It's official. The Catholic Knight is retired.  I'm hanging up the helmet and passing the torch. There will be no more articles, no more commentaries, no more calls to action. THIS BLOG IS CLOSED. I've spent a very long time thinking about this, I believe the time has come, and is a bit overdue.  I want to thank my readers for everything, but most especially for your encouragement and your willingness to go out there and fight the good fight. So, that being the case, I've spend the last several weeks looking for bloggers who are fairly active, and best represent something akin to the way I think and what I believe.  I recommend the following blogs for my readers to bookmark and check on regularly. Pick one as your favourite, or pick them all. They are all great..... In His Majesty's Service, THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Chapel Veil - Veiling or Head Covering - Fully Explained

Chaldean Catholic Women Attend Sunday Mass

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Unfortunately, something as simple as a chapel veil has become somewhat of a controversy in the modern Catholic Church. To be more accurate, it's not so much a controversy in the "modern" Catholic Church as it is in the "western" Catholic Church, particularly in English-speaking nations. One would not find so much of a controversy if one were to visit a Catholic Church in the third world. There one would find the chapel veil used by many Catholic women almost universally. Eastern Orthodox women also veil in these regions. While here in the western industrialized world, eastern Orthodox women (along with eastern Catholic women in the Byzantine Rite) have kept the custom a bit more faithfully than western Catholic women in the general Roman Rite. Yes, veiling in some form was even common in most Protestant communities for many centuries prior to the 1960s. In some Protestant groups the custom evolved into large elaborate hats, which one can still see practiced in the Methodist Episcopal denomination. The custom is also still practiced in the form of lace mantillas and/or bonnets among the Amish, Mennonites, the Apostolic Christian Church, some Pentecostal groups, which includes the 'Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith,' and the stricter Dutch Reformed churches. Though most Protestant denominations have no official expectation that women veil, some individual ladies choose to practice the custom according to their understanding of 1st Corinthians 11.

The chapel veil was the custom of all Catholic churches (eastern and western), everywhere in the world (including English-speaking nations) for nearly 2,000 years. The custom only fell out of use among western Catholic women, particularly in English-speaking nations, in just the last 30-40 years. Why is that?

A movement was introduced to western culture at around the same time that explains a lot of it. The movement was called feminism. Like most social movements born in the 1960s, some good did come out of it. But at the same time, some not-so-good things came out of it. On the positive side, feminism pushed for equality for women in the workplace and in government. On the negative side, feminism saddled women with burdens they never bargained for, and in some ways made their struggle worse than it was before. The long term effects of feminism (positive and negative) will be debated for decades to come, and that is not the purpose of this article. So for now, we'll leave the sociology to the sociologists.

What concerns us is feminism's effect on Catholic women in western cultures, particularly those in English-speaking nations. The most noticeable effect in such nations was the rapid disappearance of the chapel veil from mass. Almost overnight the veil was gone. This was accompanied by the release of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983, which no longer mentioned chapel veils. Since the new Code of Canon Law abrogated the older code, it was assumed by many that the custom of veiling was also abrogated, simply because it was no longer mentioned. That combined with feminist influences on Catholic women in western nations led to the popular misconception that veiling is now optional, and women are no longer required to do it. As a result, it came to be the norm for older traditional women to keep wearing the veil, while younger Catholic women discarded it completely.

The feminist transformation of western Catholic women was accomplished mainly though propaganda. It was propaganda that fit the feminist mindset very well, but actually mischaracterized and falsely represented the Catholic mindset. Women were told that the veil represented male oppression, and that a male controlled Catholic Church sought to dominate women by forcing their subjection through the symbolic act of veiling while in Church. (Now none of this is true, and if it were, yours truly would be against the chapel veil as well.) The tide of feminism was overwhelming in western culture, particularly in English-speaking nations, and as a result most Catholic women simply accepted this propaganda as truth without ever questioning it. Thirty years have gone by, and one can easily find Catholic women who still accept the propaganda without question, having never even heard a rebuttal.

It would appear the Vatican listened to the feminist movement, and did find a potential problem in the Code of Canon Law that could be made as a case to bolster the erroneous feminist argument. It was possibly for this reason the Vatican dropped the chapel veil requirement from the Code of Canon Law. Under the old Code of Canon Law, women could theoretically be forced under penalty to wear a chapel veil against their will. The problem with this was twofold. First, this canon could be used as a case to bolster the erroneous feminist argument against the chapel veil. Second, this canon actually defeated the authentic Catholic reason for veiling in the first place.

The authentic Catholic reason for wearing the chapel veil is the Biblical reason. It's just something that all Christian women (regardless of denomination) are supposed to do, not because they have to, but because they're supposed to want to. The Catholic Church has decided to no longer enforce this Biblical custom through Canon Law, and in doing so, the Church is saying it does not want to be our nanny. The chapel veil is a custom for women to do voluntarily, because they want to, not because they are being forced to. The idea is that women are to read what the Scriptures have to say, and be convicted according to what is contained therein. In order for a chapel veil to be an authentic sign of humility and holiness, it must be voluntary. Indeed, Christian women are supposed to wear one, but it is never to be forced.

The Scriptural case for the chapel veil...
1st Corinthians 11:2-16
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you...
The tradition of the chapel veil comes from Christ, by way of the Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, for Paul mentions later in this same epistle: "What I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized." - 1st Corinthians 14:37-38 St. Paul commends the Corinthians for keeping the chapel veil tradition, among other traditions, and then he continues in chapter 11...
....But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God...
Here we have the central point of misunderstanding. This verse has been misused time and time again as a means of male superiority. Not only is this a misreading of the text, but it completely misses an important theological point Paul is trying to make. This chapter of Corinthians is entirely Eucharistic, in the sense that it centers around the Eucharistic celebration (or the mass). The following verses (17-34) deal entirely with the celebration of Holy Communion. When Paul says the head of every man is Christ, what he's saying is that Christ came in the form of a man. He's making a statement about the incarnation. He's saying that Christ came in human form, and because of this, the man becomes a physical representation of Christ -- particularly if he is a husband. When he says the head of every woman is her husband, he is not saying that women are inferior to men in any way. What he's saying is that if a husband becomes the physical representation of Christ's incarnation, than his wife becomes the physical representation of Christ's spouse -- or the Church. When Paul says "husband" here, he is referring both to earthly husbands, and to Christ himself. That being the case, wives take on the symbolic role of the Church. Paul continues in chapter 11...
...Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head...
Again, this goes straight back to the incarnation. All of this is a symbol of what we Catholic Christians believe about Christ, his incarnation, and the Eucharist. Paul tells us that if a man covers his head during mass, he dishonors his spiritual "head" which is Christ. In other words, a man who covers his head during mass dishonors Christ, because his action of veiling himself sends the physical statement that Christ was not incarnate as a man. The woman, on the other hand, representing the Church, ought to cover her head because if she believes that Christ is truly incarnate, she should veil herself as a sign that the Church has been made holy by Christ as his spouse. In doing so she honors Christ as a symbol of his sanctification on the Church. She also honors her husband with a physical sign that he represents Christ, because Christ came in the form of a man. The chapel veil is a sign of holiness because Christ has made his Church holy, and women represent the Church as the "bride" of Christ. It is a sign that the Church is covered and under Christ's protection. This is the symbolism of the Church's relationship to Christ. It is not so much a statement of a particular woman's holiness, but rather the Church's holiness. Paul continues...
-- it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil...
Here Paul is really laying it on think, and he has good reason. He's trying to convey a big theological point. Customs in the church are not the result of random happenstance. These things exist for a reason. Under the Old Covenant, both Jewish men and women covered their heads during worship, but the early Jewish Christians changed that custom for a reason. They wanted to make this practice of veiling a symbol of Christ's incarnation, like they did with so many other Jewish traditions, and as Paul mentions in chapter 14 (cited above) these things are not trivial man-made customs, they came from the Holy Spirit Himself. Here Paul is telling us that it is shameful for a Christian woman not to cover her head during mass, and he is using an illustration from antiquity that has to do with punishment. In ancient times, women would have their heads shaved publicly as punishment for lack of modesty. It was a form of public humiliation. Here Paul is not advocating the shaving of a woman's head for refusing to wear the chapel veil, but rather, he is trying to convey the seriousness of the imagery. When a Christian woman refuses to do this, she is in effect saying (though perhaps not intentionally) that Christ was not incarnate in the form of a man. Granted, in modern times this is almost certainly not the intention of any woman who refuses to veil during mass, but what Paul is telling us here is that every custom in the Church has meaning, and because of that, failure to keep those customs also has meaning, whether one intends to convey that meaning or not. It's sort of like bowing, kneeling or genuflecting before the Eucharist for example. Catholics do these things in mass for a reason, and that reason is to stress the real presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament. In practice, we are bowing, kneeling and genuflecting before our God and King, whom we profess to be really and truly present in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. That being the case, if one fails to bow, kneel and genuflect, what kind of signal does that send to those around him/her? One may not intend to send any signals of disrespect, but invariably one can, whether one intends to or not. The custom of the chapel veil has similar significance. Paul continues....
...For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels....
Here we have another commonly abused passage. Again, Paul is not trying to bolster male dominance here. Remember, we have to keep the context of this chapter in mind, and the context of 1st Corinthians 11 is the Eucharistic celebration. Paul calls man the "image and glory of God" for one reason and one reason only -- because Jesus Christ (who is God) was made incarnate as a man. Then he expounds on this by pointing out that the woman is the "glory of man" (or mankind). This is meant to be a complement. Of the two human genders, women are far more "glorious" then men in their appearance, beauty, voice, fashion and general gracefulness. The hair was considered a woman's crowing glory in Biblical times (Song of Songs 6:5). Beyond that, women bear the special gift of motherhood. In that, God touches them in a way no man has ever experienced. The Scriptures tell us that God Himself fashions the unborn child in the womb, and plants a living human soul inside the body of a women when she becomes pregnant (Psalm 139:13-16). In this way, God touches the body of a woman in a way he never touches a man's body. This makes the woman's body a sacred vessel of God's creative powers. It is something that is particularly holy, and must be respected as such. It is no wonder why women are called the "fairer sex." Paul is agreeing with that here. However, Paul is also reminding women not to get too prideful. He reminds them of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, where the woman is made to complement the man, and not vice versa. Now we learn that the chapel veil is also a sign of personal humility in addition to the Church's holiness. The woman not only covers her head as a sign of her belief in a incarnation, not only to show how Christ has made his Church holy, but also to cover her "glory," as a sign of humility to show that she is not vain or overly proud of her womanhood and beauty. The veil or headcovering is a symbol of the woman's acceptance of her role in society, the family, and the Church, in accordance with God's will. It is an imitation of the Virgin Mary, who wore such a headcovering.

