Are we now a nation of blatteroons?

When I take a break from movies with lots of explosions, I like period pieces.  You can’t beat a well done production of a Jane Austen novel or just about any of the 19th century writers.

It happened the other day that I caught a few minutes of Pride and Prejudice, in one of those moments when someone entered a room where other people were.  They stood and bowed or curtsied.  People addressed each other with titles.

Too constraining?

On the other hand, are we becoming a society of cretins?  A community of slubberdegullions? A nation of blatteroons?

The lack of formality, or decorum, must over time take its toll on us collectively.

No where is this more evident than in our churches.

My friend Msgr. Charles Pope has some good comments on reverence in church.  HERE

Among other things he comments on women covering their heads, which always sparks discussion.  And for good reason, because this symbolic gesture goes to the core of what I am talking about.

Do you give thought to what you wear to church?  What your children wear?

Just to muddy the waters a bit, on that classic day when we all are obliged to go to church, does any formality follow you back to the family home, perhaps with a sit-down meal to be shared with proper manners?


By the by, Msgr. Pope includes a video of the beginning of the movie True Confessions, which starts with a Solemn Nuptial Mass in the Usus Antiquior.  I have a personal connection to this movie, because the very vestments used in that movie, those actual vestments and not vestments like them, were later donated to my home parish in St. Paul, St. Agnes.  I have worn that chasuble quite a few times.  And, yes, when the priest returned to the center of the altar, the deacon and subdeacon should not have been at an angle and the priest should have kept his eyes cast down for the Dominus vobiscum… but its Hollywood and that is about as close to accurate as you get with that lot.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I still have my chapel veils even though I have not worn them in many years. I have seen them worn in many different countries, including the USA. However, for the most part they are the exception rather than the rule. I do wish a dress code like in Rome Catholic Churches (at least some of them) was enforced by all Catholic Churches. No bare shoulders or knees. At St. Paul’s in Rome, they actually handed out cover-ups to tourists not dressed properly to enter the Church.

  2. majuscule says:

    Oh thank you for that! Even if it was only a movie…

    However, one of the “suggested” videos that appeared when this one was done was of my archbishop celebrating High Mass…in a smaller venue than our cathedral. I was so glad to watch it!

    I remember attending several High Masses as a child, but we always sat near the back. The thing is, even in Latin the parts of the Mass are clearly identifiable. (Well, when I was a child that was Mass!)

    One would think that having video cameras at Mass might be disruptive (maybe it is?) but I really appreciated the close view of what was going on at the altar. Beautiful! So wonderful to see the younger men assisting, too!

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Of course, for years I have worn a veil or hats. I write quite a bit on modesty and proper attire and appropriateness. Appropriate behaviour and dress has not been taught for a long time. The idolatry of informality, as if informality is more virtuous than formality, reveals a mindset which cannot endure hierarchies of any kind.

    The most nasty comments I have ever received on my blog have been in response to modesty posts, bar one comment. Now, why would one suppose that writing about a virtue would cause so much anger?

    For fun and edification, read this…When my son read this he said that I was raised in another world.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Thanks for this post and link. The idolatry of being casual has destroyed appropriateness in behaviour and dress. Casual mean truthful or real to some people, whereas to me it reveals a mindset which has no psychological boundaries and hatred of hierarchies. Barring one comment, the most hateful ones I get on my blog are on my modesty posts. I wonder why, as modesty is a virtue and means not only covering up bits of the body, but an entire demeanour. There is an old saying that a lady is a woman who does not show her underwear. The style in Dublin this summer is to purposefully show such and behaviour follows…and men need to act appropriately as well.

    For fun, read this. When my son read it, he said I was raised in another world…

  5. Denis Crnkovic says:

    I have it on good authority (well, maybe in a court of law it would be hearsay) that the priest advisor for this film didn’t have a lot of experience with the EF Mass, or didn’t remember the details. During one of the breaks in the film Mr DeNiro asked the famous director of the choir that is singing in the background if he (DeNiro) were doing okay. The choir director took the opportunity to give the actor some very good hints (how to do the elevation properly, how to hold his fingers correctly, etc.). I imagine that if the choir director had not been on the set things could have been a lot worse.

    As for being a nation for blatteroons, I gave up quite long ago on expecting any decorum whatsoever at the OF Mass so that I habitually sit as far in the back or to the side as possible, participating only by praying and meditating on what’s going on at the altar. A far cry from when I was an altar boy!

