ASK FATHER: Dressing for weekday Masses

From a reader…

For Sundays and holy days, I always wear suit and tie (Sunday best!). One priest made a rule that all the guys at church had to wear a tie, so I followed.

Aside from dressing immodestly, does it matter what types of clothes we wear to weekday mass? Is Sunday best still recommended?

The Mass is the Mass is the Mass is the Mass. At each Holy Mass, Our Lord is presented and offered to the Father.  Reason suggests, and faith confirms, and love prompts that we be on our best behavior at every offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Of course, some of you are already objecting,

“But Father! But Father! Isn’t it enough that I show up for Mass?  God should be happy that I’m there at all, right?  I mean, I’m busy!  You are just trying to make people feel guilty and out of place if they don’t have special clothes on. I mean, Jesus accepts and welcome EVERYBODY, just as we are!  Pope Francis says I can wear anything! You really do hate Vatican II, don’t you?”

If it’s a matter of having only a torn paper sack to wear and not attending Mass, by all means, wear the paper sack and come to worship the Lord.  After all, in many parishes, the servers and sacred ministers look like they wear little better than that.  And, folks, if you see someone wearing a torn paper sack, please give her a lift to the nearest St. Vincent de Paul store, at the least, and then help buy other cloths as well.  Works of mercy and all.

DO NOT criticize or gossip about what others are wearing (there may be situations or circumstances that explain the torn jeans and dirty t-shirt). Worry about you wear!   Of course if you are responsible for little people, do your duty.

That said, Mass is special. Wear special clothes.

Every Mass is special.  But isn’t it the case that Sundays and Holy Days are, as it were, specialer?  Sunday is the Lord’s Day.  It should be distinguished and distinctive.

On Sundays and Holy Days, were are obliged not only to attend Holy Mass, but also to abstain from undue labor and to recreate ourselves appropriately in relaxation and prayer. It makes sense on these days to spend extra time on our appearance and wear our “Sunday best.”

Other days, when we do not have a strict obligation to attend Mass (but are mindful of how salubrious it is to do so when we have the opportunity), we have to consider other obligations. A workman who shows up to daily Mass before his shift begins in his work clothes still honors the Lord. A nurse who wears her uniform and sensible shoes after her shift prays effectively. A Vegas showgirl who … well… She should ditch the feathered headdress in the car and put a sweater on, at least.

Wearing casual clothes, especially to daily Mass, is not sinful, nor even necessarily slothful, as long as one’s appearance is clean, respectable, and modest. Keep the Sunday best clean for Sundays, but – unless it truly is all you have – leave the ripped jeans, short skirts, concert t-shirts, and flip-flops for the mall or pool side.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    What would you wear at the Last Supper, at the foot of the Cross, and at the Ressurection?

    At least the person takes it for granted that they should dress modestly. Though I have often realized how many people have a poor sense of what is modest. There are so many women in tight pants, or tights instead of pants.

  2. Mike says:

    A complementary consideration: If you dress sloppily to hear Mass on your way to work, what does that say about how you regard the work and workmates that Providence has given you?

  3. Joseph-Mary says:

    I wear a skirt even to daily Mass. Very often the only female wearing one; I should say usually the only one. But I am in the presence of the King of kings and the Lord of lords and so must dress to be in that Presence for the holy Mass. I can change into more casual clothes, if need be, when I get home. Also I wore skirts to work and so the Mass attire carried me through the day.
    Oh, yes, I know the argument that “God loves me as I am” and “God does not care what I wear as long as I come”. But how would Our Lady dress? That is the yardstick for me.

  4. APX says:

    Thank you for reminding people to worry about their own wear and not other people’s. As someone whose clothing, for the most part is mended and relented, and then reminded some more, and have had people from our Latin Mass community comment to me about it (I can’t afford new clothes, or even used clothing) I appreciate someone pointing this out to people.

  5. Ave Crux says:

    I agree. My family and I attend daily Mass.

    Whereas on Sunday the men wear jackets and ties, maybe even a full suit, on weekdays the jacket/suit is replaced with a nice sweater and slacks, the shirt is a nice collared shirt (no T shirt) without the tie. It’s what’s known as “business casual”.

    Business casual is required where I work; why shouldn’t the same respect be given to Our Lord in the Mass as is required towards one another in a professionel working environment? Why should God get anything less than a corporation?

    It not only shows befitting respect toward God, it also elevates our own attitude toward the Mass and our reverence while participating in it.

    Furthermore, I once read an article about an inner-city school that changed from street clothes to uniforms as required clothing for the students.

    It resulted in a marked improvement not only in behavior but in participation in class and greater success in the learning experience.

