Last summer, Roman Catholic bishop Thomas Tobin criticized the irreverent way in which people dressed and behaved at Mass, calling it ‘sloppy and even offensive’. He gave some quite specific examples:
Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.
Dressing up for church is indeed not always what it was in the 1950s. Before Victorian times, dressing up for most people meant simply appearing in the clean set of clothes rather than the one dirtied in manual labour. However important it is to dress respectfully, the Church must never become the place of the bourgeoisie, excluding the poor who cannot afford finer clothes.
But the Church should also be a clother of the poor. We see Jonathan divesting himself of his princely dignity to invest David with royal honour. We see St Martin cutting off a piece of his cloak to cover a beggar’s rags. We see Jesus Christ himself, the only-begotten Son of God, coming naked into this world to cover man’s sin and clothe him with righteousness and glory and honour. Shall we, seeing someone without decent clothes, not find him clothing fit for the purpose? If a poor man comes in, we should honour him; if a woman comes in with bare shoulders or with no covering for her head, we should give her what she needs.
Thus the Church can honour the worship of God with both a reverent outward appearance and care for persons of every station, neither capitulating to the cultural levelling common in postmodern life nor conforming to the oppression of the poor.