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Modesty Starts with Purifcation of the Heart

by Bishop John W. Yanta

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  • Descriptive Title:
    A Pastoral Letter by Most Rev. John W. Yanta, Bishop of Amarillo
    Description:
    Bishop John Yanta of the Catholic diocese of Amarillo, Texas, published this pastoral letter on modesty in dress, especially at Sunday Mass. Titled, “Modesty starts with purification of the heart,” Bishop Yanta’s letter calls choosing what to wear a “moral act.” Bishop Yanta writes, “we can help the devil in many ways including the way we dress.”
  • Publisher & Date:
    Diocese of Amarillo, June 18, 2006

June 18, 2006
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As the hot weather has descended on us and we are in summertime or vacation time, it is appropriate to speak of modesty of dress especially in participation in the Holy Eucharist, the receiving of Our Lord in Holy Communion, the privilege of being a lector of the Sunday Bible Readings, and serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

This time of the year, I (and am sure many of you also) hear complaints about a lack of respect and reverence for the house of God, the sacredness of the Lord’s presence in the liturgy, and lack of respect for others and the lack of consciousness of the battle for purity in which the opposite sex finds itself even while attending Sunday Mass.

Immodesty in dress is governed by two citations from God’s Law:

1) The Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17);

2) Jesus said: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

To live our daily Faith as children of God (baptism), disciples of Jesus, and temples of the Holy Spirit, we are faced with moral choices constantly, many times a day. Conscience can either make a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law, or on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them (CCC: Catechism of the Catholic Church #1799).

Dressing or putting on one’s clothes is a moral act and wearing them is a moral act. There are different appropriate modes of dress for different occasions, e.g. in the privacy of our home, with our spouse only or with our children in our home, at work or school, in mixed company, at the lake or swimming pool, grocery shopping, at church, etc.

The four cardinal virtues are in play here (Wisdom 8:5-7). The wise person is guided by wisdom, the highest of riches that guides us to be prudent (doing and saying the right thing), justice (respects the dignity of other persons), fortitude (courage to go against popular, suggestive, provocative styles), and temperance (insures mastery over sensual temptations as occasions of sin). You can read more about these four cardinal virtues that play a pivotal role in our lives (CCC 1803-1809).

Our condition – all of us are beset with concupiscence. Concupiscence or covetousness: “Human appetites or desires that are disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism and which produce inclination to sin” (CCC, Glossary).

St. John identifies and distinguishes the three kinds of inclinations of all human beings: “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

The road to modesty starts with the purification of the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication…” (Matthew 15:19). Bible beginners should be encouraged to get the basic overview of Jesus’ teaching by starting with the beatitudes in Matt. 5 in Jesus’ first sermon: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Part of the essence of that teaching is a wholesome, orthodox, first hand appreciation of God’s plan for our sexuality - its sacredness, its fulfillment in marriage, its place in family, Church, and world.

The Catechism speaks next, after the purification of the heart, about “the battle for purity”. We, the baptized and the forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires (CCC 2520).

“Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden (CCC 2521).

“Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It is discreet (CCC 2522).

“There is a modesty of the feelings as well as of the body. It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies (CCC 2523).

“Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person (CCC 2524).

“Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint (CCC 2525).

“So-called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law. Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man” (CCC 2526).

Yes, we can help the devil in many ways including the way we dress. In the Act of Contrition we promise “to avoid the near occasion of sin”. St. Paul writes about “provoking another” (Gal. 5:26).

The key to all modesty is rooted in our mother and daddy who model modesty for their children, i.e. a strong, but tender St. Joseph-like husband and father who is blessed with a wonderful wife and mother for their children. “Happy the husband of a good wife…choicest of his blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person” (Sirach 26: 1, 15).

When the community of believers comes together for the Eucharist (Mass) let no one be a distraction from Jesus or provide temptation (an occasion of sin) to another because of our manner of dress.

Lectors, Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, and Hospitality Ministers should model modesty of dress for the parish as parents do in the family, the domestic church.

May we cherish and bear witness to the virtues of prudence, temperance, chastity, and modesty for the sake of our own salvation and of others. St. Mary and St. Joseph, St. Ann and St. Joachim, parents and grandparents of their son and grandson, Jesus, intercede for us!

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Rev. John W. Yanta
Bishop of Amarillo

Observations

by Bishop John W. Yanta

Basics of modesty in dress

From the Catechism

“There are differences between male and female: physical, emotional, and spiritual differences. These differences result, by God’s plan, in a beautiful complementarity oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life” (CCC 2333).

“Men and women are equal but not the same obiously. There is equal personal dignity. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God” (CCC 2334-5).

“The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (CCC 2341).

“Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life” (CCC 2394).

“Temperance: The cardinal moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instinct, and keeps natural desires within proper limits” (CCC Glossary).

From the Dictionary

Modesty: “Propriety in dress, speech or conduct” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate p.798).

Dress, Apparel, Clothing: “Covering, adornment, or appearance appropriate or peculiar to a particular time” (Webster’s p.380).

Propriety: “Fear of offending against conventional rules of behavior esp. between the sexes; the customs and manners of polite society” (Webster’s p.997).

Compendium of the Catechism

“Purity requires modesty which, while protecting the intimate center of the person, expresses the sensitivity of chastity. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their communion. Purity frees one from wide-spread eroticism and avoids those things which foster morbid curiosity. Purity also requires a purification of the social climate by means of a constant struggle against moral permissiveness which is founded on an erroneous concept of human freedom” (Compendium of the Catechism 530).

On Reverence

“The Church, the house of God, is… the privileged place of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament” (CCC 2691).

