Q&A: Is there a proper way to dress for Mass?

By Fr. Kenneth Doyle | Catholic News Service

Q. I attend a small parish in a small town. I moved here recently and am surprised at the low-cut tops, short shorts and short skirts worn by women at Mass. Isn’t there some kind of dress code? —Iowa

A. On the topic of proper dress for Mass, there are probably as many different opinions as there are readers of this column. I am not aware of any universal Church rule as to what constitutes appropriate dress. The closest reference I can find is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1387, which says, in reference to the reception of the Eucharist, “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” Later on, in discussing the virtue of purity, the catechism notes in No. 2522 that “modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing.”

Opinions on the issue can be divided, basically, into two camps. First, there are those who note that going to Mass is different from going to the mall. If we were invited to meet the president at a dinner at the White House, says this opinion, we would certainly wear our nicest clothes and so we should “dress up” in the same way when we go to meet Jesus in the Eucharist.

In the other camp are those who are reluctant to do anything that might discourage people from coming to church and who feel that clothing for Mass can be casual and comfortable, as long as it is decent.
I lean toward the second view and feel, for example, that in the summer, men who come to Mass in collared golf shirts and Bermuda shorts are presentable (although I would certainly ask more formality from those serving as lectors or extraordinary minister of holy Communion).

Judgments on acceptable attire are probably best left to parishes, because standards vary from culture to culture and from place to place. Often parishes mention some general guidelines in their bulletins or on their websites.

One website I’ve seen, in what is perhaps an overabundance of detail, lists among the types of dress that are “never acceptable” for women in church: “any clothing that bares midriffs or cleavage,” “tight clothing meant to accentuate — to draw attention to — various body parts that God considers, and that we ought to consider, sacred” and “short shorts — above the knee — or miniskirts.”
That same parish cautions men against wearing “shorts (yes, even in summer months)” and tank tops. The Vatican insists that tourists visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome adhere to a certain dress code, which is explained at the entrances by pictorial signs, and men or women with shorts or bare shoulders (e.g., wearing tank tops) are routinely turned away.

Q. I am aware of a dying man in a city not far from me. A devout Catholic, he is on his deathbed and wishes to receive holy Communion under both species. The priest in his parish has apparently determined that Communion may not be brought to him in the form of wine, and the priest notes that the host alone suffices in order to receive Christ completely. I know that this is theologically true, but I’m not sure that the dying man is able to understand it and he dearly wants to receive the Eucharist under both forms. Isn’t there a way to consecrate wine at Mass and have a priest or lay minister bring it to the man? —Eldon, Mo.

A. Ordinarily, only the host is given in Communion to the sick and the homebound because of the danger of spilling the precious blood. However, Church guidelines do allow an exception in a case where, as sometimes happens near death, the person is unable to consume even a small piece of the host.

The situation that you present, where the dying person is unable to understand that the host alone suffices, would seem to me to warrant a similar exception. (It might be helpful, here and elsewhere, to ask oneself, “What would Jesus do?”)

Here is what I would do. Like many priests, I have a compact Mass kit that I use when traveling. In that kit are two small glass vials, with secure caps, for transporting the water and the wine. I would put an ounce or two of wine into that vial and consecrate it at Mass at the same time I was consecrating the wine in the chalice. Later I would bring that vial along with the host (or have an extraordinary minister of holy Communion do so) so that the dying man could receive under both species.


Fr. Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Questions may be sent to him at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.