Friday, August 10, 2012

Modesty is in the eye of the beholder.

While I'm off enjoying New Baby the fabulous Maria Grazia Swan is filling in for me with guest posts.  Enjoy!

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I remember the first time I set foot in an American Catholic Church. I was fresh off the plane and totally clueless.

You see, back home, in order to go to mass and not get publicly humiliated and asked to leave, you had to follow a strict dress code.  I’m talking about the female part of the population—seems like males could do no wrong.

Pants were not allowed, no excuses. Head covered. Sleeves had to be long enough to hide the elbow, skirt to cover the knees, and you HAD to wear stockings or knee high socks.

Most Italian churches are big, I mean, really big, maybe because in general there is only one church per community. So you might ask how would the priest know if you were dressed appropriately? They actually checked us out. An old priest would walk down the aisle and look us over. If something appeared out of place they would motion for you to get up and walk to the end of the row. By then everyone would be staring at you.

The head scarf was an easy fix, even a clean handkerchief (yes, we used real handkerchiefs to blow our noses) would do. Sleeve length was negotiable. It got sticky when the priest questioned if you were indeed wearing nylons or not, he would feel your legs to make sure. Not making this up! If you had pants, you were gone, no questions, just the hand pointing to the massive double doors at the back of the church.

The walk of shame.

So I was stunned when I went to my first mass in the Cathedral of the Phoenix diocese. I saw women walking up to take communion without covering their heads and wearing sleeveless sun dresses. OMG!!!!

My kind of church!!! I became so comfortable with the new experience, at some point I forgot about my Italian up-bringing.

But it all came back to me two years ago in Rome. I went to visit Saint Peter Cathedral and got kicked out because my sleeves weren’t long enough. No, I wasn’t wearing a sun dress, but a knit top with cap sleeves. How about that?

I don’t go to church much these days, but when I do, the ease of the American Catholics always puts a smile in my heart.

Maria Grazia Swan


Terri Osburn said...

When I was little they were still making us look nice, but no one ever checked us out or kicked us out. Though my grandmother lamented the changes. She had the doily on her head and the white gloves and the whole shebang. When my mother was young the mass was still in Latin.

I'm thankful it loosened up for my lifetime, but we still respected the place and experience. I haven't been in a long time now but seems to me the last few churches I attended they might as well have been sitting down for a party. No silence before. No quiet reflection. More mingling like some giant picnic in pews.

I'm all for loose, but there's such a thing as too loose. Or I'm just old. :)

Valerie said...

Maria, Who says you can't go home again? I bet that took you right back to your childhood. Too funny!

Maria G. Swan said...

Terri, I agree with you, I think the American Catholic Church had to adapt in order to keep people coming, it's different in Italy, old alliances and family traditions still fill the churches and their coffers.
Thanks Valerie, it's fun now, not so much back then.

catslady said...

I had no idea!!! I know when I was young the head covering was still necessary and shorts were out or jeans but I never heard of the rest of the rules you mentioned. Personally, I can understand being respectful but I think that is a bit much and more likely to deter people from going. I have a problem with those who demand total control for what I feel is an unjustified reason. And to embarrass everyone too!!I'm afraid organized religion is no longer for me. Too many manmade rules and intolerence in many cases.

Maria G. Swan said...

Catslady, I'm with you. I've given up on organized religion a long time ago.

Brandy said...

I prefer Saturday Mass. I can get away with capris and a button down shirt. I have to say, some are too relaxed. We saw a few young ladies wearing barely there, threadbare jean skirts a while back with tank tops. Um, no.
As for the dress code for overseas Mass, useful information to file away! Thanks! *g*