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Just Show Up

August 21, AD2014

This is hardly the most controversial topic of our time, but I have heard complaints on both sides of the fence on it. Jeans in Mass: yes or no?

As a family, we have always had a sort of dress code for mass. The girls have to wear dresses or skirts of reasonable length. After first communion, no bared shoulders; sundresses need a sweater over them. Boys have to wear a collared shirt and nice pants or shorts. Then after third grade, no shorts.

Everyone is supposed to wear dress shoes and appropriate socks, girls can wear nice sandals, but there are times when crocs were the only shoes available so we had to go with those. I try to follow the dress code as much as possible myself, although I am more likely to wear dress pants simply because they are safer for toddler wrangling.

Some other families I know have a much more relaxed idea about what to wear to mass, and some are much more stringent. My friends and I have discussed what we wear to mass and why, and I have always found it interesting to hear the reasons people have for their ideas on clothing that is appropriate for mass.

I chose our dress code because I felt that was helpful in setting the mass aside as something special and different, but I have also often found it burdensome at times. I have heard people argue for more casual clothing in mass, saying that we should be able to “Just Show Up” and not worry about the extra stress of a particular set of clothing.

There have been times, especially recently, when I felt like getting dressed up for mass was more than I could handle, but I felt guilty arriving just as I was at the time. Once my focus shifted from why I was going to mass to what we were all wearing there, I knew it was time to reexamine my theories on our attire.

First and foremost, the mass is about connecting with and receiving Jesus. No matter what I wear, I need to remember that and teach my children as well. But there are other things to consider:

1. Getting dressed for mass changes my behavior and mindset. (and it shouldn’t be changing into a state of rage that the shoes are lost…) The body reflects and influences the mind and heart.

2. It sets the mass aside from cleaning house and chasing kids and <insert whatever else you do here>. This feels different and it takes effort to be different.

3. It can be an expression of respect. If I were going to meet a very important person face to face, I would probably change out of my grungy t-shirt, jeans, and tennies. Doesn’t Jesus deserve at least that?

However, I have found lately, in a time of stress, that I needed to let some of those ideals go. I needed to just show up and let my presence at mass be the expression of my love. We moved, fixed up a house, and had a bunch of kids start school all in the space of a month, and mini-crises were flinging themselves at me at every turn. I hit a point when showing up was all I could do. So I released my ideals and went to mass in jeans.

What we wear to mass is only part of the story. Just showing up is fine at times, I think. It is a little like spiritual camping. We take things down to their very basic level and do what we can to live our relationship with Jesus from there.

But we can’t stay there. Just showing up should be a temporary state. Camping might be nice, but we can get a whole lot more done – in both work and enjoyment – in our usual elements.

Whether or not I choose to wear jeans to mass, there has to be some step beyond just showing up. That will mean different things for different people. Studying the readings, spending some time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, getting involved in a ministry, and introducing yourself to someone in the community are all ways to do more than just show up.

For me, during this stressful time, I knew I needed to focus on the readings a little more than usual and pray with them. I needed to quiet my spirit, and taking my focus off my clothes helped with that.

If you find that time after time, showing up is the most you can do at mass, keep coming! Keep showing up! You are still a needed an vital part of the Church. But don’t be afraid to reach out, to find help to move beyond that.

Jesus accepted and rejoiced when the widow gave her penny, it was all she could do at the time. But he asked the rich man for much more. What is He asking of you now? Is it all the effort you can give to get to mass? Or is He asking you to stretch yourself and go beyond  your usual experience of your faith? Ask those questions often, and He will show you how to grow.

You have to start somewhere, though, so by all means, just show up!

But don’t only show up.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

I'm Jenni. Wife to my hero, mom to 9 great kids ranging from 2-24 years old. I stay busy washing their clothes and driving them everywhere. I am a convert to the Catholic faith and I'm on the RCIA team at my parish. I love photography, writing, beadwork, sewing, reading. I dabble in science fiction TV and movies and am an avid fan of J.R.R Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. I write at CirclingJericho.com and try to keep a photo blog of the family at GroftZoo.com. For more information: Our Vasectomy Reversal Story, More About Me

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  • Vlad

    Quite a simple answer, Jesus d disciples were in ‘robes’, robed ‘well’ in ‘modesty’
    whatever doesn’t distract from the Mass…. as does the priest. His robes represent the majesty of Christ, not the man wearing them.
    Our social mode of ‘robes’ has changed, but not without the difference/discernment between ‘well’ n ‘unwell’, ‘modest’ n ‘immodest’.
    As is understood, would you be seen as worthy of plea before a ‘judge’
    let alone … The Judge

  • Zig

    Wonderful article. Thank you. Just one, but significant, style issue: AP Style — the professional journalists’ guide — calls for capitalizing Mass. May secular journalists miss this, but Catholic sites, at least, should follow suit and capitalize the Mass. Christ’s supreme sacrifice warrants it, and It’s literally the least we can do.

  • G.B.

    If God will be giving us a glorified body at the Resurrection, shouldn’t we be able to give Him our best at Mass?

  • Bibbit

    Anybody going to a wedding, especially a wedding for somebody who is important to them, is going to dress nice. When you’re going to a wedding for somebody important to you, you plan ahead, and you make sure you can show up in nice attire. I don’t understand why folks can’t do that for Jesus. Every Mass is a wedding celebration, we celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and we celebrate it with both Him and His bride, the Church. If you can dress nicely you should. At my parish the days where people look the best are days of obligation because they arrive from work. They dress nice for work, but not Sunday Mass. How hard is it to pull up a nice pair of pants or slacks instead of jeans, shorts, or sweat pants? How hard is it to put on nice shoes instead of sneakers or sandals? To put on a nice shirt instead of a t-shirt or worse (like NFL jerseys)? When my kids were younger I’d get up earlier on Sunday so I could make sure I was ready early and be prepared for anything that would otherwise make it hard to get ready on time. To me, if you show up dressed like you’re going to weed the garden after Mass or attend a cookout, you’re telling Jesus that He isn’t worth your time or effort to dress nice.
    .
    Of course there are times when things go wrong and you have to just go, but those are very, very rare for most people. Especially in areas like mine where there is such a large selection of masses in the area, and late ones on Sunday as well.

  • Eleanor Croy

    Spiritual camping… that’s a great way to look at it. Thanks for your insight into this annoying “how to dress at Mass” issue!

  • WSquared

    I think we are mistaking modesty for formality. Modesty isn’t just not showing too much skin or not being sloppy. It’s about humility. Every time these sorts of discussions come up, I see all mention of “cute,” “fashionable,” and “formal” clothes– pretty much anything and everything except just neat and tidy. What’s called “smart-casual” should suffice.

    One person who wrote a piece on modest clothing at Mass was well-meaning, but misguided. She wrote: “if we knew what Mass was, and what a special occasion it was, we would be wearing ballgowns and tuxedos to Mass!” But here, we’d be thinking our worldly ideas of something being a “special occasion.” At Mass, however, the focus of attention is Christ, and not specifically “what we’re doing for God.” What we do at Mass– at the foot of the Cross, since the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented– should always point toward Christ and the spiritual reality that He is present. Mass is indeed a special occasion, but it’s one where we decrease so that He may increase. The Wedding Feast of the Lamb is indeed a Heavenly Banquet. But it is not a cotillion ball or a dinner party.

    Sometimes, circumstances don’t make getting into your Sunday best easy, at which point you should not stop the lack of nice clothes stop you from coming to Mass. At the same time, however, it would be remiss of anyone to use “come as you are” or “Jesus ate with sinners” as an excuse to have a bare midriff or baggy shorts that show the top of one’s underwear. We seem to be going toward two extremes whenever we have these kinds of discussions.

    In general, I do wear jeans to daily Mass, but don’t for Sunday Mass. And yeah, I wear my chapel veil with those jeans, too. It also depends on the jeans: darker washes always look more dressy, and are actually more versatile for this reason. You can dress ’em up or down. Distressed, torn jeans, while “fashionable,” would be a no-no, even if you’re in a hurry. Speaking for myself, I don’t have much in the way of formal clothing, or even highly fashionable casual clothing. But I have pared my wardrobe down only to things that I really love, and I try to dress modestly every day, and not just at Mass– that way, I can just “throw something on” in 5-10 minutes, and be appropriately dressed for Mass.

    I agree with St. Donatus that one is not really “too poor” to buy good– note that I did not say “cute” or “fashionable”– clothing for Mass. Whether you buy your clothes second-hand or new, it is still going to be an exercise in good stewardship and good judgment. Style and fashion aren’t the same thing, aren’t exclusively contingent upon having a big pocketbook, and good style demands knowledge of form, fit, color, proportion, and drape, all of which can be learned through practice. Style is a matter of logical relationships between given elements, and modesty has nothing to do with being frumpy.

  • St Donatus

    I should add a couple of other comments to my earlier ones about dressing appropriately. Of course a suit or dress is not required because styles change, but certain types of clothes are never advisable.

    There are of course extenuating circumstances in every situation. Does Dad help get the kids ready so everyone can be fully ready for Mass? How many kids are there to get ready? Do both parents HAVE to work? Are their other duties which restrict the amount of time available to get ready?

    At the same time, it takes me about 15 seconds longer to dress in a suit as it does to put on my jeans and t-shirt, let alone dress jeans and dress shirt. Most of the women I know who ‘dress up’ for Mass, don’t wear makeup and gaudy jewellry, they just dress nicely for God. So it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.

    I do hear the excuse that someone is too poor to afford nice clothing for Mass. That one doesn’t fly with me. I can buy a pair of dress pants for a fraction of what it costs to purchase what I see most poor kids wearing on the street. My wife buys all her dresses at Goodwill for under $5 a piece.

  • St Donatus

    Before I was married, I made sure I dressed up so I looked my best for my date. Why? Because my relationship with her was VERY important to me. If I didn’t dress up to go out with her, she would have thought I was taking her for granted and she would be right. Have I shown up for mass in work clothes, yes when it was the only way I could make it to Mass after work in time. Would I do it on Sunday when I have several hours to get ready? Not unless I had no choice. (In fact, after camping over the weekend when I arrive home on Sunday morning, I take a shower and am in my suit in time for Mass. I plan accordingly and respect God enough to make the effort.)

    Would an lawyer show up in court without a suit? Even a lawyer that worked terribly long hours. NO.

    Yet, we don’t think God is important enough to plan ahead.

    Personally I have noticed that those who regularly dress down for Mass week after week, usually seem to not have as much of a respect for God as others who dress more appropriately. (Of course, there attire is only one of many ways we can show a that lack of respect.) I have also noticed that these parents, discipline their children more casually about the faith. When the kids get old enough, they don’t even bother going to Mass anymore. The children of those parents who wear suits and dresses in order to show respect for God go on to become very faithful Catholics.

    I know it has nothing to do with what they wear, it has everything to do with what importance their relationship with God is. When we find a relationship important, there are many ways we show it, one of them is how we dress around that person.

  • Robster

    I do think folks should make an effort to dress up for mass, but remember that fashion and style change all the time. I go to work with chinos and a polo shirt. Years ago, I might have worn a tie. I don’t wear a t shirt and shorts. Regardless, I have to do my work.

  • I agree with just show up. We don’t wear uniforms to Mass. If we are accused of a lack of decorum, we are in good company. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Lk 7:34) and as welcoming and eating with sinners (Lk 15:2), which is a good description of the Mass.

    • WSquared

      Bob, you’re right that Mass isn’t about “decorum.” But its spiritual reality does demand a growing care for and understanding of detail. How we dress is an expression of how we respond to the reality of the Mass.

      Nobody needs to be dressed “formally” for Mass (Mass may be a Heavenly banquet, but it is not a dinner party, or a coming-out ball, either! It is a sacrifice– a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary). But it doesn’t mean that we should be dressed as if we’re going to the beach or a night club. Mass is also not just a meal, and it’s not merely a memorial of “the Lord’s Supper.”

      “Jesus ate with sinners” is not an excuse to come to Mass to do whatever we like. Mass is about Jesus and Who He is– what He’s doing for us, and how. When we take the attitude that we can do whatever we like to the liturgy, just because “Jesus only cares that we show up,” we decrease our understanding of those things and detract from the understanding of others around us. Jesus does care that we show up. That much is of the utmost important. But He also cares that we know Who we are receiving, and receive Him worthily. Not for nothing is it important that we don’t treat the Eucharist as a mere symbol, and that we retain our sense of mystery when we approach Jesus and the Mass, lest we reduce Jesus to “Christ the Hippy-Dippy Marshmallow,” as the larger culture already has.