    P.S. You gotta agree that DeNiro’s Latin pronunciation is great.

  6. Southern Baron says:

    I would like to selfishly point out that five weeks ago today, that same Ave Maria was sung by a small choir of friends at my wedding. My wife… who, yes, did her MA thesis on liturgical vestments… and I enjoyed the clip.

  7. iPadre says:

    That is always an awesome clip to watch. Very well done. I wonder what was going through De Niro’s mind as he read the Mass, if it had any effect on his life?

  8. MikeM says:

    I think that the lack of decorum is related to our increasing inability to distinguish situations. It is necessary to have moments where people can step outside of hierarchy. If the boss never hears what the employees really think, the organization will be pretty dysfunctional. We recognize this and, since we’re unable to distinguish appropriate situations for formality from appropriate situations for informality, we have gotten rid of formality altogether.

  9. StWinefride says:

    Father Z: “When I take a break from movies with lots of explosions…

    I struggle to understand why people watch movies with lots of explosions in the first place.

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “StWinefride: I struggle to understand why people watch movies with lots of explosions in the first place.”

    Umm, cuz you get to see lots of things blow up and all. Know?


    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  11. New Sister says:

    Curtsies and titles reinforce hierarchy (like ranks and salutes in the military). Liberals and feminists reject this — especially since through these actions men elevate and honor women (ladies). [I have profited much from Supertradmum’s writings on the great evil of androgyny]

    I have begun to curtsey before and address our pastor as “Your Reverence” – can’t say he wasn’t uneasy at first, but now he’s used to it.

    It might seem obnoxious (or objectively be so), but 95% of the time I make it known to a man who extends his hand toward me [unless he outranks me by position or significantly by age, or – most obviously – Ordination!] that he should not do so to a lady.

    I’ve taken it upon myself to teach about courtesy in my CCD classes, too. Why men should remove their cover indoors; why ladies should veil; why men are first to greet but do not initiate a hand-shake with a lady (or kids to any adult). I train them to stand when a priest enters and exits the classroom. (or when I do for that matter) I do not let them slouch. I do not let them walk into the classroom and greet a friend before they have bid me “good evening”. They know to hold doors for priests, ladies, elders and to fully genuflect when we enter the church [both knees if Blessed Sacrament is exposed]. They know to bow their heads at the Holy Name of Jesus. [Parents tell me they continue doing so at home, too.]

    Beautiful thing about it is — they LOVE knowing these things and adapt superbly!!!

  12. contrarian says:

    Yeah. I used to dress like a slob to church. I’ve come to see the value of formality. And titles, for that matter. That’s not to say I’ve reached a Downton Abbey level of maturity and awesomeness. But I’m getting there. At any rate, I try to make sure that my boys and I don’t look like derelicts on Sunday morning. We succeed more or less often. My wife is a major help in this regard.
    (Btw, the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice is awesome….one of the few movies I own.)

    Also: wow! I’ve never seen True Confessions. That’s the most accurate representation of Mass I’ve ever seen in a major Hollywood film.

    Also: I second Dr. Peters re explosions.

  13. Bob B. says:

    The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) is, by far, the best version and is very close to how it was written.
    Wearing flip-flops, cut-off jeans, very inappropriate shirts or halter tops, ball caps, etc is daily fair here. It wasn’t in the middle of the country and some places on the East Coast. The priests seem afraid to say anything, too.
    I would tell my Catholic school students how inappropriate and disrespectful it was to dress this way and they seemed to understand and agree, as well. As I would tell my own children, “Were you raised in a barn?”

  14. Charlotte Allen says:

    “True Confessions”–what a great movie! And what an actor Robert De Niro is. He does all his acting with his eyes while saying that nuptial Mass: You can read in them his vaulting ambition and his guilty conscience.

    I must point out, however, that a nuptial Mass on that scale of elaborateness and aesthetic meticulousness was available only to the wealthiest and highest-placed of Catholics back then. For ordinary Catholics the nuptial Mass was much simpler, and the music could be pretty bad, although the rubrics of the traditional Latin Mass ensured that the liturgy would maintain its innate dignity.

  15. L. says:

    A friend of mine died recently and his funeral was held this past Monday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in a black Baptist Church, and it was not a highfalutin one. There were more than 250 people who attended. It was a hot, humid, sunny day, and the visitation began at Noon and the funeral at 1:00, so it was in the hottest part of the day. Nevertheless, I probably saw only two or three men who were not wearing suits and ties, and the few who weren’t were wearing long-sleeved shirts and ties. The women were all very well dressed. It was extremely impressive, and something I have never seen in a Catholic church for virtually any event or celebration regardless of the time of year, unfortunately.

  16. robtbrown says:

    Charlotte Allen said,
    For ordinary Catholics the nuptial Mass was much simpler, and the music could be pretty bad . . .

    As bad as it was, no one was singing We’ve Only Just Begun.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    Huh, I’ve never heard of that movie. What don’t I learn about here!
    Beachwear in church. We in the northeast are blessed with it weekly. I often wonder if women have any concept of the responsibility not to be the cause of sin right in church. Young daughters are often scandalously dressed. Occasionally there is a mention of it in a bulletin. Flip flops, sneakers, spaghetti straps, we see it all.
    For me the period films like Pride and Prejudice are just the best. I LOVE Sense and Sensibility, the version with Emma Thompson is my favorite. Oh, the courtesies, the genteel acts, the sensitivity to others, it’s wonderful. The awareness of one’s boorish behaviors, and the desire to avoid such. And of course, the romance, with people comfortable with what they are, so different from our time where there is so much confusion and few are happy.
    I must say, those films are my favorite genre, but that I have on occasion fallen into an action film I really liked! I remember Terminator as being one. Wow, you just couldn’t STOP that guy, what a nightmare! It really kept you on the edge of your seat.

  18. StWinefride says:

    Dr Edward Peters: Umm, cuz you get to see lots of things blow up and all. Know?

    Ha! Thanks for the laugh :) Continuing prayers for your son’s health.

  19. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    StWinefride, thanks, but hey, you occasioned my third gold star from Fr. Z in as many months! This is going on my c.v. And thanks for your prayers for Thom. Today was kinda frustrating, but we are very, very new to this.

  20. APX says:

    Also: wow! I’ve never seen True Confessions.

    Don’t bother. It’s vile with profanity, nudity, and mature subject matter. It’s rated R (at least in Canada). It’s probably rate PG 13 in the USA. I made the mistake of watching it on Netflix. I wish I’d have stopped watching it after the beginning part with the Mass.

    Our Bishop did a write-up in church etiquette, which contained an excerpt from an old Etiquette manual for clergy. I found it rather “interesting” let us say.

    It’s taken from “Courtesy for Clerics,” written in 1947  by Hermannus. I can kind of see where the idea of clericalism comes from…

     “Out of doors – If you wear a hat and pass any woman you know, you should raise your hat – lift it off your head, not merely touch it. If you have only met the lady once or twice, and your acquaintance is very slight, do not raise your hat nor greet her in any way until she gives you a sign of recognition. The privilege of choosing those with whom she wishes to be acquainted rests with the lady. This does not apply so much to woman of the uneducated class. These will probably wait for the priest to greet them. Somewhat pathetically, they will not expect courtesy from the priest, not even for him to raise his hat. They associate courtesy – and so do many who might know better – with money. That a priest shall reverence them because of their womanhood, even though they are poor, would surprise them. It rests with you to decide whether you will show courtesy to your poor parishioners or only to upper class people.”

  21. JARay says:

    I have to agree with Bob B. The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is the better, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Erhle. I have it on DVD and it is something which I have watched over and over again.
    There are indeed times when the dress (or lack thereof) of some women in particular, really offends me. They have absolutely no idea at all of modesty. Although not exactly topless, a strapless bare-backed dress is most inappropriate attire for Mass. It is not only in Rome that such attire would cause offence and reprimand if a young woman attempted to enter a church like that. Portugal and Spain will not allow entry if a woman turns up with bare arms.
    Slightly changing the subject….but only slightly.., yesterday (Saturday) a young man turned up for morning Mass at my parish. He had driven there, it is true, but he walked in wearing a cassock, a Roman collar and a red sash, telling everyone instantly that he is now a member of our local Seminary. For me, this was a joy to see. And I told him so. I told him that I liked to see Seminarians wearing a cassock and collar and, that I see it, not just as an outward expression of what he is, but also because it focuses him, himself, on what he is aiming to become, and thus makes him more aware of the way he should behave. It is a kind of protection between him and the outside world.

  22. Ben Kenobi says:

    Something, I personally, have to work on. Ladies – want to see more of it – compliment the men who do make the effort. Ladies, want to see less of it, then ridicule the folks who do make the effort.

