Friday, December 05, 2014

Headcoverings: a new Position Paper from the FIUV

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Today I am publishing a Position Paper on head covering in church: go over to Rorate Caeli to read it. This post is by way of some additional commentary on the subject.

The issue of ladies covering their heads in church may seem like a hornet's nest that we should just avoid kicking. For peculiar personal reasons the very idea causes apoplexy among some older, liberal women. It makes the traditional movement seem not just old-fashioned but wedded to an anti-feminist set of ideas which puts it beyond the pale of civilised discussion for great sections of the population. The idea that there might be some kind of moral pressure, if only from the example of others, on women new to the Traditional Mass that they adorn themselves with some absurd lace article, is obviously going to put loads of people right off the whole thing. So why don't we just shut up about it? That would obviously include not continuing the practice, since it is the very sight of women and girls in these things which draws attention to it first and foremost.


Traditional Catholics are not shutting up about it. Online, they are going on and on and on about it. There are loads of video testimonials from young ladies themselves on the subject, and the practice is spreading. There are still plenty of uncovered ladies at the Traditional Mass in England today, but more are plucking up the courage to wear a mantilla ('chapel veil'), or something equivalent. The very counter-cultural nature of the practice makes it attractive. The more the liberals attack it, the more it becomes a badge of honour.

Like so many liberal arguments of the 1960s and 1970s, the attack on head coverings for women looks, with hindsight, terribly unconvincing, a muddled historical and theological contrivance to placate modern and Protestant sensibilities by destroying something distinctive in Catholic culture.

The argument was, in a nutshell, that women were (oppressed and) wore headcoverings in St Paul's day, so there can be no theological significance to the practice. This makes all the classic mistakes: it mischaracterises what the Catholic practice actually is; it utilises an utterly lazy account of the original cultural context; and it ignores the arguments in favour of the practice, in this case expressed in Scripture itself. (Or have the liberals removed St Paul from the canon of Scripture on account of his being an old misogynist?)

1. The practice: it is not just women covering their heads. Yes, this is very common in traditional societies, but the twist is that the Catholic practice men have to uncover their heads. Had the liberals really not noticed? If covering their heads is oppressive to women, uncovering their heads must be doubly oppressive to men. As I noted the other day, the 1917 Code says they must do so even at outdoor Masses. Why should they have to doff their hats?

2. Contrary to the lazy picture of peasant women with headscarves stretching back to St Paul's day, the two-fold Christian practice has no parallel in the cultures of his day in relation to worship: not the Roman practice (men and women covered their heads), the Greek practice (men and women uncovered their heads), and still less the Jewish practice (both covered their heads, but especially men). St Paul was a slave of the fashions of his day, we are told: what fashion, please?

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Nuptial Blessing at a Traditional Nuptial Mass
3. By what authority do we ignore the extended theological argument which St Paul gives for the practice in 1 Cor 11:1-16? Supposing it really was the fashion of the day, can we just ignore what the Holy Spirit is teaching about it in this passage? By all means set it in its context in order to understand it; that doesn't give us license simply to ignore it: contrary to some liberals, the two things are not the same.

St Paul tells us that women should efface their glory (their hair) to give glory to God, and compares this to a bride: they represent the Church, the bride of Christ, in her purity and holiness. Men uncover their heads to symbolise the Christ to whom they themselves must be subject. This is a beautiful teaching with a beautiful manifestation in the symbolic gestures of the worshipers.

The liberals hate it, however. They hate the idea of women coming under the authority of a husband, but the bigger target here is the submission of the Church to Christ. Because if the Church is submitted to Christ, then she will proclaim the teaching of Christ. And as we have seen on the subject of divorce, that would never do.

More needs to be said, however, on the issue of the complementarity of the sexes, and I shall say some of it in another post, tomorrow.

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17 comments:

  1. Would you consider addressing three issues? 1. In St. Paul’s instruction he strongly implies that long hair on a woman is itself the covering, and therefore a veil or hat would only be necessary for women with short hair. 2. You mention that Protestant men of yesteryear did not consider their meeting houses a sacred space and kept their heads covered except when praying. What is your explanation for the fact that Catholic priests and prelates cover their heads in church with a biretta or zucchetto? 3. It is my understanding that in Germany even under Pope Pius XII a significant minority or perhaps even a majority of Catholic women did not wear a covering at Mass and were not disciplined or admonished.

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  2. 1. I think that is a very unnatural reading of St Paul. He says that *if* a woman does not cover her head, *she might as well shave her head* (1Cor11:2). How does that fit in?
    2. Clerics and monks, partly for practical reasons (the cold) adhere more strictly to St Paul's principle, that they should uncover precisely for (liturgical) *prayer*; the custom among lay men has been to go further, and uncover in a consecrated building. (If you want a detailed explanation, see Aquinas' commentary on 1Cor11.)
    3. As for enforcement, many things weren't enforced but it was there in Canon Law. However my understanding is that in Germany ladies tended to wear hats, whereas in England and other places the fashion was for mantillas in churches. All over Europe, through the 1950s, it would have been unusual for a women to go out without a hat, so the obligation was far from burdensome.

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  3. At least in Italy, unmarried women would wear a white veil, while the married one black. In Britain too?

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    1. Yes, they tend to. But of course you get other colours, hats and scarves as well.

