The Bright Maidens posed this theme for this Tuesday: “Catholic Modesty”.
At Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, I found it odd when people entered wearing tank tops for an usher to hand them a disposable shawl, made of paper fiber, triangular in shape, and bright yellow. No bare shoulders, and no shorts allowed within the Basilica’s walls. That’s pretty much standard procedure for all of the major basilicas throughout Italy, and most of her Churches.
Outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica, one can’t miss these signs warning that those wearing shorts and/or tank-tops, they will not be allowed to enter.
I’ve witnessed the refusal many times. A tourist arrives at the steps of the Basilica, and is pulled aside, and told she cannot enter unless she has something to cover her shoulders (or legs). The well-informed tourist will whisk out of her backpack a long shawl and tie it around her waist as an instant skirt. If the tourist can’t comply, they are turned away.
At times, I wished there was such a dress code in our Churches here in the States. Just this past weekend, I attended Mass where a baptism was being performed. The mother of the child was wearing a mini-skirt and a single shoulder tank top (sporting a tattoo no less!). The godmother was sporting an even shorter dress and a tank top with her black undergarments showing. The women were constantly adjusting their skirts, aware that they were a bit short. This, of course, distracted from the beautiful moment of baptism.
However, it appears the trend for greater modesty is on the rise.
In today’s local paper, it was reported a priest began sending the message to his parishioners that shorts, tank tops, tight skirts and low-cut necklines would no longer be welcome in the Church. The article explains:“The idea for the posters came from longtime parishioner…(a) homemaker, mother of four, and chair of the Parish Council, said she became tired of her teenage daughter asking why she couldn’t dress like some of the women she saw in church and her teenage son not concentrating on the Mass.
“We are trying to teach our children certain values, and people are showing up in skimpy outfits,’ ” she said. ” ‘We have to do something.’ “
As with everything, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are arguments that such a dress code would turn people away. Fr. Otero commented on this, saying that ‘getting to church is more important than what you’re wearing, and he understands if parishioners have to dress informally once in a while. “But they should make the effort to give God their best.”
An aside to the above, and yet very central to the discussion, is the VIRTUE of Modesty. Fr. John A. Hardon’s definition of modesty is as follows (Taken from Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary, 1980):“The virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station of life. There is internal modesty (humility and studiousness), and external modesty (dress and general behavior)…Modesty in dress and bodily adornments inclines a person to avoid not only whatever is offensive to others but whatever is not necessary. Modesty in bodily behavior directs a person to observe proper decorum in bodily movements, according to the dictum of St. Augustine, “In all your movements let nothing be evident that would offend the eyes of another.”"
Sometimes we forget that what we wear and how we act can impact others. A priest once wrote (sorry, I can’t recall where) how difficult it is for him to give communion to women who wear revealing clothing. He has taken a vow of celibacy, and yet he is subjected to immodestly dressed women almost every day. One associate pastor, Father John Lyons, wrote for the parish bulletin outlining the new dress code to counter the problem:“At this time we most especially need to remind girls and women to not wear immodest low-cut dresses or blouses. Women and girls should be careful that their dress is not revealing at all, even when they bend over or kneel down. Maybe some women do not know that revealing clothing is a source of temptation for most men.”
What do you think? Is Fr. Otero over the top to suggest a dress code? Should our churches strive to challenge parishioners to ‘give God their best?’ by being more conscientious in how we dress?
Here’s some posts that might be good to review:
Past Bright Maidens Posts: