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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Too Open....Toed

Back in the old days it was easy to get into the habit. Each nun had about three habits in her closet: a really nice one (the "Sunday go to meeting," "PTA meeting" habit), a really beat up one (the "pew duster"), and the everyday one ( the "Mama Bear"). Each habit had a skull cap for one's hair, then the wimple, that tied at the top and the back. Then the main dress. Then you put on the big bib and the headband and then the veil itself. The order supplied the whole shebang, complete with the giant rosary.

Getting the habit ready to put on was not so easy. The big bib and that white part inside the veil and the head band, and sometimes the wimple had to be starched within an inch of it's life. Starched so it could stand on it's own two feet without the benefit of having any feet.

We made our own starch, as if we weren't busy enough, what with keeping you from sinning and our own life in Christ. We made it thick enough to choke a horse and then we would squeeze it through cheese cloth into big vats and dip everything into it. It was so thick that if we got a hole in any of the white parts of our habits, we could simply take a little piece of white fabric and blop it onto the hole with some of the starch and iron it on there. Instant new wimple! Instant new giant bib!

And off you went. If you needed anything else, like a clicker or a ruler with an extra long reach, you were on your own.

Now, of course, the nuns are on their own for everything. No wonder they ended up looking so motley. It's not as bad these days as it was when the habits first flew away. Those poor women had no idea how to put together an outfit, suddenly on their own budget. (You try and look spiffy on $12.50.) Suddenly left with some hair showing ("Sister Mary Gerard is a redhead!" Remember that moment?), we ended up with the famous 'nun bangs'. So sad.

Which brings me to today's question, at last:

On the topic of modest dress, what do you think about shoes? I am a Eucharistic Minister, and we are required to not only abide by a modest dress code, but also wear only closed-toed shoes. Of course I abide by these rules at mass, but outside of church, am I sinning if I wear sandals? I ask this also because I am considering entering religious life, and I know it is customary for sisters to wear closed-toed shoes, too. When did this tradition begin?

I wish it were a sin to wear sandals, given the state of some people's feet.

It's not a sin to wear sandals. In fact, there are whole religious orders who wear nothing but sandals. This tradition was officially started by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. St. Francis took Jesus at His Word when He said, "Take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals." That's why St. Francis took the vow of poverty, didn't wear shoes and walked upright.

These orders are called 'discalced'. That means they wear no shoes or sandals.

So much for open-toed sin.

I'm guessing that the Eucharist Minister rule to which you must abide was born of what we've been discussing for the last couple of days: the impossible bone-headed-bad-taste-in-attire that people show up wearing for Mass. We don't want the recipients of Holy Communion distracted by your horrible looking toes, your fuchsia toenail polish, your bunions, your callused heels, your toe rings....you get the picture. In order to not have to look at any of that while receiving the body of Christ, the priest would have to issue a gigantic edict:

"Dear Eucharistic Ministers,

We thank you with the love of Christ, but for the love of Christ, please don't wear open toed shoes if you have horrible looking toes, wear crazy nail polish, toe rings, have bunions or otherwise distracting or nasty looking feet.

Also, please refrain from showing tattoos, your knees, the upper part of your arm no matter how often you work out, or any other flesh between your collar bone and your upper calf. If you are a man, please don't show any flesh below your collarbone. This means you! Wear some socks!

Don't wear wacky colors, boas, leis, giant jewelry, feathers, huge hats, or bullet proof vests. Don't wear things that clack, jingle, jiggle or beep. Since your feet are alreacy covered, do we need to mention the reason some footwear is called 'flip-flops'? No flapping footwear. No tap shoes. No cleats.

Please don't show up in jeans, workout clothes, track suits, beach attire, togas or pajamas. If it says "Nike" on it, swoop it back into the closet.

Don't wear costumes...unless you actually are a cowboy, a fireman, a caveman, or a madam...in which case we'll know to work on saving your immortal soul all the harder.

Your Parish Priest

You think I'm joking, but I actually attended a funeral where a man arrived wearing a bullet proof vest. I suppose I should be grateful that he was fully clothed.

As for yourself outside your duties, you can wear sandals until the cows come home. And should you join the religious life (oh, we so hope you do!) you can join a sandal order. Look for "Discalced" in the title of the order.

As for myself, I have big giant black shoes. Bug Crushers, we used to call them. Mine are more like Mouse Crushers. They used to be supplied by the order, but now I just hit the men's department at Payless.


