QUAERITUR: 1st TLM… what to wear?

From a  reader:

I am going to attend my first TLM this Friday at St. Bernadette’s in Silver Spring, MD (7:30pm by the way if anyone is interested). I have researched until I am almost numb and have found conflicting ideas. What am I supposed to wear? Do I need to go out and find a chaple veil? This was not exactly covered in RCIA or other instruction I have recieved over the years.


I am shocked!  Shocked! that RCIA did not cover what to wear to the TLM!   o{];¬)

Yes… this is something not covered in Summorum Pontificum.

Don’t fret about this.  My suggestion is to to wear your "Sunday best", as people used to say.   I think you will find that people are not over-dressed, either.  Many/most men will have a jacket and probably a tie and many of the women will be in modest dresses and have chapel veils.   You are not obliged to wear a head covering, but it is a wonderful custom which I bet you would get used to quickly and really like once you did.  

It is good of you to be concerned about this.  The way you dress shows respect also to the other people present.

But, again, don’t fret about this. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Andy K. says:

    Business casual and anything above, is what I’d typically wear (as a man).

  2. PAT says:

    Just as a note, chapel veils are available in the gift shop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. They usually have a good supply of both black and white. It is also possible that St. Bernadette’s may have chapel veils available to borrow, as do some of the TLM parishes in the area. And bobby pins or other clippies do help keep them in place.

    It is really a *wonderful* custom.

  3. Alessandro says:

    At the solemn mass and procession of Our Lady on december 8th I was delighted to see all the sisters of our Arciconfraternita di S. Antonio(St Anthony’s Guild) wearing black mantillas (even the young mothers). Hope to see them like that soon. As you say fr.: brick by brick

  4. Andreas says:

    Is it allowed for men to wear trousers (since trousers were introduced long after the council of Trent)?

  5. Kathy says:

    My church has chapel veils available to borrow before Mass, which I think I especially considerate to any visitors. My daughters and I borrowed them each week until I could afford to buy our own. Possibly this church offers this as well?

  6. Ohio Annie says:

    Andreas, Gosh, I wear trousers! 8-)

  7. Maureen says:

    Sigh. See what I mean about the huge symbolic importance placed on chapel veils, even though they only came into fashion circa 1960?

    Instead of telling the woman, “Buy a veil before you’ve even attended TLM once!”, why not say, “Just dig a scarf out of your drawer and wear it on your head, if you feel like covering your head!” Everybody already has scarves. It’s also a lot more representative of the continuity of Catholicism in America.

    Or you could wear a hat. :)


    A crowd of Catholic ladies in hats and scarves at a Catholic wedding, 1952.

  8. Charivari Rob says:

    Loaner headware?

    Only if they’re the cheap, prepackaged ones you’re meant to take away with you, or dispose of.

  9. dcs says:

    Fr. Z didn’t recommend wearing a chapel veil specifically, only a head covering (he did say that many or most of the women at a TLM will be wearing chapel veils … which is true). A head covering could be a veil, mantilla, scarf, kerchief, hat, etc. A baseball cap might be a bit out of place though. ;-) I think chapel veils have caught on because they are convenient – easy to slip into a purse or to keep in a glove box.

    As far as “everybody” having scarves – my wife doesn’t.

  10. Therese Z says:

    To make myself feel really nostalgic for my early grade-school-hood, I think I would wear a kleenex folded in fours and bobby-pinned to the exact top of my head – now THAT’s a reverent look!

  11. wsg says:

    If you want to cover your head, you can cover it with any head covering (I’d recommend something nicer-looking than a baseball cap). Kerchiefs and big headbands seem to be common. It’s not required to cover your head, and if the parish encourages it, they’ll likely have loaners available.

    As for what to wear, I’d wear whatever you normally wear to Mass. The Mass may be in a different form, but it’s the same Jesus present in the Eucharist, and it’s Him you’re dressing up for.

  12. wsg says:

    Oh, and if you decide to buy a chapel veil or mantilla, keep in mind that generally married women wear black and single women opt for white.

  13. Maureen says:

    Sorry about the huge long URL, all.

    RE: “As far as “everybody” having scarves – my wife doesn’t.”

    Alas, how far gone I am from the days of my fashion-free youth! I have a drawer full of such accessories, not even counting the comfy acrylic winter scarves. What can I plead, except “Clearance at Wal-Mart” and “It was only a buck”?

  14. Calleva says:

    My experience is that one can get away with pretty casual but a veil is essential. The last TLM I attended, I realised I’d forgotten my veil but I had a scarf round my neck (one of those 3 Euro ones you get in Rome!) so I put it on my head and tied it under my chin like an old granny. No one stared, so as long as you cover your head it is fine. In London I’ve seen women without head covering. I wear trousers and again that’s fine. It depends on each local community, so the people to ask are those who regularly attend that TLM.

    I don’t think it necessary for women to look as if they have come from a 1950s family movie unless they like to.

  15. Ed says:

    Are we talking about some Shriner’s convention here, sport coat and plaid trousers, prefereably suspendered?

    A few weeks back, I attended Holy Mass on Sunday in a nearby city; very large congregation, say, 500 worshippers. It was an 11 am Mass, though not TLM, but every pew was filled. Quite a range of apparel and behavior, as expected.

    I was a little anxious about the size of the church, and the crowds of people, and attempted to “participate,” that is, to be Christian, to be open to the other members of the Body of Christ who were milling around.

    Most noteworthy, only one person out of at least a hundred attempted to make eye contact, much less said even a simple “Good Morning.” That one person saved me in moment of acute self-consciousness. No words exchanged, just an acknowledgement, a charity of recognition.

    As I began my preparation for the Mass, and knowing that Christ speaks to us especially at the Eucharist, I struggled briefly to let go of superficial distractions about the people around me. They are here for Him, I repeated, not for me…

    It would be good to get over this trivial, but harmful obsession with fashion. There are people in the church with us, and on the street with us, who are dying for lack of Love. Who cares? Jesus cares; that’s why He put us there, too. To Love for Him.

  16. Ken says:

    Clergy in Silver Spring, Md. will be wearing the vestments fourth from the top here:


    My advice would be for the laity to wear a suit/tie; dress/skirt equally fitting for the feast.

  17. Kateri says:


    Prior to Mass, I prefer it if people do NOT talk to me, smile at me, or try to acknowledge me. Chit-chatting with others before Mass and smiling to all is not my idea of preparing for the Mass. I want to focus on God and preparing the soul for the reception of the Eucharist. It seems more approproiate to me for the social aspects to be kept to after Mass and outside of the Church proper.

    Now with respect to “fashion”-obsessions…When young ladies play with their pony tails during Mass, it is extremely distracting. I have even seen a mother brushing her daughters hair DURING MASS! This is disrespectful to God and again distracting to others. I think that covering the head with a chapel veil would help somewhat in this respect and remind us women of humility before God. Also, I am sick and tied of seeing people come to Mass in shorts and mini-skirts…You would not dress like that to see an earthly king, etc, don’t dress like that for God. This is not an “obsession” with fashion – this is just asking for respect for God.
    Just my humble opinion…I live in a diocese where there is way too much “activity” prior to Mass and where people dress like they are going to a frat house. Frankly, I am really sick of it.

  18. Ed says:

    Thanks, Kateri,

    I appreciate your view, and point about, as I read it, turning Holy Mass into a “social.” The comments I made referred to entering the parish grounds, walking to the church, looking at the inside of the church, the art, the stained glass windows, etc., 40 minutes before the start of Mass, not seeking to intrude on anyone’s preparations for Mass. When one observes people all round, making appropriate-to-setting conversation, or simple fellowship gestures–which aren’t inappropriate within the Body of Christ prior to the Celebration of the Eucharist, one, or at least I, wondered that the various groupings of people were so insular. Even the ushers were in a little group of their own, not greeting, not extending.

