The Importance of Dressing Well for Sunday Mass

faith, discipleship

Last July, I had occasion to ride in a vehicle with some Protestant Christians who were getting dropped off at their Sunday service. Almost all the women I could see going in were wearing dresses, and the men suits. By contrast, when I had to take a cab to a Catholic parish not my own, where I knew reverent dress was not particularly emphasized, my driver, seeing those going in, remarked, “People come in whatever. You don’t have to be dressed anymore.” While I do not believe to be a good person and Catholic one must always wear a suit or dress to Sunday Mass, I think in this area we Catholics as a whole could learn something from the Protestant brethren I observed. Here are some reasons why Catholics, among Christians, should make an effort to dress well for Sunday Mass. 

What IS Mass?

In the first place, we must think of what Mass actually is.  It is the most perfect prayer, and, to put it more dramatically, the union of Heaven and earth. We are guests of the King of the Universe at His Heavenly banquet.  To me, that seems like something worthy of better attire than old jeans. But wait, the counterargument states. It’s true that we go to Mass to worship God, and He is Lord of all, but He loves us just as we are.  Why should something as unimportant as how we dress matter to Him if we truly love Him? Well, it is absolutely true that He loves us just as we are, but how much love are we showing Him if we do not even try to look better than we do on weekdays for Him?  After all, the third Commandment states, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day.” In fact, a good dress in a church is the reason why in English we have the expression “Sunday best,” not “Sunday ordinary.”

But, the counterargument continues, a heart filled with love and a spirit of worship for Him is always more important than the outfit one is wearing.  Here’s a twist: considered by itself, this statement is correct. Certainly, the most important thing someone can bring to Sunday Mass is not his good clothes at all, but his love. 

Unkept for Mass

However, looking unkempt for Mass is not as innocuous as it might seem.  In reality, the question of Sunday Mass dress has much less to do with mere appearance, and more the interior spirit it helps to reveal.  There are other underlying reasons why people might be dressing badly for Mass, rather than just a simple preference for casual clothes. It could stem from an attitude of indifference (“So what if I’m not dressed up?) or possibly worse, superiority. (I’m already going out of my way to go to church, so I’m not going to go to even more trouble.)  A third reason is simply laziness, or “I just don’t feel like changing.” This runs into the same problem as before, namely, not considering Mass as important enough to override what we “feel” like wearing.

However, perhaps the greatest cause of this problem is a loss of the sense of the sacred. Perhaps people dress up for something like the opera because they have a sense of respect for the performers. If we respect opera singers in that way, why not give God just the same respect? It seems to me that many these days (not exempting myself) have a hard time keeping the Third Commandment. However, for the majority of people, I would say it is most likely less that they are trying to keep it and just not reaching it fully, as indeed no human will, than that they have forgotten the commandment entirely.  Now, there are some legitimate reasons to go to Sunday Mass in bad clothes—say you overslept and are running the risk of being late, or wore all your better clothes during the week and forgot to do laundry.  However, Chilton Williamson, Jr., a writer for Crisis magazine, observed this about the matter:

Twenty years ago, my priest delivered a sermon on the subject of what constitutes proper attire for Mass on the Sabbath. Wear the best you have, Fr. Taylor said, and if the best you have is not much, don’t worry your heart about it. A good rule of thumb, to be sure. But, if it’s being followed today, a majority of the Mass-going population in America evidently qualifies for free clothing from the Salvation Army. 

Then, too, there is the converse problem that it’s bad for someone to wear his good clothes only out of concern for how he will appear to others, particularly if his goal is to be “better” than everyone not dressed as well.  Based on Williamson’s and my own experience, though, this does not seem to be as great a problem as dressing poorly overall.

Give God Respect

As I said above, dressing well for Sunday Mass is important for giving God His due respect. But there is another positive aspect to it as well. If we are constantly striving to love God better, improving our own dress for Mass is one way of reminding ourselves that “He is greater than I,” and putting Him up as greater than earthly activities in our lives. As Christians, we have a duty to hold God above the things of this world, not equal to them, and dressing well for Sunday Mass is a good way to accomplish that.  Furthermore, reverent dress helps to make Mass itself a more reverent, set apart time for God, and simply aid in reminding us that it truly is the union of Heaven and earth.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who wears bad clothes to Sunday Mass is automatically irreverent and has no love for God.  Rather, when done with the right intention, choosing to dress well is an outward manifestation of a love of God that can aid us in loving and serving Him more.  Next time you’re getting dressed for Mass, if you feel inconvenienced, try not to think about it that way. First, remember that you’re doing it for God. Second, think of it as aiding you to grow in love for Him.  Finally, you could remember that no sacrifice was too great for Him in saving us, so this small sacrifice of effort in dressing well need not be too great for us.


