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.
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 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.