Do I need to dress up at Mass?

Q: It angers me to see beach attire at church on Sunday. Why don’t priests say something about that? You wouldn’t go to a wedding or a funeral dressed in shorts or flip-flops.

A: I am reminded of an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” that opened with Caroline Ingalls explaining to her children that her mother, their grandmother, was coming to visit. The profound respect, gratitude and love that Caroline had for her mother demanded they prepare themselves by dressing their best. Nothing less would have been acceptable to receive their special guest.

When we prepare ourselves for Mass, it is good to keep in mind that we are preparing to meet the most special guest of all: Jesus Christ. At Mass, Christ himself becomes the guest that we go to meet and receive. Therefore, out of profound reverence, gratitude and love, we must not dare to receive casually or carelessly our Lord. We are called to prepare ourselves for his worthy reception not only spiritually on the inside, but also on the outside in how we dress and present ourselves.

Some may question whether God needs us to dress well in his presence. No. God does not need us to dress up. He loves us regardless.

Nevertheless, the generosity and mercy that the Lord grants us is so immense that we, ourselves can never repay it. The manner in which we dress in order to present ourselves to our Lord at Mass reflects the respect, gratitude and love we have for God. It also serves as an example to others of the importance of Jesus Christ as we give witness to His glory in our lives.

Due to differing and understandable circumstances, one person’s “Sunday best” may vary greatly from that of another. However, dressing well for Mass is part of preparing ourselves to humbly receive our Lord. The summer months often bring the temptation to dress carelessly or immodestly when coming to Mass. No disrespect may be intended, but others may imply, because of such dress, a lack of respect for God. Dressing inappropriately can bring judgment upon us from others, both spoken and unspoken, who are dismayed at a perceived disrespect in the presence of the Lord. The manner in which we dress does not necessarily (but can) reflect the quality of our holiness — only God knows. However, dressing well at Mass serves to remind others that we think Christ is so important in our lives that he deserves nothing but the best, even if sometimes we fail to be our best ourselves.

Mrs. Ingalls expected her girls to respect their grandmother by dressing properly for her reception and tolerated nothing less. So, too, does Mother Church expect us to respect our Lord and God, and each other, in the manner in which we dress for Mass to receive Jesus, our divine guest into our hearts and give witness to his awesome presence in our everyday lives.

Fr. Brian Belongia serves as rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and Judicial Vicar for the diocesan Marriage Tribunal.

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