    What we wear does affect our inner perspective and our attitude…how much more so our reverence at worship?

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “One priest made a rule that all the guys at church had to wear a tie …” I am sorry, I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, but such a rule is utterly beyond the authority of a pastor to impose on persons attending Mass.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you SO much for this post. I am sick of seeing blue jeans at Mass, even when those people go home and can change afterwards.

    Decorum is missing among Catholics in general. We had special clothes for every occasion, not just Mass, which was the best occasion, of course. We also had clothes set aside for Sunday, which I still do. Brought up in an era when ladies dressed differently before and after five o’clock, I can remember such lovely habits of civilization. And, my mom changed before my dad got home, when she could, even with babies.

    Catholic culture created appropriateness in dress for both men and women. I was raised to wear hats to Church pre Novus Ordo, as the vast majority of women wore hats daily to Mass and not chapel veils, which were for school girls and not mantillas, which were worn only in those days by those of Spanish descent.

    I still wear hats on Sunday and daily Mass, when I can attend, which, sadly, I have not been able to do for five months or so.

  8. ncstevem says:

    The argument that it’s unimportant what one wears to Mass, I always thought was another example of the attempt to remove reverence and down play what is really happening at Mass.

    For those who think dress for Mass is unimportant, I’d like to ask if they’d be OK if those attending their wedding (or their daughter’s wedding) wore shorts and flip-flops.

  9. Clinton R. says:

    I do often notice how shabby people dress to attend Holy Mass. I am not sure at what point in time it became acceptable to dress in beach attire in the Lord’s Presence. I am guilty however, of being judgmental in my heart of seeing people dress this way. It just hurts knowing that generations ago, the faithful attended Mass wearing suits and dresses and being in a state of deep reverence. It is not just the young I see dressing inappropriately. Folks in the 60’s and 70’s too are often dressed down, in shorts and t-shirts and wearing sports apparel featuring team logos. I do admire those, both young and old who do wear their Sunday finest, who do present to the Lord the best they have. We should ever be mindful of whose Presence we are in; and speak, dress, act and pray accordingly.

  10. Rellis says:

    Simple solution for men: suit and tie on Sunday; jacket and tie on weekdays.

    Bring back nice!

  11. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Matthew 22:1-14

  12. lmgilbert says:

    Here in Portland I think we are to be congratulated. In this most casual of cities to date I have seen no one come to church in his pajamas.

  13. de_cupertino says:

    I just realized I’ve been dressing nicer for work since I started going to daily Mass…

  14. Matt R says:

    The problem is what constitutes modest. I go to Mass after classes. I wear shorts and a tee shirt. I consider that casual (and I admit, I don’t like it much…). Most men tend to fall into this category. What bothers me more with men is the current trend to be casual with styles that are not so casual, such as wearing shirts that aren’t meant to be tucked in with dress trousers and dress shoes. It seems preferable to wear jeans and a flannel shirt to Mass, even on Sundays.

    Women’s clothes are more difficult. I get that finding modest clothing is a challenge. But, women more often than not tend to wear skirts and dresses which are immodest, even if they don’t intend to do anything wrong (perhaps I as an observer notice it because oftentimes it is aesthetically displeasing as well).

    Unless someone asks me, I wouldn’t say anything. But I offer these principles, since dressing appropriately is an act of charity to neighbours and yourself.

  15. Healingrose1202 says:

    This has been a topic of “discussion” in my household between my kids and I. First and foremost, I choose to lead by example. I always make some effort by taking care of myself through appearances, because it an attempt to reflect an inner confidence and care for the vessel that God has given me. Recently, I have choosen to start showing more reverence for the Eucharist by wearing a veil in the presence of the Holy Eucharist. Since starting to wear a veil, I have also started receiving Eucharist by kneeling and no longer in my hands. It started with responding to God’s call for me to show modesty and reverence through veiling, but the result was a blessing of God’s grace that goes beyond words. After choosing to follow the call of humility, modesty, and reverence through my outer appearance and acts, I now could not imagine doing anything less for fear of showing even the slightest bit of disrespect to Jesus and His sacrifice. That being said, I choose to pick my battles related to my 12 year old son’s choice of clothing. He is at a different point of his faith journey. I think it is better to attend Mass than worry about what other people wear. Our focus should be on God, not those standing beside us. That is part of why I like wearing a veil, it helps keep my focus where it should be. Whether you wear a suit or a veil, it is our intentions behind it that count. If we wear a suit for selfish reasons, then how is it any better than someone intentionally wearing pajamas just out of spite? I don’t need to worry about what someone else wears, I will let God worry about it. No need to look for a speck in someone else’s eye when there is a plank in my own.

