July 15, 2018

Attire for Church and for the honor and glory of God

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli *
Man in suit / Credit: Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash
Man in suit / Credit: Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

Researchers claim that an average person needs less than 30 seconds to appraise someone at a first encounter. Even before the individual speaks, there is non-verbal communication. Body language such as crossed arms, dilated pupils, and forced smiles send a message. So does one’s clothing.

In a day that places a high premium on communication and where even one’s appearance is crafted to evoke a certain response, clothes have become extremely meaningful. Gone are the days when the wealthy dressed to flaunt their riches and the less fortunate wore their work clothes as a badge of honest labor.

The choices of clothing tell others something about ourselves. Clothes can communicate our occupation. In a hospital, their uniforms set the nurses apart from the cleaning staff; on a city street, blue uniforms identify our police force. Some today use clothing to signify their choice of gender.

The very colors we choose for our clothing also have meaning. Black signifies formality and elegance as well as authority. Red communicates energy, passion, speed and strength. Green, youth and vigor; white, innocence and cleanliness. Yellow and orange shout out joy, optimism and hope.

Clothes also mark the occasions. Picnic-goers dress down. Prom-goers dress up. A bride usually wears a white dress; a groom, a tuxedo. Beach-goers wear shorts and T-shirts. Graduates, cap and gown. Pallbearers at funerals dress in somber tones; and, clowns in circuses dress in bright colors. T-shirts, jeans and shorts all have their place and proper setting. And, our choice of them on a particular day or occasion tells people something about us.

Generally speaking, since the 1960s, we Americans have become more and more casual in our dress code. While the pilot and co-pilot along with the flight attendants still appear in neat and clean uniforms, no one else dresses up anymore to board an airplane. College students dress casually for class. And, business people heartily embrace casual Fridays. We are at a time where comfort and practicality matter in dress as well as the ability to express one’s own individuality.

Informal, casual attire has almost become de rigeur for the average American. Even church-goers no longer feel the need to put on their Sunday best. All except one group of church-goers. Many African Americans who go to church on Sunday distinguish themselves by dressing up for the occasion. Their long tradition of honoring the Lord with the way in which they appear before him to worship has not collapsed in the face of tidal waves of casual dress. Perhaps, there is a needed lesson in their example!

Beachwear, flip-flops, tank-tops (and the list could continue) are simply not proper attire to come into the presence of the Lord. No one would appear before the Queen of England unless attired properly. How much more before the Lord of heaven and earth. Perhaps, here is where the real challenge is. Have we been losing our sense of the transcendence of God? While many no longer believe in God, have some church-goers forgotten who God truly is? Have we become more focused on ourselves, our comfort, than our God and the respect due to him when we enter his presence to worship him?

When coming to church, we should remember that “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Thus, our first concern is always that we come before the Lord “with clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4). And, if we have sinned, then with contrition and the purpose of amendment.

Nonetheless, we cannot forget that our clothes are important. They send out clear messages about us to others and to the other. It is near impossible to dictate proper attire for church. Yet, it can be said with clarity and certainty that the clothes we wear to church should not draw attention to us. Our clothes should always be modest and clean, expressing our respect for the honor and glory of God. God deserves our best!

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.