Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A bee in my bonnet

Okay, I'm still on the "veiling" thing.  Mainly because the other post I'm working on, about the growing push for transgender "rights" especially as that is manifesting itself in the public schools, is going to be massive and linky and I don't have time to finish it tonight.

But it dawned on me that I finally figured out why there's so much tension about this among the Catholic female Internet community (the Catholic female real-world community may or may not reflect that tension, but I don't know).

Imagine for a moment that instead of choosing to wear chapel veils, women who wished, for whatever reason, to cover their heads instead had chosen bonnets.

There's a good reason for that choice--I'm not just being silly.  Look at the pictures of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, after all--the first native-born American saint.  Her widow's bonnet was the original inspiration for her first order's habit (though eventually a more traditional cloth veil was adopted).  Catholic women throughout America's pioneer days would probably have worn some style of bonnet to Mass on Sundays.  The bonnet was the sort of hat many women would have worn and used all the way up to the late 19th and early 20th century, when more daring hats replaced the simple, humble cloth or straw bonnet.

But can you imagine the effect of Catholic women in America writing today about the call to bonnet (as in, wear a bonnet to Mass)?  Can you imagine earnest discussions of "bonnetting" (I'm assuming the "t" would double before adding "-ing," but I admit that there could be grammatical dissension on that point) and whether or not the Church had ever truly abrogated the "bonnetting" requirement?  Can you imagine every single bonnet-proponent politely but firmly ignoring all the people who reminded them that the Church had never required "bonnetting" at all and had never used "bonnet" as a verb in regard to women's head coverings?  Can you imagine them ignoring the truth that lots of other head coverings were worn, most of them ordinary, everyday, garden-variety hats, and not only were they worn but they were worn out in public most or all of the time so that a woman didn't have to stand at the church-steps, eyes demurely downcast, while she gracefully pulled at the bonnet-strings so that that thing that had looked a bit like an elaborate collar on the back of her neck suddenly popped on over her head, beautifully framing her now-blushing face?  Can you imagine them comparing the shape of the average tabernacle (okay, not in Los Angeles, but in most sane places) to a bonnet and solemnly opining that we bonnet what is holy?

No, neither can I.

And that, I think, is why a lot of everyday, average, ordinary Catholic women, women like me who actually like traditional things and would in most cases be pleased with the return of some of the important ones (like chant, or antiphons at Mass, or artwork that doesn't look like a toddler with crayons got at the blender again) get deeply irritated with all this "veiling" stuff.  Look, if you want to cover your head at Mass, and you are female, fine!  Go ahead and do so.  If you want to wear a hat sometimes but not all the time--guess what?  You're allowed to do so.  If instead of a hat you want to imitate Jackie Kennedy or 18th century Spanish Catholic ladies of quality by putting some lace on your head, fine!  Go ahead and do so.

What you are not allowed to do is to insist, hint, insinuate, or whisper that only brazen, irreverent women show up at Mass without wisps of lace on their hair, or that wearing lace on your hair acts like a talisman that suddenly makes the wearer holier, closer to God, and closer to what the Church really wants.  Because none of that is actually true, and truth is more important than veiling bonnetting covering your head at Mass.


bearing said...

I go to an orthodox sort of parish -- no TLM, just the regular sort, but with faithful priests, long lines at confession, and lots of big families. A few women cover their heads, not very many. It's not a big deal.

One of the women who always covers her head at Mass is a young -- I'd guess under-30 -- married woman with one small child. She's lovely and always dresses well and has a friendly smile.

She always covers her head -- with a VERY cute, demure little hat. I'm only guessing that she does it because of a desire to cover her head for Mass, and I guess that because she ALWAYS has a hat during Mass and usually doesn't when I see her before or afterwards. She bobby-pins it on. It's not a fuddy-duddy hat. It's kind of vintage and retro, a little velvet cap.

I think it's positively charming. If it draws attention, it's in an alluring sort of feminine way. (BTW, I am female, so I mean "alluring" in a girly sense.) She looks like herself: young, feminine, crisp and stylish, and with a toddler who'd probably grab at something drapey.