    I went up to this group, in particular, a way of connecting to a parish and congregation not my own. There was not much in the way of polite response; more that I was interrupting a private conversation. These were the ushers, after all, and in no way involved in preparation for Mass.

    Perhaps my particular anxiousness that morning related to my own attire; blue jeans and a work shirt, albeit my best jeans and shirt. I don’t own a sport coat, and my choice in clothes was to wear the best I have, knowing that God is not concerned with exteriors. He makes that very clear in all the Gospels. It’s what’s in my heart that concerns God. I have that on good authority.

    Also the thing about loving one another as He loves us. If this concern is removed from our worship, where are we in relation to Him?
    I would say in relatively grave jeopardy. But it is my response to all this that He will judge. I was reminded that, as I said in the prior post, these people were there for Him, not for me. I needed to find some genuine compassion for the various “foibles,” or I will need to answer to Him when the time comes: the least of His brethren.

    He spoke of this so many times, in one context or another. But it’s just too easy for me to be critical about what others are doing or not doing. Makes it impossible for me to be His vehicle for Love. So I’ll take you point.

  19. Nancy says:

    At the TLM I attend, women wear modest skirts/dresses, men wear business casual or suits. Children a also dressed up. Women wear head coverings – hats, scarves, or veils. Veils are available should you forget, and very often, if a woman comes into the church without one, some lady of the parish will bring the newcomer a head covering. Likewise, Missals are available for visitors, and I myself have handed one to someone who appeared to be new to the Mass.

    At our parish, there is a notice on the inner doors about appropriate dress, but no one is made to feel uncomfortable if he/she comes dressed in jeans. I do think that if a woman came in a low-cut top or with a bared midriff, Father would probably say something to her – but I’ve never seen it happen.

    As far as “milling about,” there is none of that at my parish, at least before the Mass. People come, find a seat, and quietly prepare themselves for the Sacrifice of the Mass. There was an old notion about “keeping custody of the eyes,” which was to say, don’t stare at other people or engage them in eye contact when they are attempting to pray.

    After Mass is an entirely different matter – everyone gathers in the church basement (for those staying for Catechism, which is held every week for adults), or outside, where they chat, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company.

    There is a difference, of course, between being social before Mass, and helping a new person get oriented. As I said, my experience has been, at least at our parish, that when someone looks lost, a parishioner notices and helps out.

  20. Jayna says:

    I have a black chapel veil (I had no idea about the married/single connotations though, perhaps I should get a white one). I don’t wear it to Mass at my own parish because although it is a sign of respect, it would be nothing but a distraction to everyone else there. In my two years at this parish, I have not seen a single woman wear one. The fact that I genuflect before receiving the Eucharist, receive it on the tongue and kneel after returning to my pew draws enough attention as it is.

    Kateri: The same thing happens in my parish. I saw a girl a couple of weeks ago wearing a pair of cheerleader shorts, a hoodie and sandals…in October. It’s actually gotten so bad that they put a full page in this week’s bulletin about reverence at Mass. With the politics of my parish being such as they are, I was actually quite surprised about the whole thing. I don’t know who put it in there, but they made sure to mention proper dress, not leaving early, fasting before Mass and receiving the Eucharist with “respect and humility”, among other various sorely needed lessons on etiquette at Mass. Brick by brick, I guess. ;)

  21. tom says:

    Am I the only one to see the irony in a ‘reform movement’ that claimed to be ‘more Scriptural’ suppressing the one traditional Catholic devotional practice that is explicitly in the Scriptures?

  22. Thomasina says:

    great point above about the pony tails . . . In fact, I instruct my daughter to never fuss with her hair, hat, veil or scarf during Mass. It is extremely out of place and a distraction to others.

  23. Edward says:

    Ed –

    There is never an “appropriate to setting” conversation within the walls of a Catholic Church. A Catholic Church is not a community center. At least it was never understood to be one until the spirit of Vatican II took hold. Out of respect for the blessed sacrament, silence is incumbent upon all who enter the church unless the community is uniting in prayer to God. Usually, however, a Catholic Church will have a parish hall, which will host a number of social events at which the parishioners can engage in conversations which are in reality capable of being appropriate to setting. Maybe you can look in the church bulletin to determine the next such event and make another attempt to meet and engage in conversation during a time which is truly “appropriate.” Also, I have found that at smaller and more orthodox parishes, parishioners tend to stick around after Mass and talk outside the church or over coffee and donuts at the parish hall.