Then St. Paul says something very curious. He says the woman ought to veil her head during mass "because of the angels." Paul tells us that the angels participate with us during mass, and this is reinforced by the writings of St. John: "And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne." (Revelation 8:3, see also Matt. 18:10). The angels watch everything that is going on during mass, as they participate in the same liturgy we do. They are also well aware of the customs of the Church and what they mean -- even the custom of veiling. Angels are offended when we ignore or refuse to follow any liturgical custom, whether it be failing to kneel or veil in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.
...(Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.)...
If ever there was a verse to counter the abuse of male dominance, this is it. If ever there was a verse to prove that St. Paul was not a male chauvinist, this is it. Paul follows his previous verse, reminding women to be humble, with this verse, reminding men to be humble too. He doesn't want the men to use what he just wrote as a means of beating down the women in a form of male superiority. He is reminding the men that they are not superior to the women, but rather fully dependent on them, and that both genders come from God. One cannot be "better" than the other. Then he continues with some rhetorical questions to back his point...
...Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering....
Paul is not prohibiting hair styles here. To focus on hair styles is to miss the point. Paul is simply asking a few rhetorical questions based on popular culture. In most cultures women have longer hair then men, and when they do, it usually looks better. He's saying that when a woman has long hair it usually looks beautiful, and when a man has long hair, it usually looks a little odd. In some cultures, long hair is considered a sign of femininity. So if a man has long hair, it looks feminine in those cultures, and that is "degrading" to him. What Paul is doing here is he's appealing to nature. He's saying; "Look, even mother nature teaches us the same lesson. She gives women long hair as a covering and it looks good and proper on them." Then he concludes with this interesting verse...
...If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
Some Bible versions have mistranslated this verse to say "we recognize no such practice, nor do the churches of God." This mistranslation is often used to negate the previous first half of the chapter. In other words, those who abuse such mistranslations say that Paul spent half a chapter, explaining a deep theological principle pertaining to a custom he applauds the Corinthians for keeping, only to say in this last verse that they really don't need to keep it. Such interpretations are silliness. The proper translation is rendered here as "we recognize no other practice." Here Paul is telling the Corinthians not to get too contentious over the chapel veil custom, because he's not going to burden them with anything else beyond that. He's not going to tell men and women how to dress. He's not going to tell them what kind of a veil they should wear, or how they should wear it. He's simply saying that this is the custom as it is practiced in the "churches of God" and they recognize no other practice beyond this.

So the chapel veil has nothing to do with male dominance. It has nothing to do with subjecting women under male authority. It has everything to do with Christ's incarnation, and the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Bible is very clear about this. Women are supposed to veil in the presence of the Eucharist and in prayer, but at the same time, they are to take it upon themselves to do it. They are not to be forced into it by men, nor coerced into it by the Canon Law of the Church. Coercion actually defeats the whole purpose of veiling. (Which may be one reason why the custom of the veil has no place in canon law.) It has to be voluntary, if it is truly to be a sign of holiness and humility. This is why the Church removed it from Canon Law. It was not to send a signal to women that they need not do it anymore. Rather, it was to tell women that when they veil themselves, it is not because men told them to. It is a sign and symbol coming from them, voluntarily, not as a grudging requirement against their will.

Furthermore, the chapel veil is a sign of the incarnation, illustrated in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Women are supposed to veil in the presence of the Sacrament and in prayer before God. They are not veiling in the presence of men, nor has the tradition of the Church ever required this. The feminist propaganda was wrong. If the chapel veil were a sign of male dominance, than it would have been required in the presence of men, but it is not. Nowhere in Church history, Canon Law, or the Bible, are women required to veil in the presence of men. They are only expected to veil in the presence of our Lord.

Though the custom has generally lapsed in western cultures, particularly English-speaking nations, it is not erased entirely from the conscience of western Christians. For example; what's the first thing a Catholic mom does when her daughter is preparing for first communion and confirmation? She goes out and buys a veil. Likewise, what's one of the most important accessories to a bridal gown? Why it's the veil of course! Finally, when a baseball game or community event is opened in prayer, regardless of the religious denominations of those in attendance, what's the first thing everybody does? The men all remove their hats, and the women do not. Funny how that works, isn't it. This doesn't just happen by accident. It all goes back to the ancient Christian custom of veiling.

Yes, Christian women are supposed to veil during worship, and this is especially true for Catholic women who understand the incarnation of Christ and His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. According to the Bible, this is not optional. All Christian women are expected to do it, but it is to be done voluntarily, without force or coercion. The custom was removed from the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, but it was never abrogated as a Biblical custom of the Faith. To veil properly, women must do so voluntarily, and they must do so with proper understanding of the custom and what it means. Hopefully this article has been helpful in this.

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