Saturday, October 27, 2012

Catholic Veiling: The Great "Is It Required" Debate

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.  


  1. I am jealous of how much you veil. I would love to veil every time I go to Mass. However, I don't, because at my parish it would be unusual and it would distract people--and it seems pretty selfish to me to do something which isn't a requirement that I know will make it harder for other people to pray. So I compromise--my head is always covered, but usually with a hat, or one of your convertible head scarves in such a bright color that it looks like a fashion statement. :P

  2. I veil and I like the practice of veiling in Church, but I am glad it is optional. I think without it being a choice, it would lose a lot of its meaning for those who do it.

    I do wonder how many of those who say it is a sin to go to Mass without a headcovering only go to the Extraordinary Form and how many even consider the NO a valid form. We have a family my family has been friends with for decades. Their son was in my elementary class since Kindergarten... so the families go back a long ways... They, however, are SSPX and will only go to TLM. They will come to our weddings, Baptisms, etc., but they won't receive communion when they come. I fully understand everyone will have their preferences as to how a Mass is said and I am completely for having TLM and NO readily available for everyone (personally I think both can be said beautifully and both can be said poorly), but I really don't like this idea that "because I like it this way, it is the only correct way" and it sounds like that same mentality is being applied to veiling. Such a shame.

  3. As always, a beautifully reasoned and presented post.

    I think that those folks who really believe that Holy Mother Church would not specifically direct us to do something that She actually requires need some serious catechesis and to learn the meaning of humility.

    And, folks.... can we try to use the term "OF" rather than "NO" for the Ordinary Form of the Mass? The latter is often used in a derogatory manner (NOT by the previous poster, who clearly intended no disrespect.)

    God bless.


  4. I started covering long before I ever felt a pull towards the Catholic Church because of a personal conviction. I stopped though because I didn't like the attention it brought with it. People seemed to think I had a) joined a cult b) become a Muslim c) wanted attention d) they wanted to do it as well, but so they could say "look at how above sin I am" e) thought I was Amish or was making fun of the Amish f) thought I had cancer or was making light of women who have cancer and wear head coverings.

    So I stopped because I felt like other people took something I wanted to do between God & I and made it this big public thing. I felt like it brought the wrong kind of attention in my case. I miss covering sometimes & I'll pull my coverings out of their box and think about putting them back on. But then I remember the negativity and put them away again. Idk. Maybe one day I'll come to a place where I don't care what others think.

  5. Seems to me there are a lot more serious things to worry about than whether or not you must wear a piece of fabric on your head when you go to church. Famine, genocide, pandemic disease, natural disaster, poverty-stricken orphanages overflowing with severely neglected children, the trafficking of women and children...

    Wear a veil if you want. Or don't. Let's not act like this is a subject that is on God's "top 1,000 things I care about" list. Headcovering is a very, very, *very* "first world" problem to even have the time or energy to think about, much less concern oneself with.


  6. There's no debate. It's not required.

  7. Headcovering, in a way, was one of the major things that led me to the Catholic Church. And here I am, the sole veiler in my small parish! Yet no one makes me feel like it's a strange thing to do in any way. Any amount of feeling odd about donning the veil (or scarf, as I wore in the beginning) has been on me and me alone; my friends have all been very gracious and have, in fact, done whatever they could to put me at ease. I'm hoping I won't remain alone, but if I do, that's alright, too. :) I've gone from covering full-time to only doing so in the sanctuary or in times of focused prayer. But I'm not going to say anything against other women's choices in this matter. God (like any good parent) leads each of His children individually, toward the areas/devotions where we are most ripe for growth, and where growth will most benefit us and those around us. Many people need to stop trying to do the Holy Spirit's job for Him. ;)

  8. Marie, NO is novus ordo (which is Latin and it's formal name.) It means New Order and that's it. Nothing innately derogatory. People can make any word take on derogatory means if they so wish to. In the case of my husband's aunt who has down syndrome, her favorite derogatory/ curse word is "Turkey Sandwich". When she is mad at you she calls you a Turkey Sandwich. Doens't mean that Turkey Sandwich is derogatory in any other contacts.

  9. If the Church decided to force women to wear headcoverings at Mass (or else what? not let us inside?), that would be the last straw for me. I would have a huge problem being asked to wear such an obvious accessory to church just because I'm female. The practice would make me feel very uncomfortable and foolish, not to mention make me feel demeaned and subjugated in front of my children. I don't care at all if someone else wants to do it and sees it differently, that's their business and they may very well see it differently than I do. But as for me, I would feel that the Church has pushed too far. I have a feeling millions of Catholic women (and many of their husbands!) would resent this encroachment. Either we ALL must cover our heads, or none of us must cover.


