“Sunday Best”: Why Bother?

Jun 17, 2022 | Articles, Living in the World

By Amber Kinloch

“Sunday best.”  For many of us, it’s not what it used to be.  Shorts and a t-shirt?  Check!  We’re all set for Mass.

Or not.

Sunday Mass is special.  If there ever were an occasion for dressing up, this is it.  Even if you’re in the habit of dressing up for Sunday Mass, it’s easy to forget why we do so.  Let’s delve into that “why.”

Remember What the Mass Is

The Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross.  When we attend Mass, the fabric of time is torn away and we are present at Calvary.  The sacrifice offered is the same, because the Priest and Victim—Jesus Christ—are the same.  Only the manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different.  (Calvary was a bloody affair involving Jesus’ physical death, whereas in the Mass there is no physical shedding of blood nor physical death.)

The Eucharist offered in the Mass is not a mere sign or symbol.  Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is really, truly, substantially present, hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.  And He is not only present.  Jesus desires for us to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as long as we are in the state of grace, have fasted, and possess a right intention.

Sunday Mass is special because Sunday is the Lord’s Day.  The third commandment (“Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy” [Exodus 20:8]) imposes on us an obligation to worship God in a special manner on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation.  We do this primarily by assisting at Mass and by abstaining from unnecessary servile work (CCC 2180-2188).

Dressing up on Sunday is a notable way to mark this day, particularly in a secular  society like ours.  Most of the week, I’m rambling about in jeans and a t-shirt.  Putting on a dress or skirt and applying makeup on Sunday reminds me that this day is unlike any other—it is the Lord’s Day!  

Our Worship of God Involves the External

Human beings are creatures composed of body and soul.  The two are intrinsically united.  What we do with our bodies matters because it affects our souls.  Likewise, being physical creatures, we should manifest our worship of God in a physical way.

External signs and actions form a key part of our worship.  We should live this truth, in part, by minding how we dress for Mass.

One helpful source of inspiration might be found in the traditional practice of a priest praying certain prayers as he vests for Mass.  Though priests are no longer required to pray these prayers while vesting, the Vatican encourages them to do so.  The Vatican also gives a helpful explanation of the history of sacred vestments and why the priest wears each garment.  Speaking of the vestments’ unique purpose, the Vatican observes: “the fact that they [the vestments] are not worn in ordinary life, and thus possess a ‘liturgical’ character, helps one to be detached from the everyday and its concerns in the celebration of divine worship.” [Emphasis mine]  Our Sunday clothes might serve the same purpose, helping us detach ourselves from the everyday in order to focus on the divine.

What if we prayed while dressing for Mass and recalled what we’re about?  What if we offered God the extra effort of applying makeup or the sacrifice of wearing a shirt and tie?  This little practice might have a great impact on our interior disposition, helping prepare us to better worship God in the Mass.

A Form of Evangelization

How we dress speaks volumes about us—we make assumptions and judgments about people all the time based on their physical appearance.  Think of a priest’s collar.  That collar is essential.  It tells me that this man is a priest and I should show him due reverence because is an alter Christus (another Christ).  Similarly, I expect certain things of a man based solely on seeing him wearing that collar.  I expect him to be different.  I expect him to be a virtuous man, someone who will guide me towards Christ and help me if I’m in spiritual need.

Similarly, we Catholics should be noted for our appearance on Sundays, especially in a society like ours that is given to slovenly dress.  People should see us and think, “They’re going to Mass.”  Some might think us old-fashioned, odd, or scrupulous for making such a fuss about our appearance.  But the message we’re projecting remains: “Worshiping God is important to me.”

What Constitutes “Sunday Best”?

This is a touchy subject.  People easily get swept up in modesty debates and the like.  I prefer to keep it positive.  Here are some brief points for examination:

  • Is your appearance clean (no unpleasant smells, dirt, etc.)?
  • Is it neat and orderly (hair combed, clothes unwrinkled, nails trimmed)?
  • Are your clothes sensible?  (If there’s three feet of snow on the ground, boots are a must.)
  • Is what should be covered, covered?  Is there “scope for imagination”?  (This doesn’t just apply to women.  One can see both sexes wearing pants that don’t fully cover the essential part.)
  • Are your clothes dressy without being unduly showy?  (A ballgown or tux would not be appropriate for an ordinary Sunday Mass.)
  • What about the details, e.g., cologne, perfume, hair, and jewelry?  Have you observed an attractive modesty here?  

My last bit of advice is to enjoy dressing up.  Sunday is a day of celebration, not suffering.  Rejoice in the Lord and make the most of this day of His.

Amber Kinloch

Amber Kinloch

Amber  writes from the bunker of her living room.  There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life.  Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.

Comments

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24 Comments

  1. Sheila

    This article is so necessary for today. Our Priest recently gave 2 homlies on the topic of proper dress for Mass.
    We should dress appropriately. we are in God’s house.

    Reply
    • Theresa

      Agree!!!! I never let my kids wear shorts to mass. Now, however , if they would just show up for mass I would t care what they had on….

      Reply
  2. Barbara

    What a beautiful, thoughtful article. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Jeanette

    Wearing shorts for mass is disrespectful. Yogo pants so tight you see every crease of the underclothes is disrespectful and offensive to those around you.

    Reply
  4. Eva

    I just wish our Pastor would. Speak on this subject sometime!

    Reply
  5. Anthony

    I still wear a suit to Mass. I’m one of two men who do, at my church. I never once heard my Parents say ” be sure to wear your Sunday good enough!” it’s called Best for a reason. I don’t feel like the Pharisees, I just have the most respect for the Mass.

    Reply
  6. bill

    We live in a casual society where our Church is losing many of our young folks. Emphasizing getting dressed up too much seems to be another way of doscouraging their attendance. We live in Florida, a hot and casual state. The same rules applied in NYC do not necessarily apply to us. Rejoice in the presence of all who take the time to attend Mass.

    Reply
    • Amber Kinloch

      Hi Bill – A few thoughts:
      • Our society may favor casual dress, but that is no reason not to dress up for Church. Our first priority is to please God, not men. Also, Jesus always raises the bar morally, e.g., love your enemies, not just those who treat you well—He never lowers it.
      • In my experience, people still enjoy seeing someone nicely dressed. True beauty is eternally appealing; it comes from God and points us to Him.
      • I certainly would not expect the people in Florida to dress the same as they do in NYC (although I will point out that we are blessed to have A/C these days.) That said, one could still wear something dressy without it being uncomfortable, e.g., a polo shirt and linen pants. We also have access to dressy clothing made from newer fabrics, which are lightweight and moisture-wicking.

      I agree that we should rejoice in the presence of others at Mass—there’s no better place for them to be! But there’s no reason to lower our standard of dress (unless you’re wearing a tux to an ordinary Sunday Mass—that’s going overboard. :))

      Reply
    • CBGGO@protonmail.com

      I find dressing mass appropriate is an honor to Jesus. However to discriminate in judgements is division. Jesus never judged even down to Mary Magdalene at the well. Catholic women or men in a divisive Marxism role of discrimination is not part of the Church.

      Reply
    • Jane

      I grew up in Florida. I dress more casually now, slacks and a nice top, than I did when I was younger. But I see people at Mass in beach attire! Tank tops, shorts and flip flops. Not acceptable! We are in the presence of the Lord of the Universe and this is the best we can do?

      Reply
  7. Lois

    Thank you for such a great article! It is so very true & should be practiced, proclaimed more than it has been in the past!

    Reply
  8. Jake

    My wife and I notice the manner in which people attending Mass “ dress down”. We live in the San Diego area. We do not believe men should wear a suit; however, a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops are a bit much. And, I still can’t bring myself to wear shorts to Mass on Sunday. It doesn’t matter how hot it is. I also wish our Pastor would address this topic in one of his homilies; however, I believe he is worried about his bottom line, MONEY.

    Reply
  9. Edwin Irving

    https://stjosephshelf.com/sunday-best-why-bother/
    Thank you for this timely article. Timely because wintertime usually requires at least adequate cover. However, summertime is when the casuals but even more than casuals, downright obscene not only in cover but in condition. It seems like some folks are passing through Mass to go to a picnic or boat outing. Not only can dress be disrespectful, it can be distracting to others.Aside from proper clothing, there are other distractions, namely: constant caressing, constant flipping hair, constant child care….
    Just my $.02.
    Thank you for bringing this to attention.
    A Loop reader,

    Reply
    • Jessica Havens

      I’m confused by this comment about “constant child care” 🤔 Yes children come to Mass and yes they require care…oftentimes “constant” depending on their age. Please pray for the young families in your parish and be thankful they are bringing their children.

      Reply
  10. Heather

    I always try to look my best, but I can afford to. Remember not all people can afford lots of clothes. We should not judge on appearance, but on the Heart. That is what God is looking at anyways.

