If I had any ability to draw I would have made a cartoon picture of Jesus on the cross. Standing in front of him would be a guy in shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops looking up at him. The caption would read, “I did this for you and that is the best you can do when you come to see me?”
I can hear the sighs and see the eye rolls already. I have it heard it before, “God doesn’t care what I wear to Church. He is just happy that I came.” The arrogance in that statement never fails to astound me. The Creator of everything that is, was, and ever will be is happy just because I could carve out forty-five minutes of my time to come see Him in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Of course, I sat there bored out of my gourd and annoyed because the homily went over five minutes. Why can’t the priest have some respect for my time? Doesn’t he know I have more important things to do today? I know I was ten minutes late and left right after communion but I put forth the effort. That’s all that matters, right?
C.S. Lewis said it best in the Screwtape Letters when he said what we do with our bodies we do with our souls. We do Catholic aerobics (sit, stand, kneel, bow, genuflect, cross ourselves) precisely for this reason. We show respect with our bodies so we can show respect with our spirits. Why do we come to Mass? Simply because God is deserves our worship. He is king of all creation and our salvation and redemption. Nothing or no one is more worthy or more deserving of our worship, love, and respect. If nothing or no one is more worthy then nothing or no one is more worthy of our best. God surely deserves better than a T-shirt, swim trunks, and flip-flops. We are going to be in the presence of the greatest King ever to rule the earth, not to a barbeque on the beach.
Likewise, when fall rolls around we will start to see our favorite football jerseys be worn in pride to Mass. Whom do we venerate when we wear our jerseys to church, Jesus or good ol’ #4 (Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, who is a god to many north of the cheddar curtain). Having pride in the home team has its place. That place is not the Mass. The Mass is time to love, adore, and worship the Lord alone.
And that is where I think the problem firmly falls. I think there is a general misunderstanding of what the Mass actually is. Many of our Catholic brethren have gone the Martin Luther route and see Mass as nothing more than a prayer service, an instruction of the faithful. Mass is no longer a sacrifice.
In reality, Mass is a time machine where heaven and earth come together as one and we are mystically transported back to the foot of the cross at Calvary to be with all the angels and every soul who has or will ever live to participate in the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. The priest acts as the conduit merging all of these plains of existence and times into a single act. The Mass is not the same sacrifice repeated. It is the one sacrifice that we are joined to each and every time we participate in it.
If you could stand before Jesus on the cross on the day he was sacrificed would you show up in a T-Shirts and shorts or a football jersey or would you choose to dress a bit better? Well, each and every time you participate in the Mass you are doing just that – you are standing before Jesus on the cross on the day he was crucified. Just because you cannot see the angels and saints surrounding you does not mean they are not there. Just like with faith you have to believe what eyes cannot see.
“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” - Exodus 3, 1-6.
When Moses came before the Lord the Lord made Moses remove his sandals because he was on Holy Ground. Likewise, when you come before the Lord in the Mass you are also on Holy Ground. It has been consecrated and set aside for the Lord. To come before the Lord without regard to the way you dress is disrespectful at the very least, most likely sinful at best, and probably idolatrous in the extreme. You shall have no other gods before me, even Brett Favre.
Ask yourself this question; if the clothing worn to Mass doesn’t matter how would you feel if the priest ditched his itchy Roman robes for shorts and sandals? How would you feel if he walked out to do a wedding in a Green Bay Packers football jersey? What if he showed up to baptize your baby in flannel and cowboy boots? Most would be downright furious if this happened to them. Sadly, some would only be upset because their pictures would be ruined but most would view this as a gross disrespect to their special day. Every day is a special day to the Lord.
Clothing is an extension of the soul. It is the visible representation of how important an event is to you. If the Bishop was going to be at Mass you wouldn’t wear your shorts and T-shirt. If the Pope was coming by you wouldn’t wear your Michael Jordan jersey. If you were going to meet the President of the United States you wouldn’t do so looking like a hobo. You would have respect for the office these men hold even if you had no respect for these men as men.
Yet all of these men fail to compare to He whom we come to worship during Mass. I get to hold the creator of everything in my hands during Mass. I get to enthrone my King, my Salvation and Redemption and my life with my body. I get the greatest honor a lowly creature like me could ever have.
The devil wants us to be disrespectful. He wants us to be callous and unaware of the Lord. Once he is successful in separating us in the small the important is easier to get us to turn from. Once the devil gets us to think that the Lord doesn’t care for things like how we dress for Mass it becomes easier for him to convince us that God doesn’t care about the important things like abortion or same sex marriage.
It is time we revive “Sunday Best” and start showing our respect for our Lord when we gather to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass.