Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Veil-wars and hat-battles

Father Z has a poll going on--and he's asking other Catholic bloggers, liberal, conservative, or other, to participate. The topic: should women wear head-coverings in church? Excerpt:
I ask fellow bloggers, liberal or conservative, traditional or progressivist, to help get the word out about this poll so we can have as large a sampling as possible.

You don’t have to be registered to be able to vote.

In another entry I presented the case of a woman asked by the priest not to wear a chapel veil when coming up to read at Mass.

The mantilla/chapel veil topic always generates lively discussion.

In the Latin Church it was once obligatory under Canon Law for women to ear a head covering in Church (veil or hat). At present it is not obligatory, but there seems to be a slow resurgence of this tradition. My opinion is that it should be revived.

Here is a WDTPRS POLL. You don’t have to be registered to vote. I ask fellow bloggers to help get the word out about this poll so we can have as large a sampling as possible.

As of right now, the votes are trending toward "Yes," meaning women should have to cover their heads in church. Interestingly, though, these "yes" votes are overwhelmingly male: 28% of those responding are men who think head coverings for women should return but be voluntary, while 24% of those responding are men who think head coverings for women should return and be obligatory. As of right now, only 5% of those voting are women who don't think the custom should return, while only 3% of those responding are men who don't think the custom should return.

I encourage all of my readers who are at all interested in this question to visit the link to the poll and vote (you don't have to register as a blog commenter to vote).

Full disclosure: I'm one of those who voted, "I am a female and no, this custom should not return." That shouldn't surprise anyone here, but I'd like to expand on it just a little.

I have no problem with individual women deciding they'd like to wear a head covering at Mass as an act of personal piety. But calling for the custom to return on even a voluntary basis means that the Church gets involved, and suggests to women that this is a practice she would like to see them adopt, though she makes no law requiring it. This would have the effect of dividing women into two camps: those who take all of the Church's suggestions very seriously and who adopt the head-covering even if, instead of being helpful to their spiritual growth, it has no such effect; and those who point out that the suggestion and encouragement lacks the force of law and can thus be ignored.

Can anyone doubt that there would soon be strife between these two groups of women? That in some parishes, a woman's reputation would suffer if she did not adopt the head-covering, while in others it would suffer if she did? That while the Church merely suggested and encouraged others would feel free to command and require? (Indeed, some feel free to command and require the head-covering now, when it is clearly not required at all.)

So long as voluntary head-covering for women is considered as an individual pious act no such bickering can long endure, but let the Church say that while women aren't required to they really ought to, and you will see a lot of time and energy wasted on veil-wars and hat-battles. And the last thing we need is something like that.


JMB said...

I recently attended a Jewish funeral service for my Reformed Jewish friend's father. There, at the funeral home, was a table with a bunch of clip on veils that the Jewish women were required to wear. I think that if we Catholics instituted something like this, it would end up like what I saw - a custom that almost seems silly. Clip on head coverings? Why bother I ask?

MightyMighty said...

Why is wearing a veil an act of piety? Is it because it is traditional? Or because parts of scripture call for women to cover with veils? (And if we're going to take that literally, naturally the people who do it will start feeling like it is a sign of impiety not to wear it.)

I'm just not sure I understand why it is pious to wear a small lace veil to church. Not that I wouldn't love bringing back hats for women, ala Katherine Hepburn.

Anonymous said...

It's 1 Corinthians 11:2-17:

2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman [Eve] came from man [Adam], so man [Christ?] comes through [the] woman [Mary?]; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (NRSV)

Hats/veils isn't my hill to die on, but this most difficult passage presents an interesting test case of one's hermeneutics. For the one thing from which Paul does *not* argue is culture. He argues from the imago dei, from Scripture (Genesis 2 in particular), from the practice of the churches, from nature (physis), from the presence of angels in worship (remember Gen 6!).

