DOES GOD CARE HOW WE DRESS FOR MASS?
As you open your mailbox one day, you spot a very official looking envelope that stands out from the rest of the mail. You notice that the return address is simple: "The White House, Washington, DC." Hurrying inside you carefully open the envelope and find, to your delight, that "you have been invited to a very special dinner with the President of the United States in the East Room of the White House. Please enter through the east gate at 6:30pm sharp."
You will do several things in order to prepare for this special occasion. First, you will make sure that your attire is the very best that you have-you may even rent something. Secondly, you reflect on what you will say to the President that evening. And third, you will let nothing you can control stand in the way of your being at the east gate at 6:30pm sharp. All of these activities are right and proper to the occasion to which you have been summoned. After all, regardless of who holds the office, the office of President of the United States demands our respect. Our dress, our punctuality and our preparation are all indicative of our respect for the office.
Let us contrast this with our weekly summons to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Your Host is a far greater-infinitely greater-personage than the President of the United States. He is the Lord of the Universe, the Giver of Life, and the Savior of us all. And yet, we show up to this event many times late, dressed like we are going to a barbeque and with little or no preparation. Such is our respect for the King of kings.
What is the problem here?
First of all, we have acquired some very bad habits. During the 1970's in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, it was, in my experience, frequently mentioned that "Jesus looks on the heart and not on our clothes" and therefore we should not be concerned about dressing for Mass. But as we have seen in our reaction to our invitation to the White House, how we dress does matter in that it reflects the amount of respect we hold for our host.
A second part of the problem is that some Catholics do not understand why they attend Mass on Sunday. Mass is for some merely a social event in the secular sense or is a private meeting between them and God and the presence of others in the congregation is irrelevant. But the actual presence of the Son of God in the Holy Eucharist is forgotten. His divine Majesty is out of sight; out of mind. Thus we dress as if the President is not going to be there.
In November 2000, Bishop Robert Vasa wrote an extremely compelling article entitled Dress, Demeanor, Discipline Show how We Value Holy Mass. His article should be read by every Catholic as he demonstrates for us why it is so important to dress for Sunday Mass in our "Sunday Best." Please take a few extra minutes to read his article.
Does God judge us by how well we are dressed. Of course not. The poor have the least capacity to dress in elegant attire and the Lord holds the poor close to his Heart. But he does judge us by how well we acknowledge His Majesty and His Lordship over our lives. How dress for Holy Mass is reflective of our respect for Him as our Lord and Savior. By our dress we acknowledge Who He is to the world. "Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father." [Matt 10:32]
Next Sunday, as you prepare for Holy Mass. Remember that you are approaching Someone Who is far greater than the President of the United States AND Who has provided for you personally far greater benefits that any President could provide (Life and Salvation) and Who deserves better than short pants, a tee shirt, and flip-flops. He deserves better than showing up ill-prepared fifteen minutes late. Do we really love Him or not?