Monday, January 12, 2009

Are You Shy About Wearing the Chapel Veil?

THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Since first posting on the subject of the chapel veil, 'The Catholic Knight' has received many emails from modest women who have expressed their desire to keep the Biblical custom, but simultaneously feel apprehension, embarrassment, or worry about the potentially negative reaction they may get from fellow parishioners. The common thread in all of these emails seems to center around not wanting to draw attention to one's self.

This is very commendable, because by not wanting to draw attention to one's self, the woman who veils demonstrates that she fully understands the purpose of what the veil is all about. A more recent email inspired me to post on this topic directly.

First and foremost, if you're a woman who fits the description above, know that you're not alone. Your desire to "not cause a scene" is commendable and demonstrates that you fully understand the purpose of the veil to begin with. That means of all people, you are probably the most ready to keep the custom.

Second, we often tend to associate the chapel veil with the pretty lace mantillas made popular in recent times by Traditional Catholics in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Many of the beautiful veils are white, or some other stunning color, which do grab attention, especially if nobody else is veiled. Certainly there is nothing wrong with wearing such a lovely prayer cloth, but at the same time, it is not necessary either.

Third, to properly veil, women must understand the reason behind the chapel veil, and this can be found in 1st Corinthians 11. To review let me just outline some highlights of this custom...
  • The chapel veil (head covering for women) is a Christian custom that comes to us from the Scriptures (1st Corinthians 11).  Saint Paul outlined a deep theological purpose for keeping the custom that transcends all local and cultural reasons.  Therefore all Christian women are Scripturally encouraged, by Saint Paul himself, to keep the custom. 
  • The chapel veil was part of the code of canon law for centuries within the Catholic Church.  Under this canon, women were compelled to wear a head covering whether they wanted to or not.  The Church eventually decided that this custom had no place in canon law, and so it simply deleted that particular canon.  The Church DID NOT remove or reverse the custom itself.  It simply deleted the canon.  This made it so women could not be disciplined for refusing to wear the veil.  There is much debate as to whether this canon should have ever been part of the code to begin with.  As the Biblical instruction should be enough.
  • The chapel veil is a voluntary custom, but that doesn't mean it's optional.  By this I mean Christian women cannot ever be compelled to keep the custom against their will, but at the same time this does not mean it's okay for women (or anyone for that matter) to "pick and choose" which apostolic customs to keep and which to ignore.  The word "Catholic" means universal, complete and whole.  To be Catholic is to accept ALL of the customs of Christianity, not picking and choosing customs, as if Christianity where a salad bar.  The term "Cafeteria Catholic" is an oxymoron.  If one approaches Christianity with a "cafeteria" (pick and choose) mentality, one cannot be "Catholic" by the very definition of the word.  Catholic women should keep this in mind.  Refusing to wear a veil (head covering) in no way harms one's status in the Church, because women can no longer be disciplined for refusing to veil, now that the code of canon law no longer requires it.  However, it does reflect a mentality which "might" become potentially harmful to one's Catholic faith eventually. If one chooses to "pick and choose" on such a little thing as the chapel veil, it's not a far step from "picking and choosing" on other more important issues, such as artificial birth control, modest dress, gossip, complaining, mass attendance, regular confession, etc. etc. etc...  Please don't misunderstand, the chapel veil in no way "protects" women from these other issues, it's just that refusing to keep one apostolic custom, "could perhaps" lead to ignoring other more important customs.  Both men and women should consider this carefully.
  • The exact same Biblical regulation that commands women to cover their heads during prayer, is equally compelling upon men as well.  Don't think for one second that men are getting out of anything.  The same Scripture that commands the chapel veil for women also commands that men keep their heads uncovered during prayer.  That can sometimes be a burden to some men accustomed to wearing ball caps and hats all of the time.  The custom remains in place for men, even when prayer is done outdoors in the hot sun.  Men must remove their hats for prayer, even when the sun beats down on them, and even if their self conscience about their hair -- or lack thereof.  The clergy teach us by example.  A bishop always removes his mitre during various points of prayer in the mass.  A priest always removes his biretta before mass, (if he has one), and always puts it back on at the end of mass, just before leaving.
  • Christian veiling (head covering) is not the same as Muslim veiling (head covering) by any stretch of the imagination.  Those who make such accusations are ignorant of both faiths.  In Islam women are commanded to veil in the presence of men.  In Christianity women are only commanded to veil in the presence of the Lord.  Nowhere in the Bible can any command be found instructing women to veil in the presence of men.  It's just not in there.  Nor is there anything in the 2,000 years of Christian history and tradition in which women are instructed to veil in the presence of men.  That's because the presence of men has absolutely NOTHING to do with a Christian woman's veil.  The whole thing centers around God and God alone.  Men have nothing to do with it.  So Christian veiling and Muslim veiling have virtually nothing in common.
  • Nothing about the Biblical instruction to veil commands women to call attention to themselves either.  In today's western world, especially in English-speaking countries, the practice of the chapel veil has virtually disappeared from everyday Catholic life.  Only in the traditionalist communities does one still see the practice alive and well.  However, it doesn't have to be that way, and it shouldn't.  Many modest women, who want to keep the custom, are self conscious about what might happen if they attempt it.  This is truly a sad situation, but understandable.
There is more than one way to veil.  Keeping the custom doesn't have to mean drawing attention to one's self, and there are so many ways a woman can do it inconspicuously. Here are some suggestions...

