Should parishes have a dress code for holy Mass? No, I don’t think so. I rarely see anyone I think is inappropriately dressed at Mass, even in the summer in a church that has no air conditioning. A dress code, as well intentioned as it might be, will end up giving some few persons control over how other persons dress. And that type of decision should be left to each individual conscience.
Suppose we begin with the idea of a very limited dress code, which only excludes very inappropriate clothing. Undoubtedly, due to the failings of fallen human nature, that dress code, over time, will be amended again and again, becoming more and more strict, until it unreasonably substitutes the decisions of a few influential persons in the parish or diocese for the individual conscience. Eventually, such a dress code will exclude clothing which is not truly offensive or inappropriate.
And then, instead of preparing for Mass by considering whether they have offended God by any sins on their conscience, they will have to worry about whether their clothing offends the dress code. Some people will be driven away from Mass by an excessively restrictive or excessively detailed dress code. And there is just no compelling reason to have a committee and a set of written rules stand in judgment over what clothing people wear.
Currently, there are numerous stories in the secular press on the topic of dress codes in various places, such as high schools. It causes more problems than it solves. And inevitably some entirely appropriate types of clothing are prohibited for no good reason. Once you start making decisions for other persons as to how they may and may not dress, errors abound.
It is also a problem when every aspect of the moral decisions of daily life are taken away from the individual and given to a small group of leaders or influencers. Under the principle of subsidiarity, decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. Clothing and manner of dress and grooming are personal decisions that should not be given over to a committee, nor to a small group of parishioners who happen to have influence over the pastor.
This summer at Mass, I’ve seen plenty of men wearing shorts and/or tee shirts. Sometimes the t-shirts have no collar, sometimes they have no sleeves. I’ve seen women wearing shorts or relatively short skirts or dresses. Sometimes a woman has on a dress or top that bares part or much of her back. Sometimes a woman is dressed so that her bra strap shows from under her shirt or dress. And overall, the manner of dress at Mass in my parish tends to be rather informal.
But I see no reason to object, nor to compose a set of rules for how people dress at Mass. Doing so would drive some persons away from Mass, and therefore away from the Lord. And what would be the benefit that outweighs this great detriment of losing souls? There is no great benefit to compelling people to dress one way or another at Mass.
Each person will be judged by his or her own conscience before God. We should emphasize the formation of consciences and the teachings of faith and morals. Making unnecessary rules is Pharisaical and counterproductive.
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