08 December 2008

The Truth Unveiled: Head Covering Still Obligatory for Women Attending Mass

On January 12, 1930, the Sacred Congregation of the Council issued an instruction to all of the world’s Bishops, ordering them to address, from the pulpit, at least once a year, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as appropriate, the subject of women’s modesty.

Over the past few years, a series of articles have been posted on-line, offering the opinion that women are no longer obliged to cover their heads while praying in church. The authors of three important postings on the issue include Rev. John T. Zuhlsdorf, Dr. Edward Peters, and Mr. Jimmy Akin.

In order to ascertain the truth of the matter, I decided to consult an out-of-state canonist on the question in 2007. The following is an excerpt from the opinion he gave me:

“From the point of view of qualifications, it appears that only Dr. Peters is licensed by the Church to give a professional opinion in Canon Law.

The first author, Rev. Zuhlsdorf, summarily dismisses the obligation of head-covering for women in church, stating, “[A]ccording to Church law you are not obliged.” He bases his conclusion on an apparent reductionist equating of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 with any other Church law. For him, because 1262, par. 2 of the Code of 1917 has been abrogated, the matter is fertig,” “finished,” as the Germans would say: no obligation for women to cover their heads in church. In sum: can. 1262, par. 2 CIC 1917 is abrogated, therefore the obligation is non-existent.

The second author, Dr. Edward Peters is in agreement with Fr. Zuhlsdorf. He writes, “Leafing through my sources, it seems that the canonical requirement that women cover their heads in church is almost completely unattested until the appearance of the 1917 Code, specifically, in canon 1262 […] [T]here is no canonical requirement that women cover their heads in church today.” In sum: abrogation of obligation due to abrogation of can. 1262 CIC 1917.

The third author, Jimmy Akin, writes the most on the topic. First, he concludes that because “the revised liturgical documents do not contain it [mention of the obligation], and neither does the 1983 Code […] men no longer need to remove their hats as a matter of law, and women no longer need to wear them.” Second, he excoriates Catholics invoking the obligatory nature of the practice as making a “category mistake […] this matter did not belong to the category of custom prior to its abrogation. It was not a matter of custom but a matter of law. The 1917 Code expressly dealt with the subject, so it was not a custom but a law that women wear head coverings in church. That law was then abrogated.” Finally, he writes that “[O]ne cannot appeal to the fact that, when a law was in force, people observed the law and say that this resulted in a custom that has force of law even after the law dealing with the matter is abrogated.” In sum: no obligation for women to cover their heads in church because: 1) the liturgical texts of the Ordinary Form do not reference the obligation; 2) the legislative texts introducing the Ordinary Form “integrally reordered” the liturgy, thereby abrogating the norm; 3) the head-covering of women was a law, and not a custom, which was abrogated in 1983; and 4) the custom of head-covering of women cannot continue in time for the law mandating it has been abrogated.

After consideration of their opinions, and the conducting of some research, it appears that all three of the above authors are mistaken in holding that women are no longer obligated by canon law to cover their heads while in church – even when attending a celebration of Mass offered according to the liturgical texts of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

In conducting a proper analysis of the question, one must retrace the scriptural, patristic, and canonical history of the practice in order to determine properly its value. This brief analysis – by no means exhaustive – attempts to address the canonical issues raised by the three referenced authors.

To begin, in I Cor. XI, 5, St. Paul declares: “[E]very woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven.” As it is not known when St. Paul confirmed the Jewish and Roman practice of women wearing a head covering when praying, it qualifies as a true immemorial custom, because the exact date upon which it became binding upon women in the Church is beyond the memory of anyone. As St. Paul declares that his teaching is not his own, the custom could even have been confirmed by Christ the Lord Himself. Cf. 1 Cor. XIV, 37.

St. John Chrysostom (cf. Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXVI), St. Ambrose (cf. Concerning Virgins, Book III), St. Augustine (cf. On Holy Virginity, n. 34; Epistola ad Possidium, n. CCXLV), and St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. II-IIae, q.169, a. 2, corp.; Super I Cor., cap.11, vers. 3), are all noteworthy for their elaborate treatments of the custom.

In A.D. 743, Pope St. Zachary I (A.D. 741-752) held a synod in Rome, whose Canon 3 reprises the teaching of St. Paul: “[A] woman praying in church without her head covered brings shame upon her head, according to the word of the Apostle […].” Cf. Mansi XII, 382.

Gratian, the Camaldolese monk-canonist, and often called the “father” of Canon Law, references the above texts in his unofficial collection (cf. C. 3, C.XXI, q.4; c. 19, C. XXXIII, q.5).

Almost two millennia of uninterrupted observance of the immemorial custom passed until the Sacred Congregation of Rites received from the Rev. Caesar Uberti, Master of Ceremonies of the Archbishop of Ravenna, the following dubium: “Whether women assisting at sacred functions […] are obliged to cover the head?”

On July 7, 1876, the Congregation replied: “Affirmative.” Cf. Ravannaten., July 7,1876, n. 3402, in Decreta Authentica Congregationis Sacrorum Rituum ex actis eiusdem collecta ejusque auctoritate promulgate, Romae (1898-1926), Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Prop. Fide, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis.

To be certain, inasmuch as this decision – comprehensive, formally particular, and equivalently universal in nature -- was issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the department of the Holy See possessing the jurisdiction to rule on matters touching upon the Sacraments, it constitutes, without doubt, a liturgical law. Cf. L. Choupin, Valeur des Decisions Doctrinales et Disciplinaires du Saint-Siège, (Beauchesne: Paris, 1913), pp. 96-103.

At this point in time, in 1876, de minimis, we have two existing laws mandating the wearing of head-covering by women when they attend sacred functions in a church. The first is an unwritten law, the immemorial custom, dating from the time of the Apostles. The second is a written law, a decree of the Holy See, requiring the same as the custom.

Understanding the concurrent existence of the two different laws is key to determining whether or not the Code of Canon Law of 1917 abrogated those two pre-existing laws by subsumption, or “elevation” of either the immemorial custom, or the liturgical law, into its canon 1262, when that Code came into effect.

In answer to this question, one must look to Canon 2 of the Code of Canon Law of 1917. This canon states [my rough translation]:

“The Code, for the most part, decrees nothing concerning the rites and ceremonies which the liturgical books, approved by the Church, order to be observed in the sacrosanct Sacrifice of the Mass, in the administration of the Sacraments and Sacramentals and other sacred actions. Wherefore all laws of the liturgy retain their force, unless some are expressly corrected in the Code.”

According to the common doctrine of canonists, there are three kinds of custom, or consuetudine in the Church: custom according to the law (“iuxta legem"), custom apart from the law (“ praeter legem”), and custom against the law (“ contra legem”). Cf. E. Regatillo, S.J., Institutiones Iuris Canonici, Vol. I, (Sal Terrae: Santander, 1951), p. 91, n. 107.

As Canon 1262, par. 2, of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 mandates the wearing of a head-covering on the part of women attending sacred functions when in church, the prior existing immemorial custom cannot at this point in time be said to be either contrary to the law (the new Code of 1917 coming into effect), or apart from the law, because both Code and immemorial custom shared the same exact object in their mandates: that women cover their heads when assisting at sacred functions.

This being the case, nothing in the introductory canons of the Code of 1917 confirm, beyond a reasonable, or even probable doubt, that the prior extant immemorial custom was abrogated upon the enactment of the Code of Canon Law of 1917. Canon 5 only addresses those customs which are reprobated or simply contrary to the new canons of the Code of 1917. Cf. G. Michiels, O.F.M., Normae Generales Juris Canonici, Ed. Altera, Vol. I, (Desclée et Socii: Paris, 1949), pp. 102-110. Canon 6, 1°, only addresses laws contrary to the Code; 6, 2°, only deals with laws which are integrally reordered by the Code, and as canon 2 specifies, liturgical laws are left untouched for the most part; 6, 4°, only confirms the immemorial custom and liturgical law of head-covering in effect up until the advent of the 1917 Code; 6, 6°, is not applicable even by juridical analogy, for the object of the immemorial custom is reprised in can. 1262, par. 2 CIC 1917.

Nothing in the canons of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 regulating custom (cf. cann. 25-30) indicate that the prior immemorial custom had been abrogated or obrogated with the advent of the new Code. To the contrary, can. 28 states that custom is the best interpreter of the law; and can. 30 explicitly states that unless a new law “expressly” makes mention, prior extant centenary or immemorial custom, which is not contrary to the new law, is not abrogated. It continues to remain in effect.

