MODESTY AND MODES OF DRESS
We are all born with a fallen nature and, consequently, we must keep
our bodies covered in order to avoid the dangers of concupiscence.
This fact, a result of original sin, is deliberately ignored each
time that naturalism attempts to insinuate itself into our Christian
customs. Then it is that the purpose of clothing is lost sight of,
and instead of being an invitation to virtue, it becomes an
incitement to sin. The Church, like a vigilant Mother, full of tender
care for the holiness and eternal salvation of Her children, has often
been obliged to warn the faithful so that they might avoid the errors
of fashion, and to take the measures necessary to ensure that the
holy places and sacred things should not be profaned by immodesty in
Unfortunately, we are living in times that have lost the sense of sin
and, as a result, we see around us an eruption of styles of dress
which are, in every way, contrary to Christian modesty. Christian
people must not allow themselves to be carried along by the spirit of
the world but must firmly resist such deviations . . . Jacinta Marto,
one of the little seers of Fatima, although she was only eleven years
old at the time, had a wisdom taught her by the Mother of God.
She merits, therefore, our attention. Here is what she said with
regard to styles of dress: "Fashions will arise which will greatly
offend God." When we consider the fashions of our day, we are led to
conclude that the times foretold by the little seer have arrived.
Indeed, the styles of dress of the women and girls of today such as:
very tight clothing; dressing like men, including slacks and tights;
low necklines; skirts with hemlines or slits which do not cover the
leg below the knee -- are absolutely contrary to the norms of
For this reason, in order to conform to the recommendations of the
Holy See, and in particular to the instructions of the Sacred
Congregation of the Council, we urge our faithful people to refrain
from following such ways of dressing.
"Those who keep the Law of God", Jacinta said, "should not follow
fashions". Our priests must try to apply the instructions of the
Sacred Congregation of the Council, without violence or rudeness, but
with firmness. They must not let persons, dressed in the styles
described above, receive the Sacraments and, as far as possible, must
not allow them access to the Temple of God.
Furthermore, they must frequently remind the faithful of these
regulations. Also, when couples present themselves for marriage
preparation, the priests must tell them to inform their wedding
guests of the rules for dress in church. People dressed in these
unacceptable ways must not be accepted as witnesses to the marriage
and, after due warning, they must not be admitted to Holy Communion.
It is highly recommended that these prescriptions be posted at the
entrance to the church.
-Bishop Antonio de Castro-Mayer-
On January 12, 1930, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, by
mandate of Pope Pius XI, issued emphatic instructions on modesty of
dress to all bishops, directing them to insist on these
prescriptions: "We recall that 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 knee. Furthermore, dresses of transparent
material are improper.
"Let parents keep their daughters away from public gymnastic games
and contests; but, if their daughters are compelled to attend such
exhibitions, let them see to it that they are fully and modestly
dressed. Let them never permit their daughters to don immodest garb."
Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, also quotes these
standards as "The Church's Stand concerning Modesty in Dress" in his
Pastoral of December 6, 1959. The feminine loss of the sense of
modesty was indicated by Pope Pius XII who said: "Now many girls do
not see anything wrong with following certain shameless styles
(fashions) like so many sheep. They would surely blush if they could
only guess the impressions they make and the feelings they evoke
(arouse) in those who see them." (July 17, 1954.)
"O Christian mothers, if only you knew the future distress, peril and
ill-restrained shame that you prepare for your sons and daughters by
imprudently accustoming them to live barely clothed, and permitting
them to lose the sense of modesty, you would be ashamed of
yourselves, and of the harm done to the little ones entrusted to you
by Heaven to be reared in a Christian dignity and culture."
And, men also are held to the virtue of modesty; witness the
admonition of Canadian bishops in May of 1946: "Man himself does not
escape from the inclination of exhibiting his flesh: some go in
public, stripped to the waist, or in very tight pants or in very
scanty bathing suits. They thus commit offenses against the virtue of
modesty. They may also be an occasion of sin (in thought or desire)
for our neighbor."
The opinion which allows custom to dictate the question of modesty
was refuted by Pope Pius XII in one short sentence: "There always
exists an absolute norm to be preserved."
Custom, of course, pays no attention to absolute norms; but, it is a
follower of this false principle: ". . . the majority cannot go
To say that "... modesty is a matter of custom" is just as wrong as
to say that "... honesty is a matter of custom."
What about those who teach "What is customary does not affect us?"
Pope Pius XII calls this application of an ancient principle to the
virtue of modesty, "the most insidious of sophisms." He calls
attention to the fact that some people use this sophism "...in order
to brand as 'old fashioned' the rebellion of honest people against
fashions they consider too bold."
