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Tuesday, December 01, 2009


There has been a lively discussion after yesterday's post about the the Padre Pio Horror Movie Chain Letter Prayer Bread. The discussion is not about Padre Pio, the fake note from the Vatican that accompanies the "prayer" bread, or the dread of being given one of the bowls of goo.
The discussion is about this question from a reader:

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

A friend of mine was asked by her sister-in-law-to-be to be a bridesmaid. SILTB is Catholic, and getting married in the Catholic church. Good for her. Friend and I are LDS, and have certain modesty standards. Hemlines at the knee or below, at least cap sleeves, no plunging necklines, etc. SILTB is demanding that all bridesmaids wear strapless dresses to her wedding, no shawls or jackets allowed. Friend is torn between backing out, and compromising her standards because it is the bride's special day and she doesn't want to cause familial unpleasantness. Were you there, is there anything you could say SILTB? Thanks, Jana

If I was your friend I would say to the SILTB, "I'm very sorry, my church does not allow me to wear strapless gowns. I'll understand if you'd like to ask someone else to stand up for you at the wedding."

This leaves the ball entirely in her court. Your friend does not have to back out or compromise her standards, and if familial unpleasantness occurs it's really not her fault.

That's my Dear Abby answer. But you asked if I were there is there anything I could say to the SILTB.

Here are some things I might say:

Where is this Catholic church where this wedding is taking place that has no standards of it's own? I'd like to have a chat with the pastor of St. Vegas Church in Hellbound, USA.

Miss SILTB, no one should be required to appear anywhere half naked and I can't believe you are demanding that from anyone. I might say to the bride, "Now I know what I can give you on your wedding day for 'something borrowed'--a SHAWL." I might ask the bride if her Jewish friends are being forced to eat some pulled pork at the reception. I may inquire if the men at the wedding will all be wearing short shorts to compliment the bride's selection of gowns.

But then, it's not always the best idea to just say whatever it is you are actually thinking. Meanwhile, we'll ask for the intercession of St. Maria Goretti on everyone's behalf.


Cathy said...

Let's hear it from the top!

Standards of Modesty in Dress
Imprimatur dated Sept. 24, 1956
"A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat; which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows; and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent materials are improper."
The Cardinal Vicar of Pius XII

Jana said...

Thank you, Sister! Oh man. Your answer is so very awesome. I laughed. I snorted. Then I pretended that I did not snort and made my husband read it. He laughed. He did not snort.

Donna said...

I love it! Who knew Catholics had so much common sense?

FW Ken said...

My parish is heavily hispanic and QuinceaƱero are a constant challenge, not just for the celebrant, but her "court". And it's not just clothes: many (or most) of the kids aren't Catholic, have no idea how to behave in Church, and at least some will head for Communion. They have put in place requirements that girls participate in Mass and Religious Formation for at least a year prior and that's helped some.

Carol Anne said...

I love bridal reality TV. - Yes, I'm burning brain cells at an alarming rate, but that's a story for another time. - I'm always amazed at the dresses I see brides choosing on Say Yes To The Dress. Odds are at least some of them are going to be married in churches. How do they get away with being half-dressed in church?

Tami said...

I see both sides to the issue. We want everyone to feel welcome at mass. Even if they aren't in the best spot in their life, as seen by overly revealing attire, they may hear truth and be transformed.
Yet on the other hand, I sometimes wonder if teen parents have any clue what their children are wearing to church. Alas, I too am imperfect, and as you can see I have once again failed at not judging.

Farmwife said...

New question. I have two older brothers. My father passed away and left my husband and I his home. My oldest brother is suing me for 1/3 the value of the house. Is there a saint for lawsuits?

Sr. Teresa said...

Well... that was by far the best answer yet!! "the pastor of St. Vegas Church in hellbound USa!" I snorted as well. I live in Canada and there doesn't appear to be any sense of modesty in the Churches I have attended but during a visit to Italy and the 'few' Churches in Rome. I was amazed at the requirement to cover your shoulders. not a problem for me in my habit but the shawls were provided for those in need. I thought to myself - in Canada they would simply not go in if there was a dress code...sad statement for sure!

Anonymous said...

I am not familiar with LDS dress codes, and can't say whether or not it's appropriate for an LDS woman to wear a strapless dress.

But Sister, I think your implication that a strapless dress is immodest and inappropriate to wear in church per se is untrue and unfair. Most current styles of formal dresses do not have sleeves or straps. That does not mean that they show cleavage or are otherwise revealing. The large majority of brides and bridesmaids, including brides being married in a church, wear strapless dresses and look perfectly nice and appropriate during the wedding ceremony.

Marie said...

Wow, I didn't even know there is a Vatican document on the

"Standards of Modesty in Dress
Imprimatur dated Sept. 24, 1956"
issued by the Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XII!

I've always thought they were rules made by the Maryknoll Sisters of the high school I went to in the Philippines.

Exactly how I remembered it - including the two-fingers breadth under the pit of the throat. Except that instead of "a bit beyond the knees," our skirts were measured from the ground up! With our two-inch heels, the skirts were measured exactly 13 inches from the ground, no matter how tall you were!

Thank you for your post.

Lisa said...

