Church Attire

Dear Grace,
Styles of dressing for women are increasingly outrageous, but when immodest and provocative fashions appear in church, at Mass, it is really bad. I have at times been seated close to a woman wearing such clothes. This is an occasion of sin for me. I have to close my eyes or look down.

It is bad enough to have to pass by some of the billboards on the way to work. I wonder if a woman who dresses in provocative attire understands male sexual urges, which are part of our God-given makeup. Nobody seems willing to say anything about this problem. Am I just old-fashioned?

There is no doubt that, after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the styles in both men and women’s clothing have changed dramatically. This seems to be especially so in women’s styles, as we see the manner of dress becoming more and more revealing and provocative. My opinion is that you are not at all old-fashioned for expressing a legitimate concern that I would venture to guess is in the minds of many. And, after all, as Christians we are one Body in Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. It is always our duty and obligation to do all we can in helping each other in our journey towards heaven.

It is quite possible that some women today may overlook, ignore, or deny the fact that the revealing or provocative way they sometimes dress — which they believe to be harmless or innocent — can indeed affect men in a very powerful way. They may fail to recognize that it takes very little to ignite the masculine sexual drive and that, once aroused, it is extremely difficult for a man to resist. In general terms, women are quite different in this. Whereas a woman is driven more by love and displays of affection, a man is more physical by nature. And women need to be mindful of this. In fairness to women, however, I must say that some have related to me that, when growing up, they were actually trained or taught by family, friends, or society in general that dressing sexy was the way to catch a man. The focus was on how they dressed, as if that was the best way to be attractive to a man. Consequently, many have grown up thinking that this was what was expected of them.

Thus, we see today, also, how easy it might be for some women to say, “Well, that’s not my problem if a man looks at me that way. This is simply the style in which I like to dress. Let him close his eyes if he can’t control himself.” The reality is that they are both responsible for the way in which they regard their bodies, and they should help each other. A major part of the problem, it seems to me, is the attitude we have towards the human body, and even sex, for that matter. The human body is a beautiful and noble gift from God, but the enjoyment of sexual pleasure derived from the body, whether in thought or deed, is meant only for and in the covenant of marriage, as intended by the Creator. To do otherwise is a misuse of the body and, therefore, sinful when done with full knowledge and free will.

Scripture tells us that God created man and woman in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). God is love; therefore, we were made by love and for love. Grounded in this fundamental truth, Pope John Paul II teaches the following: “As an incarnate spirit — a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit — man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love” (Familiaris Consortio, 11). So, we see that God created the human body for a specific purpose.

In order to fulfill that divine purpose for the body, the Christian is called to be chaste in every aspect of his or her life. In other words, we are called to control our passions and sexual desires rather than be controlled by them. Chastity is the virtue that enables a man or woman to view each other not as a sexual object for the purpose of satisfying one’s physical desires or lustful thoughts, but as “persons” made in the image and likeness of God. And modesty in the way we dress is but one way in which we are to practice chastity, for we know from experience that the way we dress can indeed have an impact on moral behavior.

Whether or not a woman, or a man for that matter, intends to arouse sexual thoughts or pleasure by their manner of dressing is not necessarily the only factor to consider. Just because we do not have bad intentions does not mean that our actions are morally good. Church is definitely not a place that requires the revealing of the parts of the body that might arouse temptation of the sexual urge. Our minds and hearts should be focused on God alone. Love should motivate us to do nothing that would lead anyone away from his or her attention on Him.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

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