Bright Maidens: Catholic Modesty

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.

Rev. Fr. Lino Otero - Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Sacramento Diocese-CA

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:

10 Reasons Why Men Should Practice Custody of the Eyes

10 Reasons Why Women Should Dress Modestly


Past Bright Maidens Posts:

Three Reasons for Mary

Mary, Teach Me to Pray


16 thoughts on “Bright Maidens: Catholic Modesty

  1. I really like this post, Sister! This is so true, you need to give God your best when coming to church. I can’t believe some of the things I see people wear in church, it’s so disheartening. I wish every parish could be like the one you mention here.

  2. I think it depends on where you live, and the temperature outside.

    I live in Greece, all the churches say no shorts, but don’t inforce it.

    The temperature from spring till end of december runs from 30c to 44c, can you imagine going to church with no air conditioning wearing long trousers or jeans, or similar for woman.

    people would be passing out all over the place.

    the rules have to be practical, and it is more important to goto church, than what you wear.

    just a thought

    • Thank you, John, for your comment. Culture/climate does matter, it’s true.
      My experiences in Indonesia and in parts of Africa, where it can be hot and no airconditioning, people never come to church with shorts or tank tops. Just to let you know, the priest interviewed, wearing his black trousers, long sleeve shirt, collar, and jacket…in a climate that gets up to 38c (100f). What I’m advocating is, we can dress nicely, and still be comfortable. God bless!

  3. Thank you for your article. I will share this with my pastor. Young boys– in particular– are being tempted in church immediately before receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

  4. At the beginning of summer, I include a blurb about proper dress in the parish bulletin I create. I ask parishioners to be respectful of the King of Kings….it is His house we are visiting. I’ve gotten annoyed responses, but I stand my ground. We dress properly for a wedding, don’t we? Is there a greater Feast than the Mass? As for clothing too heavy for hot weather…you can buy a pretty sundress at K-Mart, Walmart or such for $15,,,skip your manicure and buy a couple. A pair of capris is decent & weather do-able. And guys, clean yourselves up, pretend you are on the golf course where a dress code is a must. It’s not the gym…you’re in the real presence of Christ! I’m tired of “You’re lucky people go to church” No, We’re lucky God gives us the privilege to share in the Sacrifice of the Mass…don’t embarrass Him. A good book, Dressing With Dignity by Colleen Hammond. And, It’s the parents I don’t get…not the kids.
    It’s The Parents I Don’t Get (pt 1 & 2) on my blog.

  5. I think there should be standards for modesty for men and women, I have been in Masses with people wearing swimsuits, shorts, inappropriate t-shirts. I have yet to see anyone pass out because they were dressed modestly.

    • Marquis Crocker you are right, there should be rules for modesty, yet I don’t see the harm in wearing a smart pare of shorts for church, I am not talking beach wear, but smart casual short trousers, with a cool shirt.

      I have never seen anybody wear a swimsuit though.

      and if you have never seen anybody pass out because of the heat then it is because you have never been in the heat.

      somebody passed out on the bus the other day because of the heat, even though the bus was air conditioned.

      and guess what, she was wearing shorts and T shirt. don’t forget we have many tourists that come for the heat and they are just not used to it.

      when the tourists come here, they want to go to mass, there is only 1 English service in the cathedral, and full to the brim with no air con.

      so we should not criticise others for wanting to be cool.

      peace be with you

  6. Even people who seem to really be devout often have poor judgement about this, even those diserrning a religious vocation, and even those who serve at Sunday Masses and who have been given clear guidelines. It is remarkable how many women feel that a skirt that ends 3 or 4″ above the kneecap is a knee length skirt or a shirt that shows cleavage is not low cut. And it can be a very delicate matter to raise the issue. I am 33 and I now wear slacks or long skirts only and modest tops–at Mass and everywhere else–one way to speak up for modesty without offending anyone. I challenge women reading my comment to buy modest clothing only, and if you have strapless or spaghetti strap things or less than knee length skirts, etc, toss them.

    Skirts minimum to the knee (really to mid kneecap) and preferably covering the knee, shorts to the knee and no shorts at Sunday Mass, no low cut tops, shoulders covered, nothing tight or see through. I don’t think that’s asking too much for Holy Mass, and in fact it’s appropriate guidance for every day.

  7. You are so right! When I was in Italy (1975) women were forced to wear full sleaves and a full length skirt. No pants allowed.

  8. A few thoughts:
    1.) You’re invited to a formal dinner with numerous dignitaries, and high-level officials. How should one dress for such?
    2.) Historically, and by comparison, air-conditioning is a fairly new invention. Church fathers and the early saints had no such benefit.

    1.) You’re representing, and are in the presence of the King of Kings, and LORD of Lords. Why would one not dress to recognize such?
    2.) Clean, lightweight, and loose fitting has really never gone out of style – in any season, in any culture – neither for men, nor women.

  9. Thank you so much for this post. I have been wearing skirts or dresses for almost a year (in march) and life has been quite different. My heart has been changing and my outward appearance is starting to reveal my heart. I started this just wearing skirts to mass and it flowed from there. Have you read the book, “Three Marks of Manhood?” There is some good modesty info there from an orthodox Catholic perspective.

    And Sister, thank you for being a witness everyday to modesty for love of Christ!

  10. I’d have to say that it takes two to tango, folks, and the knife cuts both ways.

    Men should also practice some modesty in what they choose to wear, keep the shirts on and the jeans not so low & tight.

    You guys don’t have as much room as you think to be smug and feel you can wear what you want while complaining about us ladies.

    This is a two-way street, people, and a respectful, prayerful society means that we should all do our part not to try to derail each other.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s