Athletes like runners, cyclists, and swimmers recognize that having the right outfit enables them to perform at optimal levels. As an average jogger, I know that in order to maximize my run, I have to have the right shorts, right shirt, right shoes, even the right hat. Jogging in jeans or in casual shoes just won’t make sense. And it’s not just the physical body or motion that are impacted by the clothing. There is also a psychological impact. I have to get in the right mood and mindset in order to have a decent jog. Athletes who have a deep respect for their sport and are serious about how they perform will dress accordingly, recognizing that there is a profound connection between the external and the internal.
Dressing up for the occasion takes extra effort but what it shows is that we are taking that occasion with an increased level of seriousness and importance. Take attending a wedding as another example. Getting invited to a wedding is an honor and deserves only our best and most presentable attire. We spend extra time and effort in getting dressed for a wedding. As a Catholic, that’s how I see the Mass—as a wedding. It’s the great marriage feast between Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, and the Church, his bride. As the priest says “Blessed are those who are called to this supper,” we are reminded that we are guests humbled and invited to this heavenly feast. What an honor and blessing it is to be invited to this wedding!
Dress to Impress the Groom
We might not have given it much thought but the way we dress for this very honorable Sunday feast is more than just a fashion choice. It’s an external representation of what we wish to present to God during this sacred banquet. True, God may not judge you for the kind of clothing you have on, for God does not see as man does. “For man sees the outward appearance but the Lord sees the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). However, we should still treat this sacred wedding banquet, the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9) with Jesus as the groom and the bride, his church (that’s us!), with utmost importance and respect. If the way we dress speaks volume, we should make sure that what our outfit echoes is respectful and pleasing to God. “Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).
Just like when we dress up for a job interview, our clothing is an expression that we are humbled and have high regard for the job and that we desire it. At Mass, our clothing is an external expression that we are humbled to be in God’s presence, that we desire it, and that we have high regard for this glorious heavenly banquet. Let our clothing speak the same message that our hearts wish to convey to our Lord.
“Suit Up” to Wrestle
Our clothing is not just a peripheral symbolic gesture. Our clothing choices and efforts are not just about what we want to project and what impressions we want others to have of us. It’s deeper than what we are conscious of because the way we dress penetrates the depths of our cognition. Multiple scientific research studies published in a 2015 Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal article demonstrate that there is a relationship between our dressing manners and our cognition. Our clothing manners shape not only how others perceive us but also the way we think and the way we behave. In essence, formal attire helps enhance our conceptual coherence and our cognitive ability, particularly our ability to do abstract thinking—the kind of thinking we need when thinking about ideas such as justice, beauty, faith, freedom, and truth.
So dressing up, as in a job interview, not only makes us look smart but it also makes us think smart, helping us to answer some of the most pressing interview questions. Dressing up for Mass, which is the source and summit of the Christian life, not only makes us look good and presentable but it also helps us process thoughts and ideas that are not of this world.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in the first part of his Summa Theologiae, tackled the fact that our intellect is limited but that “it can be raised above its own nature to a higher level by grace.” We need every bit of help, even if it includes our dressing manners, to see “the many things shewn to thee above the understanding of men” (Sirach 3:25). So as we wrestle with the deep mysteries of the Divine and the profound meanings of the Mass, we need to, literally, “suit-up” and fully optimize our cognitive performance. Dress up to get our minds blown. Let’s not settle for the dumbed-down watered-down version of the faith. Let’s put on that armor of reason and faith along with our best attire to help us intellectualize the truth and beauty of our faith. Let us prepare the mind, the body, and the soul to absorb and process the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Mass.
Architecting the Soul and Body for God’s Grace
Walking into the Chartres Cathedral or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France, before the fire ruined its beauty, would bring a certain sense of awe, wonder, and reverence. The magnificence of the architecture, both inside and out, the splendor of the light passing through the stained-glass windows, the glorious high ceiling, the masterful pieces of artwork—this is a building delicately and diligently designed to make the wandering soul look up and be in awe of God’s wonders. Something inside the soul changes. You get a sense that the designers, the builders, the architects, the painters, and the artists toiled and labored with the intention to build a masterpiece that will heighten the emotional and spiritual experience of worship.
We need the same principles for our Sunday worship, remembering that Sunday is special and different from the other days of the week. By taking that extra diligence in presenting ourselves to God, treating his presence at Mass with reverence and respect, we are architecting our mind, body, and soul to be ready to welcome God’s grace on this special day. We are helping ourselves elevate our cognition and knowledge to get to know things of the Divine. The physical changes we pursue on this day, even with the external materialism of our clothing, implicitly helps in the preparation of our mind, body, and spirit.
As we prepare our hearts to receive God’s love, let us also prepare the external. “It is not who you are or what you’ve been that God sees with his merciful eyes, but what you want to be” (Cloud of Unknowing). Let our clothing be the physical expression that leads our hearts and minds to say that we desire him and we long for his grace to help us know him. St. Thomas Aquinas said that there are many graces that come with Holy Communion and “the mind is filled with grace” – “mens impletur gratia.” And if dressing up helps us welcome that grace to cognitively process the deep mystery of the Holy Eucharist, then come to this sacred banquet in your Sunday best.
“O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” –St.Thomas Aquinas