With the promulgation in 1969 of the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum by Pope Paul VI of happy memory, the terms of canon 30 are important to recall to mind: nowhere in the text of the Pope is mention made of any intent on the part of the Supreme Pontiff to abrogate the prior extant centenary or immemorial custom iuxta legem of the Roman Rite as celebrated for centuries according to the Missal of Pope St. Pius V.

It is likely for this reason that Pope Benedict XVI was easily able to declare that the ancient form of the Roman Rite, qua custom, has never been abrogated. Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Const. Missale Romanum, AAS 61 (1969). pp. 217-226; Pope Benedict XVI, Litt. Apost. Summorum Pontificum, Art. 1 (b).

The same rationale requiring express mention of the intent to abrogate immemorial custom, and its lack of any promulgation in any controlling liturgical texts concerning the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, militates in favor of the opinion that the immemorial custom of women covering their heads when praying in church was never “integrally reordered” with the promulgation of the new liturgical laws – something which, by necessity, had it happened, could not have permitted the Roman Pontiff to decree that the Extraordinary Form had never been abrogated.

With respect to the new Code of Canon Law of 1983, canons 2 and 5 reprise substantially those of the Codex of 1917: “liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the norms of the Code.” As there simply is no mention in the new Code of 1983 of the object treated by canon 1262, par. 2, of the Code of 1917, one cannot say that either the ancient liturgical law, or immemorial custom iuxta legem, is contrary to the Code: Aristotle and the Aquinate would have serious fits in hearing of those elementary mistakes in logic.

Regarding canon 6, par. 1, 1-4°° of the new Code, it does not appear that any of the subsections of that canon apply to the present question, account taken of all of the above.

Concerning the argument of how a contrary custom of women not wearing any head-covering when praying in church has arisen since 1969, it does not appear to take into account the non-fulfillment of the conditions stipulated by the Code of Canon Law of 1983 regulating when a contrary custom may lawfully arise in the Church. Specifically, it appears that two essential conditions have not been met. First, in order to introduce a contrary custom, a community must observe the new custom with the intention of being obligated by its object. Cf. can. 25 CIC 1983. Regarding the non-observance on the part of those women who do not wear hats or veils in church, whether assisting in the Ordinary or Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, it appears that they do not intend to bind themselves to a new obligation of not wearing a hat or veil. In the humble opinion of this author, it does not appear that the vast majority of women have externalized an intention to be bound by their choice of not wearing a veil or hat. Obligatio non est imponenda nisi certo de ea constet. Therefore, one cannot conclude that a contrary custom not to wear any head-covering has arisen.

One last point: an additional argument of authority can be raised. According to UPI, and the Atlanta Journal, on June 21, 1969 – after the new Roman Missal had been promulgated by Pope Paul VI – then Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, the prelate appointed by the Pope to draft the rubrics of the new Missal, issued a statement to the Press specifying that at no time had the requirement of head-covering been abrogated: “[T]he rule has not been changed.”

In response to the arguments raised by the three gentlemen as referenced above, I offer the following.

Regarding the one given by Rev. John Zuhlsdorf and Dr. Edward Peters, namely, that because the present Code is completely silent on the matter of head-covering of women during prayer in church, in comparison to the prior Code of 1917, I would like to recall the opinion of a consultor which was accepted by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, in una Causa Wratislav., dated January 10, 1920: [my rough translation]: “Most absurd should be held the opinion of those who want general customs of which the Code is silent to be abrogated by operation of can. 6, 6° […].” Cf. AAS, XII, 1920, p. 45. This rule applies to custom also praeter legem, according to the mind of the consultor, arguendo the hypothesis that the custom mandating that women are to keep their heads covered when praying in church is praeter legem, and not iuxta legem.

As for Jimmy Akin’s opinions, the following can be submitted. His first argument is strongly indicative of a limited understanding on his part of the liturgical law of the Roman Catholic Church, which body of law in fact encompasses far more than just the texts of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or the Code of Canon Law of 1983. Second, there exists a third category of custom, custom iuxta legem, or, “according to the law,” which is indeed the best interpreter of the law (cf. can. 27 CIC 1983). Regarding his third argument, if an immemorial custom iuxta legem is abrogated by a new written law, it can only be according to the strict conditions of cann. 30 CIC 1917 and 28 CIC 1983, that is, only if express mention is made in the new law that is abrogating even immemorial or centenary custom. As Mr. Akin does not demonstrate which recent liturgical or codical law expressly mentions an intent to abrogate even the instant immemorial custom under consideration, his analysis and conclusion of the question appear to be gravely flawed.

In conclusion, for all of the above reasons, the distinct obligation encapsulated in pre-existing universal liturgical law and immemorial custom iuxta legem that women cover their heads when praying in church remains in effect universally, whenever they attend any sacred function celebrated according to the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in church."


Anonymous said...

Let the games begin!

Peklet Mom's Kid's Dad

thetimman said...

Mr. Tradderson wrote:

Beautiful post Timman. I could not agree more. Mrs. Tradderson also wears her veil knowing that it is simply the right thing to do, in order to help guard the Souls of her fellow man.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could as the canonist to offer canonical comnmentary on Cardinal Siri's letter in regards to trousers on women (as quoted in 'Dressing With Dignity." That book was on your readingn list before.

HSMom said...

Thanks for this.

I always wear my veil at Holy Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary form, but admittedly, not a Mass celebrated in the Ordinary Form. Inconsistent, yes, for Holy Mass is Holy Mass.

This morning on the way to a Novus Ordo Mass celebrating Our Lady's feastday, I was considering whether to veil. (This, in the context of knowing theTimman was going to have an article soon on this very matter.) Well... why NOT veil? One reason: because no one else does! Phhhht. Bad reason. Sooo... this morning I veiled. Yes, I was the only one (but for a couple of habited Sisters). But I'm glad I did. For Holy Mass is, indeed, Holy Mass. No more inconsistency for me on this score!

Oh, and there was one other at Mass with a covering: a woman in a ball-cap. Now, if she doesn't feel funny being the only one so-'covered', why should I?!

Anonymous said...

I commend you for the time and effort you put into researching and writing this post. (I really do.) However, I kind of compare it to researching old Missouri statutes and discovering that an argument could be made that the real speed limit on I-70 between St. Charles and Warrenton is 35 mph. It may arguably be "the law", but it's not going to be followed or enforced. I think the Church would have an easier time convincing the faithful that we must have women priests than it would convincing them that women must cover their heads while attending Mass.

Anonymous said...

May I ask - how does covering your head help guard the souls of others?

Anonymous said...

Most intersting post.

I have to admit, though, I began reading it with a rapid lisp about halfway through.


thetimman said...

Thanks to the commenters so far. In partial response:




You are confusing me with another blogger; Dressing with Dignity has never been on my reading list-- I haven't read it.


Well done! Your example, in charity, may spur others to think about the issue. It isn't easy to stick out, but good things happen when we do sometimes.


I appreciate your appreciation. But whatever the practical outcome may be, setting the record straight is worthwhile. And, per HSMom22, these things begin one person at a time. 12 men, following God's will, changed the world.


"You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

--Inigo Montoya

Anonymous said...

2nd Anon,

I wear the veil at every Mass, excepting, of course, when my baby pulls it down or it falls off while I'm holding him. Here's how it helps: Women's hair is attractive. It just is. It doesn't matter too much how it's done, it's just attractive. And it grabs the attention of both men and women. I can't count the number of times I've caught myself looking at women's hair either in critique or to get ideas for my own, neither of which is appropriate during Mass. So, to help others pay attention to Mass--or at least to be one less distraction--I cover my head with a veil. It could help keep a man from lusting, but a lot of it is to not cause distraction for others when there's already an awful lot competing for our attention during Mass. It's also part of modesty. Because I want to be modest not only in my dress but also by my actions, I cover my head during Mass and while at Church in general--it prevents me from being prideful about my hair or from being vain, and it also helps me to focus more on the Mass rather than on how my hair--and therefore I--look(s). The Church has asked women to wear a veil, so I submit to that request as a submission to the Church in general. Obedience to the Church is certainly part of modesty, is it not? There's the long answer, hope it helps.

Anonymous said...

To 2nd Anonymous...