      Make no mistake, Mass– even with bad music and immodestly dressed parishioners– is still Mass. So long as Father doesn’t do anything that makes it invalid, that’s still Jesus, and we still have to show up. We do not put the burden of practice and belief only on others; we must shoulder our share. Just showing up is a good start. But once we show up, we need to be present. Other people around the world have no Mass at all. But it’s precisely because it’s still Mass and still Jesus that we who seem to take Mass for granted– either as a duty or obligation on the one hand, or some sort of weekly emotional therapy or social meeting on the other hand– should be more careful. It is absolutely careless of us to treat Mass casually when others around the world suffer for the faith in ways that we don’t, risk their lives to come to Mass, and even get killed AT Mass these days. What, precisely, does any Christian– has any Christian– lived and died for throughout time and space? Priest holes didn’t exist for pop music, prayer meetings, and the parish barbecue, good as those things are. Priests in both the Old and New Testaments have always ever offered sacrifice on behalf of the people of God. The Catholic priest is not merely a preacher or a minister, and the Mass isn’t just a meal or a service.

  • jagnote

    I don’t think “just showing up” is adequate, especially for Sunday Mass. It should be a very rare occasion when someone has to arrive in this condition. However, on the question of jeans, we need to remember that jeans are now a fashion item. When I was growing up (yes, after Noah’s ark landed) jeans were only suitable for tasks such as mowing the lawn, rounding up sheep for worming, etc. But today, a nice pair of jeans combined with a nice blouse, or jacket (for men/women) and presentable shoes would not constitute “just showing up”. However, what I hate and never accept are teen age girls coming to Mass in flip flops and shorts (or cutoff jeans) that are so short their underpants are visible if they bend over. This is a total violation of modesty. Even Adam and Eve covered themselves after their original sin. Folks coming to Mass dressed in this fashion should be asked to leave Church until they can exhibit more modesty. I often wonder how all the males attending Mass can keep their attention focused on the liturgy with this female exhibitionism going on.

    • WSquared

      jagnote, I don’t think people should be “asked to leave” if they come dressed not as modestly as they should be. But that said, “come as you are” should not be used as the disingenuous excuse that it often is. Yes, “at least they’re showing up for Mass.” But what IS Mass, for Heaven’s sake?

      At Mass, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary is re-presented in our now. In everything from how to dress for Mass and the music we hear during Mass: if you would not do something at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, don’t do it at Mass.

      What’s needed is a consistent series of sermons on what Mass is, and modest dress should be addressed in a sermon within that context. Fr. John Trigilio’s sermon, which can be found on YouTube, is a wonderful example of how to do this: he’s direct and on point, and communicates what he needs to say with a good sense of humor.

  • Woody

    If you can’t dress your family up to go before the King of Kings, your Creator, He who blessed you with nine miracles, He that hung there on the cross for three hours, nails in his hands and feet, lance wound in his side, crown of thorns around His head, no He doesn’t deserve that you dress your best for Him because it is difficult to get everyone in their Sunday best. How difficult was it for Him to go through the passion for you?
    And as for Catholic Pilgrim, Jesus was counter-cultural. You may be in cowboy country but even here in Texas, we wear a coat and tie to Mass with our boots shined and our best hat at our side in Church.
    Woody

    • Sometimes I think we have to take a look at what “dressing our best” really means, though. Not only can it mean different things to different people, but it can mean different things to the same person at different times. There is a time to go before Him in humility, even if we can’t look our best, just to do our best to keep our souls focused in the right direction.

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  • Catholic pilgrim

    I am a man. I am from Oklahoma where the cowboy/country culture influences our dress style. I go to Mass intentionally trying to dress my Sunday best. I wear a button dress shirt with Jeans. Never shorts. For an Oklahoma man shorts (no matter what fancy shorts they are) are not appropriate for Mass, but long Jeans (not the crappy skinny tight Jeans) are appropriate. In Oklahoma, you also take your cowboy hat (or whatever hat you wear) upon entering the church (before doing the holy water blessing). Khaki pants are okay. But clean long dark Jeans (like the ones you can buy here in Okla.) are good too.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      Hat Off is what I meant

  • Guy McClung

    When 80% plus or minus of so-called “Catholics” don’t even show up, to your “just show up” call to faith, I say RIGHT ON! Regarding clothing and other things, for some decades I fought the liturgy wars and came to realize two things: 1. you lose this war unless you are the pastor; even the bishop loses unless the pastor abides by his vow of obedience to the bishop; and 2. the Mass, the re-presentation of Jesus’s death for me to the Father to redeem me because of all my sins, had become an occasion of sin for me – yes sin. I was paying much more attention to whether the words were said with no additions, pagan songs, performers, the show’s MC, gestures, Creed deleted, etc etc etc blah blah blah. Satan had a fine receptive target in me right there in church. Now I do your thing – Show Up – and try to pray (as the nuns said: adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, and petition). God will take care of His liturgy. Guy McClung, San Antonio