I came across the word "casualization" in an article I recently read about the fact that people are so unlikely to dress up for certain occasions these days. We can get away with dressing down, with wearing anything we want, and so we do. Going casual works for the office, for weddings, for dances and for church.
On the subject of what we wear to church, I've often heard people say, "Jesus doesn't care what I wear to church." On the other hand, what we wear is an expression of what we think, of our level of respect, of our whole attitude about where we are, who we're with and what we're doing.
Since the Mass in the Catholic Church is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, it would seem that our dress at church would be appropriate for something that solemn. If we were going out to see Jesus crucified, would we wear shorts and flip-flops?
Actually, that's a bigger issue than just what we're wearing. By now, most of us have grown up with the Mass that became the norm in the Catholic Church in 1964. Before that, the Mass was said around the world exclusively in Latin. After the Vatican II Council, Masses were said in the vernacular, the language of the locale in which the Mass was being offered.
Along with the change in language, there was a new shift in tone. In most places, almost every aspect of the Mass has become more casual. I remember quite vividly an occasion in which a visiting priest at my home parish was discussing the Eucharist in his homily at Mass. He said very emphatically, "It's like a picnic! So bring on the frankfurters and the baked beans!"
There's a monastery near where I live where the Benedictine monks say the Mass in Latin. I was very uncomfortable with this at first. Gradually, however, as I attended more of these Masses, I developed a greater appreciation for the solemnity of the Mass. There was such a profound sense of the transcendental aspect of God. It was as if I had one foot in heaven during these Masses.
This experience was repeated recently when I attended a Sunday Mass at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico. All of the Mass except for the readings from scripture was said in Latin. It was clearly exhilarating not just for me but also for the other guests who were present. Unlike the Masses in English at most of our parishes, every aspect of this liturgy had a distinctive and pronounced beauty. There was nothing casual about it.
I'm not saying that everything would be great if Catholics returned to the traditional Latin Mass. But I do think it would be very helpful if we did what we could do restore a sense of solemnity, transcendence and beauty to the Masses in our parish. And, maybe, one simple first step would be to dress in a manner appropriate for witnessing the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus.