I’m sure we’ve hit on the topic on this blog once or twice in the past decade. A few new or not-so-new thoughts …
While I think both men and women have a stake in the discussion, I do get nervous when the conversation leans toward men (oftentimes priests) telling women what they should and shouldn’t wear. Men have a responsibility to practice focus if a woman is dressed in such a way that might … inspire a stare. I will admit I make a point of focusing from the neck up many times. My wife reports–and I hope she’s right–that I’m never obvious about what I see. Thank goodness for that. I will also admit that I find the way women move more provocative to me than what they wear. But one can’t legislate against a toss of the head or hair, or the way someone looks at a husband or child. Distractions happen, and sometimes they are infused with sexuality. I try to treat them the same way as I do when I’m alone in prayer.
The pastoral ideal is for the parish to have a discussion about dress at church. And the community sets appropriate standards, thus giving a collective ownership in the presentation of style and fashion. People inevitably trespass, by accident or by choice. But the majority of members maintain, over a period of time, the setting of the bar.
For liturgical ministers, I tell people that everything they do has the goal of transparency. Every liturgical minister has the responsibility to be transparent, to make it seem through preparation, actions, dress, and everything about them, that they are invisible and Christ is communicated through their service. When I train people at my parish, I offer some non-transparent suggestions: clothing with a logo from our rival school, for example. Individuals get what I’m aiming at.
For myself, I’m still pretty used to a shirt and tie. I wear shorts infrequently and never in church. Cargo shorts just look too rumpled/weird to me. I make a personal choice not to wear clothing with logos. Shoes are pretty important, I think.
I remember a recent conversation with the young miss, who had been engaged to record video for a wedding. Would it be okay, she asked, if she wore jeans and a shirt for the balcony recording, then change to a dress for the reception. I asked her in turn what she thought she should wear to the wedding. She stomped off to her room and closed the door. I knew I’d gotten my answer. For Sunday Mass, what’s your answer?