I was maybe eight years old when I first tried to use the argument, "God accepts me for who I am. Therefore, I don't need to dress fancy for Mass." Wow! What great insight! This child is a prodigy of the theological and philosophical sciences! People from all over flocked to me to hear my great words of insight and to sit at my feet and listen to my teachings.
In all reality, my mother did not give much thought to my words. With her, I never got away with wearing anything less than a polo shirt and khaki shorts. We were only allowed to wear khaki shorts on those days, growing up in Los Angeles, when the heat was excruciating and the humidity extreme. So, in total we maybe wore shorts one or two Sundays during the summer.
What is both interesting and amusing to me is how many people still use this basic argument to defend their attire at Sunday Mass. I am not speaking of just eight-year-olds, but adults I know still use this basic argument. So, I think it is worth the time to sit and ponder whether the great epiphany of my childhood carries any water.
So, let us begin with the basic principle of the argument: God is Love. The idea hear is that the God of Love, who is Love would never turn anyone away from Him, who approaches Him asking for Him, seeking Him, desiring Him, etc... I cannot think of a single person who would deny that if God is Love, that is to say that He is All-Loving, He would never reject anyone simply based on the way they are dressed, which gives us our first premise.
There it is. There is the whole argument. We are done. Case closed. The eight-year-old wins. Right? That is not how we do theology or philosophy. We do not simply consider the principle of the argument, but the premises and the conclusion. I agree to the principle: God is Love. So, let us draw out the unstated second premise of the stated enthymeme. "Who I am is a person that dresses this way or that way." Simply speaking, if I do dress this way or that way, then I am a person that dresses this way or that way, and we can say that the second premise is true. So, we have two premises: God (who is Love) accepts me for who I am. Who I am is a person that dresses this way or that way. And so it naturally follows that our conclusion would be that God (who is Love), therefore, accepts me who is a person that dresses this way or that way.
It seems that the entire syllogism does hold water. So, it must be true that I was an eight-year-old genius. Not quite. The argument is coherent. This is true. God does accept us as we are and for who we are, and He is willing to love us even when we do not love ourselves. He loves us even when we sin and when we reject Him. What we are not considering is where this argument leads us. What we tend to do is to use this argument to justify dressing a certain way. But the argument does not claim, "Therefore, I should dress however I want." In order to address this question, which is quite a different question, we need to make a different argument. So, let us ask the question. How should we dress for Mass.
In order to answer, or at least begin to answer this question, we should ask some pretty basic questions. First, what is the Mass? What is its purpose? How do I relate to it? How do I relate to God? The Church teaches that the Mass is above all things the worship of God (cf. SC 33). I, therefore, relate to it in as much as I am a worshipper of God. See, the sacred liturgy is a relationship between me and God, in which I offer Him worship (a brief note on the word 'worship': it comes from 'worth-ship' which means that holding in esteem or of great worth).
The question we have to ask then is: how do we show our appreciation to God? A good place to start is by also asking: How do we show our appreciation for others, with particular regard to attire? I want to offer at this point some food for thought. It is commonly said, "do not dress for the job you have, but the job you want to have." The point holds true for job interviews. If I currently work at McDonalds, but I want to work at a bank, I ought to dress like person that works at a bank when I interview for the position. In fact, if I really value that position, I might show my own desire for it by dressing a notch up from a person that works at a bank, e.g. I might wear a suit jacket instead of just a dress shirt and tie.
If we take the Christian vocation seriously, it means that we desire to be people of virtue. In our current state we are sinner, and we recognize that. We know that we ought to be virtuous in spite of our shortcomings. So, again I suggest that maybe we should dress like virtuous people if we want to be virtuous. That is to say, that we should dress modestly, if modesty is the virtue that pertains to how we dress. I am not saying that modesty only pertains to dress. If it does, then should we not try to dress in such a manner? If we desire to be like God, if we desire to share in His divine life, then we can dress in such a way that we show how much we value the virtuous life that He can help us live by His grace.