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  4. Dear Mr. Shaw, the following comment was to be posted at Rorate Caeli, where you gave that very long and wonderful article about Head Covering, but I was unable to sign into that site, as hard as i tried. So, here is that comment on this, your blog and thank you:

    Thank you so very much for this information. Since I returned to Holy Mother Church, 11 years ago, I have been wearing a headcovering and noticed that I was one of the very few, if any. Over the years, I have searched looking for good solid Catholic reasons as to why I wear a headcovering, and it has been very difficult to find, but maybe I just wasn't looking in the right place. Nevertheless, I do believe that there is not enough information on it readily available. It would always upset me to get a weak or wrong answer from those that should know about it when asked why we don't have to wear them anymore. No one seemed to know much about it - I got so frustrated that I sent a snail mail to one of the great Tribunal Cardinals in Rome to ask him, and he actually returned a snail mail to me with an answer - I was elated and so grateful that he took the time out of his busy life to contact me with help.
    So, this article and other information that you lead us to, is a long-time-coming necessity for the Church and with much sincere thankfulness, I salute you!
    A headcovering is something that I wear all the time in public, so when I go into The Real Presence at Holy Church, I go the same way, same headcovering as I wear every day, but your excellent article inspired me to wear a veil over my headcovering when I enter Church in order to “help focus the mind on the Sacredness of the building, the Presence of The Blessed Sacrament and The Liturgy”.
    Thank you!!!

    In Jesus and Mary,
    Dorothy

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    1. Rorate Caeli have permanently closed their comments boxes.

      Thank you for your comment. I'd be very interested to know what the official in Rome said in reply to your letter.

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  5. One thing has always baffled me about the wearing of mantillas. Most are lace and therefore transparent and consequently do not provide any real covering anyway. Can anyone explain why this is the case please? It's always puzzled me.

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    1. It's just a symbolic covering.

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  7. I believe St. Paul's injunction on women to cover their head has a very interesting context. I read in a commentary on the Greek myths, by Robert Graves, that in the ancient world, pagan priestesses wore their hair long when carrying out fertility rites. Perhaps it was this association that St. Paul had in mind when he made the injunction. As for men not covering their head, an interesting reference can be found in Francis Bacon's Essays on its association with humility before the Deity.

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  8. Thank you for this article. I am usually the only one in a veil in the 5 or 6 parishes where I attend Mass. An additional point: I wear my veil as I leave home and as I walk to Mass from the car. Not a long way but sometimes a couple of streets. I have noticed the courteous looks I often get and last Thursday morning a large group of workmen jumped aside to let me past and said good morning very politely. It's good to bring back the culture this way. We can show our respect for Eucharistic Lord in the Mass in front of our neighbours and in the street too. They expect it of us.

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  9. St. Paul says many things and they are not always consistent. 'In Christ there is no longer male and female' might suggest that in worshipping Christ we should not symbolise the differences between the sexes. Why not go for this text which seems to be more in tune with the radical nature of Christ's Gospel than the pagan/Judaic customs that Paul emphasises elsewhere?
    But really this whole discussion makes one of think of the late lamented Cardinal Martini saying that the Church is 200 years behind the times. Only 200?

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  10. Savonarola, you and I were born in the same city. ;-) In Christ there is no longer male and female, Greek or Jew because there is not one baptism for men and one for women, one for rich and one for poor. Therefore the sacraments that we receive are the same for all, but the role we play is not necessarily the same.

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  11. My Mom and my Aunt left me their "chapel veils". I was no longer attending Mass, but I kept their chapel veils as a remembrance. Recently, I began attending the Mass in the Extraordinary Form and was delighted to see so many other women wearing their chapel veils. The next Sunday I was privileged to wear my Mom's chapel veil -- tradition, how wonderful it is!

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  12. From Cornelius a Lapide's commentary on 1 Cor 11:7

    "It should be remarked that in the Old Testament the high-priest offered sacrifices with bare feet and covered head, i.e., wearing his mitre (Exod. xxviii. 37), but in the New Testament the priests offer the sacrifice of the Mass with their feet shod and with uncovered head. Epiphanius says (Hæres. 8o) that, in the New Testament, Christ, who is our Head, is conspicuous and manifest to us, but was veiled and hidden from the Jews in the Old Law. However, the Apostle is evidently referring here to all men in general, not to the clergy only.

    It is not contrary to this precept of the Apostle for our priests, when they celebrate, to use the amice among the other vestments, for they do not cover the head with it while sacrificing, but only use it round the opening in the chasuble (Rupert, de Div. Off. lib. i. c. 10). The amice is not used, then, to cover the head, but to represent the ephod of the high-priest under the Old Law, as Alcuin and Rabanus say, or to signify the veil with which the Jews bound the eyes of Christ (S. Matt. xxvi 67). Cf. Dom. Soto, lib. iv. dist. 13, qu. 2, art. 4, and Hugh Vict. de Sacr. lib. ii. c. 4.

    But S. Paul wishes to abolish the heathen custom, first instituted, say Plutarch and Servius, by Æneas, of sacrificing and making supplication to their gods with veiled head. Tertullian (in Apol.) remarked this distinction between Christians and heathen, and Varro (de Ling. Lat. lib. iv.) records that the Roman women, when sacrificing, had their heads veiled in the same way."

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  13. I'm still confused. Does it have to be a chapel veil (is that the same as a mantilla?) that is worn or could my wife cover her head simply by putting her hood up? Also does she need to cover all of her hair (which St Paul implies) which is very long or, as it is a symbolic covering can she just have the top of her head covered?

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    1. Neither law nor custom ever mandated a "chapel veil" (i.e., a "mantilla") to the exclusion of other head coverings. A scarf, or a hat, would do just as well, and would be in keeping with the custom (not necessarily the precise custom of every particular time and place, but certainly within the wide arc of the Western Church's tradition). A hood? I am not sure what sort of garment with a hood one would wear during Mass, but I suppose that works in a pinch.

      How much hair should one cover? I wouldn't want to become scrupulous or Pharisaical on the point. The gesture retains meaning even if there is hair visible below the veil or hat.

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