Below is a revised version of something that I originally wrote some time ago to share with my kids about dressing up for Mass.
I think it is true that God wouldn’t want what we wear to be a barrier for us to go to church and that first and foremost He wants us at Mass no matter what we choose to wear. That said, I believe there are very good reasons to dress well and appropriately for Mass. Below are 5 reasons why I think it’s good to properly dress up for Mass and pleasing to God when we do so.
- God may not want what we’re wearing to keep us away from Mass, but some types of dress may cause others to keep their minds away God during Mass. For example, imagine a person at Mass wearing only a swim suit. Do you think this person would stand out? Do you think it’s possible that this person might distract the focus of some people during Mass, even if just briefly? (And maybe this person’s dress will even distract himself or herself by causing this person to wonder if he or she is being looked at by others.) How about a person whose clothes are covered from top to bottom in mud? Clearly, how we dress can affect others around us. And at church, dressing inappropriately or messily has the potential to draw people’s attention away from Mass and towards us instead. Conversely when we properly dress up, we are able to kind of blend in with our sacred surroundings inside the church and thus draw less attention to ourselves. It also adds a sense of reverence or importance to the Mass, which leads to reason number two for getting dressed up for church.
- Our dress often expresses how important something is to us. How do we often choose to dress on days like the 4th of July or St. Patrick’s Day? Why? It’s because we acknowledge with our dress that these holidays are not just ordinary days, but that they’re somehow different or important. On the other hand, we tend to care less about what we wear on days or for events that feel ordinary or not as special to us. So, dressing up for Mass is one way of saying that this next hour isn’t just some ordinary hour like any other hour during the week. Our dress can be a way of acknowledging or reminding us that this hour at Mass is important like no other time during the week. Jesus is going to be physically present, and we are going to be there and be able to receive Him. Maybe we should ask ourselves each Sunday: How, like wearing red, white, and blue for the 4th of July, can I dress up today to show that time at Mass is special?
- Dressing up is an easy way to witness the faith to others. If you see someone dressed up during a weekday, you might assume they’re going to work. If you see someone dressed up at night, you might assume they’re going to some formal event. But if you see someone dressed up on Sunday morning, and especially if you see a family dressed up on Sunday, I think many people would think that this person or family must being going to church or have been to church today. Dressing up for Mass is an easy way to let others outside of church know that your faith is important to you. And maybe that will be a spark that gets them to reconsider the importance of faith in their lives too.
- Dressing up is a way to give our best to God. This doesn’t mean it’s all about having to wear the fanciest or most expensive clothes but simply about wanting to do our best for God. Think about how someone who is homeless might take the time to wash his face and hands and comb his hair before coming to Mass in the only messy clothes he owns. Now compare this homeless person at church to us when we just roll out of bed, don’t bother to really comb or brush our hair, and throw on a some messy clothes before rushing out the door to Mass. We and this homeless person may be dressed similar (in messy clothes), but who made the better effort to give their best to God? Besides, if we merely go to Mass without any thought about how we are approaching God, we are only giving God our bare minimum. Just going to Mass once a week is at a minimum what He expects of us. If we also make an effort to dress up, we are not just doing the minimum. We have made an effort to give God more than just our expected attendance.Of course on some days, our best may be different than it is on other days. There may be a day where you actually do accidentally sleep too long and don’t have time to get ready like you normally would. Your best that day will probably look different than what is does most Sundays. Or, consider a construction worker who chooses to go to daily Mass over his lunch break. The best he will be able to dress for Mass is going to be his work clothes. Again, our best may differ from situation to situation, but on a typical Sunday, do you really want to face Jesus, truly and physically present in the Eucharist, and have to admit, “Yeah, I could have done better.” It doesn’t mean that we should worry about buying and owning the nicest things, but we should keep in mind whether or not we’re giving God the best we can right now.
Furthermore, think about how it feels to give or to get something beyond our expectations. Consider, for example, parents who asked their children only to pick up things off the floor of their room, but instead found that their kids also made their beds, organized their closets, cleaned under their beds, and vacuumed the floors. Any parents would be pleased if their children had just picked up things off the floor like they had been asked to because they did what was expected. But how much more pleased do you think parents feel when they see their children do even more than was expected? And how do you think children usually feel when they do more than was expected? They feel excited to show their parents all the good work they’ve done. They want their parents to see every clutter-free inch of their room. Similarly when we do more than is expected of us by dressing up nicely for Mass, I think we please God more and do something that positively influences how we feel about going to church.
(Another example for a child: Imagine you were allowed to play 30 minutes of video games every day, but one day, your mom tells you that you can play for an hour. How much more pleased would this make you feel, to get more than the minimum, to get more than you expected?)
Why else is it pleasing to God when we give him our best in the way we dress? Well, remember that everything we have is a gift from God that we should thank him for. And since we cannot create something new out of nothing like He can, we can only physically give back to Him from what he has already given us. For example, imagine that you bought a pizza for me, and as a way of showing my thanks, I wanted to share some of it with you. However, while dishing it up, I dropped some of the pieces on the floor and the topping on those pieces got all messed up and picked up dirt from the floor. Which slice would be a better sign of my thankfulness to you: a messy piece that I dropped or a clean piece that I didn’t drop? Which one would you be more pleased to receive? In some way I think this idea can be similarly applied when we choose what to wear to Mass. Which clothes better show our thankfulness to God for the clothes he has given us? Which decision do we think might please God more: to give back to him the clothes we played in or worked in the yard with or clothes for special occasions that are neat and clean? Dressing up for church is pleasing to God because it gives thanks to God not just by saying the words “Thank you” (which we should do too), but it also give thanks to God through our actions. It’s a choice that helps make the words “Thank you” come alive, and that leads us to reason number 5 for getting properly dressed up for Mass.
- Dressing up nicely for Mass can be a sacrifice we can offer to God. I once heard it said that the only things we can truly make and give to God that He didn’t already create are our choices: to trust Him, to obey Him, and to do things (like make sacrifices) for Him. Sometimes getting dressed can be kind of tough and we may not feel like doing it, but making the choice to do it anyway is a sacrifice we can offer to God. God gave us everything including sacrificing His life on the cross so that we may have the chance to live eternally with Him in Heaven. A small sacrifice, like making the effort to dress up properly for Mass, is one more opportunity to give something to God, just like he gave everything to us.
- Being able to give God our choices, to sacrifice something for him, is an idea that can also help explain why we might choose to do other things for God like fast, or kneel when we pray, not complain when we don’t get what we want, etc.
And really, all five of these reasons for getting dressed up properly for Mass can be applied to everything we do each day.
1. Is what we’re doing helping or distracting others from recognizing and following God?
2. Do we recognize the importance of the current day (a gift from God), and how are we showing that?
3. How can we witness God to others today?
4. Are we giving God our best today?
5. What choice or what sacrifice can we make for God today?
And here’s one other thought I had that I couldn’t decide where it fit, so I’m tacking it on here at the end.
- Of course initially most young kids won’t fully understand why it’s important to dress well for church beyond the fact that apparently their dad and mom must think it’s important, and that’s okay. It’s okay for kids to first dress up for church solely because they trust their parents and have faith in their parents, based on that trust, that it’s good to get dressed up for church. It’s okay because whenever we learn something, we first have to put our trust and faith in the source (the authority) we are learning from. Then understanding can and will be built on that trust and faith.