    I am sure He is more then happy to see them in the seats, no matter what they wear.

    Love one another, don’t judge on petty things.

    We had a neighbor growing up, that lived a few streets down. I remember one time he was asked to Dress up with black pants and a nice shirt for a chorus concert he was in.

    He really did wear the best clothes he had…. which were Cleaned and Ironed Black Sweat Pants.

    I promise you this kid was a Good kid… in a family that was highly neglectful (and abusive). Yet he tried so hard, and did the best he could Despite the bad home life. I hope he is Blessed with all the greatest things in life now.

    What someone wears is not as important as the state of their hearts.

    God Bless you all.

    Reply
    • Barbara

      You don’t have to be rich or or have a lot of fancy clothes to look your best at Mass. The majority of my clothes are from resale shops and I have found many nice dresses at very affordable prices. Although with the way people dress so immodestly these days, suitable dresses are getting harder to find.

      Reply
  11. Beatrice Y Elsamahy

    When I enter church I am always dressed as appropriately as I can be. I am entering the palace of the King. He will be visibly present. It is part of honoring my Lord and my God.

    Reply
  12. Chrissi

    This is so true. I was raised that I was going to God’s house and I should wear my best. This is so ingrained that I was in SanAntonio and realized I did not bring a dress or skirt, off to Dillards, God was good I found a skirt on sale. We see people come to Mass dressed like they are ready to do yard work, dirty, unironed, and in need of mending. I am not speaking of anyone who has nothing better, these are community members that dress well for other functions. God deserves our best.

    Reply
  13. Harold Trombley

    Another concern is bringing babies and tots to Mass and the disturbances often caused by crying, etc. what happened to mom goes to one Mass and Dad to the other? so hard to concentrate on the Mass. Last week a baby constantly cried or screamed and the parents never took the kid out.. I have seen young girls go to communion with short shorts, pressing into their crotch., What is wrong with these parents.

    Reply
    • Amber Kinloch

      Hello Everyone – This is a reminder to please stay on topic with your commentary. Further comments that stray too far from the subject matter at hand will not be published. Thank you!

      Reply
  14. maryanngi

    my parents raised me to dress for Mass as you would any special celebration. I passed that along to my six children and they to their children. would you dress down to attend a wedding? no way. you would be insulting the bride and groom and their families. God deserves our very best in everything we do.

    Reply
  15. Ms. Gainor Hillegass

    Thank you for this article delineating the reasons for dressing appropriately for Mass. I am 77, brought up to wear my Sunday best to Mass. We observed the Latin Rite in those days where modesty in church was also proposed. No bare shoulders, shorts, jeans, play clothes, sneakers. We girls wore chapel veils to keep our heads covered in the presence of the Lord, as from Apostolic days. I was the organist in my parish for twenty five years and watched the relaxation of everything at Mass as Vatican II changes were employed. Being a small country parish, many of our people were farmers. The boots, jeans, and jean jackets appeared worn by both men and women. Although one particular farming family dressed spiffy for Mass. Girls began wearing more revealing dresses/tops – even in weddings. When our choir in my new parish went to Rome on invitation to sing a High Mass at St. Peter’s, we were informed what to wear at the Mass , at our audience with St. John Paul II, and at concerts we presented around Rome. I got myself in trouble with my son and daughter-in-law one Sunday back at the old parish, when they appeared in jeans for Mass. I asked if they had anything better to put on to be in the presence of Jesus. They went back upstairs and changed into a better level of clothing, but I could tell they were peaved about it. I should have not said anything. Parishioners dress up in my present parish in Florida. It is twenty time larger at 10,000 enrollment than my original parish of 500, and it is in a well-to-do area of Tampa. We have to take the cultural traditions of the area into account when we notice disparity of dress styles. Jeans are everyday work clothes to some, but fashion to others. Does God care? He cares about our realization of who He is, and our acknowledgement of that by our attitudes and attention at Mass. I “put my best foot forward” in preparing to meet Him – not that clothing itself matters to Him or to me, but that my clothing reflects my heart for Him. I give Him my best.

    Reply
  16. Ellen Giangiordano

    Thank you, Amber! I was in Holly Dolly in high school and the lyrics “put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out. . . “ have always stayed with me. Putting on your Sunday clothes lifts the mind. And we all need more of that!

    Reply
  17. Jennifer

    I arrived at a funeral mass to find I was the best dressed there in my conservative dress. The widow wore jeans, everyone else was at best casual Friday wear.

    Reply

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