Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D



For 2,000 years, Catholic women have veiled themselves before entering a church or any time they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., during sick calls). It was written into the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1262, that women must cover their heads -- "especially when they approach the holy table" ("mulieres autem, capite cooperto et modeste vestitae, maxime cum ad mensam Dominicam accedunt") -- but during the Second Vatican Council, Bugnini (the same Freemason who designed the Novus Ordo Mass) was asked by journalists if women would still have to cover their heads. His reply, perhaps innocently enough, was that the issue was not being discussed. The journalists (as journalists are wont to do with Church teaching) took his answer as a "no," and printed their misinformation in newspapers all over the world. 1 Since then, many, if not most, Catholic women have lost the tradition.

After so many years of many women forgetting or positively repudiating the veil, clerics, not wanting to be confrontational or upset radical feminists, pretended the issue didn't exist. When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was produced, veiling was simply not mentioned (not explicitly abrogated, mind you, but simply not mentioned). But though the 1983 Code of Canon Law doesn't explicitly command it, veiling is a very serious matter, one that concerns two millennia of Church Tradition -- which extends back to Old Testament tradition and to New Testament admonitions. Perhaps a better question than "must women veil?" is "should women veil?" St. Paul wrote.
1 Corinthians 11:1-17:
Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you. But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ: and the head of the woman is the man: and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head. The man indeed ought not to cover his head: because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman: but the woman for the man. Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels. But yet neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God. You yourselves judge.

Doth it become a woman to pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you that a man indeed, if he nourish his hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.

According to St. Paul, we women veil ourselves as a sign that His glory, not ours, should be the focus at worship, and as a sign of our submission to authority. It is an outward sign of our recognizing headship, both of God and our husbands (or fathers, as the case may be), and a sign of our respecting the presence of the Holy Angels at the Mass. In veiling, we reflect the divine invisible order and make it visible. This St. Paul presents clearly as an ordinance, one that is the practice of all the churches.

Some women, influenced by the thoughts of "Christian" feminists, believe that St. Paul was speaking as a man of his time, and that this ordinance no longer applies. They use the same arguments that homosexual activists make in trying to prove their case. In this quote, homosexualist Rollan McCleary, who believes that Jesus was "gay," tries to show that Paul's admonitions against homosexuality were culturally conditioned:

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes about "men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27).

Asked about these texts, McCleary said references in the Scriptures to homosexuality were misunderstood or taken out of context.

"In those days they didn't have kind of concept of homosexuality as an identity such as we have it," he argued. "It has much more to do with other factors in society ... homosexuality was associated with idolatrous practices."

In the case of Paul's writings, he continued, "does everybody agree with St. Paul on slavery [or] on women wearing hats? There is such a thing as historical context."

Of course we Catholics agree with St. Paul on slavery (St. Paul wasn't talking about chattel slavery, by the way), and on veiling, and on everything else! Please! But the liberal above makes a point: if Christians want to reject veiling, why not reject the other things St. Paul has to say? The traditional Catholic woman has the snappy comeback to the defiant homosexualist: "we do veil ourselves and don't disagree with St. Paul!" But what leg do the uncovered women have to stand on? And what other Scriptural admonitions can they disregard on a whim -- or because of following the bad example of a generation of foolish or misled Catholic women who disregarded them?

Now, re-read the Biblical passage about veiling and note well that St. Paul was never intimidated about breaking unnecessary taboos. It was he who emphasized over and over again that circumcision and the entire Mosaic Law were not necessary -- and this as he was speaking to Hebrew Christians. No, the tradition and ordinance of veiling is not a matter of Paul being afraid to break his culture's taboos; it is a symbol that is as relevant as the priest's cassock and the nun's habit.

Note, too, that Paul is in no way being "misogynist" here. He assures us that, while woman is made for the glory of the man even as man is made for the glory of God, "yet neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God." Men need women, women need men. But we have different roles, each equal in dignity -- and all for the glory of God (and, of course, we are to treat each other absolutely equally in the order of charity).The veil is a sign of our recognizing these differences in roles.

The veil, too, is a sign of modesty and chastity. In Old Testament times, uncovering a woman's head was seen as a way to humiliate a woman or to punish adultresses and those women who transgressed the Law (e.g.., Numbers 5:12-18, Isaias 3:16-17, Song of Solomon 5:7). A Hebrew woman wouldn't have dreamed of entering the Temple (or later, the synagogue) without covering her head. This practice is simply carried on by the Church (as it is also by Orthodox Christians and even by Orthodox women of the post-Temple Jewish religion today).


That which is Veiled is a Holy Vessel

Note what Paul says, "But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering." We don't veil ourselves because of some primordial sense of femine shame; we are covering our glory so that He may be glorified instead. We cover ourselves because we are holy -- and because feminine beauty is incredibly powerful. If you don't believe me, consider how the image of "woman" is used to sell everything from shampoo to used cars. We women need to understand the power of the feminine and act accordingly by following the rules of modest attire, including the use of the veil.

By surrendering our glory to the headship of our husbands and to God, we surrender to them in the same way that the Blessed Virgin surrendered herself to the Holy Ghost ("Be it done to me according to Thy will!"); the veil is a sign as powerful -- and beautiful -- as when a man bends on one knee to ask his girl to marry him.

Now, think of what else was veiled in the Old Testament -- the Holy of Holies!

Hebrews 9:1-8
The former [Old Covenant] indeed had also justifications of divine service and a sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks and the table and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the Holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies: Having a golden censer and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory: of which it is not needful to speak now particularly.

Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle, the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices. But into the second, the high priest alone, once a year: not without blood, which he offereth for his own and the people's ignorance: The Holy Ghost signifying this: That the way into the Holies was not yet made manifest, whilst the former tabernacle was yet standing.

The Ark of the Old Covenant was kept in the veiled Holy of Holies. And at Mass, what is kept veiled until the Offertory? The Chalice -- the vessel that holds the Precious Blood! And, between Masses, what is veiled? The Ciborium in the Tabernacle, the vessel which holds the very Body of Christ. These vessels of life are veiled because they are holy.

And who is veiled? Who is the All Holy, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Vessel of the True Life? Our Lady -- and by wearing the veil, we imitate her and affirm ourselves as women, as vessels of life.

This one superficially small act is:

  • so rich with symbolism: of submission to authority; of surrender to God; of the imitation of Our Lady as a woman who uttered her "fiat!"; of covering our glory for His glory; of modesty; of chastity, of our being vessels of life like the Chalice, the Ciborium and, most especially, Our Lady;
  • an Apostolic ordinance -- with roots deep in the Old Testament -- and, therefore, a matter of intrinsic Tradition;
  • the way Catholic women have worshipped for two millennia (i.e., even if it weren't a matter of Sacred Tradition in the intrinsic sense, it is, at the least, a matter of ecclesiastical tradition, which should be upheld). It is our heritage, a part of Catholic culture;
  • pragmatic: it leaves one free to worry less about "bad hair days";
  • and for the rebels out there, it is counter-cultural nowadays, you must admit.

The question I'd like answered is, "Why would any Catholic woman not want to veil herself?"



There are various head-covering options here for women:  

  • the classic Catholic lace mantillas
  • lace chapel caps (this is for young girls)
  • oblong gauzy or cotton scarves worn over the head and over one or both shoulders, or tied in various ways
  • standard-sized square chiffon or cotton scarves folded into a triangle and worn tied under the chin in the Jackie-O style
  • large square scarves worn "babushka" style (fold large 36" square scarf into a triangle and place over head with the "tail" side hanging down in back. Then turn back the pointy ends behind the head and tie into a bow or make a knot over the "tail")
  • shawls worn over the head
  • elegant but simple hats (cloches, toques, berets, "Lady Diana" hats, etc.)

Traditionally, single women wear white or ivory headcoverings, and married or widowed women wear black, but this isn't a hard and fast rule, and is often ignored. White is worn to weddings, and black is worn, along with a black dress, when meeting with the Pope (unless you happen to be both Catholic and a member of royalty who's been granted the "privilège du blanc").

If you're Hispanic, you might wear a peineta under your veil. A peineta is a large, decorative comb worn under the mantilla to give it height. These days, this style of mantilla is typically worn during Holy Week (the week before Easter), at weddings, and for cultural reasons such as at bullfights, by flamenco dancers, etc.

Veils are put on before entering the church building -- at least, the church proper (i.e., you don't have to be veiled in the narthex, or the entryway, of the church). And they're not removed until you leave the church proper. The point is to be veiled when in the Presence of Christ, and He is there in the tabernacle.

It might be a good idea to have an extra veil or two for women guests who might accompany you to the Mass but who are new to Tradition. Men should remember this, too, if they invite a woman to Mass. It could be embarrassing for her if she is the only one who is not veiled. The safest bets, I am guessing, are the longer lacy veils or oblong scarves; a lot of women I know believe they look silly in the shorter veils or caps.

It's always a good idea, too, to keep a veil or scarf in your purse and/or glovebox so that you can run into a church any time for prayer.

Sisters, veil yourselves, even if you are the only woman to do so. Be true to Tradition, to Scripture, to your own desire to submit to God. Be not afraid... And lovingly encourage other women to do the same, teaching them what veiling means.

I've asked Catholics, both male and female, from various Catholic e-mail lists I am on what they think of veiling. Want to read their thoughts?



1 See this pdf file of the original AP article in the Los Angeles Times. 

2 A similar sort of situation can be seen with regard to canon law and Freemasonry. The relevant canons, first from the 1917 Code of Canon Law, my emphasis:

Can 2335. Nomen dantes sectae massonicae aliisve eiusdem generis associationibus quae contra Ecclesiam vel legitimas civiles potestates machinantur, contrahunt ipso facto excommunicationem Sedi Apostolicae simpliciter reservatam. (those who join a Masonic sect, or other societies of the same sort, plot against the church or against legitimate civil authority, incur excommunication").

and from the 1983 Code, which omits mention of Freemasonry itself:

Can. 1374 A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.

Because the new Code of Canon Law dropped mention of Freemasonry, many people, including clerics, assumed that it was now okay for Catholics to become Masons. To clear up the confusion, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement which can be found on the Vatican's website here. The relevant text reads, my emphasis:

It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church’s decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous code.

This sacred congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance is due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.

Therefore, the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and, therefore, membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful, who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. "

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