A question asked and answered in The Southern Cross:
Please enlighten me and perhaps others who read your newspaper, about an appropriate dress code for Sunday Mass. I find it disrespectful to see not only teenage kids but also adults at Mass as if dressed for a day at the beach. Dennis Langton“…Mass-goers can forget that they are taking part in solemn worship in a holy place, not out on the public roads. “
We all have biological urges that produce physical pleasure. Christians have to enjoy these in a healthy way and not go to such extremes as gluttony or lust. It is here we need to apply the virtues of temperance and modesty.
St Paul gave this warning: “We must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world” while waiting for Christ’s return (Titus 2:12).
The virtue of modesty, as you imply, is not being observed in the way many Catholics dress, especially in the pews at Sunday Mass. This could be because the modern world seems to care little about it, seeing no harm in provocative fashions and advertising.
Recent photographs of near-naked members of the British royal family published in some newspapers have raised awareness that everyone has a right to preserve their privacy, particularly that of their own bodies.
It is here that the Christian virtue of modesty comes in.
Modesty affirms the sacredness of the human person and so it preserves the human body from becoming an object of curiosity and lust.
The Catechism tells us that modesty is decency, inspiring one’s choice of clothing and keeping silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity; it is also discreet (2522).
Mass-goers should be made aware of this. Most do not intend to be immodest or provocative, but they can forget that they are taking part in solemn worship in a holy place, not out on the public roads.
St Peter’s basilica in Rome, for example, enforces regulations forbidding admission to those wanting to enter in shorts and skirts above the knee, sleeveless garments, transparent or tight-fitting garments and the wearing of excessive jewellery. This demonstrates that the basilica is not for commercial or other secular use, but exclusively for the worship of God, in which unbecoming clothing is inappropriate and offensive.
At Sunday Mass, similar restrictions ought to apply. This is not merely to stave off feelings of lust in others, but to help all present to focus on the sacred liturgy with as few distractions as possible.
Apart from these self-evident norms, there is no fixed dress code for attendance at Mass.