The blog “feminine genius” reacts to WDTPRS on chapel veils

Over at the blog called feminine genius there are some reactions to my entry concerning women wearing chapel veils (or better keeping their heads covered in church).  Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.


Cultural artifact or trancendent item?

There is a second discussion on chapel veils at WDTPRS. I love the good work of Father Z, but was miffed at his comment a couple weeks ago that he liked women to cover their heads at Mass. [To be clear, I maintain that there is no longer any obligation under the Church’s law for this, but I think it is a good custom that recommends itself for various reasons.] At the original thread, these were two of my various responses:

As a convert, I’ve had to sort out this chapel veil thing and decided for several reasons that it was not necessary to wear one any longer. I cannot think of a just reason [The writers sees this in terms of "justice".] why it’s honourable for a woman to cover her head but not a man (Believe me, I’m no feminist. I just addressed the international congress in Rome on Mulieris Dignitatem.) I understand the complementarity of the sexes (as well as we can, this side of the veil) but haven’t seen an argument that works. The letter of Saint Paul isn’t authoritative on that because his intention was a particular abuse in a particular place.  [This is the argument that runs that certain things no longer pertain in the Church today because they were, in ancient times, "culturally conditioned".]

If it’s a sign of virtue, then I can see why Fr Z would like to see it. But I’m more inclinded to think it’s an indication of an older piety that he can recognise as bearing a “code,” then that’s a cultural construct in which I don’t want to take part.  [Fair enough.  I do, in fact, think that the chapel veil thing is also helpful for reivigorating our Catholic identity in a society that seeks to sweep visible or vigorous Catholicism from the public square.  That is not my only reason, of course, but it is one that I have considered in the wake of watching what Pope Benedict is doing to reestablish Catholic identity in our modern world.  That said, I wonder if the writer sees "piety" has being a bad thing.  I get that sense, but I don’t have enough information from what she wrote here.  I don’t think "piety" is bad, by the way, though it, like so many other things can get a little strange when it is out of balance.]

And later,

Methinks that we are straining at gnats here, while ignoring the camels. A vast number if not the majority of women of child-bearing age in the pews are contracepting. Sexual license is rampant, theology of the body is not understood by most, divorce and remarriage is the same as other communions, Mass attendance is not taken seriously, families are in disarray, etc. To even think that mandating chapel veils (and suits for men) would be anything other than laughable is to be delusional.  [Wow.  We jumped from veils being commendable to being "mandated".  I have sure never made that jump.  In fact, I have taken heat from some of the hard core because I argue exactly that they are not mandated, at least by the Church’s law.] There is so much to do in order to win the hearts and minds of women, so that they understand their inherent dignity but beginning with frivolous accidents (which have no meaning to them other than a sense of playing “dress up”) would be to lose any possibility of serious discussion about more important matters. [That is fair.] Veiling [I think veiling, when it comes to women, and not statues during Passiontide, is actually a techincal term, refering to women religious.  Perhaps that word isn’t the best choice, but that is nitpicking on my part.  At the same time, perhaps some people try to make the connection between the veils lay women wear in church and the veils of women religious.  Complicated.] may come later—much later—after motherhood has won its rightful esteem and families are recognised as the domestic churches they are, but not before. [I wonder what she thinks of "churching"?] Thus, if one woman says, “a ha! I get it!” and dons a veil, bully for her. But she cannot then cast her aspersions on the rest of her unwashed pew-mates as “less holy.”  [Hmmm… on WDTPRS I think I have been a pretty strong critic of the traditionalist "sneer" at those who don’t conform to a certain paradigm imagined to be sufficiently Catholic.  I have worked farily hard to reduce that censorious condescension newcomers sometimes – rarely I hope – experience when going to a "traditional" Mass.]

