come to the knee at minimum and that shoulders should be covered.

  • Chris

    I’m pretty sure God cares more about so many other things. Especially the issue mentioned in the comment above mine: ‘I cannot understand why a woman or girl who undertakes reading or serving at Mass, would wear pants instead of a skirt, showing to the entire parish that she does not know how to dress up for occasion.’

    Um, clothes constantly change, most people no longer wear flowy robes often worn by people in the time of Jesus, so to say that a woman must wear a dress in order to show respect to God is ridiculous, masochistic, and frankly rude. I hope the people at my parish do not judge others so harshly.

  • Maria

    I cannot understand why a woman or girl who undertakes reading or serving at Mass, would wear pants instead of a skirt, showing to the entire parish that she does not know how to dress up for occasion.

  • Ruth Boll

    Sometimes, I go to visit with my Father. I don’t always dress fancy (though always modestly) to visit my Father’s house and spend time with my Family. Always dressing fancy puts me in danger of feeling, or at least projecting, superiority to my brothers and sisters. May the person coming straight from work, the teenage mother and the homeless drug addict always feel comfortable sitting beside me in the pew! The last two Sundays, I have attended mass at two different parishes and both opened their beautiful celebrations with the hymn “All are Welcome”. May those words always be so.

  • moutrie aromin

    Deuteronomy 22:5 says that men are supposed to dress as men and women as women. So men and women are supposed to differ in the way they dress. Pants are a no-no for women.
    This is according to God’s will.Mary is the ideal model of modesty for women, not the models that we read in magazines.To practice proper dress code in church is part of worshiping God properly. He is a God, He deserves our Sunday best!

  • Tina Giblin

    I know I’m a little late to this message but I cannot help but comment.

    I have three boys, two of which are teenagers. I have NEVER let them wear shorts or t-shirts to church! I used to let them wear jeans, as long as they had a button up dress shirt on but I have recently ruled those out too. At first my boys were upset, mainly because they see so many others their age dressed very casually. Then the Seminarian that is in our church for a year (he is definitely ‘old school’) brought back so much that has been let go by the wayside, including a dress code for our alter servers. Being born in the early 1960s, I was brought up to dress nicely for church. You cannot imagine my dismay this past summer to see children in sneakers, shorts and flip flops serving. The thought in our church was much like what I am reading from other comments here; who cares how they dress, as long as they come?! My answer, GOD cares! No one can deny that God had a close relationship with Moses but even Moses was ordered to remove his shoes in God’s presence! He was on Holy Ground, while in God’s presence. Who can deny that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all present when we are gathered together in church and like Moses, we are on Holy Ground! We are on Holy Ground in the presence of our Lord and we need to dress appropriately, to show respect! This is what I explained to my boys and although they may find it a pain, they DO understand it.

    It is one thing if someone does not have money to dress properly; there was one point where two of our boys grew out of their shoes and sneakers AT THE SAME TIME! We just could not afford to go out and buy four pairs of footwear at once, so we bought sneakers first since they are required for gym class in school and it is what they wear to play in after school BUT as soon as it was possible, they got new shoes for church.

    Anytime boys bring up the fact that others are not dressing up, I tell them, “So what? I am not their mother! You will dress appropriately for church.” My thought it this…. For those of us who know better and know the importance of showing respect in church, should we not set the example for the others, regardless of what they do and how they dress? For a while I fell away from the church and attended Protestant church. When I came back, to my own surprise, I missed the reverance to our Lord that is shown in Catholic Church!

    I would no sooner allow my boys to dress casually in church, than I would allow them to sit on the pew, instead of kneeling and praying, after Communion! It is one thing if you cannot do these things…. it is another if you make a conscious effort not to do them.

  • Barbkw

    The unfortuneate truth is that most Catholics don’t know enough about the Mass to realize it is the wedding feast of The Lamb…that they (and the Church) are the brides of Christ.

    Teach them the significance of what they are participating in and they will gladly dress for Christ.

    I’m a 15 year missing-in-action reconvert to the Church.

    Thank the dear Lord for EWTN, Scott Hahn, Fr. Corapi and others, or I would still be in the dark about the Mass.

  • Kathie Mullins

    I just have to say would you go to a wedding dressed in shorts, flip flops, tank tops ect. Well the Mass is the most wonderful wedding feast you will ever attend here on earth!

  • Msgr. Pope is a little bit off on the Canon Law requirement. Because it was not mentioned in the 1983 Canon does not abrogate the previous requirements that lasted 1900 years and was explicitly directed as Tradition by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

    The cessastion of veiling was the beginning of the end of liturgical reverence. The Novus Ordo Mass welcomed it and added a seal of approval to the casual approach to worship.

    The people of Israel would never deign to enter the Holy Sanctuary dressed for recreation. How much nearer is our Eucharistic Lord than the fiery presence in the Judean temple!

  • Rick L.

    It seems that the letter of James in the NT has something (bad) to say about christians (deliberately lower case) who “judge” people by the way they are dressed. James 2 or 3, as I recall.

    If the best we have are “shabby” clothes, then that’s OK. Hopefully the person is clean as well as his clothes.

    Yes, I like clothing guidelines. God gave them to the Israelites before the covenant meeting at Sinai. But the command was to take a bath and put on clean clothes. That must have been real tough for people who were not always “happy campers” if you know what I mean.

  • Catherine

    There is nothing wrong with casual types. However, when it comes to Our Lord, why should we give him less than our best, especially at Mass? Doesn’t God deserve to have all of our love and respect? Does how we dress show how we feel about someone?

    How would we dress for a first date? How would you dress for a romantic anniversary dinner with your spouse? How would we dress if we were to have a meeting with the President or some other head of state? Why would we give the King of kings our backyard BBQ t-shirts, shorts and flip flops?

    And what about women who wear dresses which are cut far too low or have hemlines which barely cover their bottoms? We’ve all seen women wear attire like this to Mass. How is it that it is OK for a woman to dress to be a near occasion of sexual sin to Mass? Better for a millstone to be tied around her neck than to dress scandalously for the Bridegroom.

    Fr. Trigilio has a wonderful commentary, “Dressing Properly for Church.” It excellently summarizes showing respect in church, in our attire and behaviors at Mass. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G_ePdvRsA4&feature=player_embedded#!

  • Jack Spence

    Fr.

    A wise pastor responded to my wife and me when we brought up the super casual dress these days at Mass. Paraphrasing…he said….I am so happy to see folks coming to Mass I really don’t care how they look. I am more concerned about bringing back fallen away Catholics and recruiting new ones….why would I want to alienate anyone who want to come to my church in casual attire ? He further stated that there were so many duties for a pastor that he did not believe he should waste his bulletin or homily time discussing clothing. He further commented that some of his most active parishioners were also the “casual types”. Jesus welcomed all to be with and around him…so he would also.

    So Fr……I think you probably have more important things to do than waste your time on how people dress. What would you say if next Sunday 250 ex-Catholics came to your church in short and tennis shoes?

    Suggest you spend your time working on building our “population”

    JACK SPENCE
    AURORA, IL.

  • Here is another quote about modesty.

    1 Timothy 2:9-10 also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion.

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