Anonymous said...

You think I'm joking, but I actually attended a funeral where a man arrived wearing a bullet proof vest.

Was it a Mafia funeral? Maybe he turned state's evidence.

Anonymous said...


"Eucharistic minister"???? Should we be using that term? I thought we were only supposed to use "extraordinary minister of Holy Communion." (or EMHC, for short.)

Anonymous said...

Hah! I wish the "no gross feet in sandals" rule applied to everyone, not just Eucharist ministers.

On another note, are there entrance exams to becoming a nun? Like, a God Quotient or something? Just curious.

Melanie said...

I just wanted to tell you that you have a link on my blog and I am still looking at your blog and I like it.

Peter Brown said...

I do hope that "no skin below the collarbone" doesn't apply to hands... :-)


Anonymous said...

Can we include thin white pants while wearing thong 'underwear'? I was hideously distracted by this a month ago and still haven't quite recovered.

On the other hand, I don't understand the taboo against upper arms.

Anonymous said...

Sr. Mary Martha, I absolutely love your blog. I have been looking all over this site for an email address to contact you privately, but I could not find one...Various moral dilemmas plague me from time to time, and I can't tell you how much I would appreciate some "unsympathetic" advice from someone like you. If you are willing, would you pretty pretty please post a contact email address for yourself so that we can all bombard you with our questions that we're too afraid to post in plain view of the world?

Thank you and God bless you for everything you do, especially for all us sinners!

Unknown said...

I think the sandal rule was really a "near occasion of sin" kind of prohibition to ward off the mortal sin of clothing offenses: Socks with Sandals! ***shudder***

Anonymous said...

I was scolded one time for wearing suggestive shoes. They were closed toed flats, but they showed 'toe clevage'and were therefore not appropriate for Mass according to this individual. I looked it up in the catechism, but couldn't find anything on 'toe clevage'...

tsjedi1 said...

Would you mind penning a similar notice for the altar servers? Yesterday at my church the altar girl had on a denim miniskirt and flip flops. Of course, you couldn't see the miniskirt under the cassock or whatever the black outfit the acolytes wear, but the flip flops are a constant problem!

Anonymous said...

My children are to wear sensible shoes when serving, but they may not be scheduled to serve but 'pulled in' by Father when the scheduled server fails to show up or send a replacement. Those cassocks are very warm, we've had servers faint from the heat. A miniskirt is going to far but they need to stay on their feet to do their job. Good golly, toe cleavege? Tell the person with the foot fetish to close their eyes when they lower their head to pray then your toes couldn't be a distraction.

Arkanabar Ilarsadin said...

All of the questions that Sr. Mary Martha answers come from comments. She doesn't post her email, which I have to say, strikes me as prudent.

Anonymous said...

As far as I am aware the only order with "discalced" in the name are the Discalced Carmelite Friars. There are apparently other orders which are discalced by Rule or tradition such as the Friars Minor, Capuchins, Passionists. (One group of Passionist friars in New England brag on their website that they "wear sandals on sockless feet summer and winter" which must be a real challenge during a New England winter.

However as, Sister mentions in her blog of Oct. 12, 2007, most of the allegedly discalced seem to wear shoes most of the time. This appears to include even the Discalced Carmelite friars. Maybe it's time to drop the moniker since the sandals mostly have been dropped.

I attended Franciscan schools in the 50's and 60's and at that time it seemed most friars wore bare-
foot sandals most of the time, albeit rather self-consciously, but even then there were those who never seemed to wear their sandals. Anyway, the sandal wearers must have practiced good foot care since I don't recall they had ugly feet. Maybe those with ugly feet were the ones who were not seen in sandals or who always wore socks with

The "disdiscalced" as Sister humorously referred to them, must have changed the "shoe section" of their Rules. The Rule of one of the orders stated "Shoes are forbidden by the Rule and may be worn only in case of necessity, for these sandals are substitued and the feet are bare." Elsewhere it was stated: "No friar shall wear shoes without urgent and manifest necessity." Pretty strong words, so it is hoped the Rule was altered and is not simply being ignored for sake of convenience or self-consciousness about exposed feet. Could the "disdiscalced" be "cafeteria friars"--the Disdiscalced Cafeteria Friars?"

However, it seems that since one does occasionally spot a friar who is actually wearing sandals on otherwise bare feet in church or elsewhere, the "rule" about men not showing skin below the collar bone is either a "churban" legend or aimed at the laity.