The Pope's pronouncements make no distinctions for various types of
garments. Pius XII states "...an unworthy, an indecent mode of dress
has prevailed" without any distinction of place, "on beaches, in
country resorts, on the streets, etc." (Aug. 29. 1954)
His quotation: "Vice necessarily follows upon public nudity," applies
as well to the beaches, or the streets, or resorts, or elsewhere.
Cardinal Pla y Daniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain, stated in 1959:
"A special danger to morals is represented by public bathing at
beaches... Mixed bathing between men and women, which is nearly
always a proximate occasion of sin and a scandal, must be avoided."
Modern Catholics may now consider themselves "far too adult" and
disdain such directives, but nevertheless they remain the wise
counsels of our Holy Mother the Church.
The saintly stigmatized Padre Pio was always a merciless enemy of
feminine vanity: he never tolerated low-necked dresses, short and or
tight fitting skirts, and forbade his spiritual children to wear
transparent stockings. In the last few years of his life, his
severity increased enormously, as fashions became more and more
He unrelentingly dismissed from his confessional, before they could
step inside, all women he judged to be incorrectly dressed. By 1967,
on some mornings, he turned them away one after another, until he
ended up confessing very few. His brethren noticed this with a
certain unease, then decided to post on the door of the church a
warning: "By Padre Pio's explicit wish, women must enter the
confessional wearing skirts AT LEAST 8 INCHES BELOW THE KNEE. It is
forbidden to borrow longer dresses in church and to wear them to
The beginning of the struggle with no concessions whatsoever
coincided more or less with the advent of the mini-skirt, launched by
the English girl Mary Quant. It had not yet reached Italy as Padre Pio
was thundering against short skirts. As fashion houses announced:
"Eight inches above the knee", Padre Pio warned: "Eight inches below
WHEN SUMMER IS HERE
When summer comes, a pastor of souls worries a little more than usual
about the salvation of the flock that Our Lord has confided to him. He
knows that, in the summer season, souls are more exposed to occasions
of offending God, "of attacking God with His won gifts", especially
through sinful fashions of dress.
Our Lady said to Sister Lucy at Fatima: "There will be fashions which
will greatly offend My Divine Son". Today's fashions prove Our Lady's
words true, for these fashions are occasions of sin, occasions, alas,
of serious sin, by reason of the sinful thoughts and desires which
they provoke. In the Gospel, Our Lord warned us about such evil
desires: "But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to
lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his
In the life of Saint Frances of Rome, we read of a vision of Hell
which was granted her, and which lasted for four hours. God willed to
show her, in the fires of Hell, certain ladies whom she had known in
Roman society. For what sins had these souls been damned? They had
- for guilty desires, even though these had not been put into act.
- for indecent styles of dress, which were the fashion of the day,
and which had been a cause of seduction and of sin.
- for dances, considered inoffensive by the world.
This vision of Hell so marked Saint Frances of Rome, that she had it
painted on the murals of her chapel, as a constant reminder of the
judgments of God. God then gave her the mission of drawing the Roman
ladies out of their luxury and their vanity.
Our society is much worse than the society of Renaissance Rome. What
can we do in order not to yield to the corruption which surrounds us,
especially in the matter of dress? Let us, first of all, recall
certain Catholic principles. It was with the help of such principles
that Father Emmanuel, at Mesnil Saint-Loup, was able to make his
Parish a truly Christian society once again.
Christianity is stable and solid only insofar as it permeates the
whole being of the baptized person. It must, first of all, penetrate
the inner man, and transform him into the image of Jesus Christ, in
order to then regulate, according to this image, his exterior
actions, words, and attitudes. It is not sufficient, Saint Paul tells
us, for the heart to believe; we must also confess with our mouth, if
we wish to be saved. And this external confession must extend to all
our gestures, movements, habits, and relationships.
>From this, it is easy to understand the importance of modesty for
women. A woman who is vain gives the lie to her baptismal promises. A
woman who tries to attract men's glances to herself, shows by this
conduct that she has no desire to please Jesus Christ.
In Holy Communion, Our Lord takes possession of our whole being, so
that the soul becomes subject to Him in humility, and the body in
modesty and restraint. From which it follows that a person who goes
to Communion must be different, even exteriorly, from one who does
Modesty in a woman is the sign that Jesus Christ dwells in her heart.
It is a sweet perfume of edification which she is called upon to
Modesty in dress and behavior is, therefore, an indispensable way of
making us more attentive to the obligations which we contracted at
our Baptism. It is a consequence of that dogma of Faith which tells
us that the baptized soul is the dwelling of the Blessed Trinity and
that the body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost. Saint Paul, infallibly
inspired by God, tells us: "Know you not that your members are the
temple of the Holy Ghost, Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and
you are not your own? ... Glorify and bear God in your body". (1
Today's fashions, on the contrary, dishonor and corrupt the Christian
woman. Their aim is to seduce and to arouse concupiscence, to the
detriment of the soul's spiritual beauty, which is the true goal of
our lives. All of this is a strategic Masonic maneuver. The
destruction of Christian society, for which the Lodges have been
working for two centuries, is to be realized through the destruction
of the virtue of modesty in those who are baptized. This corruption,
which has been deliberately and carefully programmed, is being
systematically brought about.
It is, therefore, always necessary to remember the indispensable
rules of Christian modesty, rules which are not to be practiced only
in church! Let us, then, look at these rules, first in general, and
then, in particular, with regard to assistance at Mass.
IN GENERAL, clothes should hide the shape of the body rather than
accentuate it. Only this kind of clothing can truly be called
"decent". This rule automatically excludes slacks (which are
masculine apparel) for women. Feminine apparel is a skirt or a dress
which must cover the woman's knees when she is seated. Decency in
dress is to be observed, not only at Mass on Sundays, but every day
of the week. The deciding factor is not whether slacks or culottes
are more comfortable than a skirt, but rather to do the Will of God,
by "loving Him in all things and above all things" (Collect of the
6th Sunday after Pentecost).
IN PARTICULAR, when attending Mass, we must be still more careful
about how we dress. For instance, women must cover their heads:
"Every woman praying ...with her head not covered, disgraces her
head" (1 Cor.11:5). This rule has been the constant teaching of the
Popes, and Pope St. Pius X had it included in the Code of Canon Law
(Canon 1262). It is a sign of humility and submission for a woman to
cover her head, and draws down God's graces and blessings upon her.
Now is it an indifferent matter, just as no exterior act is an
indifferent matter, for it proceeds from our very person and reveals
what kind of person we are.
Both men and women must have their arms covered in church, even when
the weather is warm. It is true that this is a sacrifice, and we
should offer it to Our Lord, who suffered so much for us in His Body,
in order to save us. Let us learn to imitate Him in mortifying our
We must hold to these rules, of which we are mentioning only the most
essential, without human respect, especially in these times of ours.
For, as Dom Bernard Marechaux used to say:
"The evil of our day is this: that the line of demarcation between
Christian and non-Christian, between Christian and heretic, between
Christian and idolater, is gradually fading away. The cancer of
Liberalism attacks everyone and we must be careful not to be infected
ourselves. Those who still call themselves Catholic live, too often,
like those who have renounced this title. Women who go to church
dress just the way women who do not go to church dress; they read the
same books and magazines as these women; they go to the same -- often
immoral -- shows as these women; they no longer pray or do penance.
It is a confusion of license and worldliness. As a result of these
customs, the Church is beginning to disappear in the world.
Christianity is being lost. Only rarely does one find Catholics to
whom the following words of Saint Paul can apply: "...be blameless
and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a
crooked and perverse generation; among whom you shine as lights in
the world". (Phil.2:15). The early Christians stood out among the
pagans like shining torches in the dark, and the example of their
courage and their virtue attracted the pagans strongly to the Faith.
This is something which we do not see today, except in rare cases.
Everything is a mish-mash of unrestraint."
Pope Pius XII said substantially the same thing, in an allocution to
young Catholic girls during World War II (May 22, 1941):
"...Numbers of believing and pious women...in accepting to follow
certain bold fashions, break down, by their example, the resistance
of many other women to such fashions, which may become for them the
cause of spiritual ruin. As long as these provocative styles remain
identified with women of doubtful virtue, good women do not dare to
follow them; but once these styles have been accepted by women of
good reputation, decent women soon follow their example, and are
carried along by the tide into possible disaster."
Pope Pius XII indeed called Catholics to a CRUSADE OF PURITY. Good
example is a great act of charity. It is an apostolate which God
richly blesses, as we can see, for instance, in the diocese of Campos
in Brazil, where the priests followed the good example of their
bishop, Monsignor de Castro Mayer. Traditional priests -- alas still
few in number -- are eager to have such a Crusade of Purity. In
France, we can see the good that is being done by the "Mouvement de
la Jeunesse Catholique de France", and by traditional Catholic
schools, in producing Catholics who are enthusiastically practicing
the virtue of Christian modesty (which does not, by the way, prevent
a woman from being gracious and lovely). In other countries, too,
this Crusade is producing visible fruits of goodness and holiness.
We must mention here the important role of Christian mothers in
teaching their children, their daughters especially, and from the
time that they are very little, a true sense of Christian modesty.
"Men are lost through women and they are saved through women", a
preacher said one day. "By their vanity, they will make a man fall;
by their modesty, they will save him. The world of morality
oscillates between Eve and Mary. As long as modesty is not practiced,
the world will not rise from its decadence."