I will echo what Mrs. Tradderson said and add that modesty in dress (which includes veiling at Mass) helps to shepherd the souls of your fellow men because, it keeps the unveiled and/or immodest woman from becoming an object of man's desires while at Mass. Men are obliged to keep custody of the eyes and to keep a pure mind, but we sin greatly through the eyes (see the sermon on Apetites and Lemonade on audiosancto.org) and women who are both veiled and modest help us keep on the right track while at Mass. I cannot count the number of times I have been distracted by extremely immodest women or by long beautiful hair while attending Mass at St. Francis de Sales. This is because I have a short attention span and because as a male, I tend to be very visual.

We veil those things we hold most Holy, the Tabernacle, the ciborium, and our women. Veiling should be viewed as an honor, and a way to embrace one's femininity, not as a punishment for being a woman. A society that holds its women in the highest regard is one we should strive for. We live in a culture that objectifies women through its fashions and immodesty. The least one could do is embrace the countercultural stance on this, especially during Holy Mass. What happens in there truly affects what goes on in the world around us.

Anonymous said...

I can understand all the arguments in favor of veiling in the original post, but when reading the comments I'm a bit confused by the argument of wearing a veil so as to not distract with pretty hair. I've seen a lot of really lovely chapel veils with beautiful, intricate designs which can be more distracting (to me, at least) than pretty hair. (Once I saw a huge veil with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe printed on it!)

Anonymous said...

Often we are forced by lack of finances to attend the closest Church. . .which happens to be one of the most liberal in Spokane. What would you do in such a place regarding wearing a veil? Thanks in advance for your help.

thetimman said...

Maria, I agree that sometimes a veil has its own attractions. I think it is understandable that we may have moved as a society so far from the practice as not to understand the Church's rationale as much as we could. Like other areas of the Church's traditions and practices, sometimes the little act of humility in submitting to lawful authority brings with it the key to understanding the reasons as well.

Anon, I understand-- perhaps hats would draw less attention and be a better beginning for you.

Anonymous said...

Really, we must look at the plank in our own eye again. It has gotten too small and we can see the splinter in our neighbors eye.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, so part of modesty is wearing a veil that is also modest, and therefore not an attention grabber itself. Whether it's an extremely ornate veil or a brightly colored one, it's not entirely modest either if it attracts attention itself. I didn't think to mention before the bit about veiling that which is sacred. Because the Church holds women in such esteem, because She honors and respects women, She seeks to protect them by asking them to be modest. We all know what happens to a woman who is immodest: she is objectified and treated like garbage. Dress modestly and you're treated better. Again, the veil is part of modesty. It's an honor to wear it as it's a symbol of our dignity.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I always wear a veil or hat regardless of whether attending the Novus Ordo or the TLM. Some women (over 50) at the Novus Ordo have looked askance at me, but I am 63 and I don't care what they think. It is more important to me to do what God wants and to set a good example than to curry favor with those who disapprove. And if they were concentrating on praying to begin with and observing custody of the eyes, they wouldn't be getting their noses out of joint by looking at something they shouldn't be gawking at in the first place. At some point we have to draw the line when it comes to upholding our sacred traditions. I should also add that other women have started wearing veils because I wore mine. I guess it evens out in the end.

Momma of Two said...

Just a couple of questions/comments: Is there any difference between a head covering and a veil as mentioned in the post?
By veil, is it meant one of the doile-resembling things I have seen on several older or eastern European ladies at mass?
I am also wondering if it is church law, why isn't it taught to us? I have often been curious as to why the practice was stopped (though admittedly before my time) yet there are some who still practice it. My mother told me when she was very young it was still the norm, but she had no idea why it wasn't continued. So she always taught my sister and me it was fine for women who do cover their head to do so, but that it wasn't necessary. I never recall hearing a priest address the subject one way or another... Seeing as our church is deeply rooted in tradition and in (hopefully, properly) teaching of how our Lord and Savior wanted us to live (and dress, behave, etc.), shouldn't we be doing our best to maintain our laws and traditions instead of watching them degrade over time due to outside pressure to "modernize" them? ...Sorry if that sounded grumpy. Unintentional :)

thetimman said...

Momma of 2,

Great question. I think there are a lot of teachings-- matters of both faith and practice-- that ceased being taught from the pulpit, or which were left "unenforced" (for lack of a better term) in order to be more "pastoral".

Many priests, prelates and laypeople took this approach in good faith, thinking that by overemphasizing a rule it might scare someone away from the interior practice of holiness, or would scare them away from the Church. Consider the case of contraception-- just how often do you hear homilies on that? Other examples come to mind.

Unfortunately, some persons did not take this approach in good faith. Whatever the motivation, we have lost many of the little things that show forth the unity between faith and practice.

I think your broader point is spot on. God bless.

Mitch said...

Anon from Spokane, What Parish do you attend. I attend St. Paschal's in Spokane Valley.

It is so wonderful to hear of women wearing veils to Mass. I wish my fiance would, she was raised protestant and is now converting, she is iffy on it, and I don't want to offend her by pushing too hard, or giving her the wrong idea. Conventional wisdom says requiring women to veil their heads is demeaning to women, and many people are brought up to believe wearing a hat(or covering your head in any way) in church, or even anytime indoors is rude. Which is unfortunate because as Catholics we believe that women should veil (or at least traditionally we have believed this) out of the fact that they are very holy by the fact that they share so intimatly with God in the process of bringing new life into the world. By covering their crowning glory (i.e. their hair) they are giving deference to God, so that attention will be on Him not them. It realy is a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

I started wearing the veil again after attending Mass at The Shrine of The Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. I noticed that all of the local Catholics wore them and I wondered about it. At our retreat house there was a booklet called "The Veil" published by Christian Family Outreach in Franklin, LA. christianfamilyoutreach.com. The booklet is free for the asking. The booklet is well worth reading. It confirmed what I had heard rumored for decades. Liberals spread the word that women did not have to wear head coverings and it was not corrected from the pulpit. It was attributed to Vatican II but of course can not be found anywhere in the documents.

Think about this..how many women would be wearing shorts and tube tops to church (yes, I see it often in NC) if they were still required to wear the veil or a hat. They would look very silly . Removing the veil was the beginning of the terrible immodesty in Catholic churches today. Wearing the veil set the tone for the rest of the attire.

After wearing the veil for several trips to Hanceville I asked myself why I was still not wearing it in my home town. I had no good reason so I started. Yes, I was the only one. I was and still am a little uncomfortable because I know that people think it is strange. I debated stopping because I did not want to be a distraction. My conclusion was that I was doing it out of reference to God and as a statement against the wearing of shorts and spaghetti straps and decided to keep wearing it. I made some of those free booklets available in the narthex. Then there was one more lady wearing one. Our church store now carries them and I have hope. Like those first women to take off the veil, there needs to be some first women to put it back on.

AS far as I know in at least all of the recognized apparitions of The Blessed Mother she still wears her veil. If we imitate her we can do no wrong.

Anonymous said...

I choose not to wear a tacky lace contraption on my head when attending a Latin Mass. I actually went to a "mass-market (no pun intended) discount store and purchased to very fashionable hats (think early Princess Diana years) to wear to Mass. They llok very stylish and keep my head covered without making me look like an peasant that got a lace gift from the lady of the manor. BTW, I suppose having my head covered with hair isn't good enough for the Traditionalists, is it? Sorry, I also wear scrub PANTS when in the operating room; hospital policy requires it, but I will wear a dress/skirt to Mass.

Anonymous said...

I like wearing a veil because the sides of the veil down the side of my face work like blinders to help focus my eyes on Christ.

Anonymous said...

"It is so wonderful to hear of women wearing veils to Mass. I wish my fiance would, she was raised protestant and is now converting, she is iffy on it, and I don't want to offend her by pushing too hard, or giving her the wrong idea. Conventional wisdom says requiring women to veil their heads is demeaning to women, and many people are brought up to believe wearing a hat(or covering your head in any way) in church, or even anytime indoors is rude"

This is my exact problem. it took the better part of 5 years to get my wife to come over from the southern baptist heretics.

I don't want my wife to wear a veil because I want her too, I want her to wear it because *she* wants to. I've broached the subject for discussion before, and she always comes back with the "God doesn't care what I wear" line, to which my retort is always "So why don't you wear a bikini?"

I think all the negative truths that have come out about Islam over the past few years aren't helping. Western women see veiled arab women and automatically equate piety with oppression.

Never mind the fact that every time my wife and I walk into St. Francis De Sales we usually walk past at least a dozen statues or pictures of female saints and the BVM, and they're all wearing head coverings. Go figure.

Alex said...

I can't believe any of you people are for real.

Anonymous said...

The proper mindset when entering a Catholic Church should be one of submission. Men show their submission by removing their headcovering and women by covering their head. The great enemy of submission is pride. If you dont know that women take great pride in their hair and general physical appearrance than you aren't married to one. To veil this in the presence of God can be a great act of humility. The mere fact that even good women so often bristle at the veil is proof of just how powerful a symbol this is. On the other hand, maybe certain bald/balding men should be required to cover up as well, it can be quite disturbing, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Catherine said...

I am a woman, a convert, and a serious Catholic. I think veils are a lovely tradition. But I don't think they have much to do with modesty (most of them don't cover much hair, and what about the rest of your apparel?). I don't think they have much to do with keeping a man's (or the woman's) attention on God (what about a beautiful woman wearing a beautiful veil?). A woman is a woman, and I'm sure that men in Afghanistan still find themselves aroused even by women in head-to-toe burkas. The veil is really a symbol: a lovely, traditional symbol of a woman's modesty and religious deference. But it has also become a symbol of rebellion on the part of some Catholics who are what one writer has called "practical Protestants," in that practically speaking, they are thinking and acting like Protestants, who protest the Church's authority by claiming the Church is apostate, or at least confused, in some way. It has become like the situation of the Pharisees, straining a gnat to swallow a camel. I personally am much more concerned about women who come to church with cleavage exposed, or men who come in shorts. Veils have become, rightly or wrongly, sources of division and self-righteousness. Why can't they just be a lovely, traditional option? Until they can, I will leave mine in a drawer.

Kevin Symonds said...

With all due respect, while I think this was a wonderful post, the answer was already settled by none other than Archbishop Annibale Bugnini.

A man from South Carolina dug up an article that was published in a newspaper and which quoted Bugnini as saying that the tradition of women wearing veils was not abrogated.

I think that guy from SC had a blog named "Lumen Gentleman" or something like that. I know he has his doctorate and does music for the local parish and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Liturgy.


thetimman said...

Kevin, thanks for posting this.

1. The Canon lawyer in my post cites the Bugnini comment and gives the newspaper reference, too.

2. When I wrote my initial (unpublished) piece, I was inspired by Jacob Michael, who had the blog "lumen gentleman", who covered two particular angles-- the argument from custom and the scriptural. Unfortunately, he took his entire blog site down about 8-12 months ago. I had printed his piece and was going to build upon and expand his argument.

However, he (not being a canon lawyer, no fault to him) did not touch on the two extremely important and to my mind conclusive points that a)this is a liturgical law which NEITHER code, by their very terms, purported to abrogate (hence the decision of the congregation of rites, which has competence only over liturgical laws) and b) the nature of law having two, co-extensive sources-- code and custom, of which only the code source COULD have been abrogated. The custom argument is hard to refute.

In fact, this story has made the rounds of several blogs and websites, and though some are scoffers, and some are upset, no one has even made an attempt to refute the correctness of the article. If anyone wants to, I am eager to debate.

In the meantime, I am pleased to see so many positive responses.

God bless.

thetimman said...


Thanks for your comment. I don't see how a veil has become a symbol of rebellion. Really, it is quite the opposite. However, if you have taken it this way due to problems of relations between certain traditionalist groups and the Holy See, I am sorry. Because the vast majority of traditionalists would describe themselves merely as Catholics, and are completely loyal to the Holy Father and the Church. You might be surprised.

As for modesty and decorum in the dress of women and men, I am all for it. But that doesn't mean the veil isn't part of it. Obviously, a woman who came to Mass with a veil on and nothing else is making a mockery of the law, both Divine and liturgical.

But typically, I hope you would acknowledge, a woman who wears a veil is not typically inclined to push the envelope at the bustline.

Anonymous said...

So much was unnecesarily lost after Vatican II. Where were the bishops?

Medjugorje said...









Patrick Madrid said...

“In fact, this story has made the rounds of several blogs and websites, and though some are scoffers, and some are upset, no one has even made an attempt to refute the correctness of the article. If anyone wants to, I am eager to debate.”

I can imagine that it has. For what they're worth, I offer a few comments of my own about this issue over in my humble corner of blogdom: http://patrickmadrid.blogspot.com.

Anonymous said...

I think, in the interest of fairness, you might clarify that even as I stated that there is no obligation under the Church's law at this time, I nevertheless think this is a very good tradition. I think woman and girls should use mantillas. I have always made sure to include that when stating that there is no obligation.

Anonymous said...


We go on occasion to St. Mary's, a really pathetic place. I used to get very angry when I went there. Now I just feel sorry for them. They're a dying breed.

thetimman said...

Dear Father Z,

Thank you for your comment. You are quite right, and I am happy to let people know that you have always advocated the use of the mantilla.

God bless.

Anonymous said...


If you have been to Medjugorje you probably saw listed on the requirements of your tour group that women need to bring a scarf for their heads for Mass and also a skirt. It is expected.

This liberal trend started in the US in the late 60's and was picked up by the media and spread as though it was new Church law.

Since US women also wanted to be priests. The Church chose it's battle.

Nick Burton said...

Thank you for this very interesting post. Whether or not veiling is still required, there is a very real danger of indulging in a prideful "false piety" when wearing a veil causes one to stand out. Because of this danger combined with the fact that there are so many good, faithful Catholic women who have no idea that they may be obligated to wear a veil, this is an issue that I would love to hear our shepherds address specifically. Until that happens, I can sympathize with those who choose not to wear a veil in order to avoid standing out, risking greater distraction for others and false piety in themselves.

thetimman said...

Nicolas, I agree with the position that because of lack of knowledge, there is absolutely no reason to suddenly start denying communion or doing a head check at the door. I can certainly sympathize with those who wish to not distract by a veil at a place where they are rare.

The reason for the article was just to take one small step to get the truth out. It has sparked a lively discussion and for that I am grateful.

BTW, nice picture of you and your veil-wearing wife.


Anonymous said...

I wish the Vatican would make a statement that all women should veil their heads. Several years ago I learned of the Veil (I am a convert) and I was going to order veils for my daughters and myself. My marriage was an abusive one and he divorced me. In the process I forgot about the Veil. Six years later God reminded me of the Veil and I wear it faithfully to daily mass and Sunday Mass. We don't have a Latin Mass here. One of our priest, Father Francis who is from India, told me "the Veil is beautiful, they never change women wearing veils, please don't ever stop wear the veil."
God Bless

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I have seen both interpretations...some people say that the veil is not required, and some say that it is.

I prefer to see things in a much simpler light: Just because something isn't mentioned, doesn't mean that it's not still law. For example there have been 21 Church councils. Are all of them no longer in effect because of Vatican II, of course not.

I agree with the interpretation that has been mentioned on this blog. According to my Nigerian priest friend all the women veil in the Nigherian Church, someone's got to be right...Now would be a good time for the Pope to issue a clear statement on veiling.

Lynne said...

When I began attending TLMs I wore a veil. Gradually, I realized that whether I attended the TLM or the NO, if the veil is approrpiate/needed for one, then it is for the other. I also wear the veil to Adoration and confession. Really, anytime I'm in church, I veil now...

It's an outward sign of my internal reverence to God. And as another lady above said, it is like a spiritual blinder for me, keeping me focused on God.

So many reasons to wear it, the only reason I had to not wear it is that no one else was doing so. Actually, I am seeing more women with covered heads in church, i.e. at an NO Mass.

Father_V said...

Consuetudo is a tricky subject, an ancient concept which even as it is imported into ecclesiastical law is not exactly as the Romans used it (e.g. that a law that is not received by the people is not binding).

As I understand it and the canons talking about it, along with consuetudo (and its force), besides the obvious requirements of reasonability and at least tacit approval by the legislator, is the concept of "observance".

Custom can have force of law but only so long as the custom is observed by a community capable of receiving laws. In this case, you are speaking of the universal church, not some smaller community, and the fact of the matter is that the community in question is no longer observing the custom with the intention of making it law. Maybe there's a parish out there that still has this intention and never ceased practicing it (for example how in the United States the people continued to kneel during the entire Eucharistic Prayer contra legem and the US Bishops asked for and received permission in their particular law to codify the practice), but as for the universal church no one seems to be claiming that the practice has endured or we wouldn't be having this discussion.

It would help immensely if the canon lawyer you consulted in your research would make his own remarks here. I know at least Dr. Peters (see his blog) would like to know who the expert is, and I would like to add my own voice to his.

Anonymous said...

My understanding on coming into the Church was that headcovering was not a requirement, but that there was nothing to prevent individual women covering their heads as a personal devotion. I do not feel qualified to judge the merit of the canon law discussion on this, but speaking purely personally, I like to see headcoverings. I sometimes wear a hat or kerchief to mass, and sometimes not. In my case this is primarily because I like hats and headscarves! A secondary reason is that it seems to me a lovely old-fashioned custom; even if it is not actually required to follow it, why let such a picturesque and harmless practice wholly die out? There is no requirement to light a candle for my deceased family members when I pray for them in church, but I sometimes do that.

Re Lynne's "seeing more women with covered heads in church": Maybe something is in the air? There seems to be a tiny but growing number of Protestant women who cover for church services and prayer or even for daily life.

It would be nice if the hierarchy would speak more explicitly on this subject. Until then it seems the best course is to be charitable to those who believe headcovering is a requirement, to those who believe it is not, and to those who don't know what to think. I've read the thoughts of a fair number of Protestant women who feel called to cover their heads and I've never heard one of them denigrate women who do not cover.

I do think that if you are a woman who feels required to do this--either because you believe the canon law requires it or because you feel called to do it as a personal devotion--then you should not let worry over what others might think stop you. (Husband excepted.) Following your conscience is more important than not looking weird.

Anonymous said...


My internet went out for days after I read your post and I feel like I missed out on all of the fun because I couldn't comment!

I want to tell you this is an excellent article. I think it is one of your best. I love upsetting the apple cart, because if anything it gets people talking about an important topic.

My girls and I wear veils out of respect for Jesus in the Eucharist. Modesty is not the reason to veil, although it is a nice benefit.

I know this from talking to a LM priest years ago. I told him that we wore veils when attending the N.O. mass, and asked since no one else did, was it okay?

He wisely replied, "If you wear if for Christ, then it is important to continue to do so, no matter what mass you are attending."

Women cover their hair, which is their "crown and glory" for Christ. It is humbling, and helps us to remember how very small we all our next to our Lord and Savior.

Anonymous said...


Have you seen Ed Peters' latest blog entry, an update for December 12?

Heaven forfend if someone asks him to drop his, "I'm too sexy for my shirt," too busy for your question attitude!

8 paragaphs of emoting victimization, but not enough time for a few more lines of analysis.

He shouldn't be blogging as a "professional" if he can't take the heat of doubting Thomas.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis of the law and custom completely ...insofar as it goes. However, there is another aspect that is NOT addressed. The definition of law as given by St. Thomas includes 4 parts, to reference the four kinds of cause, including the agent, purpose, and matter of law. The last is the form - the requirement that it be promulgated - in order for law to be binding, it must be put in front of us in some way as binding .

Now, there are various mechanisms for making a law promulgated. In ancient times, when only 1 out of a hundred could read, sending out a herald with a new decree to speak the law accomplished the promulgation. In recent times, law is initially promulgated in a specific record of official acts, such as the Vatican's Acta Apostolica Sedis.

But in addition to the INTITIAL promulgation, there is the fact that law must CONTINUE to be promulgated for it to retain its binding force. Everyone knows all about weird laws in the 1800's that were passed by some legislative act, and that have never been removed from the "books". Nobody thinks they are in force as binding law, which we are morally required to obey (like the requirement in one town that women keep 10 steps behind their husband, and another that one cannot bathe on Fridays). But why NOT, if they were initially promulgated correctly and were never removed?

A law applies its binding power only so far as the will and intent of the legislator choose, as made clear and public. And the will of the legislator is shown not only in the formal statement of the law, but in the enforcement of it. If the legislative and enforcement power resides in one man, such as a king, and he publicly says "I no longer wish my officers to enforce the rule about crossing the street only at corners", then the law on that subject ceases to be binding even if it is never formally removed from the books. Thus a public renouncement of enforcement has the effect, though not the formal aspect, of a change in law.

Less directly, if a body of legislators and law enforcement officials maintain a consistent and uniform stance on the non-use and non-application of a given law for a full generation, 25 to 30 years time, with no break and no change in that time, then one must admit that this has the same practical effect as the announcement of the king above. It is one thing to have one mayor refuse to enforce a law, and then next mayor go back to enforcing it, and another flip-flop 4 years later. But if every mayor for 30 years refuses to enforce a law, there is justifiably some objection if the 7th mayor decides to go back to enforcing it. A law left unenforced for a long time simply loses its force, because it ceases to be promulgated in fact , and promulgation is one necessary element of law as such.

It is assumed that in places where the power of enforcement of law is separate from the legislative power, then the legislator will enact a new provision if it finds the level of enforcement unacceptable. Leaving a law unenforced for a generation implies legislative consent with that state of affairs. Which de-facto amounts to a change in law.

Is this the case for wearing veils? I have never heard of one single bishop raising the issue for more than 30 years. Pope JPII, who travelled to nearly every country on the globe, never raised the point publicly. I seriously doubt that there is a single bishop in the entire country, including the esteemed Bishop of Lincoln, who would declare that women are now obligated to wear a veil at a Novus Ordo mass.

As to the custom: the original custom of which St. Paul speaks is one in which the society at large invested a very large significance to the state of covering of a woman's hair. In that cultural context, it was unavoidable that a woman who went uncovered in Church was doing something unacceptable. That basic cultural stance remained in force in the cultures of Christendom for probably 1800 years at least. But it is NO LONGER valid in our culture at large that a woman leaving her hair uncovered is saying anything distinct.

It is possible to suggest that the the subject matter of the explicit law of the Code of 1917 hinged on a particular cultural expression. Once you BOTH take away the cultural environment which makes a law about the matter necessary, AND take away the explicit law, AND take away any enforcement of the matter for a generation, you are left with nothing that retains binding force on the people.

Anonymous said...

Armchair lawyer....that was great.

Anonymous said...

Armchair Lawyer,

Please provide the multiple citations to the authors requiring that a "law must CONTINUE to be promulgated for it to retain its binding force."

Indeed, your argument can be used to justify the "abrogation" of January 1, 2008, as a Holy Day of Obligation, since the majority of Catholics around the world do not go to Mass on that day as required...

Do you disagree?

I do not find your argument compelling. I think it is dangerous.


Author Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity (sincerely), Timman, since I have little time to scour, have you or Patrick Madrid or Fr. Z written much about the scandal that is the annulment mill?

All this talk of veils, to me, simply serves well to illustrate how unwilling anybody is to talk about the large elephant in the room. Veils, abortion, politics -- let's talk about ANYTHING but the annulment. Way too uncomfortable.

To the posters who think that putting the veil back on women will bring the Church back to her glory, you may be right -- but until we stop perpetuating the confusion about whether anyone is truly married any more, it's more or less beside the point because as marriage continues to bleed to death at the hands of the tribunals, fewer children will enter marriage as they should, truly believing that it's forever (because apparently it's not -- how can you be married forever if you're NOT EVEN MARRIED?!? And who is validly married these days, after all? Only the ones who want to be, it seems). After a few more decades of this, the few Catholics left who do believe in the Church won't dare approach the altar because of what they've seen or been subjected to by the tribunals ("Dad, if mom wasn't really your wife, what was she?"). Then again, maybe that's why God will be winding things down for good soon.

Lots of women who wear veils at Mass are on their 2nd or 3rd husbands thanks to the annulment mill (no wait -- they weren't really married, so those weren't really their husbands, so they must be on their 1st husband this time...until they decide that this one isn't working out either...).

Anonymous said...

There is a well known saying in Catholic circles that "an unenforced law is no law." I will try to find the explicit sources for that.

For implicit sources: St. Thomas says that law is the decided will of the legislator concerning the common good, as made known. Insofar as the will of the legislator is made known not merely by the official pronouncements stated precisely as law, but also by the customs and practices of the government upon which the legislator could impose changes but does not, these also constitute a manner in which the will of the legislator is made known.

For example, there are lots of cases where Congress makes a law where the wording of the law, in the concrete, turns out to be open to more than one administrative interpretation. If the administration makes a policy decision that it is to be interpreted in manner A instead of B, then the courts give a certain degree of deference to this, but not completely. But, if interpretation A is left intact without comment for years by Congress, THEN the courts give the administrative decision the force of law, and much greater deference.

You are right, this is a potentially dangerous kind of reasoning - it lends itself to such easy manipulation. But I think that it is less so if you notice that the real basis of the argument actually requires NO enforcement for MANY years. It is insufficient that it be unenforced by some (while is is enforced by others in other jurisdictions), or that it be unenforced some of the time or only enforced upon some people (like speeding laws) - these do not speak to the implicit will of the legislator in the definite way a total and protracted non-enforcement does.

Your example of a holy day of obligation is just one of those enforced-part-of-the-time, enforced in some places kind of practice. The Church HAS spoken out about it, in various places. Certainly in my diocese a number of parishes have explicitly mentioned the requirement, and the bishop has made explicit announcements regarding the obligation. (Since the "enforcement" of the law with regard to a penalty would only find itself coming up in confession, we cannot expect to measure the visible enforcement in terms of penalties. In such case mention from the pulpit and from the Bishop's pronouncements is all you can expect to see. Have you seen bishops or pastors mentioning the veil as an obligation?)

Anonymous said...

Armchair Lawyer,

You write, "There is a well known saying in Catholic circles that "an unenforced law is no law." I will try to find the explicit sources for that."

Please do. You know that it is substandard to raise an argument from authority without providing the citation...

If it is so "well known," then you should have no trouble finding the cite.

Author Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Please try the following experiment: google the phrase "unenforced law is no law". If I am right that it is a "well known saying" it will show up in a number of places. If I am wrong it won't. The phrase is distinct and unusual enough not to show up accidentally just by being a string of well used words. Go ahead and try it, I'll wait right here...

Now that you see the result, We can agree that it is a common saying. But the fact that it is common by that very truth means that it may be difficult to identify its roots. I am trying to do so, but have had no luck so far.

But my argument does not rest completely on there being a satisfactory authority for the phrase itself. My argument showed WHY leaving a law unenforced affects its standing as law itself. The will of the legislator is shown in inaction as well as in direct action.

Anonymous said...

Armchair Lawyer,

Thank you for your recommendation to try "googling" the saying that an "unenforced law is no law," roughly.

Lo and behold, while the saying is "out there," as Fox Mulder would say, attribution is not.

Plenty of sayings are "common" in this world. I can think of a host of them. As you know, neither commonality nor ingenuity make a "saying" true. While you may believe that the law mandating that women cover their heads when attending sacred functions is defunct because it has been unenforced for some years, apart from the juridical analogies which you raise (interpretation of an ambiguous statute; Bishops in this country have reminded faithful of the need to attend masses on holy days of obligation), your argument does not decisively or even persuasively overcome the burden of proof incumbent on the one asserting that a certainly promulgated prior law (veiling of women in church) has been certainly abrogated by reason of mere "unenforcement" or "insouciance" on the part of the hierarchy.

If we are really to debate a point of canon law, why don't we both begin opening up the canon law books the way professionals do? I find it to be a much more humble approach.

Anonymous Author

Anonymous said...

apart from the juridical analogies which you raise ... your argument does not decisively or even persuasively overcome the burden of proof

I agree that merely positing an opinion, and proposing analogies, would not come anywhere close to meeting the burden of proof which you rightly look for. Fortunately, that is not all we have. I also gave an actual argument based on the Thomistic principles of law. Now, that argument is interpretive rather than direct quotation, so it is not as comfortably authoritative as a direct quote from St. Thomas. But the fact that it not a direct quote does not of itself indicate that the argument is false. If you think the argument is false, can you please suggest where or how it fails?

I am all for taking on humility toward canon law. But one should not expect to find the philosopy of law expounded in canon law itself. Thus,you won't find St. Thomas's definition of law therein. So the fact that some of the principles that control how law is to be understood and applied are not found there will not invalidate them, or even cast doubt upon them as such. If canon law were sufficient to adjudicate itself, there would be no need for judges, such as we find in the Roman Rota - and as we find in every system of human law, because no system of law is capable of being totally explicit on all of its own conceptual underpinnings and cultural assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Dear Married For Life- You have made an excellend point. Have you notices how no one has responded to your questions? I totally agree with you. Many women I know who wear their viels are on their second marriage but also have children from the first marriage. What do you have to say about the children from both the first annuled marriage? Are they illegitimate? But many would say no. But if they werent married in the first place what are the children? Its time for all Catholics including these so called "traditionalist" to stand up and say they arent going to accept the "annulment mills." Great points!! Thanks for saying what many are too scared to say.

thetimman said...

Anonymous, children born of an annulled putative marriage are not illegitimate. That is Church law. Illegitimacy is a juridical concept only, and the Church has definitively ruled on this matter. Read Ed Peters' website for any annulment questions you have.

I have responded to marriedforlife's points in comboxes in other posts. There is nothing in the Church's teaching on any matter of faith or morals of which we should be "scared". The reason I have not taken up this debate here is because it is completely beside the point of the post.

Anonymous said...

Marriedforlife, I agree that the "annulment mill" is a scandal, but not solely on account of how many there are. Even more because of how many marriages are correctly judged null. Why, after decades of knowing the problem, are there so many people who fail to validly contract marriage?

I also agree with Timman - this is beside the point. While there may be a few women who wear the veil who are on their second "husband" (either with or without the benefit of an annulment), this is hardly germane to the whether wearing the veil is required or not. Surely, if the obligation is a general one and still in force, the women wrongly on their second husband are just as obliged to wear it as other women. Annulments belong in another topic.

Anonymous said...

The problem is anyone can get an annulment for any reason these days. It is frustrating because as Catholics we have become just as bad as the rest of the world. That is what is causing the crisis in the church not the wearing of veils.

Anonymous said...

I agree that annulments belong in another topic/thread -- but my reason for bringing them up here was basically to inquire why there seem to be so few posts about them -- indeed, to point out how much time and energy folks are willing to put into pretty much ANYTHING (like debating the veil issue) except the dreaded A-word.

Timman, I wasn't asking you to switch topics here, I was asking sincerely if you have posted on the annulment issue elsewhere. Mature blogs are hard to search when one has little time.

Armchair, I must disagree with your contention that so many marriages are correctly nullified. When did it become next to impossible to validly contract a marriage? The truth is that once the Church started handing out annulments like candy, everybody came running. And you don't have to go far to learn about religious who have counseled some married person to seek out an annulment, NOT to make sure that their marriage gets made right.

So if the veil turns out to be mandatory at Mass, does that mean all the weddings where the bride took off the veil are invalid? Not to worry -- there's a 99% chance of some other defect there, so they're not married regardless.

Anonymous said...


If you want to discuss annulments, go ahead. Start a blog, and post comments on annulments. I'll even join you there. Hijacking another blog on another topic is not very polite - it amounts to saying "you shouldn't discuss veils until you have laid to rest the annulment problems."

Anonymous said...

What day of the year are bishops to address from the pulpit male modesty?

Anonymous said...

No I do see a point here. married for life is simply stating that it is rediculous to discuss the questios of veils to be or not to be when annulments are rampant which should be a more important debate. Its like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

thetimman said...


Abortion is a horrible moral evil, likely the gravest of our time.

Therefore, under your logic, it is ridiculous to discuss veils, or the liturgy, or sexual misconduct, or same-sex "marriage", or anything else, until abortion is ended.

Obviously, there are greater and lesser issues to discuss at any time. I chose to discuss this one at this time. Others have been discussed here at other times.

If veiling is the law, it is an important topic. If eating meat on Friday (and we'll limit this for this discussion to Fridays in Lent) is a mortal sin, then what level of seriousness is breaking another disciplinary law of the Church?

Father Adam said...

There is a distinction lacking here between obligatory according to the law, and obligatory. Dr. Peter's opinion that it is not obligatory according to the law ought to be respected. He knows his canon law. Most people commenting here do not.

However, just because something is not obligatory according to the law, does not remove its obligation. Not all of theology is covered by Canon Law and there are higher authorities than Canon Law. Preeminent among these is Scripture.

While the Church's lack of a law with this regard means that it is largely up to the individual's conscience to discern what the obligation from St. Paul's clear statement is, it does not mean that St. Paul does not hold any authority.

There are some who believe that St. Paul was speaking only to a time and place. It was, after all, a letter to the Corinthians. However, the further patristic evidence for this practice, and the continued historical record up until very recently would require us to say that today is so different than the past 2000 years as to require a break with a standard interpretation of St. Paul's words. Believing ourselves to be so peculiar is what largely comprises the modernist position. Are we moderns and post-moderns so different than the 1930 years of Catholics who went before us?

With regard to the theology of the women praying with heads covered and men with heads uncovered, it is indeed very deep. As St. Paul says, it is "because of the angels" (who are always portrayed in Scripture as covering their bodies with their wings when in the presence of God).

The most telling fact about the head coverings is that we did not move to a situation where now a mix of men and women have heads covered and uncovered. Like all bad feminism, progress was made when women started acting like men. It is still considered rude for a man to be in church with a hat on; teenage boys will never hear the end of that.

thetimman said...

AJM, I appreciate your comments about the biblical admonition for veiling, but just because Ed Peters says something doesn't mean he is necessarily right.

The argument of the canon lawyer in this article is persuasive to me. I of course cannot appeal to his authority as a canonist, since he remains anonymous, but suffice to say I am comfortable relying upon his legal opinion in this matter, against any of the cases against obligation currently out there. That includes Dr. Peters, of whom I have much respect.

The argument itself is the key. It refutes the much less indepth argument previously put out by Peters, and until Peters or some other canonist refutes this, or until the Holy See pronounces on this, I will assume it cannot be refuted.

Father Adam said...

The difficulty with the above argument is expressed exactly in your own words:

"The argument itself is the key. It refutes the much less indepth argument previously put out by Peters, and until Peters or some other canonist refutes this, or until the Holy See pronounces on this, I will assume it cannot be refuted."

What you call the "much less indepth argument" might just be simpler. The above argument bears many traces of creating a lot of smoke in order to obscure the central question. It also bears the mark of inexpert canonical interpretation, such as the line that the fact that the date of St. Paul's letter cannot be established precisely makes it an immemorial custom. Immemorial has a specific definition, not having anything to do with being unable to date the beginning of the custom. It has to do with being unable to name the source. A custom is immemorial when to the best of everyone's knowledge, it is just the way we have always been doing things. An immemorial custom is inferior to a custom as well established as head coverings is.

As I say, the central question is being obscured: Are women required by canon law to wear head coverings when at the liturgy and men required by canon law to not wear head coverings when at the liturgy?

The response, as best as I can read it is this: No. The code of canon law is exactly that, a code, not a list of the pope's favorite canons. A code of canon law is a new thing, only about 90 years old. When a code is put together, it is for this exact question, to simplify the process of determining what binds and what does not.

The 1983 code of canon law, which is not just "a" code of canon law, but "the" code of canon law (right now), does not oblige in this matter. Neither does any written liturgical law, regarding the current rubrics.

It is true, we are having trouble understanding exactly how radical the changes after Vatican II were, how much of what went before is still valid, how to separate what has been replaced from what merely fell to the wayside. However, the fact remains that in the codified law of the Church, there is no statement obliging women to wear head coverings at Mass. Any attempt to institute a canonical penalty against a woman who failed to do so would surely fail.

This does not mean that women should not cover their heads, or even that women are not obliged to cover their heads. It simply means that women are not obliged by Canon Law to do so. To say otherwise is lying (which was Dr. Peter's original point in reference to an ad that tried to sell head coverings by claiming that they were obliged by canon law.)

An argument that women ought to cover their heads should reference the Scriptures, the fathers, and the point of doing so, not try to suggest that there is a binding law which the Church forgot to put in any of the modern books.

You tell me that, "just because Ed Peters says something doesn't mean he is necessarily right." I agree with you on this point. I disagree with a lot of his opinions, especially when he strays from his area of expertise. My point was not that he is infallible. My point is that most of these comments, and your own comment, suggest that Canon Law is so easy that any armchair canonist can do it, but so difficult that a professor of canon law cannot.

thetimman said...

AJM, if you can call clear logical syllogisms "smoke" then you and I will disagree.

Also, you twice attempt to label the canon lawyer as "inexpert" or "armchair"; however, I cannot give away any information about who he is, and I think this labeling is a red herring to get me to give information about him. Sorry, can't do that.

Surely if you want the simplest argument, it comes from the 1983 Code itself-- which clearly states that liturgical laws are unaffected by the general abrogation.

Father Adam said...

I want to clarify my earlier statements so that this conversation can continue on the level of seeking the truth, without any malice intended on either side.

My reference to "armchair canonists" was not to the expert of your post but the many comments that followed, both here and at other blogs. I am not trying to draw the name of the canonist out of you. I understand the reasons why a canon lawyer would want to remain anonymous, especially if it is a lay person who is employed by a diocese, or, even more understandable, a pastor who does not want to deal with what he says on the web coming back to him in the parish.

However, my reference to "inexpert" and "smoke" was applied to the canonical analysis in your original post. Not of course to the expert themself, but just to this analysis. Because: (1) an improper use of the term "immemorial custom" in the paragraph that begins "to begin"

(2) in the following paragraph the phrase appears "are all noteworthy for their elaborate treatments of the custom." after citing patristic sources and Thomas. I have not had a chance to read all of the sources, but those that I did look at had barely suggestive references to veils. Augustine in Holy Virginity 34 just mentions women who wear veils that are too transparent. Thomas in the Summa does not even deal with the question at all, but head coverings are just mentioned in a quote of Augustine, the same reference that the author of the opinion just cited. These are not "elaborate treatments" and for the author to call them such is what I mean by smoke. They are mere mentions. We can draw from them that it was a custom in North Africa in the 400s for women to wear veils. It does not create the kind of custom that would be obligatory, any more than any other custom with regard to fashion or what would be considered modest in a certain time and place.

(3) The 14 canons of the Synod of Rome in 743 are not accessible to me, but in general it is necessary to be careful when referencing disciplinary canons from synods over a thousand years old. They often contain laws which no reasonable person would follow now, such as severely punishing widowers who remarry. To cite this canon as if it would still have any binding force today seems irresponsible.

(4) Similar problem as above with mentioning the dubiums of the 19th century. There were a lot them. If this one is going to still be binding, there are a lot of others which should bind also.

(5)The author's use of the phrase "de minimis" to mean "at least". Why the Latin phrase? Why not just put it in English? Especially because "de minimis" does not really mean "at least", but rather, in a legal context, means "trifling matters with which the law does not concern itself." (kind of ironic, no?).

(6) while the requirement that women wear head coverings could be called liturgical law, liturgical law is usually in reference to what the minister has to do. This is to my earlier point, the wearing or not wearing of head coverings affects every single lay Catholic. It is far too universal in application to be obscure. Even if the 1876 dubium still is binding (an open question perhaps), it cannot actually bind anyone, since it would be absolutely unreasonable to expect anyone to be aware of it.
Overall, the central argument of the canonist in your post is that nothing in current canon law can be taken to absolutely abrogate the requirement. The argument of Dr. Peters and the others who are referenced in the post is that such a requirement would have to be in the current code, or at least in modern, written liturgical law such as the GIRM or the Missal. Which seems more reasonable? Requirements of the law are never obscure. That was part of the point of codifying Canon Law. Why has no pope or congregation spoken out against this nearly universal disdain for an obligation? And, no, a press release by Bugnini in 1969 does not suffice for such a comment.

The author claims the following conclusion: "the distinct obligation ... remains in effect universally."

Even if this were true, the obligation would no longer oblige. How is a person supposed to know about this obligation? Because of this website? Because of the example set by everyone around them?

The law does not require the impossible, and it is (virtually) impossible for any woman to be aware that she ought to bring a hat to church. Even if the custom and the dubium are not abrogated by the lack of the former canon to appear in the modern code, nor by reason of the nearly universal (in the west) break with tradition during the past 40 years, they are abrogated by the silence of the Church in the face of the nearly universal break with tradition during the past 40 years.

thetimman said...


Thank you for your very charitable reply. I probably did mistake your meaning, and the internet is not the best place to get nuance and tone. Forgive my somewhat terse reply.

Your reply raises some points that I could answer, but first I will bring it to the attention of the canonist author and see if he wants a crack at it first. If not, look back in a couple of days and I will give it a try.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to comment on a post higher up there in the discussion regarding the use of "pretty" lace which is distracting.

I've been told that I have very beautiful hair - not bragging, just stating what I've been told. It is a deep auburn, long and straight to just above the middle of my back. I have a pretty large collection of lace veils (I love collecting them), but my favorite one has to be a deep brown lace triangle. It is simple, no edge color to it, and it blends in with the color of my hair. It is long enough to cover the length of my hair in the back, and the points in the front are long enough as well.

Choosing a veil is a very important thing - we don't wish to draw attention to ourselves. I am blessed to belong to a parish where there are a vast amount of women covering their heads (at both EF and OF Masses) in many different ways. So even when one of us does show up with a beautiful piece of lace, I don't think it ever garners more than a passing notice - it's common place for us.

Oh - and no, I don't look like the washer woman with a "cheap piece of lace from someone's closet" - or whatever the very odd and bitter comment seemed to be.

I've been covering my head for almost two years now I think - and I would feel horribly under dressed if I did not cover. I agree with another comment that once I started covering my head, my entire manner of dress for Mass has changed. I would not go to Mass with jeans and a lace veil - now I take the time to dress appropriately for Mass, even if it's just simple cotton skirt and blouse in the summer, or a long wool skirt with tights and a sweater in the winter. It really does make you look at the whole package - including the contents. :-)

Anyway - sorry to jump into this very legal discussion now taking place, but wanted to add a few words about the practical end of it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Veiling my head can be as economical as yard-goods store and using tiny sitches to make a design, either long or v-shaped. Mine gets stuffed in my zipper bag with my 1962 missal, washed when it looks grey and serves the purpose.

I have made them in white for normal wear and green for St. Patrick's Day. Then I quit as it appeared to be to matchie/matchie with the holiday and too eye-catching.

The veiling is done to protect the most vulnerable..in this case women who bear new life. Too distracting to see women's hair, well, for me, anyway. Her body should be veiled and the head as well...I read the New Testament and agree with the reasons so stated. There is a whole theology about veiling....of the Tabernacle from the time of Moses up to the present day. A Tabernacle is beautiful and elegant just as we women are....we say we are and we want to be treated as elegant and beautiful....as queens that we are....IMHO.

Patricia in St.Louis, MO
St. Francis de Sales Oratory

Gen said...


I'm not sure if the author is still checking the comments on this post (it looks like it has been several years since his last reply, so perhaps not). But if so, I would be very interested to hear the opinion of your canon lawyer friend on the following passage from Inter Insigniores (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's letter, issued in 1976, on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood):

"Another objection is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. 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 11:2-6); such requirements no longer have a normative value..."

I ask the question as one who has worn a veil for many years, not necessarily because I'm sure that it is required by Canon Law, nor because I think it would be a serious sin not to...but rather because I can't see a particularly good reason not to continue a timeless and Scripturally-based custom that was in practice in the Church for almost two millenia (and still remains in many parts of the world).

This is the only specific reference I've been able to find to the head-covering requirement not still being in place, and it was written while the 1917 Code of Canon law was still in place, which seems strange... Any helpful commentary on this?

As an aside, I can agree that wearing a lacy mantilla in particular can sometimes lead to others assuming - rather unjustly, I know - that the wearer has a certain outlook (holier-than-thou, more Catholic than than the Pope extremism). For this reason, I almost never wear a lacy veil to a Novus Ordo Mass, but instead buy cotton scarves or other material that one might commonly see, and which will thus be less likely to spark distraction and pre-judgment on the part of others. I'm not saying it would be wrong to wear a lacy mantilla, but wearing something more commonplace can help remove some of the angst and misunderstanding that a more stereotypical veil might spark.

thetimman said...

Gen, I did see your comment, and I hope you see this reply. I consulted with UCLX and answered that objection on a post written near the date of this one. I reprint that reply here:

"Good, I was hoping someone would bring up "Inter Insigniores", from which your first point comes. There are several reasons why that little clause does not apply:

1. The direct and immediate object (or the "holding of the case", from a legal perspective) of that document was to affirm that only men could be admitted to the priesthood. The statement by Cardinal Seper on head coverings is obiter dicta, not essential to the holding and not binding as a pronouncement of law in any way. If this first point sounds overly legal to you, remember that we belong to a Church with a two millenia old tradition of canon law. Laws mean things, and rules matter.

2. The Cardinal (Seper) was referring, not to women covering their head in church, but merely to the custom of women covering their hair everywhere, as had formerly in some parts of the world been the case. Read his exact words. There is nothing that compels the conclusion that he was referring to liturgical veiling. To say otherwise would be to say that the Cardinal intentionally made a somewhat seditious statement-- as this document came out before the 1983 Code and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Canon 1262 was binding.

3. This document was issued by the CDF, which does not have competence over liturgical law. If this document was designed to amend the Code of Canon Law of 1917, it would have to had come from the Pope himself. If it was designed to change liturgical law, it would have come from the congregation with the competence to do so.

(NOTE: there are two types of approval a congregation's documents can receive from a Pope: in colloquial english general and specific. Specific approval [forma specifica] is necessary for the document to be binding with papal authority. Inter Insignores was of the first kind-- general. Summorum Pontificum was of the second kind-- forma specifica)."

Gen, I hope this addresses your question on Inter Insignores, let me know if you have other questions.

Teresalyn said...

Thank you for your post. I am a post Vatican II Catholic. I did not attend mass until 1974 (I was 6yrs. old). I think there may have been a few older ladies wearing the small head covering, I thought they looked like doolies. But by the 1980's no one wore any type of head coverings.

A few years ago the Lord put this issue on my heart. I have asked my priest about the reasoning for abandoning this custom and he skirted the issue completely. I wrote in to the priest's on EWTN, one referred me to another subject heading and the priest from that heading didn't answer me back. So thank you so much for addressing this issue.

The reason I have not started wearing one is because no one else is wearing them, and I was not sure of the reason that the tradition had been stopped. That issue was covered by this blog and the posts above. Thank you everyone for your post.

I have a question about type, I have seen a web site that carries head coverings called garlands of grace which sale a wide decorative headband that are advertised for religious purposes. How would something like this fulfill the obligation. Is there a regulation about type of head covering that should be worn? This doesn't seem like a veil to me although they are lovely. Is the obligation for a headcovering or is it a veil?

God Bless you and thanks again for all your research.

PenrBrown said...

Teresalyn - I don't believe veils are what is required. I do believe we are just required to cover our heads. So you choose a covering that you are most comfortable with.

I could be wrong but that is my understanding.

Personally I wear a hat. Every Sunday. It is my 'Mass hat'. In fact, people comment when I don't wear it because they're so used to seeing me in it. :)

My sister, on the other hand, wears a veil.

but really you have to choose the covering that you are most comfortable with.

Patricia said...

Re the veiling.....the Bible mentions women covering their heads......the issue is reverence...for where we are, to Whom we are praying and for obedience. So much discussion we Americans love.......much chatter...just wear the veil.

I joined as a convert just after veils were generally not seen in the Mass. Culturally, I think, once women's fashions became more 'revealing', the veil just automatically got tossed out....bad choice.

The women's head veiled is not unlike the veiling of the Tabernacle...our most sacred place in the church/Church. Without women, no generation, with the Tabernacle, no Eucharist.....the connection between the Holy Eucharist and the woman's body deals with her ability to carry and care for new life.......the veiling of HER temple is similar to the veiling of the Tabernacle.

I have worn a veil since I joined the Church...Novus Ordo or Latin Mass....He is there at every Holy Mass. Roma Locuta, Causa Finite (sp)

IMHO. Patricia in St. Louis, MO

Jeannie Holler said...

I am telling you people in the pews don't know this ....
I never did and I have been Catholic all my life ( 61 years young) but when I started attending the TLM and studying the TRUTH and turned to embrace the full TRUTH , I embraced everything .
I VEIL all the time now, whether at TLM, or if I have toi attend a Novus Ordo or visit the Carmelite Monastery ...I VEIL and I don't care if people look at me funny , I am going to VEIL becasue of MY LOVE for OUR JESUS and the complete TRUTH!

nancy said...

I wear a big beautiful veil to every Mass and every time I am in front of the Blessed Sacrament for about 6 years now.
This is extremely petty of me, I already know, but WHY are women always talking about "veiling"? I don't blouse or skirt, I wear a blouse or skirt. I wear a veil. Women who veil, instead of wearing a veil, invariably come across as sanctimonious and annoying.

Mrs. Gio said...

I cannot THANK YOU enough for this detailed posting on this topic. I have been looking for factual answers about veiling for some time. :) off to buy a veil now!

thetimman said...

Mrs. Gio,

Thank you for your kind words. I am always gratified when someone comes across this post and it has a positive effect.

I am absolutely convinced by the canonical argument put forth by the canon lawyer, but this is not to cast stones at anyone. Most of us were sold a bill of goods for decades on this. Most women have no idea that the law is still in effect, and no fault to them. Hopefully, getting the word out will help women of good will who seek the truth, and start a re establishment of the norm for all.

I know this will take a lot of time and patience, unless Our Lord intervenes in a more direct way. God bless you.

Kate Edwards said...

What about the opinion to the contrary of the Churches most senior canonist, Cardinal Burke? Have a read:


thetimman said...

Dear Ms. Edwards,

I refer you to this post werein I address it in detail: