I know I've written on women wearing veils before, but I have recently come across some new insights. I am not sure what to think about the issue, since I generally respect the writings of all four of these sources. On one end, we have bloggers Jimmy Akin and Fr. Zuhlsdorf, who believe that women covering their heads in church is a good idea, but not binding under canon law. Then there are Dr. Robert Sungenis and the webmasters of Fisheaters who believe that although the Code of Canon Law in 1983 abrogated the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the requirement for veiling of women remains. Oddly enough, or maybe not oddly enough, the supreme legislator (the Holy Father) has remained silent on the issue for several decades. So until the Magisterium clears this issue up, we do not have moral certitude that either position is right. Since this is the case, we cannot accuse any woman of being less pious or guilty of sin because they do not cover their heads. Regardless, I will try to again show why women should wear veils. After all, we don't do things simply because they are laws on the books. Rather, we do certain things for the love of God.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the details of canon law, let us go back once again to what Saint Paul has to say in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. "Every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head." (1 Cor 11:5, Douay-Confraternity Bible). From the earliest times in the Church, the practice was for women to cover their head while at Mass. Pope Saint Linus, the first successor of St. Peter, ordered that women cover their head while in church. Tertullian, around the year 200, repeats the words of Saint Paul, saying that a woman's head is to be covered on account of the angels. Even at the time of the Protestant 'Reformation', John Calvin and John Knox (haha) instructed women to cover their head. The 1917 Code of Canon Law in canon 1262 required that "men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bear-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord." So it is obvious that from the beginning of the Church, throughout its history, even into the 20th century, women were to cover their heads in church. That is some 1900 years of custom.
Now, we come to the fact that the 1983 Code of Canon Law does not mention at all the covering of women's heads. Note also that it nowhere mentions that men should take off their hats. Father Z and Jimmy Akin argue that since canon 6 of the new Code abrogates the 1917 Code, women are no longer required to cover their heads in church. Those who believe that the requirement remains cite several other canons of the new Code. Can. 23 A custom introduced by a community of the faithful has the force of law only if it has been approved by the legislator, in accordance with the following canons. Can. 25 No custom acquires the force of law unless it has been observed, with the intention of introducing a law, by a community capable at least of receiving a law. Can. 28 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 5, a custom, whether contrary to or apart from the law, is revoked by a contrary custom or law. But unless the law makes express mention of them, it does not revoke centennial or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs. Canon 5 deals with contrary customs. Since the new Code does not at all mention head covering, it certainly cannot be contrary to the law to veil the head. The second half of canon 5 says "Universal or particular customs beyond the law which are in force until now are preserved."
So here is the sticky part. People disagree on the definition of custom. Canon 23 says "a custom introduced by a community of the faithful has the force of law only if...." Does this mean that all customs mentioned in canon 5 have to be customs introduced by the faithful, and not by the legislator? If so, does head-covering fall under this designation? Certainly it is an immemorial custom. Now the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on 'Custom' breaks customs into two types: judicial and extrajudicial. The first come from the Pope and bishops, the second from the people. If head-covering is a universal custom beyond the law (which I believe it to be) and was in force up until 1983 (which it was) it should be preserved by canon 5. The question is, do canons 23 and 25 restrict the legal binding of this custom? We can all agree that 1917's Code of Canon Law is totally abrogated. But since head-covering is also outside of and certainly predates 1917, is it a universal custom beyond the law to be preserved? Well, I'm rambling now and don't have the answers! We must end this canonical discussion keeping in mind, however, that canon 14 says "laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law." This leads me to believe that, until the Holy See clarifies this issue, women are not obligated to cover their heads in church. There is just too much ambiguity and not enough clarification.
Regardless of whether or not ladies have to cover their head, let us once again look at the merits of this custom. First, it is recommended by Saint Paul and written in the Scriptures. Also, it has been the tradition of the Church for almost 2,000 years. We should also keep in mind that this tradition was probably not mentioned in the 1983 Code because of the unlawful discarding of the custom. All throughout the Second Vatican Council, into the Novus Ordo and up to 1983, the law in effect was the 1917 Code! Women who did not cover their heads were, whether they knew it or not, disobeying the law of the Church. This is how some of our great traditions have fallen by the wayside. Only boys and men were permitted to serve at the altar for as long as we can remember, but some liberal dissidents started allowing girls at the altar. So the Vatican caved in and allowed the practice in 1994, even though it rejected the idea as early as 1991. It was not until people started receiving Holy Communion in their hands that the Vatican allowed the indult (yes, that's a dispensation from the law) to receive in the hands. So why do we want to follow in the footsteps of bad Catholics?? A fourth reason includes those reasons that I outlined in my previous post. Well, I hope this provokes some thought and good discussion, and hopefully more women will see the reasons and the beauty behind wearing a veil.
In Jesus and Mary,