Excerpts from a Homily Given by Fr. Dominic Mary, MFVA on EWTN Televised Mass (6-14-05)

“Included in the virtue of modesty is not only humility, but also in how one externally dresses (cf. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 356). But many today have rejected to practice this virtue so desperately needed in our current culture. Even to the most casual observer, immodesty in dress is seen as common place in our Churches.

We have got to do all we can to help people to wake up and realize they are dressing way too immodestly, especially when it comes to entering a Church to worship God. We must be like the Vatican — just one example (cf., www. cathnews.com) - When there are heat waves in Rome the Vatican dress police, neatly dressed in pants, shirts and ties, turn back all tourists in shorts and bare shoulders trying to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve seen them do this with my own eyes. These immodestly dressed people have to go and buy paper pants and shirts from vendors eagerly waiting outside.

“Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach. You should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tank-tops, bare shoulders, low cut dresses, very tight fitting clothing, etc. “We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.

“When a person dresses immodestly he or she can become an occasion of sin for other people. And this is the fashion for today. Each year it seems that the latest fashion is to see how little clothing one can wear and how much of one’s body can be shown. And what flesh is not shown is revealed by extremely tight clothing.

“To knowingly and intentionally dress like this is sinful, and can be even seriously sinful, because one can become a temptation to sin for other people. We are all weak and can easily fall into many sins of impurity by someone else’s immodesty.

“Before we go out or buy new clothes we should do a modesty check”.

Fr. Hathaway, FSSP on Modesty of Dress at Holy Mass

“We will speak on dress for women and men at the Holy Mass... especially on Sunday.

“But let me preface that I did not wake up this morning thinking, “I wonder how I can ruin their day?” I do not want to make you mad, but only advance your salvation. Our dress can be a touchy topic... but all of us should want to correct errors should they exist.

“First, we should give a definition. Modesty in dress is the virtue which regulates the type of clothing and the manner of its wearing so that it conforms to the purposes by which clothing is worn. Now the purpose of clothing is to protect against the weather, to reveal status or position or formality in society, and to preserve decency.

“Now how should women dress at Holy Mass?

“Indecency of women’s dress at the Holy Sacrifice is not a new thing. In 1921, Pope Benedict XV (Sacra propediem) lamented the indecent dress of women at Holy Mass this way: ‘...one cannot sufficiently deplore the blindness of so many women of every age and condition; made foolish by a desire to please, they do not see to what degree the indecency of the clothing shocks every honest man, and offends God.

“Most of them would formerly have blushed for those toiletries as for a grave fault against Christian modesty; now it does not suffice for them to exhibit them on public thoroughfares; they do not fear to cross the threshold of the churches, to assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and even to bear the seductive food of shameful passions to the Eucharistic Table where one receives the heavenly author of purity.

“Now how should a man dress at the Holy Sacrifice?

“If women exceed the virtue, it is common for men to come up short in practicing the virtue of modesty in dress. Men, we are inclined to be careless or slovenly about what we wear... (even at Holy Mass); and young men are prone to deliberately neglect their dress so as to attract attention.

“At Holy Mass, men should wear a coat and tie; or, at least, a collared shirt and nice slacks.

“Young men must be taught that baggy pants are not appropriate; that their hair be nicely cut and combed; that shirts be clean and without slogans or cross bones or a dragon,... or anything which may give Satan the appearance of being honored”.

On Galveston-Houston Archdiocese Website

“The Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Communion Under Both Kinds refers to reverent attire (cf. #29) but does not describe what is considered reverent. Does the Diocese of Galveston-Houston have guidelines describing what is considered appropriate attire for liturgical ministers?”

“Extraordinary Ministers should be appropriately dressed when distributing Communion during the liturgy. On several occasions I have directed that men, including young men, must wear a coat, and women modest dresses or pant suits. This directive is to be observed even for Youth Masses.”

The Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia

“I am often asked about the dress requirements for people who perform the roles of readers and special ministers of communion in a parish.

“This usually comes about because complaints have been made about the way these liturgical ministers present themselves at Mass.

“A good place to begin tackling this question is to revisit the meaning of the word ‘ministry’. Readers and special ministers serve the liturgy and the gathered assembly by proclaiming the Word of God and helping in the distribution of the sacred elements. Their manner of dress should reflect the importance and dignity of the ministry in which they serve. “The term ‘Sunday best’ is sometimes used to describe what is acceptable. This does not mean expensive or fancy, but it does mean clothing that is neat, clean and reasonably modest. Outlandish or clattering jewelry, tee shirts with slogans or insignia, jogging outfits or see-through clothing are probably universally considered inappropriate.

“Liturgical ministers become channels of God’s presence when they carry out their ministry. Anything that blocks that channel – whether gesture, demeanor or clothing – is out of place. If a reader’s dress attracts the attention of the assembly rather than what he or she is proclaiming, or if a communion minister’s outfit prevents communicants focusing on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, then something is clearly amiss”.

Ministers of Hospitality (Archdioces of Brisbane, Australia).

“Because all liturgical ministers, by their demeanor and attitude, send a message about the importance of what is taking place, it is helpful if they are attired in their ‘Sunday best’. “

In some parishes, ministers wear a uniform blazer for visibility so that they can be identified immediately in case of an emergency. In either case, a nametag identifying a person as a minister of hospitality would be helpful.

Diocese of Trenton, NJ

“Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should dress in secular clothing that is modest, clean, and appropriate for worship.

“If the local parish decides to use special dress for its Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, it must be distinctive and not confused with the dress of a priest or deacon.”

Diocese of Amarillo | Post Office Box 5644 | Amarillo, TX

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