Matt C. Abbott
Readers sound off on Mass attire
By Matt C. Abbott
August 26, 2011

The following are selected (edited) emails I've received in recent days in response to my Aug. 20 column "When attending Mass becomes an occasion of sin."

Patricia Naylor wrote:

    I have been very uncomfortable attending Mass at some of the parishes where women and young girls wore tube tops, very short shorts, micro-skirts, sheer clothing and, in a few cases, bikini tops with shorts and bare feet. Some of the men and boys wore 'raggy' shorts that looked like they slept in them, tee-shirts with alcohol advertising or vulgar messages, flip-flops or swim shoes.

    I have read many articles and small publications about groups such as the Blue Army and others whose goal it is to encourage modesty in dress, especially when attending Mass. I sew and crochet and have wondered if there isn't some way others who also sew, knit or crochet could make items — capes, sweaters or some other type of coverings — that we could donate to churches so that anyone who is not appropriately dressed could use the appropriate size covering for their immediate needs. If the topic is brought up in the parish and these items were made available, maybe they won't be necessary after a time....

    At one of the last Sunday Masses I attended in a resort community (visiting family), two young women scrambled into the pew next to me just as Father was finishing his homily. I am ashamed that my thought was, 'Better late than never, but you could have changed out of your swim suits first.' As it came time for Communion, those in my pew who were receiving began to stand. One of the young women began to step out of the pew, but the other young woman stopped her and said, 'We cannot go to the altar with our bare shoulders.' I was overcome with pride and hope for the future of our young Catholics. There are parents and a parish somewhere who taught this young woman very well. I looked around and wanted to ask if anyone would loan a sweater or jacket to these women, but I did not. I was not as brave as the young woman who stopped her friend.

Dolores Figuly wrote:

    Thank you so much for your writing about this issue on RenewAmerica. I am 76 and am appalled at the way people dress today. I agree with your views. Many in the church will not speak to people about this because it is seen as judgmental and confrontational — and, if anything, the church today doesn't want to be seen as either of these! Our evangelical church is suffering from a loss of membership and financial woes due to a decrease in tithing. I spoke up and gave an Old Testament reference about 'sin in the camp' of not giving to God what He requires and what is His due. My comments were labeled 'legalistic' by the head of the board of elders — end of subject. I didn't mention anyone in particular; just wanted to give a general warning and 'heads up.'

Bill S. wrote:

    Read your Aug. 20 article and completely agree. Maybe twice a year an article appears in our bulletin, just as you describe. The cleavage problem occurs at all ages, and I think the oldest I saw was a woman, maybe 75, when I turned around to offer the sign of peace. There is a highly-regarded lector at Mass who, after doing his readings, returns to the pew to sit next to his teenage daughter who is dressed in micro-shorts. Why does the pastor allow this and never say anything from the pulpit? I firmly believe that he does not want to affect the collection plate, pure and simple.

Julia Chung wrote:

    It is true that parents have a responsibility to teach their children to dress decently for church. Not only that, we as parents have to set a good example by dressing modestly as well, assuming we know what is modest and decent. Parents need to teach children respect for God and His temple, including our body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. But that does not mean the children will always obey. Rebellion started with God's first children in the Garden of Eden and will continue to afflict us.

    As a mother of many children, striving hard to bring up all my children God's way, to love, serve and obey Him, I notice that each one has a unique character despite the same upbringing and grounding in faith. For years I have talked to my children about the appropriate mode of dressing, be it for extra-curricular school activities, formal or informal restaurants and other occasions, with special emphasis on the need to be modest in the house of God. I often forward relevant Web articles from Christian sites to them and ask them to forward the articles their friends as well, being mindful that many parents are clueless when it comes to what is appropriate for church.

    Despite doing this, one of my daughters would deliberately and persistently — or should I say stubbornly — insists on wearing contrary to what I have taught her. Rebellion? As I have younger ones to attend to, often I would not notice until she got out of our family car at the church. Most of the time I cringe to see the way she dresses. I also cringe to think what others might say, something such as: 'When it comes to modesty in dress, most parents don't have a clue as to what is right.'

    My point is, yes, we need to teach our children and we need to role model by dressing modestly, but bear in mind that they might not agree with our teaching.

Jim Cope wrote:

    We Catholics go to Mass dressed worse than when we go to the dentist. I guess it all starts from a lack of understanding of Who resides in the tabernacle. Of course, many churches have placed the tabernacle somewhere outside the sanctuary or even the church proper. He is in something of a holy broom closet or a chapel in another part of the building. The fact that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is not well known among the laity — and sometimes I think our priests don't know it either. Proper understanding of the Eucharist is where we need to begin to restore the Body of Christ.

    I remember being very deeply touched by the Opus Dei priests at evenings of recollection during exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The priest turned to the monstrance before speaking and said, 'With your permission, Lord Jesus Christ.' I wish all Catholics could witness that once; it would be life-changing for them.

    We have to get back an understanding of who Jesus is and that every Mass is the occasion of a miracle. It is not a dreary requirement, or in Father Pfleger's case, an opportunity to be entertained. We need a return to holiness, piety, beauty and seriousness at Mass. Continue the great job. Your column is always worth the read. Thanks for your service to our Lord in this apostolate.

Tom Diorio wrote:

    This issue is a national and possibly worldwide dilemma. I had a similar situation at a church in rural New York. It was a weekday Mass. A woman attended in a sun-dress and was obviously without 'support.' There were few in attendance, so she was easily within one's sight.

    After Mass I asked the celebrant, a monsignor, what could be done about this type of distraction. I explained that it was becoming increasingly pervasive at all Masses and among various age groups. It's not just the girls; the boys dress quite inappropriately as well. I said, after all, we are here for the Lord and not to be distracted. Nothing was done. I now live and attend Mass at a parish in the Diocese of Austin, Texas. Lo and behold, it's here as well. I shake my head.

Florin wrote:

    I'm so glad you addressed this issue [of proper attire for Mass]. Not only do I see men and women and teens scantily dressed in church, but there are teens who are lectors who are immodestly dressed. In one instance, a young girl with an incredibly short skirt sitting on the altar in between readings across from the altar boys on the other side, trying to pull her skirt down a bit with no success, while the altar boys looked away and then back at her. Also, a very large woman, director of the choir, was giving out Holy Communion wearing a very, very low cut dress, leaning down to give Communion and revealing all.

    Our priests, for the most part, say nothing. I don't think these things are deliberate, but it would help if every pastor, especially before hot weather arrives, would explain to Mass goers the appropriate way to dress for Mass.

Ted Quigley wrote:

    Thanks so much for the article. Thanks be to God we have a priest, so there is someone I can focus on instead of the temptations of the creeping paganism represented by immodest dress. I wonder where women's minds are when they show up in such outfits. Interestingly, some are so innocent that they have not really thought about it. Or perhaps naïve is a better word. I am not a fan of Islam at all, but when I meet a Muslim woman with the full outfit with head covering — not talking about a burqa, of course — no matter how beautiful her face, I have nothing but respectful thoughts. It is interesting.

Geri wrote:

    Your article was great and so needed. I once told a priest in confession of how distracting it was to sit behind some of these young girls who looked like they dress to go to the beach; or, at worse, like street-walkers. He said back to me, 'How do you think I feel, as I have to look at them, too?' Many priests think that as long as they go to church, how they dress isn't important. It is important — it exploits our young people.

Julie Mertz wrote:

    I recently saw an article in the paper that I cut out and put on my desk with the intention of drawing the contents of the article to the attention of the bishop of our diocese. In brief, the warden of a prison was upset by the attire of the women visitors to the prison. He felt that visitors should be dressed modestly in order not to disturb inmates. He followed proper procedure and was granted the permission to post a message to the effect that women visiting the prison will be given extra-large size tee-shirts to wear over their clothing if their attire was deemed inappropriate: no strapless tops, no tank tops, no short shorts, no bare shoulders.

    My thought was: This sounds like a great suggestion for church!

    That weekend at Mass I witnessed abbreviated short shorts. It must have been very uncomfortable for mother and daughter (about 16 years of age) to sit on the wooden benches. The father had on his cut-off jean shorts. They left immediately after Communion. Also on the same day, there were several women and girls, very active members in the parish, wearing thin strapped tank tops with underwear straps in plain view. Our diocese is not at a beach location, and the parish is air-conditioned. The outfits were inappropriate.

    If they can regulate dress codes for prisons, they certainly can make strong suggestions for worship services in the House of God. We have strayed from the worship of our King present in the Tabernacle, which should be front and center in all churches in order to command the reverence due to the Real Presence.

Helen S. wrote:

    We have an usher who wears very short white shorts at our evening Mass. He wears pants only when he knows the bishop is coming. This man is also very heavy, and I will leave it to your imagination what happens when he bows before collecting at Mass. So it isn't just girls that act that way with dress.

Link of interest:

Pure Fashion (Note: This particular "link of interest" does not constitute an endorsement of Regnum Christi. I chose the link because much of the clothing presented on the website is, in my opinion, tasteful, modest and attractive for young women. Bottom line: I highly recommend staying away from Regnum Christi and its programs — which have been irreparably tainted by the perverted legacy of the scoundrel Maciel — but do take a look at the photos on Pure Fashion's website to see that modesty and femininity do not require dressing like the Amish. No offense to the Amish. )

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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