This thread, though, is a specific request from a woman who is discerning whether she is called to wear one, and the responses are interesting. The reference to the "mandated veils" comes from Latin Mass chapels that require them, [If they do, they are violating the rights Catholic women have under canon law, that is, the right not to wear a head covering.] and shun women who don’t comply. Obviously that’s a very different situation than the average Novus Ordo woman at Our Lady of Third Avenue who is figuring out whether covering her head would be appropriate given the state of her personal journey. She would in no way be lumped in with the judgemental crowd I’ve referred to as a portion of Fr Z’s flock.  [And the other portion?]

I’m still not convinced that there’s more imagination than theology involved, but then imagination is important, too.  [Yes, it is.  I wonder if the book The Heresy of Formlessness by M. Mosebach could shed more light on this.]

Very engaging stuff, to be sure.   The comments to the entry are also interesting and worth reading.  I am putting this blog on my left-sidebar blog roll.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Comments have beens ent by e-mail.  Here is one:

    In response to the blogger that you quoted and her thoughts on how the veil is something that is pretty ridiculous when women are using contraceptives and not taking Mass seriously, I wonder why you did not mention something along the lines of Benedict XVI’s plan of action in reforming the liturgy. [I did: “That is not my only reason, of course, but it is one that I have considered in the wake of watching what Pope Benedict is doing to reestablish Catholic identity in our modern world.”]  It occurs to me that encouraging men to dress up and women to dress modestly with their heads covered are things that come from the same source as efforts to redress altars with candlesticks and so on leading towards greater focus towards God in the Mass.  [So far Pope Benedict has not spoken about chapel veils.] If support for the return of churches to a more traditional orientation is part of the plan, are we to just dismiss our own personal orientation as well? Start small with chapel veils and I think the blogger you quote might see that from the mustard seed comes bigger things in time.

  2. I got a response… no surprise there… from the blog feminine genius (which I accidentally called Mulieris dignitatem in my original entry and which I have corrected on the sidebar also)

    Response to dear Father Z

    Since Father Zuhlsdorf’s comments are closed, I will use my own space to clarify some particular remarks that left questions in his mind:

    • It was clear to me that he never mentioned “mandates” in any way related to chapel veils, but that his readers referred to such in various chapels. He has been very firm in his explanation of canon law in this regard, which I appreciate;
    • I am no Scripture scholar and must defer to those who are, but if Saint Paul’s admonition that women cover their heads was anything beyond a culturally conditioned remark, then the Church never would have allowed the matter to be so vague — nor to allow women lectors, which also runs contrary to the apostle’s admonition to them to remain quiet at services. I welcome clarification. [I think the Church did clarify at least something about it by making sure that there was a canon in the 1917 CIC. And the tradition did come from somewhere, and remained even long after the centuries during which women used veils in daily dress.]
    • The fact that he offers that his support of chapel veils is an opportunity to “[reinvigorate] our Catholic identity in a society that seeks to sweep visible or vigorous Catholicism from the public square” [NB: That is not the sum and total of my thought.  That is just something I think about.] lends credence to my reticence about the whole question, which is based on my supposition that it’s cultural, not theological. I’m all for strengthening our identity, but a fundamental openness to life within the family, creating a “Catholic bloc” in the voting booth, and boasting bishops who will support us in our effort to save those being starved in the name of “mercy” would be a stronger statement, though assuredly not removing from the least in the flock the ever-present responsibility to live virtue;  [I am ready to stipulate that voting properly and living a good family life, etc., are probably more important.  However, this isn’t a zero sum game wherein voting properly shoves using head coverings off the table.]
    • Piety is a virtue, and of course it cannot be a bad thing. As he suggests, though, there is a balance to be made (which is distinctly different than “compromise”). The tradeoff which always concerns me is the inhospitality with which many interpret some acts of piety, [I agree there.  Some people can be rather censorious.]  which bear the aforementioned “code.” I don’t mean suggest that women have a different “language” about such things, [But… perhaps they do?]  but women will understand me when I say [Because you are speaking their language, perhaps, about things they understand?] that there are a host of subtle signals which their feminine radar intercepts and interprets — minutiae that many men miss (no loss, guys!). [Yep… and veils perhaps send signals to men that not all women get immediately?] In this, I mean that women have firm ideas in a given place about who their fellow travellers are — no matter what their philosophy. It is said that women dress for each other. This can devolve to cattiness in the silliest of circumstances. In more meaningful contexts, it simply implies another code that Catholic women have to deal with. Those of us desperately trying to evangelise our sisters to a greater understanding of the freedom and beauty of faith are always figuring out the best inroads that do not compromise truth for accessibility;  [A noble purpose.]
    • Whether “veiling” as a term can be used for this question is something I don’t know. I only resorted to this short hand because of the disputes about “chapel veils” and “mantillas” and then whether mantillas were worn backwards or forewards, all irrelevant details to the foundational question. I know our excellent parish veils it statues at the appropriate time (I was sorry not to get a snapshot onto his blog when he asked for them) and that the references to Dr Alice von Hildebrand’s remarks on the subject referred to “veiling” as an extension of female anatomy, which we’ll leave aside for now; [Maybe someone will send me Dr. vH’s comments.]
    • I am all for a restoration of “churching” with proper explanatin of the rite; [Amen, sister!  Say it!]
    • I could never imagine a “sneer” crossing the good padre’s face (or even a mental sneer, for that matter). [I think some who know me would snicker at that, but I do try to avoid it.  Mostly it comes from my not putting on my glasses when I ought to.  But I digress….] The hypothetical attitude is one that women save for each other. Perhaps he will believe me when I say we can be a catty group, on occasion — our own worst enemies. My deepest sympathies have always been with the menfolk who have to endure our worst sides on occasion, while being clueless about why we get so exercised over silly things.

