Our Sunday Mass readings can be found: [HERE]
When I was a very young, my family and I lived nearby: in government housing, right up Valkenburgh and on Fuqua Street. This was long before the neighborhood housing developments; when the skating rink, Uncle Mike Burgado’s Garage, and Professor Tiwanak’s Kempo Karate were all right there; and when this Church still had its original mural on this wall behind me. Some of our long-time parishioners may still remember that mural of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.
My father was a junior enlisted in the Navy, while my mom stayed at home to take care of my siblings and me. In a single-income home, we lived fairly modestly. School lunch at Pearl Harbor Elementary only cost students 45 cents each, but my brothers and I ate for free, because of our low family income. My mom made some of our clothing, and also made much of our household decorations, by using the ceramics shop on base.
All of this is to say that my family didn't have a lot of extra money in those days. Nevertheless, it was important to my parents that they purchase nice clothes for us to wear on Sundays: maybe a barong tagalog for a shirt, and nice dress pants. I’d have a fancy watch and shiny shoes. My mom would also put my father’s cologne on me.
This was just for Sundays. My parents weren’t theologians, but they recognized that Sundays were special; and Mass was a special celebration. And so, we dressed differently. I’m grateful to them for teaching me that early lesson. It sticks with me today.
What we wear for the Mass ought to be something different and special. The Church is a sacred place; the Mass is a sacred celebration. While it’s true that what we wear doesn’t influence God in any absolute sense—after all, he doesn’t need us in any absolute way—what we wear does affect us.
It can be tempting to use God’s immutability as an excuse to disregard what we wear to Mass. But we reveal a bit of our hypocrisy when we do dress up in some way for other occasions; like for entertainment venues, sports events, cultural celebrations, restaurants, and other social gatherings.
Beyond function, what we wear is an expression of who we are and what we value. It can be a sign our interior disposition. How we present ourselves, even visually, can indicate where our loyalty lies.
As somewhat of an aside, I don’t know if you’ve seen a Japanese tea ceremony. It’s beautiful. Great care and consideration are given to the physical room in which the ceremony is to be conducted, the utensils to be used, the clothing that’s worn, the grade of tea that’s to be consumed, the temperature at which it’s served. There’s a specific etiquette that’s adhered to by both host and guest. That ceremony is about more than merely drinking a beverage; it’s an event and encounter with another human being.
How can it be that our sense of aesthetic and beauty goes dormant when it comes to matters of God? How can it be that the cultural sensitivity we extend to other celebrations we might fail to give to our own culture of faith? God forbid that there be more consideration, elegance, solemnity and reverence in a celebration serving tea; than in greatest ritual and the highest form of prayer given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ to consummate the Covenant between God and creation.
Secular clothes are appropriate for secular places. But sacred places require sacred clothing. As a priest, I wear a stole and chasuble over a white alb when I celebrate Mass. If I’m celebrating another sacrament, I might wear a stole over a cassock and surplice. There are even specific prayers that I say when equipping myself with these particular garments.
In a similar way, the congregation ought to likewise be equipped for the celebration; manifesting that sense of the sacred even by their clothing. That’s because we aren’t passive observers of this celebration, but participants.
If the Mass were a matter of observation, one could simply stay at home and watch it online. That can be spiritually edifying in its own way. But it’s not the Mass; not for the one who merely watches it. Mass is a matter of participation: we move with the appropriate gestures, we speak the appropriate words, we pray the relevant prayers, we take and we eat; we do this in memory of him.
In our gospel today, we hear about a wedding feast. Many are invited but refuse to celebrate. There are some who do come to the celebration, but among them, there was one person who was cast out. He wasn’t wearing a wedding garment, and so he was expelled from the wedding celebration. He wasn’t dressed appropriately. That was his way of refusing to celebrate. He was called to do more than watch the wedding feast; he was called in to participate.
Incidentally, we find ourselves at a wedding feast now. The Holy Mass is known by many names. One of those being: The Wedding Feast of the Lamb. At every Mass, we enter into the marriage celebration between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.
Like those summoned to the wedding in our parable, we likewise have been summoned here. We are invited to do more than watch; we are called to participate. Fortunately, through God’s mercy, we are given that opportunity each week, to grow in our sense of sacredness and celebration, and to adorn ourselves appropriately.
Through the grace of the Mass, may God help us to re-appreciate that sense of reverence and nobility, and the resolve to express it visibly. May God bless you.