Alleluia! We are in the Easter Season and so still celebrating the triumph of our redemption. It takes a full 50 days to celebrate this victory appropriately. Alleluia!
I was struck by the large crowds we had on Easter Sunday. It was wonderful! I was also struck, especially at the 5:30 p.m. Mass on Easter, at the large number of people who attended Easter Mass in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. I found that rather disturbing.
Now all people are always welcome to our church, and unless it is truly outrageous or immodest, we are happy to have people come to us as they are dressed. God reads our hearts, not our outfits. God knows one can certainly go overboard on concern over dress and get into not-very-subtle competition over dressing up. I remember one choir director who I worked with in another state who could tell you a week later exactly what each lady in the congregation wore the previous Sunday. I was amazed by such feats of memory, but to me that seemed an over-concern with dress.
There is a significance and meaning to clothing, especially for a big feast – and Easter is the biggest. Dressing up is important. It is part of engaging in the feast. The priest wears special robes, the servers and the choir members don special garb and traditionally the congregation, as participants, would put on their “Sunday best.” Dressing up is part of participating in the Mass.
Going to Mass is NOT like going to a movie, where you are there to watch and hear the action. The members of the congregation at Mass are not spectators, but participants. As participants it helps to “dress the part.” All of us together are doing something special and significant: worshiping the Father, giving thanks through Jesus the Son and rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Our inner attitude is most important, but it is shown forth and reinforced by how we present ourselves: how we stand, how we sing, how we participate and by how we dress.
I know that when I get dressed up, in my rabbi (a formal priest’s collar) and black suit, or in a white shirt and tie, I feel differently about myself. It is a reminder to me that this is not just plain-old slouch around time, but that I am engaged in something a bit more formal and significant. It affects the way I feel.
Dress helps convey and re-enforce a sense of identity. When I was in Guatemala in January and we went into the uplands around Lake Atitlán, the native peoples largely wore their traditional dress. The Tzutzuxil people are able to afford modern, Western clothes, but they cling to their traditional dress as a way of preserving and holding onto their sense of identity and tradition. No one forces them to do it; rather they do it to maintain their cultural heritage. They value that heritage and so work to maintain it.
Our culture seems impoverished in comparison. We have much, much more in way of material goods than the Tzutzuxil people of Guatemala, but in another way, in culture and identity and appreciation of family, they seem richer. When I see all the people coming to Easter celebration in shorts and flip-flops, it strikes me as an example of cultural poverty. So that is my take on it, and I hope it gives you something to think about.