Mass attire

By | September 21, 2011

Matt Abbot of RenewAmerica.com — an opinion site — had written a column entitled, “When attending Mass becomes an occasion of sin.” In it, Abbot, who admits that he re-edited another columnist, Jim Baltrinic, lamented the attire of young women at Mass. He expanded on the theme on the radio program.

The article’s starting point was an imaginary confession by a young man who had “impure thoughts” while sitting behind two casually dressed girls at Mass. Abbot then added that, while the confession was imaginary, the girls weren’t. He had seen them himself, he said:

“From the area where we were sitting, we observed, in addition to the two girls mentioned above, approximately a dozen very immodestly dressed women, with the majority of these being young girls in their teens and early twenties. Bare backs and shoulders, low-cut tops, strapless sun suits, short shorts, mini skirts and tight-fitting tops were plainly visible. …”

Abbot added that this “is a sad state of affairs when going to Sunday Mass becomes an occasion of sin. I could go on with more such examples, but I think what I have said is sufficient.”

The radio show’s Facebook page, a day later, carried dozens of comments — all lamenting bad taste in Mass attire in general and most complaining about women’s clothing specifically.

Now there isn’t anyone who attends Mass regularly who hasn’t wondered what people think — or if they think at all — when they open their closets. From beach attire to too-tight shorts and saggy jeans, the range is endless.

What was disturbing about the comments, though, wasn’t the “occasion of sin” reference — even if that is an out-of-date phrase to most. No, what was disturbing was that no one mentioned the attire of men.

Several years ago, my sister and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Since we were with a group of Catholics, we celebrated daily Mass at various sites. At churches in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other sites, they will stop you from entering if you are not appropriately dressed. They hand out a scarf or blanket for your bare shoulders or a rug to wrap around your bare legs if you’re wearing shorts.

Rugs and blankets were handed out at least three times on our pilgrimage. And each time they went to men in our group — for wearing shorts or tank tops.

Complaints about attire at Mass — especially holding such attire up as an occasion of sin — should not be directed only at women. Yet check the Internet for comments on attire at Mass and see who catches the most complaints.

Men, as well as women, should scrutinize their attire. Otherwise, we are singling women out unjustly, as if their attire — and the bodies within that attire — are more of an occasion of sin than men’s.

It was even more disturbing to hear Mr. Abbot explain his reasoning as, “Let’s face it, men are more visual.” That may be so, but then let’s have a little more discussion about men and the need for “custody of the eyes,” another phrase we don’t hear often. If you “know immodest dress when you see it,” look away. A really Christian man would do that. So would any truly Christian woman when a man with really tight jeans shows up at church.

One last point: Being concerned about what someone across the aisle at church is wearing means that we aren’t paying attention to the real reason we come to Mass: to praise God as a community of faith.

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