Thursday, June 30, 2011

I See Naked People...... In Church!

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Mark Twain
Note: Everything I write and for that matter do, offends the vast majority of people, so just know that going into reading my blog. I don’t do it on purpose.... Within that humble, apologetic spirit--a note of full disclosure:  In 1997 when a Seventh-day Adventist, after reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I began wearing a veil on my head--for the sake of the angels (at home during my personal worship at 5:30 am), therefore this zealotry wasn’t born in Catholicism, just redirected! So, yes, at mass I wear a hat or veil and I LOVE IT!  Viva la tradizione!
When I was a Protestant, I honestly didn’t care, within reasonable modesty guidelines, what people wore for corporate worship. I figured it was better to have people in church wearing street clothes than wearing church clothes on the streets.
At the Assemblies of God we attended in Fort Myers, Florida, the elders and deacons distinguished themselves by wearing bright floral Hawaiian shirts. The casualness matched the atmosphere of theater seating and two huge screens on the platform.  When the church deliberately creates a casual atmosphere, I think it is fine if Protestants show up for church appropriate to the style of the environment. 
When I taught the youth at one church, my righteous indignation would flare hot whenever some judgmental, straitlaced deacon or deaconess would comment about how the young people were dressed.
Jeans and t-shirt? “Come on in... you’re welcome!” We loved everybody here! I thumbed my nose at the old gossipy, interfering biddies.

But one day a group of college girls came in with silk teddies (or what looked like it) for blouses and one wasn’t wearing a bra! I gulped. Uh-oh, I bit my lip and checked my watch to see how old I was getting. 
No, this isn’t about my age, but about an emerging and menacing culture that silences all criticism and teaches us that nothing matters. I woke up and realized I had been part of the "nothing matters" crowd. (“It’s all good”, coexist!). Being judgement is the highs of all evils, don't you know?

What I had succumbed to was the anti-christian conviction (masking itself under the smug, self-congradulatory feeling of "love" and "tolerance") that what we do doesn’t matter. After all if we are saved by faith alone, what we do doesn't matter, who we sleep with doesn’t matter, who we destroy, unborn, doesn’t matter... what we wear doesn’t matter.....
However, I am not wanting Protestants to go back to the suit and tie, hat and gloves 1950’s church attire, but for Catholics at mass? Yeah! DARN yeah! 
There is a general confusion in the Western culture that Catholic mass is Protestant church. NO! NO! and again I cry out NO! They are very distinct services and do not correlate in any way but in the fact they are called corporate worship. 
Unlike a Protestant church where you can duck in late, sit on the back row and make a bee line for the exit during the closing prayer so that no one can see you are having a bad hair day, Catholics are there to receive the Eucharist. That necessitates leaving your seat and walking up in front of everyone.

And your clothing
does show your respect for the true presence of the Lord, God Almighty, there in your midst and in your mouth! You are standing in front of the CREATOR, the
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. No one would conceive of arriving at the White House for a state dinner in what they show up to mass in.
Recently, nestled the affluent downtown of a capital city cathedral, the congregation had the horror to behold women in their early twenties wearing t-back tank tops, bra straps fully exposed, and short-shorts. It literally looked like beach attire for many of the people there. One long-legged late teen had jean cut offs so highly folded up that a a hint of her derriere was exposed. 

No, this wasn’t a poverty-stricken third-world country with people surviving no air-conditioning. The place was cool enough for some men to be wearing suits, and the priest was in full mass cassock ensemble without breaking into a sweat. No, no one was rounded up off the streets, this morning it was the chosen and preferred attire of these people to encounter the God of the universe.
Church fashion a la Club St. Croix is becoming ubiquitous in Catholic churches during the summer months. It is common to watch men of all ages walking into mass wearing safari shorts, or casual cargo pocket shorts with t-shirts and flip flops. And it isn’t exclusively in summer as a few months back a late teen girl wearing a mini-skirt and go go boots paraded down the isle carrying the cross. At that same church a different woman, also carrying the cross into church, wore a sleeveless sundress that barely covered her underwear. Granted, holding her arms up did make the dress shorter... but someone should have thought of that.

We have attended churches where female Eucharistic ministers sported nylon spandex knee-length pants or jeans as well as as once a man wore a t-shirt (my husband refers to it as a wife beater shirt) and sweat pants. These are EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS giving us the body and blood of Christ! 
To their credit, as liberal as its reputation, St. James Cathedral in Seattle requires all the Eucharistic minsters to wear a robe with rope belt. 
And yes, I am fully aware that some people really can’t afford to dress up in a suit for church. But there was a time when we were first married my husband found a decent suit at Goodwill. 
At the same St. James Cathedral where we worshipped for a couple years, we watched mentally ill transvestites meandering around the edges of the church and homeless people setting up personal areas in the back pews; this didn’t upset me. It is those who do have the mental capacity to make such decisions and do wear nice clothes every day to work and understand the appropriateness of clothing for business, but they will then stand in front of God Almighty without regard to His Holy Presence!
You think I am old-fashioned, a judgmental legalist? Alrighty then, but I am also correct....  
What we wear does show our respect for ourselves, for others and God. Seems to me that if the Vatican has some dress codes, all Catholic churches could too.

The problem is that nobody wants to be seen as the bad guy complainer. I say, let's all do a little protesting here for the Lord!

In the end, Mark Twain was right. When members and visitors attend Catholic mass and find the congregation looking more like they are attending a backyard barbecue, they will not do much to influence them about the holiness of our Lord and
His real presence in the Eucharist.

For full disclosure here are the churches I can remember attending since becoming Catholic in 2008 and the extent of my views on the subject were inspired.
St. Paul’s New Bern, NC
Sacred Heart in Winchester, VA
St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA
St. Martin’s Fife, WA
St. Ann’s Rock Hill, SC
St. Ann’s Charlotte, NC
St. Thomas More, Lynchburg, VA
Holy Cross, Lynchburg, VA
St. Peter’s Greenville, NC
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
St. Patrick Cathedral, Charlotte, NC
St. Thomas Aquinas, Charlotte, NC
Others in Waco, Texas and one in Utah... can’t think of any others...


MFlynn said...

I wish I could have experienced the era of "Sunday Best." I would even appreciate seeing what would be appropriate at work and not feel like the Mass is an indoor cookout at the Beach.

Teresa Beem said...

Good, I thought I was the only one who was concerned!