    Quite ironically in fact, I have found that there is a far greater community amongst parishioners at churches that understand proper decorum before, during and after Mass than those who have a protestant view of the church and the liturgy and treat Sunday Mass as a time to meet and greet people they haven’t seen since the prior Sunday. And I do believe the reason for this is that at such parishes Christ is kept as the focal point and the center of our attention and it is only through Christ that any of us are truly able to build a Christian community or society and it is only through our shared focus and love for Christ that any of us are capable of really loving our neighbor as Christ loves us.

    Lastly, regarding attire, the above discussion is hardly trivial or an obsession. I find it startling how in a single generation people can dress and behave in a manner in which just fifty years ago people from the most meager of backgrounds and simplest points of view would have understood were problematic. You are correct that all God desires of us is to give him our best and if jeans and a t-shirts are the best that we have, then that surely is sufficient. However, it is disengenuous to suggest that the vast majority of people attending Mass in inappropriate attire every Sunday have the justification that it is truly the best they own.

  24. o.h. says:

    A friend of mine went to his first TLM in t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.

    He’s a firefighter, and driving home one Sunday afternoon after a long shift, he realized he wouldn’t have to miss Mass after all because an afternoon TLM had just been added to our parish’s schedule. It was a Texas summer, though, and he’d worn the light clothing under his gear. But he decided he’d rather look odd than miss Mass. I was there to see, and with his height and build, he certainly was visible! But he carried it off with aplomb, and managed to be entirely reverent, despite the sartorial circumstances.

  25. therese b says:

    Black/White veil “controversy”. Scotland. 1960s. I wore white veil (aged 5-8) and couldn’t wait to be like my older sisters (early 20s, unmarried) and wear a black one. I will check with them – but obviously there are different traditions in different places.

  26. Michael J says:

    For those who beleive that it does not matter what we wear to Mass because “Jesus loved us anyway” and that others distracted by our apparel have their own hang-ups, by what logic do you believe that we must wear anything at all to Mass (weather permitting of course)?

  27. Geoffrey says:

    Many “newbies” to Mass in the Extraordinary Form can be very intimidated when to comes to how to dress (which is ironic, because shouldn’t we dress the same no matter the form or rite we attend?).

    I could cite examples from my own family: one female member refused to go until she could find something appropriate to wear, including a veil… but the hassle was too much she doesn’t seem interested in trying again. Another female famly member wore nice jeans to daily Mass, with no veil, and other women were dressed similarly, and she has no “fear” of the old Mass.

    Oh, and I have seen this: a young mother wearing blue jeans AND a veil… and no, the veil wasn’t in matching denim!

  28. Michele Q. says:

    Well I suppose not all RCIA programs cover this but some do. We teach about both the ordinary and extraordinary forms in our RCIA. As Latin Rite Catholics they need to be familiar with both. Fortunately we have a local extraordinary form Mass so they can experience both. Several RCIA candidates from last year now exclusively attend the extraordinary form. :-)

  29. flannerywannabe says:

    Dear reader: I am part of the Silver Spring TLM community and welcome you to the Mass with us! :D

    I can tell you that most women I see at Mass here are usually in dresses or skirts and that veiling/hat-wearing is about 75/25 — you’ll blend in with something to cover your head, but if you don’t have anything, you won’t stick out, either.

    When I first came to the Silver Spring community, I was surprised at how the dress standards seem to be more conservative than usual. I’m not a wild dresser by anyone’s standards; I strongly prefer skirts, own precisely one skirt that is above knee length, and I always wear that one with tights; but all of a sudden it seemed my knee-length hemlines and scoop-neck sweaters were the most revealing garments in the room. Maybe this is partly a function of the older age or more advanced family status of much of the group — I’m still in my 20s, and when I regularly attended a TLM in the Midwest that was packed with collegiate and newlywed 20- and 30-somethings, I wore those same skirts and sweaters and seemed to blend right in. Here, though, I tend to layer more (a collared shirt under the sweater, maybe a jacket over it too) and to opt for skirts that fall below my knee.

