Un-dressed on the Altar

With the lazy, hazy days of summer upon us, I have been asked to address the topic of appropriate dress for church on Sunday. However, at the moment, I’d like to focus the attention on appropriate dress for lay people while serving on the altar in the capacity of lector, usher or Eucharistic Minister.

Last week I was addressing a group of professionals on the topic of “professional” dress and presentation. It dawned on me then, that we wouldn’t dream of griping about the heat and our comfort or lack thereof (among other things) when attending an interview or a business meeting. However, I guess church seems to be lumped in the category of “weekend” dressing and therefore we find it easier to bemoan the formality of dress that is expected. Besides, our livelihood is not connected to it; funny the role that little detail plays! In my opinion, serving on the altar is a privilege and when we are on the altar we become “presenters”. I doubt anyone would attempt a business presentation other than in business attire. So the need to modify the expectation for a presentation at church really baffles me. Further baffling is most priests’ reluctance to upset the apple-cart by addressing the topic.

Let’s evaluate some of the arguments against dressing in professional attire for church:

  • Affordability: I am hoping we don’t hear this complaint from someone who regularly spends almost $5 on a cup of Starbucks coffee. I have purchased high quality business jackets for less than I have paid for a pair of jeans. Organizations like “Dress for Success” or “Goodwill” also have professional attire available at no cost or an extremely subsidized rate.
  • The weather: If we’re really honest we’d acknowledge that walking around in our birthday suit would FEEL the most comfortable on a hot summer day; but handcuffs, in jail, for indecent exposure might negate that good feeling! So refraining from focusing on our FEELINGS for a bit might make it easier to be rational. I don’t think keeping a jacket on for about an hour in an air-conditioned facility, will kill anyone. Quit whining and deal with it – offer it up for some souls in purgatory if that makes it easier.
  • Formal dressing is a thing of the past: Says WHO? Has the priests’ attire changed? Is mass or service not still a formal gathering of believers assembled to worship the most high God? I believe we use this lame excuse because are just getting lazier and don’t want to make an effort to dress up. What a shame that signs like “No shirt, no shoes = no service” are necessary to remind us to stay clothed!

A couple of weeks ago I was alerted to a situation where a lector had a cut out in her dress, in the middle of her back, which was in clear view as she went up to lector and later to serve as Eucharistic Minister. Lector assignments are pre-scheduled so I’m wondering, was there nothing in the closet that was not cut out, that could be chosen for the privilege of proclaiming God’s word? In the corporate world, cutouts on clothes are prohibited even on “Casual Fridays”. Where is the sense of decorum and respect for the sacredness of the occasion – that being the mass?

Based on “professional” expectations, here are some guidelines on what to wear to serve at mass on Sunday or Saturday Vigil or on days of obligation:

  • Coat and Tie for men.
  • Trouser or skirt suits are optimum and most preferred; so are professional dresses (may be two-piece), dress trousers with appropriate dressy tops are acceptable for ladies.
  • Stockings for ladies if skirts are above the knee; socks for men (trust me; there IS a need to say this!).
  • Dress shoes (cleaned and polished) for all.

Guidelines regarding appropriateness:

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Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. She holds a BA in Fashion Design and a BA in French with a minor in Psychology and has worked in the Fashion Industry for over twenty years. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. Having lived in multiple countries, she is acutely aware of the emphasis cultures place on visual appeal. She analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. Her websites are: www.mpcimage.com and michaela-noel.com.

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