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29 thoughts on “The Importance of Dressing Well for Sunday Mass”

  1. I used to complain about the men I would see wearing sports jerseys to Mass, but my husband made the point (he always dresses well for Mass) that jerseys are expensive and they may be that person’s most expensive article of clothing. So, very tacky, but the jerseys still could be considered one’s best!

    Just a thought: if the veil represents women as brides of Christ and the marriage has been in place since the Resurrection, then why can we not celebrate the wedding night as well as the ceremony; the consummation is as much a part of the wedding day as the feasting and ceremony? What woman continues to wear the veil when alone with the groom?

    1. That is a an interesting reason to not wear a veil. Of course, at Mass we are not alone with Christ, but with our whole congregation. As nearly all women are bareheaded at Mass, I wonder, does everyone feel this intimacy and therefore are bareheaded?

  2. I don’t own ‘Sunday best’ clothes but wear the best clothes I do own. Several years ago I was tending a sick friend and went to Mass straight from her hospital bedside, having not slept for nearly two days. I was wearing the clothes I’d had on at the hospital because I didn’t have time to go home and change but I did have my mantilla in my bag. A fellow parishioner called me out on a public Catholic forum on Facebook for wearing a mantilla with jeans and a t-shirt. You should never judge a person for what they wear to Mass because you don’t know their circumstances or what’s on their heart. The fact that they are at Mass at all is what really matters!

    1. A very similar experience happened to me! I think some people do not understand why a woman is wearing the mantilla. It is out of reverence, it is not a fashion statement!

      Perhaps the term “modestly dressed” is a better wording than “well dressed”, as well dressed often means expensively or fashionably attired. Frayed jeans, may or may not fit the definition of fashionably dressed but they can be modest if not overtly torn or skin tight. Scrubs are modest, but not necessarily the most fashionable outfit in the closet.
      I’m sure we all would rather see the pews filled with the faithful, regardless of their garments.

  3. This is definitely a subject I can to relate to. I believe the number of men that own a tie in my parish may now be down to one. And that one would be me. I think myself better than not a single soul in my parish or anywhere in the world. I only hope to make the cut when my time is up. I judge no man’s heart, for that is God’s and God’s alone. I do judge other’s behavior though, as we all should. Casual dress is for casual events. The Mass is the most the most dignified event you will ever attend. Dress accordingly. You are going to dine with the King, witness Calvary, receive the Real Presence, share in His divinity. This universal state of undress for Mass I think is due to the lack of orthodox instruction and reverent example from our clergy that Our Lord is really and truly present, body blood soul and divinity, in our Catholic churches. Platitudinous kumbaya sermons that portray God as chummy uncle may fill the pews and pad the coffers, but they don’t steel the soul; they may placate the pshyci, but they don’t inform the conscience; they foster temporal happiness rather than eternal joy. Before we can be embraced by pure love, our Jesus in heaven, we must lovingly fall down groveling as though dead before that same Jesus in our tabernacles. A casual attitude toward mass is indifferent at best, deadly even. Remember what happens to the lukewarm: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Rev : 3:16

  4. independent_forever

    I completely agree but as Scripture even tell us…work out your own salvation so rather than focus on what others are wearing we should all be focusing on mirroring Jesus to become saints….something we all need to work on daily. I say at least they are at Mass and perhaps reverence and focus will come in time for them…let God do his work and the rest of us get out of his way. Like I said…most of us are in God’s way in our own life so probably not worthwhile focusing on superficial things. Like others have said, the worst dressed could be the holiest there…you never know. Just because someone wears a suit or dress means nothing IF they aren’t truly following all Catholic teachings on all things….know what I mean…do (and say) to others as you would have them do to you…

  5. Barbra, I am not confusing appropriately dress code with fashion. I did say a respectful dress in Holy Mass, this, of course, refers to not showing cleavage and too-short skirts, etc.

    1. You need to be careful. What if that person that came into Mass unkept was their first time in Mass in years? Would you make them feel so unwelcomed by the way they dressed that they never returned?

  6. I think more attention to interior disposition is just as important. Things like contraception , no one sees this as a sin, is a bigger sin than poor appearance.