If I decided to cover my head, she's my role model. Not because I want a hat like hers, but because I would want to cover my head with something THAT I WOULD ACTUALLY WANT TO WEAR. Meaning it would probably be a wicking sport bandana or something.

I really don't get why the mantilla thing is such a fad. To top it off it seems like people have invented all sorts of theology to justify it -- that it has something to do with keeping your eyes to yourself, or something to do with modesty. It may well be that people who have adopted the mantilla find that , having adopted it, they prefer it for any number of reasons, but those reasons don't retroactively become "reasons why anyone else should do it."

Charlotte said...

Excellent point about the bonnet.

Which got me thinking: In "Gone With the Wind," - a movie filled with bonnets - there is a scene early in the movie where the whole family is praying together (through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault), and I'm wondering if any of the women are wearing headgear? Granted, it's not a church, but it still makes me wonder, given that they were praying together in a corporate way.

I own the movie - I should pull it out and see. Maybe I'll report back.

Red Cardigan said...

Bearing, one of my daughters wears hats to church occasionally because she likes hats! Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. And the hat you're describing on this young lady sounds cute, too!

Charlotte, let us know if you find out!

B et G said...

I came into the Church at a college where tradition is really valued, and I think at the time, maybe half of the girls wore a headcovering to Mass. I always was a hat person so I had no problem fitting in to that and sometimes I wore a scarf. One of my friends who was considering converting, previously mormon, said something I'll never forget--"okay, maybe I might become a Catholic, but let me tell you I am never wearing one of those doilies on my head!" I have no problem with people who like to wear a mantilla but in the discussions about veiling that conversation always comes back to mind to tickle my funny bone, and I think I have the same reaction as you...the whole "being called" thing kind of doesn't make any more sense to me than "being called" never to wear pants. It's almost as though this is being treated as a vocation which every serious Catholic ought to carefully consider whether she is being called to, and it gets a little...surreal?


Charlotte said...

Nope - no hats, bonnets, or veils in the prayer scene in "Gone With the Wind."

By the way, Erin, I'm going to try and get a post up today with pictures of TLM weddings, as a further discussion of chapel veils. When I do, I hope you'll link, because you see like the sort of person who would enjoy it.

Also, I'd like to point out that in the chapel veil post on my blog - which links to both of yours - there are some REALLY great and thoughtful comments that you might be interested in reading, and possibly discussing in more detail.

Red Cardigan said...

Char, I'll try to check that out, but we're celebrating Thad's birthday today so I'm going to be away from the computer for a while. Will check in later!

James Kabala said...

I wasn't alive then, and if I am correct about your age neither were you, but I have never heard my female relative and ancestors talk about wearing anything other than regular hats. It always bugs me to see this revisionist history about veils, so props to you and anyone else who corrects it.

James Kabala said...

I wasn't alive then, and if I am correct about your age neither were you, but I have never heard my female relative and ancestors talk about wearing anything other than regular hats. It always bugs me to see this revisionist history about veils, so props to you and anyone else who corrects it.

Tony said...

Whenever I see Shaker women out and about, they are dressed in demure dresses with pretty lace bonnets on their heads.

If you'd like to wear a bonnet to church, go for it. You can also wear a tuque, or maybe a headscarf. You could even wear a fedora with a natty feather in it.

I think I understand why you are going all obsessive on the veils. You secretly feel guilty about not covering your head, and you're continuing to rant to justify to yourself why you don't have to do it.

Don't worry, the 1983 code of canon law does not mandate head coverings.

Red Cardigan said...

Oh, come on, Tony. That kind of combox psychoanalysis is kind of cheap. I could just as easily say that you find women with uncovered heads threatening to your secret wish to be a chauvinist. Wouldn't make it true, either.

And as a chronic migraine sufferer, I'm deeply grateful the Church doesn't require me to wear a hat to church, so, no, no guilt here. Just annoyance at revisionist history which makes claims about veils which were simply never true.