Vatican Dress Code

The officers of the Swiss Guard are now pulling aside tourists who show too much skin. Golly, I’ve gone right into the basilica wearing shorts and T-shirt. Oh, but of course – I had a full Benedictine habit over them.

For the record, I believe in appropriate dress in public places. I’d even like to think that this is a liturgical value. I wish the simple formality of the reformed liturgy would exercise an influence on popular culture on this point, instead of the influence going in the reverse direction. I wish my Benedictine university would do a favor to summer student employees by helping them learn what is and isn’t appropriate dress on the job.

But how to do any of this constructively and without offending people? That’s the dilemma. One easily comes off looking antiquarian, legalistic, controllling, and hypocritical – not exactly the PR the Catholic Church needs just now.

And who knows? Maybe God thinks it’s a good thing that society is moving in an ever more egalitarian, informal, friendly, unpretentious direction.


  1. I think the word “informal” is often exclusively (and mistakenly) associated with the word “casual.” The word is an antonym of “formal,” which the American Heritage Dictionary aptly defines as “following or being in accord with accepted forms, conventions, or regulations.”

    Thus, I view the informality present in our society and Christian tradition not so much as a liberation from stuffy conventions, but as a product of individualism. “I wear what I wear because I want to wear it and no form, convention, or regulation can tell me otherwise.” Inevitably, this type of mindset erodes (directly or indirectly) the sense of community and communal values in worship and life. Perhaps the Vatican is trying to address this type of mindset in its latest enforcement of a long-standing code?

    By the way, the Vatican can do whatever it wants in this area. Let us remember that we’re not talking about a parish community here. We’re talking about an independent nation-state with complete authority to promulgate and enforce its own laws.

  2. I’ve seen some monks wearing some pretty short shorts, Father Anthony! You’ll have to have a chat with the Abbot! 🙂

  3. Perhaps the Swiss Guards could visit my parish?

    I do wish my pastor would take this sort of thing seriously. Correction can certainly be done in a pastoral manner without offending. Many people, youth and adults, just don’t know any better, and may even appreciate some gentle guidance.

  4. “Maybe God thinks it’s a good thing that society is moving in an ever more egalitarian, informal, friendly, unpretentious direction.”

    That would be nice. I like it when God and I are in agreement. 🙂

  5. I wonder how often the apostles (and Jesus!) wore “formal” clothing…I’m thinking they showed up in their everyday work clothes!!

    Why is it so important to try to be something we’re not by dressing like a class or people we will never be (nor desire to be)?? WWJD?

  6. In his Rule Benedict devoted the twelfth step of humility…with the external impression conveyed by his brothers stating that the humility of their hearts should be apparent by their bodily movements (14) and devoted an entire later a chapter to clothing (55). The insight here is that external dress is a manifestation of humility and modesty. I find an interesting dissonance, however, that we in the Western church tend to expose that which is holy and shunt out of sight that (and those) who manifest the fallen state of our world. In the Ethiopian church, by contrast, that which is holy (ቅድስ) is veiled whether the eucharist, an icon of a saint, a holy person, and so forth. Perhaps if we fostered a greater sense of veiling the holy the wider culture might come to see that that which is created in the image and likeness of God is also powerful and, as such, deserves reverence—something about which we ought to be humble and follow Benedict’s twelfth step.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.