Sit in the back of the Church, instead of the middle or front. Almost nobody will notice you there, and the only way you can draw attention is if people actually turn around to look at you. That is not likely to happen. So the back of the church is a good place to start.

The most simple way to keep the custom is with a hat.  Below we have an example of a simple beret.  It's cute and fashionable, but at the same time doesn't stand out much.  In this case below, the beret actually matches this woman's outfit quite nicely.  Many people would probably be unaware she is even keeping the apostolic custom of 1st Corinthians 11....

Another way to keep this custom is with a simple scarf or shawl. It doesn't have to be brightly colored or ornate.  In fact, it's probably better if it's not.  This can be worn around the neck or over the shoulders when entering the church, inconspicuously, as you seat yourself in the back of the church quietly, outside of most people's view.  This young woman below gives us an example with a warm shawl she wore on a cold day.  Thin light weight shawls could similarly be used on warm days...

Then, when upon kneeling for prayer, or when mass begins, the scarf or shawl can simply be lifted up over the head without anyone noticing...

After mass is over, while the priest is recessing back down the isle, the scarf or shawl can be dropped back down over the shoulders before everybody leaves. Thus the woman who does it this way can exit the chapel the same way she came in, with most people being completely unaware of her keeping the Biblical custom.

There is only one time when there would be an exception, and that is during communion. When for a brief time you would be at the front of the church instead of the back. However, when this happens, everyone's eyes are supposed to be downcast and contemplating the real presence of the Lord. If there are people in the pew staring at you, than SHAME ON THEM, not you. You didn't do anything to attract their attention, they are supposed to be contemplating the Lord. The only person who is supposed to look at you is the priest, or the Eucharistic minister, and those people are supposed to be knowledgeable of the veiling custom and not judgemental about it.  Again, you've done nothing to attract attention to yourself.

In almost every case where woman have actually kept the custom, they report to me that they were surprised how little reaction they got all together. They were expecting more, either positive or negative, and what they got was nothing -- literally nothing. It's as if the vast majority of people there didn't care, and most of them didn't even notice. If you're shy, or self conscious about keeping the Biblical custom of veiling, you may want to keep this in mind. Chances are you're far more conscious of it than those around you.

There have been rare cases (very rare) when veiled women have been confronted by other women who disapprove of this practice. If by rare happenstance this happens to you, know that you've done absolutely nothing wrong, and the woman confronting you is acting in an uncharitable, and dare I say unchristian, sort of way. There are people like this. They're called feminists, and they've embraced a philosophy and mindset that opposes the church on so many levels. Often these very same women advocate artificial birth control, believe women should become priests, and think of the male Catholic hierarchy in a negative way. They'll sight all sorts of erroneous reasons why women should no longer veil. If you should find yourself in this rare and unlikely circumstance, here is the proper response...
  1. Smile
  2. Then say: "You know, I would never try to force my own personal views on another parishioner."
  3. Then tell her: "And it's really none of your business how I choose to reverence the Lord."
  4. End with; "God bless you."
  5. Then walk away.
If you handle it this way, you can be assured that your reward in heaven will be great.  You've just received a bit of persecution for reverencing the Lord, and you handled it with charity and civility.  Meanwhile, the feminist woman who harassed you will be looking very foolish at this point.

If on the EXTREMELY RARE chance that a man actually confronts you over wearing the veil, and I've never heard of this happening, the way to deal with it is virtually identical....
  1. Smile.
  2. Tell him: "You know, I would never try to force you to wear a hat during mass."
  3. Then say: "And it's really none of your business how I choose to reverence the Lord."
  4. End with: "God bless you."
  5. Then walk away.
I only outline these responses to be thorough. In all reality you will probably never be confronted with ANY of these situations. Of course there are always those who might have honest and sincere questions about the chapel veil, simply because they don't know anything about it.  You are far more likely to run across someone like this. If anyone asks you for a reason why you wear the chapel veil, simply cite 1st Corinthians 11 and leave it at that.  If someone sincerely wants more details, direct them to this website.

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