    For those who are unfamiliar with my writings over the last many years, my thesis is that women find their vocation in being icons of Holy Mother Church. My book is a practical guide on how this remarkable incarnational reality is to be lived:  [Send a copy… I’ll read it.]

    In this profound yet practical guide, Genevieve Kineke invites women to consider the Church, the Bride of Christ, as the model for authentic Catholic womanhood. “The mission of women is inscribed in the mystery of the Church,” Pope John Paul II said. The author explores facets of this mystery—the Church as mother, bride, spouse and teacher, as sacramental, as font of wisdom, source of culture, and life-giving sanctuary—and reveals how women mirror the Church in their core identity. Faithful to this authentic identity, women will play a critical role in rebuilding a civilization of love and life.

    With all that said, everything we do is (should be) imbued with incarnational meaning. I am simply not convinced that wearing veils in the presence of the Almighty has a meaning apart from what culture gives it. (The only reference that seems sturdy in this regard is that Jewish men were to cover their heads when praying.) I refer again to Islamic veils to make my point that simply covering a woman’s hair (or face or body) has a variety of motives, many of which are quite dark indeed.

    In closing, I am deeply honoured to be added to his blogroll. He, as ever, is in the ranks of esteemed “Bridegrooms” on the lower left column of this blog.

  3. A reader sent this:

     Given the recent post on the place of the chapel veil in the liturgy, I thought you may be interested in hearing about a book recently published on the topic.  You may well have heard of it already, but just in case, details can be found here:

    The Chapel Veil: Symbol of the Spouse of Christ

    I highly recommend the book.  Its perspective is very unique, as it is written by two young ladies born well after the liturgical reforms of Paul VI were implemented.  And yet, even in the context of the reformed rite, they discovered the richness of this particular liturgical tradition.  It is quite a helpful book, especially as it rises above the typical “they did it in 1950, so it must be traditional” arguments and presents a number of very compelling reasons for bringing back this practice.  The theological importance of veiling and the symbolism found therein is explored and elucidated quite beautifully.

    Thank you for all the work you put into the blog, Father.  It is a great service.

    In Christo et Maria,


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