    1. I agree. Things like poor dress, unkempt appearance is bad manners in Church. However, we see this sin. But sins like contracepting Catholics, taking the pill no one can see but the receive the Holy Eucharist.,because no one sees this sin, it done in the dark. Bad dress everyone sees. But if you are seen to wear lovely suits & dresses etc, they get everyone’s approval. Contraception is a complete violation of God`s law & you cannot receive the Eucharist, the poor dress you can, therefore, I feel this is a bigger issue than the poor dress code.

  7. I must say I find Protestants almost as badly dressed as Catholics these days. I take my elderly aunt to her Presbyterian Church from time to time and there is little or no difference.

  8. I agree we should dress for Mass and wear veils. However sometimes people just have to make ends meet and can’t afford some of the attire. I see those using the dress as a class code or to show off their status.We need to be careful no to judge on appearance alone. Back in the old days there was no such thing as fashionable clothes. Things were easier and Sunday best was reserved for the rich and more those who could afford it. The poor were left at the back of the Church. However efforts should be made to make people welcomed as well as a dress code that shows respect for the Holy Mass.

    1. I think you are confusing appropriately dressed with fashionably dressed. Frankly, the people I see that are inappropriately dressed for Mass are definitely wearing the trend fashions of the day. Appropriate does not mean expensive or fashionable. Are you one of the poor? I definitely am. I have lived far below poverty level since birth and by all probability will until death. Virtually, my entire wardrobe is 2nd hand, most costed $1 or less. My veil is 2nd hand, and actually you can make a veil out of anything. Yet I dress appropriately for Mass. I do not believe a person is wearing short shorts to Mass, or low cut necklines because they could not afford more fabric. I think the issue here is not poverty but respect, honoring the Mass as sacred and honoring ourselves as children of God going before the gates of Heaven and partaking in the mystery of the Lamb of God.

    2. I agree that judging people on appearances can be misleading. I think Barbra was confused with back in the old day’s comment. I know you meant we live in different times and clothes were not off the peg etc. You also said a dress code that is respectful, I think Barbra did not read that part in your comment. I did.

  9. I agree we should dress for Mass and wear veils. However sometimes people just have to make ends meet and can’t afford some of the attire. I see those using the dress as a class code or to show off their status.We need to be careful no to just on appearance alone. Back in the old days there was no such thing as fashionable clothes. Things were easier and Sunday best was reserved for the rich and more those who could afford it. The poor were left at the back of the Church. However efforts should be made to make people welcomed as well as a dress code that shows respect for the Holy Mass.

  10. I’m 84 and still dress for church. (St. Johns, Russellville, AR.) Not as I did in the 40’s and 50’s but still feel this is out of Respect for the House of God. I see cut-off jeans, midriffs showing and flip-flops instead of shoes. The older members still wear a suit or a nice dress or slacks. When I read of the numbers that have left the Church since Vatican II, not only laity but nuns and priests it is shocking. I was schooled by the Benedictines in Ft. Smith, AR. and now the order has just about vanished. They recently built small cottages for the remaining nuns and I contributed to their building. What will happen to the “old” Academy I don’t know. At St. Johns I asked REV. Jack (he doesn’t like to be called FATHER) IF WE COULD SAY THE ST. MICHAEL PRAYER at the end of Mass. So far, he has refused. I have been buying the St. Michael Prayer laminated cards and leaving them in the pews and they see to just disappear, which is fine if the person taking it will USE it. I also gave him a Rosary, handmade by a group of nuns, not so much as a Thank You. We recently said the Fatima Rosary in front of our Church and I noticed he did not use one so thought he may not have one. He is a widower and started studying to be a priest about 10 years ago. Sometimes I doubt if he is a priest (duly ordained in the old rite) and wonder if I am truly receiving the body and blood of Christ. We have a Novis ordo church, No communion rail, No altar, just a table, no confessional. It just feels empty.

    1. I am sorry for the emptiness you are feeling, I understand how you feel, I too, find so much meaning and comfort in the Altar, the Rosary and a priest that is deeply spiritual and embracing all that is Catholic. I did google your church’s website and see that there is also another priest there. Perhaps his spirituality is more closely aligned to yours. May God be with you always!

  11. All of us should look as well as it is possible, given our circumstances. Clothing does not have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be modest, clean, neat, and in good repair. Outward appearance is a reflection of inward disposition.

    1. I don’t think so. I remember talking to a well dressed person ,every week I admired her lovely suits and coats. She never wore trousers or shorts. Always beautifully turned out at Church. Her two children were the same and husband. One day I had to leave my baby to attend the children’s liturgy and we got talking. I was harassed as I was breastfeeding at the time. When she retorted is this your last? Last what I said ? Baby she said I don’t know as I am a practicing Catholic. She went on to tell me she only wanted 2 & yes she was on the pill. So nothing is always as it’s seems.