  16. Nicholas says:

    I once saw a woman wearing a mantilla and her Army uniform at Mass. It struck me.

  17. Sword40 says:

    Last week I was at a Mass where 4 of my grand children received confirmation. Almost everyone was dressed in nice cloths. The only problem was the gross immodesty of many of the women. I spent most of the hour and a half looking at the ceiling of the church.

  18. JimP says:

    I wear a coat and tie to Sunday Mass. In CA, even in my parish, which is quite orthodox, that is unusual. When I have the opportunity to attend Mass during the week, I wear what I dressed in for work, which is “business casual”. Here, that covers everything from jeans and a polo shirt to trousers and a dress shirt. If I think I will have the opportunity to attend Mass while I am getting ready for work, I will dress a bit better than I otherwise would. I have struggled with the idea that I should dress for the occasion, but there is also the idea that one should not dress so as to call attention to oneself. When I am dressed for work during the week, I do blend in more with others assisting at the weekday mass.

  19. Jack007 says:

    “One priest made a rule that all the guys at church had to wear a tie …” I am sorry, I appreciate the sentiment, I really do, but such a rule is utterly beyond the authority of a pastor to impose on persons attending Mass.

    Thank you, Dr. Peters. I wanted to comment immediately, but couldn’t figure out a way to word it diplomatically. As usual, you came through as only you can.
    I am aware of such “rules” posted in some schismatic chapels. Perhaps its another symptom of no clear authority higher than the pulpit?
    Jack in KC

  20. APX says:

    Did anyone who replied to this post even bother reading it? It clearly said to worry about your own clothes and not the clothing of others, as there may be circumstances you’re not aware of. When I went to school, we we’re taught things like reading comprehension.

    Not everyone goes to work where business attire is worn, and not everyone has time to change their attire. Not everyone can wear ties and close collared shirts because it makes them feel as though they’re suffocating or choking. Some people can’t afford to clothe themselves to the preferences of others.

    Unless you’re prepared to pay for someone’s new clothes, you really can’t complain about what others are wearing to Mass. Furthermore, who are you to judge what’s in their heart with regards to their respect for the Mass and Jesus?

  21. Ellen says:

    I almost always wear jeans to Mass when I go during the day. I might add, that they are not ripped, tight or dirty. I would not dream of wearing shorts to Mass, but jeans are almost my uniform so I make sure they are neat and clean.

  22. jlduskey says:

    One rule I wish everyone would obey is that they should not wear clothing with some kind of commercial advertisement to Mass. Displaying a commercial message, it can be very distracting to others at Mass. If someone wears a jacket to Mass with the name “Joe’s Plumbing” on the back, then another person at Mass will see the message and remember the last time he had Joe’s Plumbing fix something at his house–where he may or may not have been satisfied with the work.
    This same restriction also pertains to sports teams. Other people at Mass may or may not be fans of the team, and, in any case, a reminder of the team and whether they recently won or lost a game can be distracting.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    “What would you wear at the Last Supper, at the foot of the Cross, and at the Ressurection?”

    Hope at the Last Supper, Faith at the Cross, and Love at the Resurrection..

    The Chicken

  24. JimP says:

    I should have added to my previous post that if I plan to meet our Lord I will dress for the occasion, but I do not want to miss the opportunity to meet Him because I did not dress up.

  25. Pingback: TUESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  26. Father K says:

    Quite right, Dr Peters, this priest is acting ultra vires. Do his parishioners have to wear anything else. or just a tie?

  27. Imrahil says:

    Confusion alert: when I hear “immodest”, well, I’m not a native English speaker, but I was told that this means “sinful”, as in “incompatible with 6th and 9th commandment”, as in “wrong in any place whatsoever, except maybe the sauna and a swimming pool”. I would think it strange if, as some imply here, practically all the women (even in today’s time) do wear that kind of clothing.

    There is such a thing like “indecent (in Church)” as in “not fitting to wear for Church”… you would, say, make sure that your shoulders are at least covered with a shawl (unless you are a bride)… but should that be termed with the same word?


    As for me, I never got into the habit of wearing a suit (that is so-called “informal attire” – we don’t, as a rule, wear tuxedos, not at all and not even for weddings, around here) for the Sunday Mass.

