There is a lot of advice about getting dressed to go to Mass on the web (about 20 million hits depending on what search terms you use), and remarkably little about anything else you should do before you go.
Skimming the first few pages of hits on appropriate attire for Mass, I am disturbingly transfixed by the advice, and how much time people clearly spend thinking about what other people are wearing. The debates rage: about whether or not women should wear pants, are flip-flops1 suitable, must your shirt have sleeves, or a collar — and the million dollar question: does God care what you wear to His house? (Arguably it's all God's house, inside a church's walls as well as without, but attire within sacred space is what is under discussion.)
My take in the comments was that dressing with care for the Sunday liturgy seemed a link, for me at least, to the new garments I wore at baptism and baptism's cleansing waters, and so gently underscore the Sunday liturgy's Pascal character. And besides, I was concerned about the consequences if the fashion police were to join forces with the liturgical police.
The comments section, and a conversation with a fellow cantor who'd been to the NPM last week where a cantors' workshop had talked up the idea of using lectio divina with the psalm as preparation, got me wondering about how we get ready to go to Mass — by which I do not mean selecting suitable attire — but how do we suitably prepare interiorly to move into and out of these sacred rites.
Crash was reading this over my shoulder (we are on an airplane somewhere between Philadelphia and Phoenix en route to California) and suggested that if I wanted advice about what to wear, he could show me 40 or 50 parish bulletins among those he read over the last few weeks that contained advice about what to wear to Mass. I asked him how many he recalled that offered any other advice about preparing to go to Mass. A few, he conceded after a moment. And the advice? Reminders about fasting before receiving the Eucharist and requests to respect the silence so that other people could pray before Mass.
I wonder if we should stop arguing about whether or not it's OK to wear sandals (or go barefoot) because Jesus did, and scolding people (who have arguably made an effort to show up in a culture that doesn't prioritize Sunday worship) in the vestibule or bulletin or homily, and start a conversation instead about how we might help each other prepare well for the Eucharist which is the font and the summit of our life.
Herewith is my advice for some ways to prepare the ground for Sunday worship, so that what is sown there can take root and bear fruit. What would you add? I'd love to know what traditions outside the Roman Catholic communion do, so even if you aren't Catholic, please share your ideas and practices with us all.
- Early in the week, read the readings, reflect on them, talk them over with God.
- Read and reflect on the proper prayers for the day: the opening prayer, or the preface, or the prayer after communion.
- Pray one of the Eucharistic prayers, slowly and reverently, aloud or silently.
- Fast, sharpen your hunger for what you are about to receive. (For an interesting reflection and exercise, read Jim McDermott SJ's posts
If we spent more time helping people celebrate the Eucharist fruitfully, perhaps we wouldn't have to worry about what they wear.
Up next? What to do when you leave...beyond take a bulletin.
1. One should note that our culture's flip-flops are Japan's traditional dress shoes.
A good resource for preparing is at the St. Louis University Sunday liturgy site. And if you read Give Us This Day, may I recommend Mary Stommes stark and thought-provoking reflection on pulling up weeds among the wheat that appeared on July 31? (Full disclosure, I'm an occasional contributor to Give Us This Day.)