  23. Brandon Underwood says:

    That movie clip (errors that Fr. Z pointed out aside) really illustrates how prominently the SACRAMENTAL nature of marriage is conveyed by the Latin Mass. That actually was my first time ever seeing that form of the marriage sacrament, and I found it quite moving. Were we to still commonly practice the sacrament of marriage in that form today, I do not believe marriages would be falling apart at the high rate they presently are. The new form that Holy Mother Church gives us is of course just as sacred, but unless someone is properly catechized (which just about universally is not the case today) the sacredness is a lot easier to miss in the new form compared to the traditional form.

  24. av8er says:

    I live on the Texas border where the two seasons are hot and really hot. For years my pastor has mentioned appropriate attire several times and posted reminders in the announcements. About a month ago he posted on the bulletin board an “appropriate dress” example and I have noticed a positive change in the mass attendants.

  25. Charlotte Allen says:


    “As bad as it was, no one was singing We’ve Only Just Begun.”

    So true! And no one was singing “Danny Boy” at funerals where the deceased was Irish. No one was singing “On Eagle’s Wings” ever.


    “It’s vile with profanity, nudity, and mature subject matter.”

    Agreed, “True Confessions” isn’t for children. It’s about sin. Some sins involve nudity and others bad language. The gruesome murder of a prostitute (modeled after a real-life murder in Los Angeles in 1947) is the event that precipitates the narrative, and this may trouble some viewers. The priest played by De Niro is quite aware that he, by his own sinful conduct, has obliquely but instrumentally led the prostitute not only to her death but to the probable loss of her immortal soul. He has also set himself up for blackmail by a wealthy church donor with a mobster background who is not unlike Joseph P. Kennedy. His atonement for these sins is the ultimate theme of “True Confessions”–in which the sacrament of Penance plays a pivotal role.

  26. UncleBlobb says:

    The formality missing now was something which evolved over quite a long time. It requires virtue. I think that reading these 19th century novels, such as Jane Austen novels, or even well-done ones based on this time, such as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, are a way to discover so much good in these areas. It helps me to see not only what these customs and social virtues were (as I was born in 1971 in the USA to lower middle class parents), but also to see what use they’ve had. I can’t remember where I read it or heard it, but the formal address and customs used, such as the men in the Aubrey-Maturin novels, were a way to enable friendship and social interaction, not impede it. This is another way that having lots of “rules” and traditions to follow in actuality leads to increased freedom, not less. It also a way to enjoy beauty in others and in culture, and practice virtue as well.
    My only answer, after prayer, is to practice these types of customs and virtue as much as possible in my own life, as a way of promoting this new, old culture in everyone. It is difficult, but not impossible.

  27. Stephen McMullen says:

    How about “Buffoons and Barrel Organs” (Nietzsche) from “Thus Spoke Zarathrusta.

  28. The answer, in a word, is “yes.” I see it as the tyrrany of casual behavior, to echo Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s language on relativism. Ultimately, it is all attributable to an epidemic of immaturity that must be fought tooth and nail. I recommend the book, The Death of the Grownup, by Diana West, as an awakening for those not convinced.

    On a less serious note, this is a good opportunity to highlight one of my “other” web sites, the Anti-Grunge Page. It makes this serious point in rather a humorous way.

  29. RafkasRoad says:

    How do we defeat the near victory of the Slobocracy???

    Step 1: re-orient our focus from self to others. How does our appearance bear upon others? do we uplift them by our appearance or cause them discomfort/disquiet/scandal? (men and women both)
    Are we wedded to the false argument that concern as to how we impact upon others through actions, behaviour, carriage and apparel is all about ‘their hang-ups’ rather than our responsibilities to bring even a bit of joy or to reflect who we are – children of God, created in His image to those around us?
    Remember that outward action is a sign of inward reality; don’t buy the ‘its all in the heart’ alone, as this is often used as an excuse for abdication of one’s personal responsibilities to civility, decency and mindfulness towards others.

