How To Dress For Mass


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.
It would certainly simplify things if a hard-and-fast standard were set down in the liturgical documents, but it is an impossible task to stipulate appropriate dress for a Church which encompasses such a diversity of cultures, customs and climatic conditions. To attempt to do so even for one country would be difficult enough because of the different situations and locations in which liturgy is celebrated. What might be considered reasonable for Sunday Mass at the cathedral would look out of place at a holiday resort or in a remote Aboriginal community.
One Brisbane parish stipulates that readers wear ties, but that would seem to exclude young people and women from the ministry. Such a requirement sets the readers apart from the rest of the assembly unless, of course, most people present wear ties. Another parish has a strict “no jeans” rule. Again, this seems to be a little unfair on young people whose only dress-up clothes might be a pair of smart designer jeans. Clean, presentable jeans are preferable to a pair of dirty, shabby trousers.
The Guidelines for Special Ministers of Communion in the Brisbane Diocese state that “ministers should be suitably dressed”. But how does a parish determine what is “suitable”, who makes the decision, and how are dress standards communicated and enforced?
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 jewellery, 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, demeanour 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 focussing on receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, then something is clearly amiss.
When these lay ministries were reintroduced after Vatican II, it was quite common for those performing them to vest in albs and sit in the sanctuary. This practice would now be considered inappropriate as it sets them apart from the assembly from which they are called and which they serve. Some sort of insignia for special ministers - badge, cross or sash - may however be appropriate, especially when taking communion to the sick.
Making judgements and approaching a particular minister about the matter needs to be done with sensitivity and consideration. One should never assume that a particular form of dress is indicative of lack of respect or reverence.


Elizabeth Harrington