July 28, 2006

The Correct Amount to Spend on a Set of Clothes to Wear at Mass:

Sixteen thousand two hundred dollars!

It's in the Holy Gospel.

Read below to find out where!

In November of 2004, our parish had an eruption of discussion of appropriate clothing for those who serve in public roles at Mass.

As associate pastor I contributed the following-- which you may copy, if you so wish.

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November 26, 2004

Ceremony, Clothing, Fr. S…

Hello, all. I’m Fr. S… writing to you to add my own comments about the forms and appearances of both ceremony and clothing at the Holy Mass, the Eucharist.

- - -

I know these matters are important to all of you in one direction or another.

- - -

First of all, as a Benedictine monk I am “overdressed” when compared to most people going to church: closed-collar, long sleeves, floor-length, solid black. Then, once I get to church in my solid black layers, I add on top of it a floor-length, long-sleeved, white “alb” (robe); and on top of that I put on a third layer, the “chasuble,” the priestly "over-garment" that is colored according to the season or occasion.

- - -

Last September and also last Monday all the priests of San Diego met with Bishop Robert who, among other things, reminded us on both occasions about two concerns:
(1) correct standards in the ceremonial forms while celebrating the Mass;
and (2) the need for those who serve during Mass to dress suitably.

Why the concern about these external forms?

One reason is that at this time only one out of three U.S. Catholics believes the truth about the Eucharist. What is the truth about the Eucharist?
The truth is that
and his REAL BLOOD …
under the appearances of bread and wine.
Two out of three U.S. Catholics have lost true faith where it concerns the Eucharist. They might just as well not be Catholics when it comes to the Eucharist. They might just as well not receive it, since they don’t believe it.

In recent decades here in the U.S., we Catholics (including priests) have been somewhat too casual about external forms— too unconcerned about external forms— in morality, in teaching the sacraments, the faith and the Gospel … too casual also in our ceremonies at Mass. Priests are much at fault in these matters.

When we are too casual about external forms, the result is a loss in matters of the spirit. This is because we human beings are not just spiritual. We are external bodies also. We need to express our spirituality with our bodies and our bodily living. After all, God our Savior did not stay up in heaven: he came down from heaven and was born bodily in flesh and blood, suffered and died in flesh and blood, rose from the dead in flesh and blood, ascended into heaven in flesh and blood. The body and the way we live and act with the body is a life-and-death issue for Jesus the Son of God. It’s also a life-and-death issue for us, since God plans to raise our bodies from the dead.

- - -

Did Jesus in his Gospel have anything to say about these concerns? He certainly criticized and condemned the members of the Pharisee party for their empty external customs and their lack of true generosity towards God and neighbor. However, Jesus never criticized the ritual ceremonies of the Temple. In fact, he once used a whip to kick out from the temple those persons who failed to respect the temple as a place of prayer.

- - -

Besides his violent cleansing of the temple … here are two other Gospel examples in which Jesus shows his pleasure or his concern for externals. (After I give you these two examples, I’ll also point out one partial weakness in my own position.)

- - -

First example. Mark 12:41-44 (same incident in Luke 21:1-4).
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury of the Temple, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."

When we come to God’s temple, the Church, are we doing our material all? We are certainly not as poor as the widow with only a penny’s worth to call her own. What have we let it cost us when we go to worship in church? The rich put in a lot when they went to the temple, but it did not really cost them. The poor widow impressed Jesus by spending her last pieces of money when she went to worship.

Is the clothing we wear in church a sign of our generosity, or is it an expression of convenience and comfort?

It matters to Jesus.

The widow impressed Jesus with her UN-comfortable, IN-convenient and sacrificial generosity when she went to worship. She let her spiritual generosity show on the outside by how she spent money on “going to church.”

- - -

Second example. Mark 14:3-7.
And while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor." And they reproached her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me.
(Same cost as in John 12:1-8.)

This woman in Bethany wasted more than 300 denarii worth of ointment on Jesus. “Denarii” were Roman silver coins equal to one day’s salary. Today’s minimum wage salary in California ($6.75 per hour) for 300 standard eight-hour workdays (“300 denarii”) amounts to sixteen thousand and two hundred dollars. That’s what that woman in Bethany poured out on Jesus.

When we go to honor Jesus at Holy Mass, what do we let it cost us? Do we spend any of our money on clothes to “waste” on Jesus at Holy Mass? Or do we spend more money on clothes that we wear on other occasions, but not at Holy Mass?

It pleased Jesus when one woman wasted an irrational amount of money to pour perfumed oil on him. She showed the love that was in her heart by what she did on the outside. It was wasteful. It cost more than sixteen thousand dollars.

- - -

I don’t expect anyone to spend that much money on a set of clothes for Sunday Mass. However, I think it pleases Jesus when we really use our best in the worship of his heavenly Father.

If the way we dress at Holy Mass REALLY is costing us something, I’d tend to think it’s likely we are making real commitments in the real way we live: our real actions in the world, our real choices, our real way of relating, our whole lifestyle.

- - -

I said there’s a partial weakness in my position. Here it is— but remember that it’s a PARTIAL weakness, not an absolute one.

I can “dress UP” for Mass and still be the most unjust, most criminal and most cruel person on earth. However, I can also “dress DOWN” for Mass and ALSO be one of the worst persons on earth.

I can “dress UP” for Mass and be one of the holiest persons on earth. I can also dress DOWN for Mass, and ALSO be one of the holiest persons on earth.

No matter how well or how badly I behave, God still deserves the best I have to offer. He even deserves to have everything I have because it all comes from him ultimately.

Rich man or poor widow— when it comes to going to the temple, going to church: am I doing or using my spiritual AND my material best … am I doing the best that is inside my heart AND the best in my external physical world … am I really putting in all that I have and all that I am? Or am I only doing what I find convenient and comfortable?

- - -

Published statistical studies show that most (two out of three) Catholics in the U.S. today do not believe in the truth about the Eucharist. We need to show and express in word and action, in spirit and in body, in our interior attitudes and our exterior attitudes that Jesus in the Eucharist matters to us very, very much.

Our concern for the Eucharist needs to be serious, not casual.

Jesus most certainly accepts each of us just as we each are. However, he most certainly does NOT leave us just as we were. He even compared God to a Father welcoming back his sinful, wandering and wasteful son by having his servants put the best robe and a ring on his son; then the Father killed his best, young beef to throw a banquet for his repentant son. (See Luke 15:22-23.)

Yes, God accepts us just as we are, but then he right away sets to work to change us for the best.

When he finally raises our bodies from the dead, do we think he’s going to skimp on us? No matter how it’s going to look in terms of clothing, Jesus certainly and always describes what God is going to do for us as giving us a KINGDOM. His plan is to make us Royalty.

- - -

Bishop Robert, our own St. T… pastor Monsignor F…, our parish council and our liturgy committee have not explicitly spelled out what suitable clothing might be. However, they have all expressed a desire to see an improvement in clothing at Mass.

Please consider it seriously. Jesus really deserves our best.

God is more than all the universe. For us, he spent himself to death. May he bless you with joy in knowing it.


Fr. S…, O.S.B.


Anonymous Andrew said...

Wow! That was excellent. So...did it work? Because at my parish all they've tried so far is an announcement at the end of Mass.

2:23 PM  
Blogger dilexitprior said...

We get homilies on modesty and appropriate dress for Mass every summer. Unfortunately, I don't know how effective they are although I give cudos to our pastor for at least addressing the topic.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

In the Western world, even Catholics refuse to be told what is moral or immoral.

So trying to educate them about the etiquette of clothing worthy of wearing at Mass is often too hard.

Perhaps if we consistently told people that Catholic faith still recognizes such things as masturbation and the use of artificial contraception to be gravely sinful, and that one who has committed such sins has a moral obligation to receive sacramental absolution from a priest before returning to the Eucharist ... perhaps if we could convince people of such things, then we could convince them that a lesser matter, such as reverent clothing at Mass, is of great importance.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

Thank you Father Stephanos and GOD Bless you! I think things may return to a more traditional attitude among the laity one they see the clergy are truly serious.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Flambeaux said...


My only complaint is that your back-of-the-envelope analysis grossly understates the value of 300 denarii in terms of present value.

Unfortunately, I don't have readily available the resources I'd need to give you a more accurate present-day value of that oil.

I'm happy to see this sort of good sense applied, though.


10:29 AM  

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