04 August 2008

Veiling Again


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,
Jonathan Knox

4 Comments:

OpenID faylei said...

You write that "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."

From "Inter Insigniores":
"But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on the head (1 Cor. 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value."

August 06, 2008 7:00 PM  
Blogger Gerald Lamb said...

Not that Jonathan was arguing that it is a requirement of any sort, but he rightly points out that it is a sign of reverence. You don't find many women who to go to Church in a veil spouting off about self-empowerment in the face of a God who calls for humble submission to His will.

I think there is an interesting correlation here in the way nuns have abandoned the religious habit over the years. While it is not a universal rule, with very few exceptions the nuns I have met who wear their habits have been very humble, self-sacrificial, and truly loving women of God. The nuns I've met who have shed their habits, on the other hand, have - with the lone exception of one nun I met in Ohio a few years ago - been little more than political activists masquerading as consecrated religious. There is nothing wrong with having a political worldview, but when it becomes more important to a person to focus on whether or not St. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (and whether she may or may not have been a model for early "womyn priests") instead of focusing on the traits - among which was a genuinely repentant heart - that led her to lead a life of heroic virtue after her encounter with Jesus Christ, something is definitely wrong. And when the focus turns to what Christ said and did as a model for civil disobedience rather than focusing on who Christ is and how His every action what directed toward reconciling man with His Father in Heaven, the message ceases to be authentically Catholic. And too many of the non-habit wearing nuns have unfortunately gone down this secular-focused route.

It has been said - and quite truly, I believe - that holiness in a nun is very "habit"-forming. And this modest style of dress is a wonderful example for women to follow if they seek to grow closer to the heart of God.

August 06, 2008 8:58 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Knox said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Faylei.

That document, Inter Insigniores seems to be the only mention of the issue of the veil in the past howevermany years. The document, however, deals with how women can in no way ever become priests. The document does not really deal with head covering.

So besides the fact that this document has nothing to do with veils, there are other reasons to believe that this has nothing to do with the discipline.

II was written in 1977, and as such, it was more than 5 years before the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated. Therefore, the 1917 Code was still in effect. Obviously, the Pope has the authority to add or change any law. For example, there are a few instances in the 83 Code that entail automatic excommunication. The Holy Father, however, has just added the attempted ordination of women to the priesthood as another crime that entails latae sententiae excommunication.

But as I said before, this document was not about head covering. It was not a document written to change a legal discipline. It was a reiteration of the constant de fide doctrine that women cannot be validly ordained.

Besides that fact, the CDF's wording here shows that this is probably a personal opinion of the Pope. "Probably inspired". Contrast this with the definitive wording later in the document. "But it must not be forgotten that the priesthood does not form part of the rights of the individual, but stems from the economy of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The priestly office cannot become the goal of social advancement; no merely human progress of society or of the individual can of itself give access to it: it is of another order."

Now I'm not here to nitpick on is it required is it not. Obviously it is not required under pain of any sin. But given the fact that women started to not wear veils or hats even before '77 out of disobedience, why would someone want to continue in that? Maybe it's just beyond me. Though I can say that if Pope Paul VI was expressing a personal opinion on head covering being inspired by "customs of the period", that I would have to disagree with him. Obviously the Church didn't think it was a 1st century custom for those 1900 years, even up to 1917!

August 06, 2008 9:29 PM  
Blogger Anders longs for Orthodoxy... said...

Jon, again I must tip my hat to you sir. I couldn't agree with you more. You have said it better than I ever could have. I look forward to more of your posts.

Gerald, I, unfortunately, have had very similar experiences. It is frustrating to me, personally, why someone who is trying to shed the world, and live only for Christ, would want to be part of the world in their clothing. Why, also, they would want to be part of the world in their name, rather than use their holy name given to them or chosen by them at their vows. How can you die to the world, for the love of Our Lord, and still cling to those things of the world? I don't understand.

August 07, 2008 11:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home