Spirituality for Today – November 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 4

Sunday Best

By Alexander O'Toole

I suspect that if one were to be invited to attend dinner with the Pope at the Vatican, they would dress accordingly and wear their finest suit or dress for the occasion. Now I do not mean to hurt or offend anyone's feelings, but I am in spiritual shock, for after having been away from the Church for some time, I have lately had the opportunity to attend Mass at a number of various parishes. This has provided me, as a layperson, with a unique perspective on the "then and now" of how parishioners dress and conduct themselves before and after Mass. I can recall a time, not so long ago, when parishioners showed up for Mass wearing their "Sunday Best", now this was not a specific Church policy, but rather simply a matter of respect, for the priest or bishop conducting the Mass and especially for the Holy Mass itself. Today I have seen parishioners attending Mass wearing Bermuda shorts; jeans faded or otherwise; trousers and shirts that look like they are four sizes too big; cut out T-shirts, tank tops and many show up looking like they are dressed for a day at the beach, all of which I personally feel is inappropriate to attend Holy Mass and the key point here is, Holy spelled with huge capital letters.

A photo of man adjusting his tie

There is an old axiom that goes like this, 'clothing sends a message', while another states that, "clothing makes the man" and sometimes it does more than that, it can send a subtle message. When we see a soldier dressed in fatigues, a police person in their blues or a doctor in scrubs, we know what their professions are and they demand respect for it, and the key word here again is indeed, "respect". Now granted depending upon one's location, there may be parishioners who are truly poor and their clothing reflects this, but no matter how poor one may be, there should still be respectful at Holy Mass. Yet today it appears that respect is something that Collectively Society of the 21st century has sorely forgotten, especially when it comes to one's decorum in God's House and the Holy Mass. When we attend Mass we are being invited to "break" bread with our most precious Lord Jesus, for His presence permeates every part of the Church. He is there waiting for us and what we wear and especially our deportment before and after Mass, sets the tone for that Holy spiritual experience. As we all know, the Holy Mass itself is two thousand years old and little has changed over that ensuing time, it is still that moment when our Lord broke bread with His disciples; it was His last meal upon this earthly sphere.

Now granted one may not be able to attend a gothic type cathedral or a lavish modern suburban church and for some it may be in an earth quake ravished area or for others a battlefield setting and the altar may be a humble table, but no matter what the setting may consist of, we are still in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and He said just that, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their mists" Thus each of us should behave as if Christ is right there sitting next to us in Mass and this brings me to another idiosyncrasy of the "modern day parishioner", which I personally feel is very disrespectful.

Now granted for some the attire they wear to Holy Mass may be dictated by their poverty level, and this is not their fault, but their conduct and deportment in Church and at Holy Mass is under their total control and this too sends a subtle message. I remember as a child being taught not to talk when an adult was speaking, it was a matter of respect. When one enters Church, they are in God's House and they should leave the outside world at the entrance, for prior to the Mass it should be a period of quiet contemplation, a time for silent prayer and reverence, for preparing one's self to experience the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but in certain cases there is a constant background of muffled "chattering" of some parishioners who are busy catching up on local gossip before Mass begins.

I personally find this extremely disrespectful as well as very annoying, I attend Mass hoping to be spiritually uplifted and revived so that I can face the harsh world until I can attend Mass again. And this matter of respectfulness also extends to even after the Mass has ended. I have seen some parishioners that where so anxious to get out of church, that they did not wait until the music has ended, but quickly rush towards the nearest exit, while for others it is another opportunity to chatter away. Jesus chassed the moneylenders out of the temple because of their disrespect of where they were, I wonder what He would do to those who would disrespect His Church?

At one time there were signs posted throughout our public libraries that read, "Quiet Please", which were meant to set an environment for learning. Do we need to do the same in God's House, to set a spiritual environment? "Most" of us attend Mass to be close to Christ, not to be walking "news papers" getting friends caught up to date on local gossip. In the Bible it states that, "There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens" and this applies to our Holy Mass, which is a time for preparing one's self spiritually for an encountered with our previous Lord Jesus Christ. But many of us are acting like we are ashamed of our faith, when in reality we should be on the rooftops proclaiming our Catholic faith and our love for Jesus Christ. Recently the Church has been under assailment from the forces of darkness that wish to destroy Her and thus this is a time when each of us should be proud that we are Catholics. I for one have placed several rosaries on my front mirror to proudly proclaim my faith. And by the way, I attend mass and do indeed wear my Sunday best and silently pray before as well as after Holy Mass.