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Jack Zaleski, Published April 07 2012

Zaleski: It’s Easter; dress up, for God’s sake!

I grew up in a Catholic household in an industrial city in Connecticut during the 1950s and ’60s. Religion was integral to my family’s life, if not by consistent conviction and practice, by heritage and ethnicity. When your family is Polish on one side and Italian on the other, you will be raised Catholic, like it not. I liked it.

Easter Sunday was a big day after morning Mass – after because my dad did not attend with my mom and sister. He had shucked off the church years before. When the subject was brought up in our house, he was less than charitable about the parishioners and clergymen down at St. Mary’s.

I never knew precisely why he harbored such animus about the church of his birth, but Mom once hinted that he’d gotten to know a few priests who frequented Harrington’s Tavern, where he often stopped after his shift as a Linotype operator at the local newspaper.

Mom said the ol’ man lost respect for them but never said why. “Just because you turn your collar around backwards,” he used to say, “doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else.”

Nonetheless, post-Mass Easter was a treat. It was still the “Easter bonnet” holiday of story and song. My sister and I got new outfits. Mom had a new hat or dress. Dad was even decked out in his Sunday best when we got home after church. Easter dinner, sometimes at home, sometimes with nearby relatives, was a dress-up affair, as was church. Wherever the table was set, it featured traditional Easter fare: a spectacular glazed ham and all the fixins.

But it’s the dress code that stayed with me. There was something right and necessary about getting gussied up for church and Easter dinner. The Easter Mass – with its ancient liturgy (in Latin then) and soaring hymns – demanded, it seemed to me, the respect that was implicit in proper attire. The majesty and message of the service was complemented by the effort it took to be presentable.

“Well,” say modern clergy and the casual-to-sloppy set that frequents pews today, “clothes don’t matter. How one looks doesn’t matter.”

“What does matter is that you are in church,” they preach.

And this one, which drives me to eye-rolling: “God does not care how you dress,” they say. Maybe so. But that’s not the point. You should care, shouldn’t you? You should care how you present yourself in his house. Even my father, who had no use for the church, understood that much.

Happy Easter. Put on a tie …


Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.


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