ASK FATHER: Dressing up for confession

From a reader…


A blessed Holy Week to you! I just had a question about proper attire for confession. We hear a lot about attire for Mass, rightly so, but I’m wondering if we should dress up for other sacraments, like confession? I understand that a lot of times people are in a rush when going to confession and may be coming from work, school, etc. Do you think it is wrong to wear jeans or casual clothing?

Is it wrong to go to confession in your … dungarees?  No.

Is it right to dress better to go to confession?  Yes.

If we were about to be baptized, confirmed, given 1st Communion, married, ordained, … let’s leave aside anointed … you would dress in a fitting way.

Sacraments are great mysteries.  They are encounters with Mystery itself.

What a great mystery it is that when we confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution from the alter Christus our sins are taken away, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. robtbrown says:

    Because weekly Confession at various parishes is often mid afternoon on Saturday, more than once after taking a break from the tennis court I have gone to Confession in sweaty shorts and a T shirt.

  2. Pastor in Valle says:

    A a priest hearing confessions, it is my (nearly) invariable custom to wear at least cassock and purple stole to hear confessions. Today (Holy Saturday), having been caught out by having to remove the Good Friday stuff from the Church and start preparing the hardware we really need for the Vigil before the flower ladies got there, and then having to take the altar servers’ rehearsal—finding myself still in scruffy jeans and hoodie (I really hadn’t intended to submit the servers to that!),—there was already a queue at the confessional when I had finished. So confessions were heard in dusty jeans and hoodie and purple stole. But that is the life of a priest. We are sometimes called to the Lord’s service when clearing drains. I’m not the sort of priest who believes that jeans are appropriate attire for the sacraments, but I was touched that people would know that I was not someone to turn them away on Holy Saturday.

  3. mschu528 says:

    While I agree with the sentiment, one should never avoid going to confession simply because they are not dressed properly — especially if it is mortal sin to be confessed. If it is “only” venial sin and you would rather wait until you are more sartorially prepared, that is one thing, but if mortal sin is involved, who cares what you are wearing. Go to confession and get it absolved as soon as possible because no one knows the hour nor the day.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    True story here. At the gym a guy walked up to me not only in the locker room, but in the anteroom (drying area) of the communal shower. He insisted … at that point and that state of dress … to hear his confession. To make this true story more surreal, this other guy? A priest… [Pretty strange, but hey! Clean inside, clean outside.]

  5. Chon says:

    Perhaps proper dress would be burlap and ashes.

  6. Chon says:

    Pastor in Valle, you sound like a sensible priest :-) We never know what our priest is wearing, and vice versa, because we are in a traditional confessional. (Ours is mostly a Novus Ordo parish). If I were a priest these days, I would refuse to hear confessions any other way, at least during the regularly scheduled hours. Our parish ends up hearing confessions for much of the city because confession hours are so truncated many other places, especially in the suburbs.

  7. St. Rafael says:

    It’s not dressing up for confession per se, but the walking into a holy sacred building, the parish church. Where Christ is, in the tabernacle. Where the vast majority of confessions are held, in the confessional, inside the church. It’s dressing up for church because you are going inside the church building. Not as formal as Sunday Mass with a tie, but not as casual as going grocery shopping either. For example, I will never wear shorts or tennis shoes inside a church, ever. Always wear pants. Jeans are too casual for church on any occasion, (unless one is heading to or from work) so I usually wear dressier pants like slacks and chinos or khakis.

  8. Laura R. says:

    My idea about dressing for Mass would also apply, I think, for confession: that one should do the very best one can under the circumstances. So, if I am on a normal schedule, I dress neatly and appropriately for Mass (Sunday or daily), but if, say, I had had to attend to a sick family member and could only and just barely make the last Sunday Mass, I would make myself as presentable as possible in the time still available and just get myself there. This would, I think, fit in with Pastor in Valle’s commendable activities and experience today.

  9. JuliaB says:

    When I am in public, I’m always dressed reasonably formally. Not in ball gowns or anything, but such that I could attend a wedding and not look out of place (I don’t wear jeans or trousers and tend towards a 1940s and 1950s aesthetic.) So it has never occurred to me that I might be dressed inappropriately for Confession.

    But anyway…how would the priest know how I’m dressed? He can’t even see my face. I heard that Padre Pio would refuse to hear the confessions of women who were wearing trousers (N.B. Do a fact-check on this — I could well be wrong.) But how did Padre know what they were wearing?

  10. vandalia says:

    The goal when dressing for Church is to disappear into the congregation. Or, to phrase it differently, if the priest can remember what you are wearing, then it was almost certainly inappropriate. If your dress draws attention to yourself by one extreme (e.g., formal “morning dress”) or another (“mini-skirt”) then there is a problem.

    When I try to picture the congregation for Palm Sunday, I can think of only about two people for whom I can picture their clothing. One was an infant who was wearing a University of Kentucky pajama type thing – I needled the parents about their poor choice in a university. The other was a woman who was wearing spandex, and even if there was a correct occasion for that type of clothing, she didn’t have the body for it. And that is probably the kindest thing I can say.

    When it comes to Church, dress to disappear.

  11. Ivan says:

    Well, JuliaB, Padre Pio is st. Padre Pio. That might clarify how he knew they were wearing jeans (if he did not actually see it). I did not fact check it, but I think you could be right about it, I read a book on him but I can’t be 100% sure.

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