Apparently she combines some daily exercise (walking) with attendance at weekday Mass. Seeking other opinions, she sent an email to some friends and one of those friends forwarded her email to me asking what I thought.
I found the inquiry interesting because the issue of appropriate attire at Mass is actually only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger and more serious issue about the nature of the Mass itself and our response to it, which effects everything from the music to what we wear. The woman's "position" as a "Eucharistic Minister" (those words are in quotes for a reason, which you soon shall see) not only complicates the issue but illustrates another aspect of the "iceberg", which many are beginning to at least feel.
Following is my answer:
It's an excellent question because essentially it is not just a question about appropriate dress but touches on something much more profound: the nature of the Mass.
Personally, I have been slowly making the migration from the jeans and birkenstocks of my college days to a bit more formal wear at Mass. I can't bring myself to a jacket and tie yet, but I have at least arrived at dress pants, shirt, and shoes, though I still do without socks on occasion. (Love slipping my feet out of my shoes during Mass and feeling the cool marble floor with my bare feet. It's HOT in Guam :)
(Another contributor - name withheld) is correct in his assumption that Our Lord "deserves our very best". I used to think that God loves me no matter how I dress, and that's true. My mother loves me no matter how I dress too. However, out of respect for her, if she was hosting a party, I would dress for the occasion. It's not that she would love me any less if I didn't, its simply a response to her love for me that I take a little extra time and thought in dressing for the occasion. Thus, how much more time and thought should we give when dressing to go before the King?
But on to the nature of the Mass. This is a hard one because for the last 40 years we have experienced a very quiet and gradual deconstruction of the external sense of the sacred at Mass.
The word "sacred" means "set apart", special, exclusive. Today there is little in our sacred spaces or our worship that is "set apart". All churches used to have altar rails, not just to kneel and receive communion, but to set apart the Sanctuary, the front part of the church where the altar is and the Mass is said. Its called a Sanctuary for a reason, it is "set apart", or supposed to be.
At one time, only the priest could touch the "sacred" host because it was "sacred", set apart. The list could go on. But in short, as the external aspects of the Mass have become more casual and less "set apart", our dress has become more casual and less "set apart" as well. Perhaps some of us are old enough to remember the phrase "our Sunday best". We used to dress "best" on Sunday because of where we were going and Who we were going to "see".
I began feeling guilty about my jeans and sandals about 20 years ago and as you can see from the account above, I have made slow progress to restoring "Sunday best" in my own life. Such clothes are entirely uncomfortable for me, but then the Mass is not about me, it's about Him. And its also about others. By dressing in a special way for the Mass, we speak to others about the "specialness" of the Mass. It's not just any gathering. Christ Himself becomes present on the Altar and we receive Him in the Eucharist. That's pretty special.
Eucharistic adoration, private visits to the church or chapel are different. When possible we can dress up a bit, and we should always be modest, but such visits are normally made during the work week and since the visit is of a private nature, and not a public event like the Mass, dress is not as critical.
The quandary that your friend describes, though, presents a special challenge, that is, her "position" as a "Eucharistic Minister". I put "position" and "Eucharistic Minister" in quotes because while many think a "Eucharistic Minister" is a "position" or a ministry. It is not. I would urge her (and others) to read what the Catholic Church teaches about this. The document is
THE COLLABORATION OF THE NON-ORDAINED
FAITHFUL IN THE SACRED MINISTRY OF PRIEST
and can be found at:
curia/pontifical_councils/ laity/documents/rc_con_ interdic_doc_15081997_en.html
The entire document should be studied but at least read Article 8 which specifically addresses "Eucharistic Ministers", more appropriately called "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion".
In short, Extraordinary Ministers are supposed to be just that: extra-ordinary. In other words it is not something that one does regularly but only in cases of grave need: extra-ordinary necessity. It is not your friend's fault for not knowing this. It is highly doubtful that she was ever exposed to the instruction. I've never spoken with anyone, priest or otherwise, who was even aware of it.
But the conflict your friend now finds herself in with the well-meaning lady is simply an inevitable consequence of church leaders not abiding by the wisdom and direction of the proper magisterial authority. We lay people get caught in all kinds of unnecessary conflicts because of such disregard for Church teaching.
Whenever I broach this topic I am usually personally attacked as "extreme", "old-fashioned", "reactionary". I am admonished to "get with the times", etc. However, as you can see, I am simply passing on what the Church, our Catholic Church, authentically teaches. Obedience to magisterial authority is what makes us Catholics different than most other churches where they can make it up as they go along, and where if someone doesn't like something, they either find a different church or start their own.
(Actually, the one I get the most is "there aren't enough priests". But the instruction still stands. It is extremely doubtful that the lack of lay help in distributing communion would cause the Mass to be "excessively prolonged" at weekday Masses. And even at Sunday Mass, there is almost always another priest or deacon in the rectory.)
In matters pertaining to the Eucharist, the "source and summit of our Faith", the very BODY AND BLOOD of our Lord Jesus Christ, adherence to Church Teaching is especially a grave responsibility. I have posted an additional article on this topic at my blog which can be read here.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this issue. I am humbled that you would seek my opinion.
God Bless you always,