Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fr. Chuck's Column, April 29

Alleluia! We are in the Easter Season and so Happy Easter! Alleluia! Last week in this column I wandered into the minefield of appropriate dress at Mass, and since I am already there, I thought would share a few more thoughts on the religious significance of dress.

For me the celebration of Easter brings the importance of clothing to mind. On Easter Sunday I preached on the young man “dressed in a white robe” who appears in the Gospel of Mark seated in the tomb and on the significance of his outfit. (You can read the homily on my blog at

On Holy Saturday night, at the Easter Vigil, the six catechumens began the evening dressed in drab, brown robes. Immediately after their Baptisms they were each presented with and donned a white robe. The change of clothing is a dramatic moment in the liturgy that was played out in churches all across the globe.  Dress has importance.

In the ancient world dress was very significant in indicating what city or tribe you belonged to, your civil status (free, senator, slave, etc.) and even your trade or occupation. We retain a little of that in police uniforms, nurses smocks, and clerical collars.  So at the beginning of Christianity, putting on the new, white robe was significant. It meant accepting a whole new identity.  Originally, the catechumens were baptized naked admittedly, a more dramatic event than in our more sensitive (squeamish?) age and immediately after baptism were clothed in the new, white robe. St. Paul alludes to this when he says “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27), and again, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14). So from the earliest days of Christianity, clothing holds special significance.

I suspect that the subtle psychological effects of clothing have not really diminished. The almost uniform dress of university students in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops is in effect a uniform.  A sort of group identity is reinforced by the common dress. It was so back in my day as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis. Way back then the uniform dress of university students consisted of sweatshirts, torn jeans and sneakers (St. Louis has different weather than Austin). Every once in a while I would exercise my contrarian, non-conformist spirit by wearing a white shirt and tie to class. My classmates would ask “Do you have a job interview?” or “Going to a funeral?” or something like that. I would tell them no, that I just felt like wearing a shirt and tie. It was sometimes quite amazing the illiberal reaction of avowed liberals to infractions of the unstated dress code. Casual dress was quite formally required. It always gave me a chuckle to poke that unspoken social regulation.

Anyway clothing has a power because it has a significance. I think it is good for us to reflect on this and for us to take care in what we signify.
God bless! 

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