    I’m not meaning to give you the impression that people are puritans or obsessed with dress here. Any new face makes us happy to see, and no one is going to be judging you on attire. I’m just really interested in how norms vary among communities and, while musing on them, also want to give you a good specific idea of what to expect. Again, thrilled you’re planning to come. Maybe I’ll even see you there. :D

  30. Lucy says:

    After reading all the above comments, it’s clear there seems to be many things that are acceptable to people in different places. I always tell folks who are thinking of going, dress like you would be meet someone really important. Women would most likely wear dresses or skirts (not too short) and men would wear pants/shirt – maybe a tie, maybe not. I think you just need to think about how much of a distraction you will be to people behind you. I’m a marriend women with five children, but I am distracted by a women in front of me in pants – the eye is drawn to that which shows the female form. I think it’s better to wear a skirt or dress. As far as the veil goes, most ladies in our Latin Mass community wear them, but there’s always newcomers who don’t and it’s not distracting. It’s a lovely custom, as Fr. says, and I think we should bring it back full speed ahead !! My girls love to wear the veil – what girl doesn’t love pretty things ? Just remember we don’t want to lead men or women to sin who are sitting behind us – even more important for young boys who are still learning to keep custody of the eyes.

  31. Nathan says:

    Thanks for the interesting disussion, all. I’ve noticed that quite a few people who are contemplating coming to the TLM really do worry about what to wear. I think there is a perception that those of us who frequent the TLM are sort of uber-Catholic, and will automatically disapprove of someone “out of uniform.” Some have heard of (well-meaning, no doubt) people at the TLM who have acted as the “mantilla police.”

    In locations where most parishes have very relaxed dress customs, I think that those of us who are regulars should be conscious of this concern, and behave appropriately in terms of both charity and reverence–using prudence in our decision to assist. Oh, and simply being plesant to someone on the church steps after Holy Mass who looks a bit out of place may help keep them coming back to the Latin Mass.

    Of course, on this blog, I’m (to use a term from my backwoods Protestant upbringing) preaching to the choir.

    In Christ,

  32. Ed says:

    Thanks, Edward,

    but that “never” is nonsense. Holy Mass has a definite, prescribed beginning, middle, and close. Outside of offical ecclesial functions, a moment for a quiet word with another parishoner, a query about their wellbeing, or simple expression of regard or concern, these are not only appropriate to setting, but are true to Christ’s admonition to love one another as He has loved us.

    False piety has been judged by Christ Himself, long before I thought to post to this blog.

    Pope Benedict XVI makes the point in “Jesus of Nazareth” and his first encyclical, as does Romano Guardini in “Meditations before Mass.” I wasn’t referring to jocularity or flippant gabbing in church. I was talking about acting from the Spirit of Christ, what the above authors refer to as genuine Christian consciousness.

    Suit yourself.

  33. a catechist says:

    white vs. black—my Sicilian grandmother was adamant that black was for mourning. Children were exempt from the requirement to wear black outside the actual viewings & funeral Mass, but adult women wore mourning black as appropriate regardless of their state of life. She died in ’92. When I attend a parish that’s mostly Latino, all the veils are black, as were all of them I’ve seen in Mexico.

    I suspect this is a cultural & local variation, and not something to get excited about. When I found veils for sale at the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation (Ohio), they were all white or light blue & I got a white one for ordinary Masses and blue for feasts of Our Lady. Getting one at a shrine was nice, because now when I put one in my purse, I remember to say a prayer to Our Lady of Consolation for sad, lonely, and suffering priests.

