It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday. I look in the mirror at my well-dressed self: spring-ready floral dress, pastel heels, dangly earrings. I dab a bit of blush on my cheeks and give my smoothly straightened locks one last spritz of hairspray. Then I take a deep breath and head to church … or, should I say, my living room.
Along with millions of other Catholic believers, for the last few weeks, I’ve been viewing Sunday Mass via livestream as a measure of social distancing. It’s an adjustment that’s certainly taken some getting used to. I’d be lying if I said if it were easy to go without the comforts of seeing friends and hearing my priest’s encouragement in person—or, most importantly, receiving the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. For me, forgoing these blessings has been one of the most painful sacrifices of the COVID-19 experience.
And yet, despite the fact that I can’t physically attend church, for the last three weeks, I’ve found comfort in dressing up to view Sunday Mass. Of course, I could wear pajamas (or at least change into some daytime jammies from my nighttime ones) — there’s no one to see or care whether I’m in any particular state of decorum or disarray. But I find that getting ready for Mass as I usually would provides a sense of normalcy. I thrive on routine. Maintaining my Sunday morning pattern of makeup, hair, and wardrobe is an anchor of order in this very disordered time.
As I put on a dress and heels, it sets the tone in my mind: I am devoting this morning to worship. Worship requires mental and spiritual preparation, which my physical preparation can enhance. Would I really be able to get into a worshipful mood with my fuzzy unicorn slippers staring goofily up at me? Probably not.
I’ve noticed, too, that looking my best keeps me engaged and reverent during the Mass itself. Wearing shoes with a lift or a skirt that makes me suck in my tummy not only formalizes my appearance, it harnesses my attention. When I don a classy outfit instead of yoga pants, I sit up straighter. I take more care in my movements as I stand or kneel. I feel, in short, more mindful. I become me more of a participant and less of an observer of Mass.
Dressing for church reminds me that the reverential supper of the Lamb, though on a screen, isn’t entertainment. Sure, maybe I’m sitting in the same spot where I’ve binge-watched old ‘90s reruns for the last several nights. But Mass deserves more from me—and my wardrobe—than any show or movie.
Besides, throughout the new normal activities of my week—educating my kids, working from home, the occasional foray to the grocery store—Sunday provides the only opportunity to get a little fancy, anyway. I’ve begun to relish having a reason to actually dress formally, to wrestle my naturally frizzy hair into something resembling a style, and maybe even shave my legs for display below a hemline. And I’m happy for my kids to step out of their usual uniform of basketball shorts and t-shirts once a week, too. It breaks us all out of monotony, pointing us to the uniqueness of the celebration of our faith.
As we face unknown weeks ahead without in-person Mass attendance, I’m thankful we can carve a bit of extra sacredness into our family’s Sunday by dressing up for church. Though our communal gathering is on pause, the work and life of the Church go on. When Mass returns in person, we’ll be ready — and dressed! — for the occasion.