    Not that I would object to it, but it doesn’t feel natural – unless it’s a TLM on one of the more important first-class feasts. Right now I’m settling for a suit-without-tie for a Sunday TLM, and non-suit somewhat-festive casual clothes in an OF setting…

    Maybe the time will come when I find it natural to wear a tie at least for a Sunday TLM, when at least a couple of other people actually do. Give me time…

    That said, many object (it seems) to wearing a suit for Mass for, it seems, somewhat the same reason why blue-collar workers don’t (and no, they don’t) wear their blue overall on a Sunday Mass – because, for the white-collar workers, it is their workclothes. So, as a result, when they’ve got their free day, they casual themselves down – there may be something right with that sentiment, as well.

  28. un-ionized says:

    Wow, reading all these, I don’t know anything. I better hit Talbot’s right away.

  29. hwriggles4 says:

    I live in the South and there are many cowboys in the South. In parts of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee, it is normal for men to come to work (and sometimes to church) in jeans, boots, a checkered shirt, and a belt. This is especially true for those who work in construction oriented industries, or on farms.

    Here’s what I observe among the majority of the cowboys:

    Many are very polite, with a “yes ma’am”, “yes sir”, regardless of age
    Their attire is always well kept. When cowboys wear jeans, their jeans are decent jeans, kept new and without holes. Belts are always worn, and shirts are tucked in.
    I even know a few cowboys who admit that they iron their jeans, particularly if they are going to a special occasion, such as church.
    Boots are kept in good condition, and many have a pair that is kept for special occasions.
    Shirts always have collars.

    I even know a good young priest in the Austin Diocese who grew up as a cowboy, and oftentimes he wears boots with his clerics.

    If you go to Mass on a Sunday in a rural area of Texas, say some of the smaller towns around Austin or north or west of Fort Worth, and east of Dallas (i.e. Tyler diocese) this standard of dress is fairly normal. Same for parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas.

  30. hwriggles4 says:

    Every few weeks, I attend the Sunday bilingual Mass at my parish. Our parish has it every Sunday, but I usually will attend this Mass every few weeks (other times I go to one of the English Masses). One reason I like to attend is many years ago I was considering entering seminary, and I wanted to brush up on Espanol and learn oraciones en Espanol. Another thing I liked about the bilingual Mass is our former pastor (now a bishop) wanted to help unite the parish, and he wanted more local people to come to our parish.

    About attire – the choir many years ago made it a point to dress professionally. The men in the choir always wear black slacks, a black necktie, and a white shirt (jackets when it’s cold). The ladies in the choir always wear black skirts and white blouses that are professional looking and suitable for an office or church environment. Within a few weeks, the example set by the choir (who sings in the front) was noticed, and the congregation took note on what “proper attire” met for Mass.

    As for myself, I recall being embarrassed one time years ago walking into Mass at the Air Force Academy while I was on vacation, dressed in a golf shirt and jeans. Normally, for Sunday Mass, I will wear a long sleeved button down collared shirt, black shoes, and black or blue “Dockers”, but I do admit if I go to Sunday evening Mass, particularly in the summer, I will sometimes wear a golf shirt and jeans. When I do go to daily Mass (which is occasionally), I’m usually dressed for work.

  31. cl00bie says:

    “One priest made a rule that all the guys at church had to wear a tie”

    I would really need to fight the temptation not to wear jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers and a tie.

  32. Mary Jane says:

    Imrahil, why is it okay if a bride’s shoulders are uncovered?

  33. Imrahil says:

    Dear cloobie… nice thinking :-)

    In fact the somewhat only part of a dress-code that was (kind-of) inforced when I was a young altar server (at least for altar servers) was “no sneakers”. Of course we wore sandals because, other than with sneakers, noone ever said sandals were wrong… and it was often the only kind of summer shoe we had until fourteen or so, sneakers aside. – In any case that, as well, has been somewhat forgotten since.

    Dear Mary Jane, because going shoulder-free is not immodest (note: in the strict sense, that of being sinful), and the normal rules of Church decency (which are rather more dependent on custom and what Church attenders expect, and subject to change, than strict modesty would be) don’t (in my view) apply when we speak of the exceptional case of a bridal dress.

    That is, outside of regions where they happen to apply.

    (All I am saying is that where there’s a general dress-code, not with marriages in view, that says “shoulders must be covered”, I consider it rather strechted to infer, on that basis alone, that even bridal dresses must contain shoulder-cover.)

  34. Mary Jane says:

    Thank you Imrahil for replying. I had a bit of a hard time following your line of reasoning/thought. I just wanted to say that I believe going sleeveless can be sinful and, personally, I cannot think of a time when I have seen a sleeveless top/dress that was modest. I do not see why a bride should be held to a lesser standard than the rest of us. Her dignity is just as important as that of every other female guest at her wedding, wouldn’t you agree? The example that a modestly dressed bride sets is a powerful one indeed, especially to any young girls and ladies present.

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