When one looks at Christian history, it's interesting to note that until the late 1960s/70s, almost all Christian women -- Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox -- wore some sort of head covering to church. (Watch well-informed period pieces set in the early 20th century like A River Runs Through It and you'll see what I mean.) Of course, I'm not nearly that old, so I am willing to be corrected.

Again, this isn't something I'd push, but I do wonder if there was ample theological warrant to dispense with head coverings for women, or if this isn't one more thing that came rather out of the cultural/sexual revolution of the 1960s/70s and has served to further efface the essential differences between male and female.

Again, nothing I'd push, but just some thoughts.

-- Irenaeus

Charlotte said...

At the big Latin mass parish in Milwaukee, there's this box of extra chapel veils in th back of the church, in case you forgot yours or need one. It totally grosses me out - yeah, I'm gonna put something on my head that was in someone else's hair. Yick.

You are totally correct. It would lead to women judging other women, and that happens as it is over all kinds of trivial stuff. Excuse my French, but we can't people at church to cover their ti*s and a*s, but we want them to cover their heads? Yeah, right.

True story: I have an orthodox Catholic acquaintance who was thinking she was being led to wear a chapel veil. So she bought all these beautiful lace veils. And then caught herself wearing them around the house, admiring herself in the bathroom mirror, enjoying how beautiful the lace made her look and feel. She stopped wearing them.

Men don't "get" how loaded and emotional any topic involving looks, clothing, and fashion is. They need to leave it alone.

bathilda said...

Aren't there bigger fish to fry? I'm with Charlotte, here. Let's first ban flip flops...then bare shoulders and short shorts!
I think that people need to realize it was tradition and fashion for women to always have their heads covered in public until really very recently. ladies wore hats well into the 60's and older ladies sometimes still even feel naked without a hat. It's just not like that anymore. Not necessarily for religious reasons, but just because of a different cultural norm. I think that the "mostly" men who want women to wear veils to church need to examine exactly why they want that. For those who say you should because it's a literal interpretation of the bible, I say, watch out. literal interpretations of the bible make for slippery slopes.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I will not participate in the poll, because I am not Catholic. It would throw off the curve. In a rather minimal sort of way, it is like not taking communion when I attend mass -- or, for that matter, when I attend a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran service.

I am reminded though of the priest who intended to remain celibate, but wanted the rule requiring celibacy rescinded. He said, he wished to make that sacrifice to God, but when it is required of all, it is not really a sacrifice in the same sense.

Red Cardigan said...

Irenaeus, I wonder what you think of this?


It seems sound to me, but I am no expert.

Charlotte said...


I'm former WELS.

The Sicilian said...

Orthodox Jewish men, sometimes Conservative Jewish men, too, also wear a head covering, the yarmulke, on a daily basis, while most other men across the spectrum of Judaism wear one at select times, such as Shabbos, holidays and shivas. It is also worn as a sign of submission to God, and as a reminder to men that there is a higher authority. Those Christian men who insist on a head covering for a woman should be made to wear a hat as well, for, theoretically, aren't they to be submissive to God, too?

Ugh, Charlotte, I can't imagine wearing something that someone else wore, especially on the head. I always wash clothes before I wear them for the first time.

Speaking of covering "Ts" and "As," our priest finally mentioned something in the bulletin last weekend about dressing appropriately for Mass, specifically mentioning covering cleavage - and shoulders! (I know that exposed shoulders are part of the Modesty Wars.) I don't expect he'll have much luck. I've seen flip-flops, short shorts, all sorts of stuff. I admit I don't dress as nicely as I used to before a big weight gain last year, but I make sure that I wear my black jeans, not blue, and shoes, never sneakers, and a nice top. It's not what I prefer but it'll have to do while I try to drop the weight and get into my nice clothes.

We do have one older woman who wears a white mantilla at our Mass, which is a Novus Ordo. I think the veil should be optional, because as Charlotte said, it's just one more thing for which women can judge each other, and, as Erin said, the Church has more significant problems on its hands. Though, if you have hair with a mind of its own as I do, a veil would save a lot of prep time that usually goes for naught anyway.

