Dress for the Occasion

I was visiting with my in-laws in North East, PA and went to their parish for the Epiphany (Anybody know why it was moved back from the 6th?). I noticed something there that I’ve noticed at other parishes, and it drives me nuts. Those familiar with the Diocese of Erie (home of Bishop TrautFishmanperson) are probably thinking of the usual laundry list of liturgical abuses, such as improper vessels. That abuse, among many mentioned in Redemptionis Sacramentum, is a concern with the "trappings" of the mass if you will. What irks me is the slovenly attire worn by those attending mass, in particular those serving at the altar.

How can people serve at the altar in the Divine Presence wearing blue jeans and sneakers? How can parents allow their children to dress so poorly for such a high office? More importantly, I wonder how priests can allow children to serve like that? I’ve even seen it at weddings!

I’ve heard arguments about God wanting us to "come as we are" and that it’s good that parents bring their children to church at all. Granted, it is better to be there than to not be there, and some people cannot afford fancy "Sunday go to meetin’" clothes, but I’m certain these suburban folks, working class though they are, would dress themselves and their children better if the Mayor, the President, Dad’s or Mom’s boss, or the Pope came to dinner. Why can’t they dress appropriately for the King of Kings as we celebrate the Paschal Meal?

I’ve also heard that priests couldn’t just turn kids away for dressing thusly. Why not? Servers are not mandatory. Serving is a privilege, not a right. Poorly dressed, poorly trained, and sometimes poorly behaved children should not be permitted to serve at mass. They set a bad example for the rest of the congregation and are poisonous to the catechizing aspects of the liturgy. I am reminded of Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, "If you don’t behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave." The Church was more explicit about this 500 years ago.

"It is fitting that He Whose abode has been established in peace should be worshipped in peace and with due reverence. Churches, then, should be entered humbly and devoutly; behaviour inside should be calm, pleasing to God, bringing peace to the beholders, a source not only of instruction but of mental refreshment. Those who assemble in church should extol with an act of special reverence that Name which is above every Name, than which no other under Heaven has been given to people, in which believers must be saved, the Name, that is, of Jesus Christ, Who will save His people from their sins. Each should fulfil in himself that which is written for all, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious Name is recalled, especially during the sacred Mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head. In churches the sacred solemnities should possess the whole heart and mind; the whole attention should be given to prayer." – Second Council of Lyons, A.D. 1274

As a kid growing up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, I saw a decline in the decorum and dignity of the office of acolyte. Venturing beyond the orthodox confines of the Pittsburgh Oratory and Saint Paul Cathedral, I am seeing the same sad trend in the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics: Is this, or has it been, a problem in your parish? Was it or will it be rectified? What did/will you do? Protestants: Is this a problem at your church or friends’ churches? Is this a widespread problem or seem to be limited to certain denominations or sects?

Here’s an interesting site about liturgical ettiquette.