A little formality please

A little formality please

Jennifer Graham writes at National Reviw Online about her experience at the Catholic parish in the suburbs of Boston that she and her family just moved into. While some parts of it seem much more worse than anything I’ve seen, other aspects track along with what I’ve seen in my own parish.

For one thing, everyone seems dressed for the mall. Now I know we live in a less formal society than we once did and I wouldn’t want to have to wear a suit and tie every week, but how about dress pants and a golf shirt even? (I won’t claim to be perfect. Until I was married, I often wore jeans and sneakers, but let’s just say I was on a learning curve.)

Once it was just the kids who came dressed for the playground. T-shirts with all kinds of slogans, ripped jeans, shorts. They look like they rolled out bed and mom and dad couldn’t be bothered to have another fight over dressing up. But what about the parents? They’re wearing jeans and t-shirts too. Now even the grandparents are starting to dress that way.

As for altar servers, I don’t see dress shoes at the bottom of those robes anymore. Now I see sneakers if we’re lucky and more usually work boots (often untied), flip-flops, sandals and the like. I’m afraid that if we asked altar girls to wear dress shoes we’d start seeing stilettos.

And it’s not just informality of dress. It’s informality of attitude. People don’t seem to know what to do in church anymore. They shuffle up to Communion like they’re getting an immunization.

Nobody sings, but who can blame them when so often what we’re given is either banal or just unsingable?

Why do we still go?

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  • Sounds like all our parishes.  Sneakers and flip-flops on the altar servers.  With the warm weather will come shorts on the ushers.  I cannot wait!

    About a month ago, we had the MASS of Enrollment for the young people who will be getting confirmed.  We made my daughter wear a dress.  She was one of two out of 50+ kids not in jeans.  Such reverence!

    Oh, I just found out, we will haveCLOWNS during the homily at my parish this coming weekend. Wouldn’t you know it, yours truly is scheduled to lector, and my youngest son is serving at the Altar.

    I may try to trade off.

    They have AC in North Andover, and it’s only about 15 minutes further.

  • This weekend, we had a contingency of youth (read: high school kids) who were at Mass together, sort of officially, to be recognized as the ones from our parish who work to organize certain things with the diocese.  One of them was NOT wearing jeans, though one young man in jeans was wearing a sweater with a dress shirt under it.  And they were officially recognized at Mass.  And they didn’t dress up.

    Of course, when no one else seems to do so, why should they?  When our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion do not wear a tie or even a dress shirt, then why should they?  When people come to Mass in shorts and flip-flops every week (even when they know there will be First Communions going on every weekend until Pentecost), then why should the youth group dress up? 

    It’s distressing, and I remember when I first moved from NJ to Florida in 1989 how shocked I was that people didn’t wear jackets and ties to Mass!  I thought it was a Southern thing, or a Florida thing, until we moved to Virginia and I encountered the same thing. 

    As warmer weather comes around, we have miniskirts and midriff-bearing tops and low-cut dresses and such to look forward to.  I just sit up front and keep my head down and try not to think about it.  The only time I really get bothered (let myself get bothered, that is) is when people are being recognized and still aren’t dressed up.  Oh, that, and when Big Girl made her First Communion last year and the EMHC was wearing jeans as he handed her the cup.  That was mildly annoying. 

    But Jesus is still Jesus, no matter what strange peripherals are at Mass.  If we focus on that, it’s amazing how much LESS annoyed we can be about this kind of stuff.  Still amazed, to be sure, but just less annoyed than you’d think.

  • I think the place to start is with the laity who are serving at Mass.  There are usually meetings for the EMEs, ushers, lectors, altar servers, and choir at which appropriate dress could be addressed.  They could set a good example for the rest of the congregation. 

    When I started teaching catechism classes my Mass attire improved quite a bit.  Kids get so excited when they see their CCD teacher at Mass, and you bet they are looking at what you wear!  I realized how important it was for me to set the example, and even moreso now that I have my own children. 

    Kind of a tangent, but I really don’t like snacks at Mass.  I understand a baby needing to nurse or take a bottle, but can’t older children sit for one hour without a snack?  I saw one family whip our juice boxes and packages of crackers for their whole gang, included kids up to about 8 years old!  It just makes it harder for those of us who don’t bring snacks.  My 2 year old is always scanning the floor for a leftover raisin or cheerio.

  • I was comforted to hear the pastor on Sunday at the First Holy Communion liturgy, in his homily, address the children and make points like:
    You should make sure your parents bring you to church on Sundays and holydays.
    You should come to Confession.  (He joked that he has nothing to do on Saturday afternoon, only 2 customers last week, and he doesn’t want to go out of business)
    And, with gestures to illustrate, that when they come to church they should not dress in clothes that are too short HERE, and too low HERE.
    Good job, Father!

  • True story. Years ago, Cardinal Law (well…it would have to be years ago!), distressed by the altar servers wearing sneakers in the sanctuary of the Cathedral, and, assuming they were too poor to buy proper shoes, bought a slew of moderately priced dress shoes for them. Nobody had the nerve to tell him that the Nikes et al the kids were wearing cost probably at least three times as much as what he spent.

  • If you haven’t noticed, we generally don’t dress up for anything anymore, and haven’t for about a decade, at least. (and when people do, it’s scary! The “fashion” in dress clothes tends to be more revealing than in casual clothing.)I wonder, sometimes, if it’s not so much lack of respect for an occasion, but lack of self-respect. It’s a lot harder to care how you look than it used to be…
    The bravest woman I ever knew spent painful arthritic hours getting dressed up every day so that she could sit on her porch, just in case anyone happened by. Usually I was the only one who visited her and I was her tenant! Miriam was 96. She lived to be 100. And she looked like a queen, always.

  • Our parish is far from perfect, but our lectors and EEMs are all properly dressed, and our altar boys are required to wear dress pants and shoes.  No jeans, no shorts, no sneakers, no flip-flops.  They wear cassocks and surplices, so you can’t even really see their pants, but they know the rules and wouldn’t dream of serving in play clothes.  We don’t have altar girls, so there are no hair/makeup/jewelry/miniskirt/stiletto issues.
    We’ve seen some appalling attire on servers in other parishes, and I honestly cannot understand what the adults who permit this nonsense are thinking.  Our family is moving to another part of the country next year, and I am dreading what we will find in our new parish.  We will be unlikely to find the 100 plus altar boys who have been inducted as “Knights of the Altar” that our current parish enjoys. We will probably find altar girls in bathrobes twirling their hair during Mass, and my boys will refuse to become servers.

  • My all time favorite in this category was a few years back when I saw a woman in her early 30s and her son, about 9, come for confession.  I could deal with the fact that they were both in tees and jeans, but the fact that her tee was 1 that said “coed party naked” did throw me for a loop. 

    Still, I was glad they came.

  • Several years ago, I spoke with the Bishop of Bermuda, who was concerned about the growing trend of altar servers turning up to serve Mass in boat-like trainers.  He simply purchased several pairs of black slippers and made them part of the uniform.  It was a small point, but it’s impact was noticeable.

  • I come from a different angle from this.  I’m 100% for modesty at Mass, of course, but when it comes to “dress up”, I’ve always felt it was hypocritical.  I have a hard time “dressing up” even for work sitautions, as I think it’s contrary to the principle of poverty.

    My wife has found our move South to be a major culture shock.  And one of the things that she’s recently determined is that most of the people she works with (and the students she teaches) think that “Christian” means “someone who dresses nice.”  In other words, because she doesn’t wear “designer” clothes, they say she’s not a Christian.

    I have always felt uncomfortable coming before the Carpenter from Nazareth wearing fancy clothes.