  12. I am a Protestant who, for most of my life, dressed up for church. For the past five years, I have attended a church where many of the congregation cannot afford “dressy clothing”…or perhaps affording only one set of such (and honestly, WHO would want to wear the SAME outfit every single Sunday?). Leadership has made it very clear that they welcome all worshippers…and that God wants us to “come just as we are”…versus NOT attending because one feels they can’t afford to dress up. Even our pastor occasionally wears jeans and a casual shirt. While I DID dress up for church services yesterday, I have “dressed down” more often over the years, as my way of helping others around me feel like they “fit in”. At no time have I observed anyone dressing “inappropriately” (wearing “revealing” or soiled/ragged clothing) since I started attending here. Maybe those jeans and t-shirt ARE one’s “dress-up” clothes! I’m just glad to have the people worshipping with us!

  13. Very good article.
    We are guests in the House of God, His Tabernacle. He is present there, really.
    When you do not believe that you can dress any way you wish.

  14. Excellent article and comments!
    We become living tabernacles upon receiving communion. When we truly believe and contemplate the awesomeness that occurs at that moment how could we not strive to dress in a manner worthy of such immense honor?
    I hope this conversation continues and spreads throughout all congregations.

    1. To add perspective to my first knee-jerk comment. I had had an experience a couple of years ago concerning church attire. I am a person who always dresses for Mass. Always don a veil, rarely wear pants and those are always worn with a tunic length shirt or sweater.
      But on one occasion, being towards the end of packing for a cross country move, my spirit desperately needed to go to Mass, so I threw on a clean denim work shirt over my jeans, (the only attire left unpacked) donned my gold veil and arrived at the cathedral when the last attendants of the previous Mass were exiting. One elder, a woman stopped to talk to me, commented on the beauty of my veil and reminisced about the past when she and all women veiled or wore hats and said she missed that outward sign of devotion. Her son was a priest in Rome. She said nothing about my clothing. Another woman came out the doors and literally looked down her nose at me, as she was 10 inches taller than I, and smirked, “Hmph! Interesting combination!” and walked off.
      The priest’s homily that day was on not judging a person by their appearance but rather by whom they were within. After Mass, as I was getting into my car I was approached by a homeless woman, we talked together for about 45 minutes, she was quite worn down by life on the outside but within she was such a beautiful human being. I gave her half of the money I had in my purse, which was a couple of dollars, we hugged and promised to pray for one another, which I do to this day. Such a tremendous surge of the what I can only describe as the Holy Spirit had surrounded the two of us and bound together in prayer.

      So I should never judge individuals by appearance. Yes, apathy is prevalent and it is reflected in a person’s attire, but as this priest’s homily said, and I paraphrase, “close your eyes for a bit and judge from the heart first.” The fact that these unattractively attired people have come to Mass means more than their choice in dress.

      Perhaps making an effort to connect, after Mass, with the person we find inappropriately dressed or underdressed and marveling at the awesomeness of having just been before our Lord, our God at this Wedding Feast and kneeling before the gates of Heaven, telling them we are so glad to share this with them. Who knows, it just might spark an awareness, after all, who doesn’t dress for a wedding!

  15. Living in Florida, we see it all at our church! What distresses me most is seeing women who look like they forgot to finish dressing. Bras sticking out of their clothes! I try to ignore it and not be judgmental but the mother and grandmother in me wants to ask them where they think they are going today?

  16. Thank you for this inspiring article. I have been guilty of the very things you describe regarding proper dressing for Mass. You make some excellent observations regarding the reverence that is due Our Heavenly Father and Our Lord. I came back to my faith after many years away, and I completely understand that each time I enter a church, I am entering into the house of God. I think so often we use that phrase but don’t really think deeply about it. When entering our Church, and ESPECIALLY when entering our adoration chapel, I am moved by the presence of Almighty God. It is a humbling experience, and often I feel totally unworthy to be in His presence. It is only the unfathomable love of God, and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother that makes me realize that the house of God is precisely where I need and want to be as often as possible. As you mentioned, if we contemplate the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross, and the suffering that Our Blessed Mother endured, there is nothing that is too much trouble to offer them in return.
    Thank you for this reminder that God deserves to be loved with all our heart.
    Dressing properly to visit Him in His most holy house is one way to show Him how much we love and worship Him.
    May God bless you.

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