Worship the Lord in Holy Attire!

27 Jun

Our family has always made a habit of trying to wear our “Sunday best” to Mass. Of course, this can be challenging when the “comfort index” reaches a decidedly uncomfortable level during the dog days of summer. Since I’m going to wear shorts and a t-shirt most of the day anyway, why go to the trouble of wearing one set of clothes to Mass only to run home an hour later to change?

Does the Bible have anything to say about this? Well, actually it does. In the Scriptures we read: “Worship the Lord in holy attire” (1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2; 96:9). Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that even our clothing for Mass “ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” in Holy Communion (no. 1387).

There are many motives for dressing up for Sunday Mass. We want to make the Lord the priority in our lives and give Him honor and glory. Out of respect for our family and friends we dress up for weddings and funerals. Similarly, out of respect for our employer and colleagues we dress well for work. Doesn’t the Lord, our sovereign King, deserve at least as much?

Further, a restored sense of modesty should inform the way we present ourselves in public, especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the hot summer months, there is a tendency to “underdress” for Mass. Retired Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo wrote a wonderful pastoral letter on this subject a few years ago. 

Here I would like to provide an additional incentive to dress well for Mass. I suggest that we consider our Sunday clothes to be a kind of vestment. We rightly associate “vestments” with the special clothes worn by the priest and other ministers on the altar. Yet, the word “vestment” comes from the Latin verb vestire, which more generally means “to clothe.”

How would we feel if our parish priest processed down the aisle at the beginning of Mass wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops? Of course we’d be offended, and rightly so. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides, “vestments should . . . contribute to the beauty of the rite” (no. 297). The flip side is that the lack of appropriate attire on the part of the priest takes away from the beauty of the rite.

When it comes to the lay faithful, the Church in our time has emphasized that our common Baptism is ordered to our full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. How we conduct ourselves, even the way we dress, is an outward expression of our interior disposition to enter fully into the liturgical action as participants, and not as mere spectators.

So, I would suggest that instead of merely throwing on a t-shirt and jeans or shorts that we would see getting dressed for Mass as a type of vesting. It can be part of our preparation for encountering our Eucharistic Lord at Mass. And surely the way that we prepare and carry ourselves can be an edifying witness to others, who in turn may be encouraged to follow “suit.”

Do clothes make the Mass? Of course not. But how we prepare ourselves, including conscious decisions regarding our attire, is an important first step toward fostering a renewed sense of reverence in our own backyard and, even more, in our own hearts.

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