  34. Ah, I just LOVE these appropriate attire posts. So much fun, aren’t they Father?


    From the rabbit hole..Cathy

  35. Paladin says:

    And just for the record: my wife and I (as RCIA coordinators/catechists) most certainly tell our candidates all about the proper attire and etiquette for the TLM (and we take them to at least one, as a sort of “field trip” to give them the taste)!

    Just to let people know that not *all* RCIA programs are synonymous with “1970’s mush”! :) (Just 95%…)

  36. Nathan says:

    Cathy of Alex, thanks for the reminder for perspective. (BTW, good blog!)

    Just to clarify, women are absolutely required to wear shoes with black buckles if they’re married, and white buckles if they’re single? (Insert some cute emoticon here) But only if their son or brother is carrying the Cardinal’s saturno.

    In Christ,

  37. Bro. AJK says:

    Humor is intended. Read with that is mind.

    I recommend wearing clothes.

  38. Daniel Hill says:

    I usually wear a jester’s hat to mass

  39. ekafant says:

    With 6 kids under age 11, along with a 45 minute drive, we have found that being clothed seems to be sufficient, but we still look pretty good! The 2 youngest always seem to look pretty rough when they exit the van, but usually their hair gets a good lick down with a wet palm!!

  40. LeonG says:

    Anyone who refers to the RCIA in this part of the world would get very little authentic instruction on the catholic faith, in any case. The fruits of their instructions can be seen in inappropriate dress for church attendance; inappropriate “high street” demeanour once in church and members who know nothing about popes before the 1960s. None of the ones I know have any knowledge whatsoever of the Holy Mass in its proper Roman Catholic language. Therefore, the RCIA is probably not a reliable referral instrument for such matters.

  41. Dominic H says:

    Hmm. Inappropriate dress at church. Two examples spring to mind. First, really scruffy tracksuits that are, almost inevitably, worn by teenagers (male or female: the clothing concerned is in any case utterly androgynous) acting in the role of a server on Sunday evening mass at my diocesan cathedral (which I’m not naming on this occasion: but it is also notorious – and I suspect unique in England – for being arranged in such a way as to make it not only deprecated but also impossible for any normal adult to kneel down at any point in mass).

    Second (which really caused me to raise my eyebrows!): in St Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine (Eastern Orthodox, of course): quite a few young women (well, girls, really, I suppose: almost certainly not out of their teenage years) who had clearly gone to some effort to veil their heads…while wearing other extremely skimpy items of clothing, either very short skirts (of the kind that one really has to be in the former USSR to encounter much, I think) or exposing the entire midriff. This would appear to contradict the impeccably orthodox and traditional headgear.

  42. MM says:

    Dominic H — I empathise with you on the cognitive dissonance caused by the Ukrainian cathedral!

    At my parish in Singapore, out of the hundreds at Sunday Mass, only one woman, a young mother, who regularly wears a mantilla.

    She once showed up in mantilla, spaghetti-strap tank top and denim miniskirt — that threw me for a loop. I felt like tapping her on the shoulder and saying, “Uh ma’am? You might be missing the point.”

  43. pelerin says:

    Has anyone else seen the pictorial sign now outside the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris? It is a ‘no baseball caps’ sign although it does not signify if this applies equally to women as to men!

  44. Paladin says:

    Anyone who refers to the RCIA in this part of the world would get very little authentic instruction on the catholic faith, in any case.

    (*sigh*) I wish I could contradict that, but it’s sadly true. I would, in all fairness, alert people to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry, whose content (if not its samples of liturgy) are quite solid.

    I’ll be the first to say that some of their artwork and photos of liturgies make me cringe; but at least they don’t teach heresy, and they *do* teach long-neglected facets of the Faith, such as the need of prayer for the dead (rather than the “instant canonization ‘Mass of Resurrection'”), unequivocal presentation of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality (including contraception, IVF, etc.), and the like. My wife and I have talked with the director (Mr. Bill Keimig), and he’s as solid as can be.

    In Christ,

  45. Maureen says:

    “You would not dress like that to see an earthly king….”

    Hey, I watched that show Monarchy. A lot of people would, and did. :(

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