I think the question that should be asked is if one should wear a veil and pants.


Archaeology cat said...

I hadn't thought of it like that. I would've said that yes I'd like to see it return, but not be a law, but the encouragement I imagined was more of a examining the reasons why a woman would choose to veil. I suppose it could lead to in-fighting, though that happens already to an extent. Hmm, will have to think about it more.

freddy said...

A few thoughts:

--I'm a member of an FSSP parish (EF only) and I've never worn a veil or other headcovering, though most do. No one has ever asked me about it.

--If a woman wants to wear a headcovering at Mass, that's fine, but I find it curious that many express the desire as "feeling called" to do so. It's the same language I've heard from people who hold hands at the "Our Father."

--Here in the U.S., hat-wearing to church seems to have died a pretty natural death, only slightly after women stopped wearing them to luncheons or to conduct business.

--The old code of canon law (1917) was in force until 1983, when the new one was published, yet I've never heard of any homilies or other exhortations to women to wear hats to Mass in the years prior to 1983.

-- In the 1917 code, the canon that requires headcoverings for women also requires men and women to sit on opposite sides of the church. Why aren't we all demanding a return to that wonderful, holy, venerable and immemorial custom as well? :)

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a mandate also eliminate the bickering you envision should it be merely encouraged? Not that I am in favor of a mandate. But maybe there's something to be said for everyone knowing what to do.

Also, why so dismissive of men's opinions on the subject?

bathilda said...

I left a post, but my wireless is janky, so it didn't pick it up...anyway, just voted and read the comments on the poll. UGH! big mystery for me: People who can say with a straight face..."a woman's hair is her glory". seriously, people. I know it's in the bible, but let's put it into perspective, shall we? someone else said that "you never see the blessed mother with an uncovered head..." Yes, we all know that artisitic interpretations of jewish women living in the middle east 2000 years ago are ALL to be trusted... Women of that time almost ALWAYS had their heads covered, as did the men. (duh)

Anonymous, men's opinions are slightly diminished on this subject because they are not as directly impacted.

My parish has only had one incident of women wearing veils/mantillas that I have seen. (we are regular saturday vigil attendees) The family was not familiar, and they had three daughters who were tween/teen age. Frankly, they looked ridiculous. Not so much for the fancy, lacy veils, but because the rest of their clothing was trendy, including skinny jeans.

If women want to wear a veil or cover their heads strictly as a show of reverence and modesty, then I say, wear a plain fabric covering...not fancy lace. then it's not about vanity. How about stop painting your face and dying your hair in the name of humility? Red is right. It would become a woman cat fight thing. Considering how people dress at Mass, I think requiring head coverings is putting the cart before the horse. head covered while wearing short shorts?

Thanks for the tidbit about Men and Women being separated, Freddy. That, along with covered heads for women, reminds me of muslim and jewish traditions.

As for me, a disobedient sheep, if the Church requires head coverings for women...that would be the final straw for me. I'm already hanging by a thread.

The Catholic Wife said...

I have had the chance to speak with many women who have a very strong desire to wear a head covering in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but don't do so because they don't want to call attention to themselves. I understand wanting the freedom NOT to veil, but why not allow the women who do want to, to do it? A little encouragement from the church, while reassuring everyone that it's completely voluntary, would go a long way to overcome the peer pressure *not* to veil. It's like any other devotion - the church recommends them but does make them obligatory. It just really upsets me to see women choose NOT to veil only because they're afraid of what other people might think.

The Catholic Wife said...

Bathilda, I don't think there is anything wrong with fancy lace, because there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice. Excessive preoccupation with one's appearance is a different matter, but given that I normally dress nicely to go before my Lord, I don't see why my head covering shouldn't be nice as well.

Hector said...

Re: Here in the U.S., hat-wearing to church seems to have died a pretty natural death, only slightly after women stopped wearing them to luncheons or to conduct business.

Interestingly enough, I see a lot of women in hats at my Episcopalian parish in Boston (it's a majority Black church, with a lot of Caribbean immigrants, and those women tend to be the ones who wear hats, especially in summertime).

I have no problem with those women wearing whatever they feel like, of course, and I have no problem with hats per se. I do think that the sight of women in veils is disturbingly reminiscent of the oppression and subjugation of women in the Muslim societies of South Asia and the Arab world, and I'd certainly prefer it not become more common.

Again, obviously, like Siarlys I'm not RC, and so it's not my business to tell Catholic women what they want to wear to church. But (For the record, I'm South Asian by ancestry, though not Muslim, and that's a part of the world where the oppression of women, in the name of modesty and suchlike, was traditionally taken to quite fiendish levels).

Re: I am reminded though of the priest who intended to remain celibate, but wanted the rule requiring celibacy rescinded

Yeah...my priest, again, at the aforementioned church is a celibate. Voluntarily so, since the Episcopal Church doesn't require celibacy, but celibacy is obviously quite important to him personally, so much so that he apparently convinced a couple of his lay friends to take vows of celibacy as well. But he'd be the first person to tell you that celibacy should not be required.

Re: or if this isn't one more thing that came rather out of the cultural/sexual revolution of the 1960s/70s

Probably, but then I think there was ample theological warrant for the cultural revolution of the 1960s/70s as well. Like many other revolutions, I think the sexual revolution brought some bad things, but many good things as well.

My hermeneutic about the above passage is pretty simple: it's a piece of hideous sexism, which is completely incompatible with Our Lord Jesus Christ's full acceptance of the humanity and dignity of women. It is simply not true that 'woman is the reflection of man', nor that 'woman [was created] for the sake of man', nor that 'woman [was created] from man', unless you take literally the Genesis account, which of course I don't.

Anonymous said...

Red, I'll take a look at the EWTN thing later today.

Hector, I suspect you and I would evaluate the sexual revolution differently. Beyond that, when one calls a piece of divine revelation "hideous sexism", I don't know what else to say, except that I suppose we'd need to start a conversation about the concept of divine revelation, theological method and sources of theological authority. As a former evangelical, I'm also really suspicious about bringing an a supposedly egalitarian Jesus as a weapon to be wielded against Paul. Finally, I wouldn't take the Genesis accounts "literally" in a fundamentalist way, but I would take them seriously as sacred Scripture, presuming that they have something to say to us (as they did to Paul). The question is what.

-- Irenaeus

Anonymous said...

Hats are for those whose heads don't get itchy.

Rebecca in CA said...

My take may be a little unusual...I like to wear hats or scarves to Church and I usually wear one if I'm at a Church where a lot of people do that. On the other hand, I don't like to stand out too much so I don't usually wear a headcovering where it is not customary. That being said, I think it would be great if headcoverings became customary in our society once again, both for men and women, although men would take off their hats in Church. But the Church does need to take into account the customs of the society, and what they signify, and that is IMO what St. Paul was doing in his time. And Red I agree with you that Church "suggestions" are not the way to go; there should be clarity where there needs to be clarity, and beyond that, freedom and individual discretion.

Rebecca in CA said...

The priest celibacy point I don't quite get...the Anglican guy has taken a *vow* of celibacy, correct? Which means he is *required* to be celibate, right? So the western Catholic Church chooses her priests primarily from among those who have taken a vow of celibacy; the Eastern Church chooses her priests from among both married and celibate men. It's just a matter of prudential judgement and there is no force involved either way.

Barbara C. said...

Well, to be honest, I think we are already there, Red. Among Catholics online this is already as polarizing as pants (I know you've seen the threads on 4RealLearning forum). I don't think the "average" Catholic really notices or cares, but many orthodox already judge by veiling just like they judge by other modesty standards, who receives by mouth instead of hand, and a list of other things that the Church has or hasn't officially noted a preference for instead of an absolute rule.

