Is there still a place for Sunday best?

Orla MacIntosh-Graham suggests dressing up for church is not required.

Going to church is important. Growing up there were two lessons I was taught about this: first, that the Lord’s Day rightfully occupies a privileged place in the week, and second, that my reverence for the Lord is shown in my outward dress. The first stayed with me, the second has not.

The variety in what different people consider Sunday best was made very clear to me when I recently moved parish.

My home parish is one of conservative and traditional Catholics in the Highlands. We dress well for Mass; it certainly is more formal than what I have seen of parishes in the central belt.

But having landed in London, where you can meet every nationality at Sunday Mass, it quickly became clear that we Scots are scruffy. Along with the Irish, we are the least put-together members of the congregation.

Occasionally I attend the Latin Mass at Brompton Oratory. It’s the most traditional Mass there is.

The people attending that Mass make me feel like I am a lower level of Catholic; they make me feel painfully Scottish.

This is what I don’t like about the ‘dress judgment’ some people embody on Sundays. Piety can’t be tied to how one dresses. It certainly should not divide the Faithful. For me, it is the heart that matters.

Suppose I am going to be kneeling for half an hour before Mass, sitting in a pew for another 60 minutes early on a Sunday morning. In that case, I want to be able to focus on our Lord and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, not be worried about what I am wearing.

At home, I have seen people show up in sports uniforms if they have had to. They didn’t miss Mass for a game. They did both.

Maybe they didn’t want to be wearing a football or shinty kit, but they had a match. They put Him first but didn’t put off the fun.

They still gave to God what is God’s. I think that is a solid lesson all around. They didn’t care what anyone thought and didn’t skip just because of that. They were there even in shorts and jerseys. They are there and that’s what matters.

Doesn’t the same apply to families with young children? Yes, it is good to make sure people know that Sunday is special and should be treated as such, but if you are rushing to get out of the house with three children under five – do you really think God cares whether the father has a suit and tie on or not?

Surely it is far more important that the family get to church at all. In the same way that you can find me sitting on the floor in my university’s chapel for three hours in a hoodie during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I will happily wear something deemed ‘unsuitable’ by an older generation to Sunday Mass.

The Bible doesn’t talk about having to wear a certain attire to be heard by God. It makes no reference to how people dress for their prayers to be listened to. A sinner is not recognised by what they wear.

Open almost any page of the Gospels – how did people approach Jesus? Some fell, face to the ground; the crowds rushed to His side; the rich young ruler whose daughter had died knelt before Him. They approached Him with reverence.

If your best happens to be an old pair of jeans and a checked shirt, that’s fine; if it is a silk dress, that’s fine too. It’s about being respectful of the event taking place. Christ will meet you where you are. He’ll take you as you are but that doesn’t mean He isn’t shown respect.

But it doesn’t matter how dressed up you are, there will al- ways be someone who looks more put together than you.

Holy Mass is a spectacular miracle, and those who partake in the divine supper are incredibly blessed. We should be able to be present at the Lord’s table without judgement from others.

Holy Mass is a spectacular miracle, and those who partake in the divine supper are incredibly blessed. We should be able to be present at the Lord’s table without judgement from others.

Scripture emphasises the significance of how we dress our hearts. We must let go of the things we once worshipped in order to put on the garments of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12). If we put this first, we will be able to decide what to wear to church in a humble manner.

As creatures of body and soul, our prayers are expressed not only by our minds, hearts, and voices but also by our bodies. So why have that body in discomfort, or even worse, in earthly judgement?

According to 17th century theologian Thomas Fuller, ‘many come to bring their clothes to church rather than them- selves.’ This feels close to home for me as I hide at the back of the chapel playing ‘spot the Scot’.

Fuller warned against idolising status by dressing up. Historically, people were concerned with simply maintaining a good appearance at church.

Those who did not, or were unable to, dress in the same manner would be judged. But it is the 21st century, and I think it is time that people stopped caring so much.

Orla MacIntosh-Graham is a theology student at St Mary’s University in London.

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