Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Summer is upon us, bringing vacations, picnics and beach parties. Actually we have been blessed with summer-like weather for several weeks. The warm weather has also brought out summer apparel earlier than usual. Unfortunately, skimpy garb more suitable for vacations, picnics and beach parties has also made its way into church as the clothing of choice for many people. In visiting many of our parishes this spring for confirmation as well as attending some commencement ceremonies, I have noticed more and more people wearing short shorts, tank-tops and flip-flops. Even the more formal wear with slit-leg dresses, bare midriffs and strapless tops looks more suited to a House of Blues than the House of God.

Now I’m sure some people will immediately object to my making these observations, rationalizing that it is better that these people come to church even if they’re not properly dressed rather than not have them there at all. They argue that we should just be happy that they’re in church, regardless of what they wear. I disagree. 

St. Paul said “to dress modestly, with decency and propriety,” adorned “not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds” (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Similarly, St. Peter wrote, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus said that “when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).

Of course, Jesus did not tell this parable to give a literal instruction on how to dress at a wedding, but to illustrate God’s righteousness as “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10), where the acquisition of these qualities is likened to clothing given us at a wedding. But Jesus could tell this parable because his listeners were familiar with the custom that refusal to wear a proper wedding garment was an insult to the father of the groom and could get a guest ejected from the festivities.

The church is the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27) and the faithful, clothed in their wedding garments, are called to the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:8-9). Our revised translation of the Roman Missal now brings out that imagery more clearly when the priest presents the Body and Blood of Christ to us at Mass saying, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” As we go up to receive Jesus in holy Communion, we should not insult the Father by not dressing properly for this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In contrast to the casual dress now commonly seen, people were much more formally attired at the Solemn Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form that I celebrated at the Shrine of St. Rose of Lima in Quincy last Sunday. During this celebration, I consecrated new altars, administered the sacrament of confirmation, offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession in honor of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. The ceremony took fours hours, which is usually how long it takes me to run a 26.2 mile marathon, so one could say that this was certainly a marathon liturgy! 

St. Rose of Lima Church just marked its 100th anniversary, and it looked splendid for this grand occasion. I commend Father Arnauld Devillers, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and all the faithful who made this such a dignified event by which we gave glory and praise to God. 

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an Apostolic Letter called Summorum Pontificum, in which he said that it was “permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church.” Last year, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said that the pope hopes for the eventual development of a newly reformed liturgy, combining elements of both the traditional Latin Mass and the ordinary form of the liturgy that has commonly been used since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. Cardinal Koch said that Summorum Pontificum, with its call for expanded use of the traditional liturgy, is “only the beginning” of the pope’s overall scheme for liturgical reform.

For now, one very practical area that we could work on would be for everyone to dress with proper dignity for Mass, whether it is celebrated in the ordinary or the extraordinary form.

May God give us this grace. Amen.