Post Images

All are welcome but there is a dress code


There is a popular hymn sung in parishes and schools with the words, “all are welcome in this place”. In recent times there has been a great deal of emphasis placed on the Church being a place of welcome, and rightly so. We are open to receive anyone who wishes to participate in the life of the Church. We take our cues from Christ himself who reached out to those whom Pope Francis describes as being on the ‘peripheries’.

Many times, by his example and his teaching, Jesus spoke of engaging with those who were not the usual religious types. The Gospels record him “eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners”. For this he was criticised by the religious elites.

The Church must set its approach to model that of Jesus.

The Christian community should be a place where anyone, no matter their social position or level of faith, can find a home.

They should receive a sincere welcome.

Pope Francis has often reminded us that the Church should have a special orientation towards the poor and those who feel outcast.

This theme is echoed in hymns like “Come as you are”, “All are welcome”, and “Gather us in”. The spirit of these hymns chimes readily with the promotion of the concept of ‘inclusion’ or ‘inclusivity’.

The idea of inclusion is very popular today. The idea proposes that we should be willing to embrace everyone just as they are, without changing. It is understood as being a kind of ‘non-judgemental’ acceptance. On this understanding it would be considered offensive to ask them to change in any way to meet the standards of an organisation in order to join.

In the Gospels the image of a banquet or wedding feast features in a number of parables. This is how the Lord describes the Kingdom of God. It is a most attractive image.

God does indeed reach out to humanity offering them a participation in His very life.

This is, in the end, an invitation to heaven.

When we hold a dinner, a party, or a celebration of some kind we send out invitations to those we wish to invite. We normally anticipate a response – an RSVP – so we know that those we have invited will be attending.

On our part we are conscious that if we have received an invitation to an event it is good manners to inform the organisers if we will be attending.

Simply put: an invitation requires a response. An invitation causes the person invited to decide whether they will attend or not. It is a courtesy to then inform the host.

One such parable of Christ describes a king holding a wedding feast for his son (Mt 22:1-14) and extending invitations. The parable then goes on to state that people on the initial guest list replied in the negative, saying that they are too busy, too preoccupied with other matters. They had other priorities, and chose not to attend the wedding feast.

Insulted by their rejection of the invitation the king then sends his servants out to gather anyone that they can, and so, we are told, the wedding hall was filled.

There is an intriguing final element to the parable. We are told that when the king comes into the wedding hall he discovers a person who is not wearing a wedding garment and unceremoniously throws him out.

This reminds us that it is not enough just to turn up at the wedding. We do need to be suitably attired.

We choose to come to the wedding but we must prepare ourselves and we must conform ourselves to the expectations of the host.  We know this – often we check to find out the dress code for a particular function. It would be the height of rudeness to come to an important event dishevelled and in dirty clothes.

When we are attending a formal function, we shower and clean ourselves up. We bring out good and appropriate clothing. We understand that we should conform to the expectations of the host and the nature of the occasion.

The Church should be a place of welcome. Catholic parishes are sometimes criticised for not being as open to the visitor as they should be. Where this is true we need to lift our game.

However, this does not mean that there is no expectation on the person who comes.

Participation in the life of the Church either for someone wishing to become a Catholic or a person returning after being away from the sacramental life has some basic requirements.

Formal entry into the life of the Church is via Baptism. Prior to being baptised a person is asked two threefold sets of questions which express their desire to reject Satan and evil and, secondly, that they profess the core basic beliefs of the Catholic faith. This reflects the first preaching of Jesus. In announcing that the Kingdom of God was close at hand, he called on people to “repent and believe”.

It is worth noting that when a person is baptised they receive a white baptismal robe, a sign of their dignity and new life as a Christian.

The prophet Isaiah says, “He has clothed me with the robe of salvation” (Is 61:10). A person who enters the Church does so by a humble recognition of their need for forgiveness and their free acceptance of the elements of Catholic faith. This brings them under the grace of salvation.

In a similar way, a person who has been away from the Church and wishes to return to the practice of the faith is urged, prior to resuming their sacramental life, to make a good confession, acknowledging their waywardness and seeking forgiveness. Mercy is readily granted and the person now knows that they are in right relation with God and so able to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church.

Yes, all are welcome, as the hymns proclaim, but there are also expectations and requirements placed on anyone who wishes to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Like attending a special event, there is a dress code to be adhered to.


    One response to “All are welcome but there is a dress code”

    1. Florence D’Costa says:

      Very well said Archbishop Julian Porteous. Thanks

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *