I grew up Catholic. I went to church every Sunday, whether I wanted to or not. As a teenager, I generally didn’t want to. Getting up early wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t the cool thing to do. I tried all sorts of tricks and coercion with my mom to try to convince her that I didn’t have to go – and that I could wear whatever I wanted. I gained a minor concession when she let me teach Sunday School – during church – with a few friends in high school, but church clothes never wavered.
My mom is Donna Reed. She doesn’t own a pair of jeans, and she would never dream of letting us go to church in anything less than our true Sunday Best. It wasn’t just that we couldn’t wear jeans and shorts to church but that we had to wear dresses and dress shoes. I scoffed at that as a child because the clothes weren’t comfortable for me to wear.
As I grew older and started attending church again – of my own volition – something must have sunk in. I have never once worn jeans to church. I don’t let the wee ones wear jeans to church, though dress shorts are allowed in the summer as it gets really hot and ugly in Chicago summers.
As the years have gone by, I’ve seen more and more people come dressed in more and more casual clothing to church. Jeans are now the norm amongst most churchgoers near us. Many wear jerseys to church to support local sports teams. Logoed, everyday t-shirts are everywhere. Our Table & Light ministry had to issue a reminder about what appropriate clothing was for our ministers (altar boys and girls). And kids come dressed in their sports uniforms constantly.
My family is no longer the norm in what we wear. We aren’t out of place, but we’re definitely in the minority. In my mind, dressing nicely is a way to show respect for the church and the celebration of God that you will be participating. It just doesn’t seem right to not do something special for this one hour a week where we set aside our everyday issues.
The priest at my in-laws’ parish has a different perspective. In his mind, he would far rather have you in church and dressed in jeans than at home dressed in your Sunday Best. He has acknowledged that our society has changed and that he needs to change with it to become more accommodating.
And things do change. The Mass is no longer in Latin. Growing up, there was no such thing as altar girls in the Catholic church. All volunteers working in any capacity with or around children have to be VIRTUS trained (recognizing inappropriate contact so it can be reported). And I wouldn’t dream of wearing a hat to church.
I’m a traditionalist in many ways, however. I like the songs we sang when I was growing up, not the new-fangled songs that are so much more difficult to sing and don’t have the same memories. And – for now at least – I hold on to the tradition of wearing our Sunday best as a show of respect when we walk through the sanctuary into the church every Sunday morning.
Where do you fall on the spectrum?
This post was inspired by the book “The Funeral Dress” by Susan Gregg Gilmore as a part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts inspired by books rather than traditional reviews. You can see my traditional review of “The Funeral Dress” on 5 Minutes for Books.