Anonymous said...

just to be sure, does a hood count? What about a woman who is bald? How short can your hair be to not be considered "your glory". Until recently, I had a VERY short haircut...even now that it's shoulder length, it's not really my glory...it's kind of frizzy.

Patrick said...

I voted "no strong opinion". I guess I see why the Church suggesting it *could* cause trouble: but that is more of the problem with cliquish women than with the suggestion of a voluntary veil. We ought not to stop suggesting pious devotions because our pews are full of folks who judge each other on whether or not they *look* devoted. But that's probably what would happen, yes.

@ The Catholic Wife: "I have had the chance to speak with many women who have a very strong desire to wear a head covering in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but don't do so because they don't want to call attention to themselves."

Ha! I've got the same problem with kneeling for communion. I would like to do it, but I won't because I'd probably be a spectacle.

melanie said...

I voted woman and no and I truly hope to God that the church does not take a stand on either side of this issue.
That being said, I went to a very conservative catholic college and I have been to trid masses and novus order masses where women still wear head coverings. I know some personally, they are wonderful women and I never particularly feel that they are judging me for not wearing one, nor do I care that they feel like doing so. I do not find it a personal criticism of myself. I certainly do not think it's "necessary" in any way for piety. But if a person feels more pious wearing it fine. If I am asked to wear one or it becomes "suggested". Then I would really have a problem because there is an underlying message there being sent about appropriate behavior for women in mass as opposed to men and you just don't want to go there with me. My catholic feminist side just really would not stand for it. What's next, do we get to sit in the back of the church again because we are too much of a "distraction"?

Edward said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edward said...

I'll admit to having voted (Male and "No", if it matters to anyone; I see nothing wrong with headcoverings but wouldn't presume to tell women they must, or even should, wear them).

However, I can't help wondering what this sort of poll is supposed to accomplish. (I'm referring here specifically to the question of whether the custom should be enforced by a change in Canon Law.) Why are a bunch of laypeople voting on whether an item in Canon Law ought to be changed? How is this any different from holding a poll on whether the Church should change any other rule? Yet I have the oddest suspicion that many of the people voting "YES" on this issue (i.e., that Canon Law is deficient and needs to be changed) have no problem with pointing to that same code of law in regard to other issues and saying, "Because it's the rule."

Incidentally, you know what Catholic school girls used to do back before the rule was changed? They used to pin Kleenexes atop their hair. (This I have on reliable authority from my mother, who attended Catholic school in the sixties, and did precisely that.)

eulogos said...

When I attended (visited) an Orthodox church where the women wear headscarves and the men and women stood on different sides of the tiny church, I did likewise, and didn't mind. If there were such a custom, I wouldn't be offended. I'd worry about matching hats to clothes though, and would find my white mantilla was dirty 5 minutes before the time to leave for mass....

For myself, I can live with things either way. However, we aren't going to be able to get American Catholic women in general to do this. And...how about getting them to believe the teachings of the church and to not get their tubes tied the minute they have their second child?

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

Yes it is true about Kleenex. My friends when I was in elementary school used to do this when they made a "visit" to the church on their way home from school. I waited outside. Now I know that they were making a visit to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
While the Kleenex thing might seem funny, the fact that these children I thought I knew, were visting the Lord Himself, and knew it, while I was in total ignorance, really touches me. (And yet, He found me, the one outside.)

It wasn't really about kleenex, you know. It was another version of taking off your shoes because this is holy ground.

Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

Ed! Hi! I was just thinking about you. :) Any luck with the book yet?

Brilliant point by the way. Breathtakingly so. The folks who comment regularly at Fr. Z's would definitely frown at the idea that the laity ought to be voting on Canon Law!

Susan--if the idea of covering our heads was promoted as the kind of "holy ground" idea you mention, I think that would make an interesting change to the usual discussion. Unfortunately, it leads us right back to: women, do this, because you're on holy ground; men--as you were, no alteration necessary.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Hector, I've mentioned this before the Exodus from Egypt (does H.M. stand for Hosni Mubarak?), but Paul based his "woman was made for the glory of man" on a common misunderstanding of Genesis. Most Christians, especially Europeans, have received a translation of the Hebrew word tzela as "rib." It means side. God took one side of an androgynous Adam (meaning humanity, not the male of the species) and from it made woman. What was left over became man (ish -- woman is isha).

Charlotte, WELS to RC is an interesting journey. I am not eligible for communicant membership for many reasons, including my understanding that the framework of evolutionary biology is all laid out in the first two chapters of Genesis - which is not what separates me from your communion. I like the people at this church, and there is a young man I play chess with whose parents think it has done him some good. They played a video once in which an RC member of a school accreditation committee praised the adherence to their faith in their schools, which I found interesting on both ends considering past history.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who say that leaving it totally optional really makes it not an option for those who would like to cover but don't want to draw attention to themselves. I have covered or not in different times in my life, as I felt called--question of prudence, I think, and personal obedience. Same with kneeling to receive communion. But having it be optional doesn't give the kind of freedom to cover that it might seem to give....

Amy R said...

I voted (no, female, no strong opinion) but when I tried to leave a comment, I had to register first, which I didn't want to bother with.

I miss hats. And gloves, too. (As I get older, and my hands seem to get even older, I really wish I could wear elegant gloves, but of course then I'd have to dress quite a bit differently than what I do, generally!) I miss pretty (feminine, modest, but becoming) clothes in general. Certainly immodesty came in the church door when formal wear for church went out, and hats are definitely part of it.

Now, if I wear a hat (typically a beret) to Mass, it is noticed simply because it is a hat, and they're not usual at the Mass I go to. I don't think I could (stand to) wear a large lace veil, as it doesn't go with our styles of clothes.

It's a hill I don't want to die on, though.

eulogos said...

Red- I did think of your objection while I wrote what I wrote above, but I couldn't think what to say about it.

I think perhaps in this case women are assuming the burden of sanctifying the space for both sexes. One could regard it as an honor rather than as an insult.

In any case it certainly had the effect for my childhood girlfriends of marking sacred space.

Susan Peterson

Anonymous said...

What irony in the observation that 21st century society would advocate the return of laws requiring female veils in the Catholic church even as much of the world is working to enable Muslim women the freedom of finally taking their veils off. My sense is that God has, in reality, little to do with either effort. Your poll and the resulting lament of congregational Catholic men who took it bear that out.

Anonymous said...

i recently started wearing a head covering to mass. i didnt even really have time to discern if i should and my decision to do so was not really voluntary or out of piety. in fact i really do not like drawing attention to myself as most women who consider wearing one would not want to either.

my decision to say "yes" came when i read up on saint padre pio, gifted with the stigmata of our Lord. this very holy man lived in close communion with God and he had the gift of reading hearts before a person even confessed their sins.

he explicity ordered women should not enter the church without their heads covered or in immodest clothing. when he began to turn people away for confession he said it wasnt that he wanted to. in fact in pained him to do so. It was the LORD who commanded these things, not himself. Therefore I would caution to say it is a cultural issue. here is a link to the site www.catholicmodesty.com/PadrePio.html
and another good reading on him at http://www.michaeljournal.org/stpio.htm

Now i cover my head and dress more modestly in mass. Believe me, if it were just a choice, id say no. but since the LOrd commands it, I obey. and im 27 years old, not even an old lady...or mom. its just me by myself attending mass. no support at all.i even feel silly infront of the priests. i am someone who regulary used to go out do my hair, dress sexy, drink. although i have put that behind me, it is still a complete life style change and its very easy to look back when youre all alone and feel foolish. But God says if you love me, youll keep my commandments. OUt of love for us, he finds fault with everything......
so i will continue to wear the veil despite how i feel about it.
i bought a piece of fabric from Joanns fabrics. and i just wrap it around. its full coverage, not like a mantilla. here is also a website that sells pretty ones. www.headcoverings-by-devorah.com/Headcoverings_Scarves.htm

happy head coverings!