Monday, October 10, 2005

Hat Tricks
A first, in my nineteen years as a Catholic: last Sunday I was banned from entering a church because of a dress code violation. What flip-flops, t-shirts, and shorts in my callow teenage years had failed to achieve, a little straw bonnet managed to do.

Offspring #1 had been on a CampFire campout over the weekend and gotten home early Sunday afternoon, and then we had to zip over to the Hindu Temple to see the daughter of a dear friend performing a traditional dance as part of their yearly festival (and let me say that I would be all for liturgical dance if it were a gorgeous classical art form like Hindu dance). Sensing that our visit to the Temple probably wouldn't count as fulfilling the Sunday Obligation, and the hour growing late, we drove to the late Spanish mass at a nearby parish, our own parish not having any masses after one o'clock.

Now let me say that everything I know about proper behavior in church I learned from my maternal grandmother of blessed memory, who had been a proper Congregationalist before marriage and became an even more proper Episcopalian thereafter. Thanks to her, I sit quietly, don't cross my knees, and frown a little bit when people applaud in church. And as I've grown older, I've begun to wear hats in church. Nice hats; not mantillas or chapel veils, but not baseball caps either. It seems to me that in the trad-vs-mod Catholic infighting over head coverings, women have lost sight of the fact that, however you interpret him, St. Paul has unarguably given us ladies a green light to deck ourselves out at mass. Not that I have the daring or carriage to attempt one of the millinery confections in the photo above; but a little narrow-brimmed straw hat with a band, or a red felt one for espcially good moods, frankly makes me happy.

Unfortunately it didn't make the usher (sorry, "hospitality minister") at St. L.'s happy. As Offspring #1 and I tried to enter, the gentleman blocked us and gestured at my head. My hat? He nodded, and motioned for me to take it off. I can't wear a hat to mass? I asked, incredulous. He smiled apologetically in agreement. There's nothing wrong with wearing a hat, I explained; only men have to take off their hats at mass. It was no good. I made another try for the door; he stepped in front of me, and gestured, more sternly, at my hat. People were slipping past us, staring. I was starting to blush, and was really regretting having no Spanish at all. Finally I acquiesced, doffed my hat in shame, and the usher smiled pleasantly and motioned us to go inside.

Once in, I glanced furtively around. A quick survey of the assembly revealed no hats, but there were a few mantillas on older women. So it wasn't the head covering, it was just the hat. Suddenly the cold thought came to me: maybe Catholic women didn't wear hats! Maybe I was mistaken in extrapolating from my Episcopalian grandmother and Baptist friends; maybe I had been in error all this time, and everybody else was just too nice to tell me I was supposed to be removing my hat at mass. No--I remembered the drawings in Offspring #1's 1948 Catholic Picture Dictionary, with the women in their Jackie O. pillbox hats ("churching") and brimmed bonnets with wide bows ("communion"). I felt a surge of relief at the thought of those little ink-drawn illustrations. My only possible sartorial offense was my open-toed sandals, and nobody seemed to care about those, though Grandmommy was certainly shaking her head from Above.

Anyhow, I phoned the parish office the next morning to ask about their, uh, dress code... "Our what? We don't have a dress code." Laugh. "Anything goes." I bit back the reply that sprang to my lips and pressed the particular issue. So, ladies can wear hats? I mean, not a gimme cap or anything, just a normal church hat type thing? Yes, of course. I had apparently just run into a particularly enthusiastic, but misled, usher. "Hospitality minister," she corrected me.

What a relief. Saturday, I'm going hat shopping.


Blogger sophia said...

That was so interesting to me. As a Greek Orthodox Christian convert, I'm always struggling with what is Tradition with a captial "T" and tradition with a lower case "t". One tradition is not crossing your legs in church. Most of the time we are standing up in church, but I have been told by other women that such a relaxed posture as crossing your legs in church is not respectful. It's laughable because my Momma taught me to always cross my legs in church in particular because I was wearing a dress! However, I try to remind myself that if it is offensive to my fellow parishoners, I should go with the flow whether it is a tradition with a "T" or a "t". Interesting that the same rule is in the Catholic church somewhere...
I was at one Orthodox church for awhile where almost all of the ladies wore head coverings. One classy lady always wore these really great hats every single Sunday. I loved it. Recently, I had a good discussion with my siblings about enforcing dress codes within churches. When people go to the Orthodox monasteries, they are not allowed in if their heads are not covered and the every part of their bodies are not covered. They have skirts and shawls available for women to put on at the door. I wonder sometimes why "hospitality ministers" can't do the same in churches. (well, I'm being partially facetious here. ha!) We discussed how it might not be "seeker friendly", but frankly, I'm not too sure that seeker friendly is the way to go?

5:50 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Now I always thought a lady could cross her legs at the ankle, just not at the knee. Frankly at my height I'm doing well just to keep my feet off the kneeler, as an alternative to having them dangle an inch from the floor.

Alas I think the default rule at Catholic parishes today is the "anything goes" stricture mentioned in the post. But I try to avoid clucking too much about that sort of thing, as it goes too well with my gray hairs.

4:29 PM  
Blogger sophia said...

Yes, yes, I don't want to be a grumpy-frumpy hospitality minister clucking about what the "young people" are wearing that I have reached the ripe old age of 37. :) But, we'll see... Anyway, I hope you don't mind that I am still chuckling inside as I think of your hat story and how you must have felt like you were in the twilight zone for a few moments. It's quite ironic to me that usher, er, hospitality minister physically stood in your way until you took off something which you were wearing out of reverence. Since churches rely on volunteers, you just never know what overzealous volunteers might do which may or may not reflect the values and opinions of the rest of the church or its leadership. Thankfully God is control of His church.
P.S. So, happy you finally got Rita! Enjoy!

9:11 PM  
Blogger SecretAgentMan said...

"Offspring #1 had been on a CampFire campout over the weekend and gotten home early Sunday afternoon, and then we had to zip over to the Hindu Temple to see the daughter of a dear friend performing a traditional dance as part of their yearly festival . . . ."

Say, aren't you worried at all about homeschooling your kids? What about their socialization?

2:35 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


Yes, but it does no good to trot out such examples; if the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Banshee said...

"Hat" and "deck myself out" are mutually exclusive terms, when it comes to my head. Veils, ditto. On the other hand, I look reasonably good in elaborate medieval headdresses; but somehow I feel that wearing a hennin to church would be a bit ostentatious. To say the least.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Julian said...

I have a picture of my mother going off to Mass in Melbourne, Australia, in the early 60s wearing a nice hat.

When my wife and I attend the Traditional Mass, she wears a hat, as do several of the ladies. Some ladies and girls wear mantillas, as did my wife for a while, but they seem a bit extreme really.

6:53 PM  

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