Whatever happened to modesty at Mass?

Why does the Church allow women to attend Mass wearing very revealing attire? Strapless tops, halters, short-shorts, mini-skirts, etc. All ages from 6 to 60 are in God’s house in abbreviated attire. What happened to modesty and morality?

Rather than blaming “the Church” for this, please realize that this kind of behavioral issue is a local church matter and not something for which the universal Church should be held responsible. In fact, in Rome (and especially in the Vatican) where the Church is headquartered, many churches have very strict dress codes for both men and women. In other words, the Church shows its preference on the matter in the place where it has the greatest ability to enforce it.

What this means is that if modesty at Mass matters to Catholics, it is more constructive for them to try to address the issue at their parish than to wonder “why Rome doesn’t do something.” Here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t limit the problem to women or to cleavage and leg. Men also have a problem with appropriate attire for Mass, and even when fully covered, inappropriate attire at Mass is a modesty issue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines modesty this way:

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet (CCC 2522).

In other words, one of the requirements of modesty is that one does not call inappropriate attention to oneself, as a man or a woman does when dressed inappropriately for an occasion.

2. Expect to hear from those with whom you speak on the issue a concern that people come to Mass and that it “doesn’t matter” how they dress. While this sounds noble, it can also be a dodge for refusing to take on the problem. Gently remind those who raise these concerns that even fast-food restaurants care how their patrons dress and say unapologetically, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Surely if the local McDonald’s can require appropriate dress, so can the local parish. (Click here for more thoughts on this issue.)

3. Offer constructive advice and practical solutions, not nagging demands. For example, you might work up a presentation for your pastor, outlining the problems you’ve seen in the parish and possible solutions for fixing the problems. Ideas might include parish catechesis through bulletin inserts, a letter to registered parishioners, a homily or post-Communion talk from the pastor, and additions to the children’s and adults’ education curriculum. The parish might also wish to buy a supply of shawls, wrapskirts, and paper trousers (the kind vendors sell near the Vatican for those in shorts), to keep on hand to lend to those who arrive at Mass in inappropriate attire.

4. If your ideas and concerns are ignored or meet with defeat, you may have to let things ride for a while before trying again at some future point, but you can work on yourself in the interim. Remembering that modesty is not just about dress but about protecting the dignity of human persons, you could resolve to work on developing patience and moderation toward those who frustrate you (cf. CCC 2522).

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