    Step 2: educate yourself. study the history of attire and modesty/civility of deportment for your cultural paradigm (for many here, this will be the Western paradigm, particularly the Anglosphere); both in terms of the secular and ecclesial.
    Fantastic authors on this topic are Doreen Yarwood, James Laver and John Peacock.
    Compare civility through decent and modest attire both prior to WW1 and post WW1; note the differences even in those ages past considered more decadent.
    Study the development of dress, especially during the 20th century through several key eras of change
    Remember, decency is not dependant upon income. Look at some of the poorest places in the world. Those who live there take care to do the best they can with what little they have.
    Remember Orwell’s ‘tyranny of Drabness’.
    Remember also that difference does not bespeak inferiority/superiority (in terms of mens’ and womens’ attire in the cultural paradigm – even in cultures wherein clothing is minimal or non existant, body art is different between males and females, also, the way one stands, seats oneself etc is mindful; but we are a clothed society and as Christians we have the examples of Holy Scripture Church Teaching and example of the Church fathers to learn from.

    Chart the stages of disintegration re civility/mindfulness/decency/modesty with the key geo-political stages and revolutions over the past 100 years.

    Step 3: regain mindfulness. be the change you want to see. start fashion clubs for young ladies and gentlemen in which they can learn history of costume, learn how to procure mindful attire that is worthy of who they are as persons created in the image and likeness of God and Christ’s ambassadors in all of life.
    Bring back the art of sewing and tailoring.
    Learn how to construct patterns and altar existing garments.
    Support modest attire retailers, most of whom are family or community businesses that see their work as both ministry and enterprise.
    Additionally, remember that a smile and willingness to help go a long way.
    Remember also, that it is very likely that the vast majority of clothing error is committed out of sheeer ignorance and woefully poor catechesis/knowledge of cultural, social and fashion history etc. Those who are creative and colourful among us have a fantastic opportunity to be change agents for good.
    Also, gently remind folk of the irony; in our society that is highly ‘individual’ obscenely so in my thinking, most are actually slaves to conformity. Are we God’s son’s and daughters, or Mao’s masses??

    Step 4: knowledge of dressing for the climate.
    Living in Australia, it is largely hot or ‘less hot’, but still positively barmy compared to the Northern hemisphere. Dressing in natural fibre that breathes, flows and allows good air circulation is key to modest dressing in the heat. Cottons, linens, hemps and bamboos are excellent. good underpinnings that allow for airflow whilst not impeding activity or compromising on modesty are essentials; pettipants, (undershorts) and slips, dresses in muslins, calicos etc.This also goes for tops and skirts. A summer wrap of muslin or a waistcoat can provide a little added modesty as can a cammie beneath a blouse. Avoid silk in warm weather as it does not breathe.

    Step 5: one more book – Simple Social Graces (also sold under the title of ‘the Benevolance of Manners) by Lynda Lichter (excuse spelling) is an absolute must read, as are the books on this subject by Wendy Shallit, a well educated, articulate, savy gen Y young lady who is well and truly switched on re these matters.

    Mindfulness in
    Slobocracy out!!

    And finally, remember why you are at church. who are you there to see, be with and worship/adore?? Would you comport yourself so shabbily before king, queen or president?? how much more are we called to do for our Lord, not to win His approval, but out of respect and overwhelming love, to be the best we can be for Him and our fellow brothers and sisters.

    And if dollars are tight, remember op-shops (thrift stores) clearance racks and the art of sewing.


    Aussie Maronite.

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  32. I have recently begun wearing a hat to the Novus Ordo again after a brief respite. Up here in wilds of Maine I am constantly amazed at what some people think “Mass attire” consists of. Short shorts, flip flops, sports t-shirts, one man last night still had grass clippings all over his shirt, he didn’t even bother to change into a non-sweaty shirt or bathe after mowing the lawn! One of the extraordinary ministers attempts to do the right thing by wearing a veil, but it doesn’t quite do the job when paired with a tank top shirt. If you are going to make the effort to get to Mass, get dressed for Mass. And then stay until the recessional is over please, 90% of our congregation is gone by the time the last note is sung.

  33. Jim R says:

    @Denis Crnkovic
    DeNiro’s Latin is good, but the comment reminded me of Cardinal Cushing’s foghorn-like voice which can be heard at President Kennedy’s Low Mass Funeral:

    Of course His Eminence spoke English in the same manner….

  34. VexillaRegis says:

    Katherine Collins: “One of the extraordinary ministers attempts to do the right thing by wearing a veil, but it doesn’t quite do the job when paired with a tank top shirt.” Hilarious and sad at the same time. Yesterday I saw a girl in her late teens in the communion line dressed in a tank top and SHORT shorts. Sigh. Someone said that we should be grateful that she at least had some clothes on.

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