In Erie Pennsylvania in the 60's the skirt-measuring deal was that you knelt on the floor in the principal's office (whre you had been sent on suspicion of wearing an immodestly short skirt)and if your skirt didn't touch the floor you were sent home.
My daughter's high school (in 2007)just went ahead and banned skirts --everybody had to wear trousers!

AndyMo said...

But Sister, I think your implication that a strapless dress is immodest and inappropriate to wear in church per se is untrue and unfair. Most current styles of formal dresses do not have sleeves or straps. That does not mean that they show cleavage or are otherwise revealing. The large majority of brides and bridesmaids, including brides being married in a church, wear strapless dresses and look perfectly nice and appropriate during the wedding ceremony.

No, they don't. I attend about a dozen weddings a year as an organist, and believe me, strapless dresses aren't even classy, never mind appropriate for church. Also, as a man, I can attest that bare shoulders are a great temptation for lust. You're doing no one any favors by showing that kind of skin, especially on your wedding day.

"Hey, honey, I'm giving myself to you, and everyone else can look, apparently."

nerdycellist said...

Blogger ate my last post, which is just as well, as I got a little bit defensive over the above opinion. But I did want to add one more thing about Mormon dress codes.

When I was a teen, the Stake (diocese) I lived in set the following standards for their dances - skirts must be fingertip length. My sister and I are "gifted" with short arms. Suffice to say, on the occasions we did show up with fingertip length skirts, there was quite a commotion! It was a completely innocent mistake on our part - we weren't intending to look trampy. I think the hem touches the floor when kneeling is a much more reasonable modesty metric.

Gardenia said...

Sister, I just read your last three posts -- I've been away from you too long -- and all the comments, and I love love your blog. But I was disappointed to see that no one commented on the photo of Captain Kirk and the Tribbles. I am not a Trekkie as they say, but I did love watching that show when it aired in the 70s -- watched it every day at 4PM when I came home from school. and the tribbles was one of the things my brothers and I joked about for years after seeing that episode. regarding the skirt hem lines at school. Our all girls Catholic high school also implemented a hem line rule after girls started wearing their skirts so short. The rule was the skirt could not be any higher than the middle of the knee. Well the principal Sister I-better-not-say-her-name failed to say what the skirt couldn't be any LOWER than. and -- if you ever had a Catholic school uniform you know they come super long and you hem them -- in response, large numbers of girls lowered their huge hems and the skirts became tea-length (just above the ankle). after the shock of the faculty wore off, the long hemlines continued and it influenced a new fashion trend in high school girls uniforms (there were two other all girls Catholic schools in town) at least where we all lived !

Anonymous said...

Sister, I have a quick question. I've been looking for the patron saint of stuttering children, and Google tells me that it's Notkat Bulbulus. Problem is, I can't find any other info on him. I'd like to do a novena to him to help my daughter, but feel a little weird talking to someone I've never heard of before and know nothing about. Can you feel in the blanks on his life at all? Thanks in advance...

Anonymous said...

Followup wedding question:

My 40-some-year old aunt announced last summer that she's marrying her long-term live in boyfriend. I was very happy for her. Then she mentioned that he's divorced. And she doesn't want any presents from me...she just wants me to come to the wedding.

Now I don't have any idea what to do.

She converted from Catholocism to something related to Mennonites years ago. She said for all they no the ex-wife is deceased but I'm not sure how much detective work I want to put into this (and I don't want to wish anyone dead!)

I contemplated making up some excuse for not going but a. I really can't think of one and b. this seems like the wimpy way out.

I love my aunt, I want her to know I love her, but I can't think of any solution that doesn't come as a slap in the face to her and have the whole family denouncing me as an evil bigot(ok, I'm exagerating. Slightly)

And I'm spending Christmas with all of them.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha;

My Family & I are in the process of moving. It is a huge chore and very stressful. Although I have seen many blessings during this transition, I have seen many evils as well. My husband has had power tools stolen right off our back porch and these are things he needs for work. We are in sort of a desperate situation, as our move is not by choice, but due to the economy and loosing our home. I would like to know if there is a saint we can use for protection of our property & family? I would have e-mailed this to you but did not find a link on your sight.
BTW- I love you blog and look forward to each update on my Kindle.


Kasia said...

For the record, I got married in January and had to search high, low, far, and wide for dresses for myself and my bridesmaids that covered the shoulders and had at least a cap sleeve. My parish has no formal modesty guidelines, and I've seen several friends get married there in strapless gowns. The priest who witnessed our wedding, however, was not from that parish - he is my primary confessor, from a neighboring parish - and when I asked him for guidelines, he said "shoulders must be covered, and skirt at least to the knees" - which was pretty much my metric as well.

It is INCREDIBLY difficult to find such dresses. You have to know you want it, be prepared to hunt, and be completely unwilling to compromise. I really only found them on Mormon web sites. I did finally find a line of bridesmaid dress separates that had a jacket top, and both my maids and I wore those. Good thing I didn't have my heart set on a big poofy formal wedding dress...

Elena said...

I run the wedding rehearsals for our parish. There have been times I have wanted to throw a jacket over some bridesmaid or even bride, especially when Father comes in to talk to them before the wedding! The absolute worst is the young lady who is a good 50 or more pounds overweight, who was poured into her strapless dress but insists on leaning over to laugh or dig through her purse or fix her hem. I just know one day these days we are going to have a major costume malfunction!

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