Long-standing rules on modest dress, previously applicable to St. Peter’s Basilica, were recently extended throughout Vatican City. For reasons of respect Swiss Guard officers have started banning members of the public from entering the city who wear “inappropriate” clothing. This is no doubt due to a flouting of the dress-code – a result of the sexual revolution which began in earnest back in the 1960’s.
The Blessed Virgin warned Jacinta of Fatima as early as 1920 that “Certain fashions will be introduced which will offend Our Divine Lord very much”. She warned that “Those who serve God ought not to follow these fashions”.
In regard to proper attire the Holy Bible tells us that women should “be decently dressed, adorning themselves with modesty and dignity, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but with good works, such as become women professing Godliness” (1 Tim. 2:9-10). The Old Testament also states: “A woman shall not be clothed with man’s apparel, neither shall a man use woman’s apparel; for he that does such things is an abomination to the Lord, your God ” (Deut.22:5). Though this rule may seem absurd and outdated today our trifling with it may have been one of the many factors that led to gender-role confusion and ultimately to the wide acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in our Western culture.
The Vatican insists that both men and women refrain from wearing any kind of revealing apparel in church – not only because it is offensive to Our Lord but because it invites others to engage in various sins of both the flesh and the heart: “anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts” (Matt. 5:28).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 2521) tell us that “Modesty… means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.”
Modesty in dress, while important to the laity, also pertains to our clergy and those in religious life. Since Vatican II, many of our priests and nuns stopped wearing their religious collars and habits. This was due largely to a false sense of reform as well as to a conscious desire on the part of some to obscure the legitimate distinctions between the priest and the laity.
Partly as a result of these changes priestly vocations have dropped noticeably and vocations to the religious life – especially in Quebec – have become almost extinct. This, in turn, has caused many of our Catholic schools – which were previously run by priests and nuns – to all but lose their catholic identity.
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life – wherein one devotes one’s entire life to the faith – are not like other vocations. As such they should not be hidden through recourse to the use of secular clothing: “People do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house”(Matt: 5-15). This passage of course refers to the spreading of faith through our holy actions. Nonetheless, ecclesiastical attire is a also a visible witness of Christian vitality of the highest value and therefore must be safeguarded.
Actress Meryl Streep once said that when she put on her nun’s habit to film the movie “Doubt” she felt clothed in God and was convinced that real nuns who wear the habit must also share the same incredible feeling that every moment of their day is being dedicated to God. It is also said that actor Alec Guinness’ conversion to Catholicism began when he first put on a collar to play a priest (Chesterton’s Father Brown) in the movie “The Detective”. One evening Guinness, still dressed as a priest, was on his way back to his lodgings when a little boy, mistaking him for the real thing, grabbed his hand and trustingly accompanied him. That incident affected Guinness deeply and made him reflect on the merits of a “Church that could inspire such confidence in a child”.
Amid the growing popularity of secularism and atheism we are all – both priests and laity – allowing ourselves to be stripped of many of our most venerable traditions. In following the latest futile fads we are abandoning God. Hence, we should take the wise advise of St. Anselm, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church who said: “If you want to be certain of being in the number of the Elect, strive to be one of the few, not one of the many… that is to say: do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or night, so that they may attain everlasting blessedness.”