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.