  10. Hi, Baroness,

    I'm very familiar with the meaning of "Novus Ordo" as a result of many years of Latin classes in high school and college. I'm also aware that the "shorthand" of "NO" is sometimes used by sedevacantists, or those with disdain for the Ordinary Form who don't regard it as reverent as the Extraordinary Form (hence, "NO Mass".)

    I don't think there is any danger of any of the rest of us misinterpreting the term "turkey sandwich." ;)

    I simply think that it's best to be aware of these things and use the proper terminology, e.g., Ordinary Form (OF), Extraordinary Form (EF).

    God bless!


  11. Katie,

    I really don't see the Church going back to such a requirement; one can tell from the documents that Cam cited that it simply isn't on the radar screen. It is a private devotion, and one that was the norm for a very long time. But perceptions and practices change, and this one along with it. It holds deep meaning for some, and they are free to practice it.

    I am baffled by your "either we ALL must cover our heads, or none of us must cover" statement. The Church is certainly not going to forbid the devotion.

    God bless.


  12. I agree very much with your posting on head covering. It is a beautiful little tradition and I am always happy to see being continued by women who choose it freely and happily. I've done it and found it to be spiritually edifying.

    I am also amazed at the ranting and raving and finger pointing and anger that people feel for this little devotion.

    I especially like how you have pulled from the official documents to explain head covering, while a good thing, is an OPTIONAL thing. I feel so much respect for the clarity that is represented by the documents and authorities you have quoted.

    Many excellent spiritual practices became options rather than requirements at Vatican II. Rather than Fridays being required to be meatless, they give the option of choosing one's own penance. One may still choose the traditional penance but one may also choose another practice instead.

    This loosening did something very important to future revival. REQUIRED little t traditional practices hid a lack of real meaning attached to those practices by the majority of Catholics. Most did required actions by rote. Now one must CHOOSE to do those traditional practices, and have thought about those practices and why you are choosing them.

    I see a woman who covers as having taken some time to consider the practice and has chosen it. I see her as a thinking Catholic. Anytime Catholics think about the Faith is a very good thing!

    I think your head-coverings are lovely.

  13. Marie - please re-read what I wrote. I am not sure where you got the idea of the church forbidding wearing a cloth on one's head. What I said was that either all parishioners (male and female) should be required to wear a head cover, or none must be required to cover. I didn't say anything about those who wish to take on the look on their own. I simply do not think the church could get away with demanding that only females use a head cover as they did in less egalitarian times.

  14. Katie, you didn't refer to "all men and women" parishioners; as men have never been required to cover in a Catholic church - and as doing so would still be regarded as rude - it simply didn't occur to me that you could be referring to men covering, as well.

    I agree that it's not going to be required again for women, either, as times have simply changed; what was once regarded as a necessary part of one's attire has lost its meaning for the general population. (Which is essentially what Inter Insigniores said.)

    However, for some women the devotion still has deep meaning, and for them, being "demeaned and subjugated" has nothing to do with it.

    God bless!


  15. Lovely post, Cam. I've always been drawn to veiling and our new parish has several ladies who do and so I finally feel comfortable with wearing a head scarf, hat, or one of your snoods(of which I own two). I think it is a beautiful personal devotion that helps me to better focus on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Yours is the correct perspective regarding head coverings--no longer a requirement, but a personal choice.

  16. Thank you for the quotes from these Church documents. Very informative.

    I will say that when I veil at EF or OF, I tend not to talk in the sanctuary after mass and am more prayerful. But I do not like being a distraction at the OF. It would be nice to have more uniformity but I think that there should be more regulations on liturgy and other things (like having the choir up front, etc). I feel that wearing the veil is a personal way of making a prayerful statement, that she is special and holy because she is woman.

  17. Today our wonderful Priest quoted St. John of the Cross, to paraphrase, " no one has ever been brought to Faith by harshness" , and so it is that our beloved Church no longer refuses women the sacraments if they present themselves without head covered. We have given us the freedom and authority to choose for ourselves. But this does not change God's commandment to women, to cover our heads to avoid disgrace. To cover our heads because of the Angels. To cover our heads to show humility before God. To cover the beauty of our hair. The Church can not revoke the Word of God. They can only change their approach to installing it into our hearts and lives.

    The love for the headcovering in prayer and before the Holy Eucharist comes from our long contemplation in prayer, from our hearts open to the Holy Spirit. From our love for our Blessed Mother Mary. From our desire to please God.

    It is a beautifully private decision , one that shows publicly, our devotion and humble reverence to our Lord. It displays who are and what our sacred role is in the eyes of God and our Church. A picture is worth a thousand words it is said.... why would woman want to take over the man's role when we have so rich and sacred a position, one that is uniquely and exclusively for woman?


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