As many of you know, I can be pretty passionate about the devotional practice of headcovering. From a spiritual point of view, I find it personally helpful. I love what it represents. I've written about it and debated the merits extensively over the years, here (with at least 59 posts on the subject) and also on various forums. I've explained the history of the practice and why one can reasonably conclude that it is no longer a requirement. And sadly, I have to admit that lately, I've seen an uptick in the hard core "you're sinning if you don't have your head covered during Mass" sentiment online.
Don't get me wrong. On a personal, purely selfish level I would love for headcovering to be a requirement. I mean, my husband is at school for roughly 14 hours a day and I support our family by selling headcoverings. I imagine business booming if covering suddenly became the norm and women everywhere began buying them. However... I don't think that a requirement would be helpful in reality and actually do believe that it would be harmful (more on that in a few paragraphs).
Now when I first became interested in veiling and began googling, everything I came across seemed to be in adamant agreement. Bloggers would reference "my friend the canon lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous" to back up the claim that the 1917 code of canon law was still in force on the requirement and that the 1983 code had not abrogated a thing. So I went out and argued those points and found myself soundly defeated as I read the references placed before me that, let's face it, I would have much rather ignored. But I couldn't ignore them, because what I wanted was to uncover the truth of the matter... which was whether or not the Church still taught that covering was required, and I wanted to know what was taught, even if it didn't line up with my own personal interpretation of what I thought should be (at the time).
Thus the search began and oddly enough quite a few writers that I respected, writers that were okay with signing their names to their opinions, had quite a bit to say. Jimmy Akin explained it here and here. Edward Peters discussed the issue here. And Father Z has written about it extensively (two that are the most relevant can be found here and here.
Still skeptical? Sure, you might say, you found some online canon lawyers and a priest who say it's not required, but it really is and that's that.
Well, let's keep looking for answers and see what we can find.
In October of 1976 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (also known as the CDF) published Inter Insignores which says: "But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value."
From the Vatican website the CDF's job is: "the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence."
That sounds pretty official...
...But I'm sure our own opinion trumps that, right? What do those liberals knows?!?!(<---Please note that sarcasm is in use in this statement... just to be clear.) Besides that's only one statement in passing. And headcovering isn't even what Inter Insignores was about.
Let's see if anyone else who might have authority in the matter has commented. Maybe even more recently? Fortunately, someone has!
Cardinal Burke is the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. That would mean he's the head of the Vatican's highest judicial court. I've never heard the word "liberal" used to describe him, even in the most "traditional" circles. Because most of us traditional Catholics love Cardinal Burke. He promotes communion on the tongue and the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
And he has made his thoughts known on the matter: "The wearing of a chapel veil for women is not required when women assist at the Holy Mass according to Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force. It is not, however a sin to participate in the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form without a veil."
These statements, I've argued, along with the utter silence in dissenting thought from all other corners of Church authorities, seems pretty definitive to me. Do you really think that every single Bishop and Cardinal would let us go on in error if the vast majority of Catholic women were sinning?
Yes, is the reply I've received most often. They've been silent on other topics, why not this one?
Well.. because that's not really true: Yes, many Bishops have been silent at times when the truth needed to be shouted out. But others have always spoken out, in love of the truth, guiding their flocks faithfully despite the consequences. And when the only voices speaking out all assure us that it is not required, we may want to take a good hard look at why we insist on resisting their guidance. Are we putting our own will above the guidance that the Church has sent us? Why insist on something when all the voices sent to guide us have answered that we may do this, that it is good, but that we don't have to?
Which leads me, at long last, to the reason for this post.
On a facebook message board, where the debate that inspired for this post occurred, someone said they didn't understand why any woman, anywhere wouldn't cover her head.
I replied as best I could and said that over the years I'd received quite a few notes and comments from women explaining to my why they didn't cover. Quite a few have said that they didn't believe it was a requirement and that they were turned away from the practice by bullying women who handed out tracts about modesty, or tried to force the issue by telling them how they were sinning by going about uncovered. My response was quickly deleted. After going around and around in the same circular arguments that always come up, I decided to remove myself from the group (which was actually my favorite group... that I checked in with daily and was very active in)... because I was tired of seeing the same "you have to do this or you're a sinner" comments that will not consider that maybe, just maybe, beating others over the head with your chapel veil isn't the best way to spread a love of the devotion. And because I get tired of seeing comments that imply that modesty is not attainable without a headcovering firmly in place.
Veiling is a beautiful devotion... and yet it saddens me to see the way that it's used to alienate others.
Can we not know that something is useful and yet see at the same time that it might not be best to force it on others. We come, in different times and in different ways towards God. We find that different devotions are helpful to different people. And while we might love this devotion dearly, perhaps we can see that forcing our will on others seldom leads them towards God and that loving praise of the helpfulness of this devotion might lead us further than using the veil as an instrument to bludgeon our fellow Catholic women.