10 January 2009

That Which is Veiled is a Holy Vessel

Because the topic of head coverings was so exciting the last time we canvassed it, I thought I would run brief reflections on the beauty of veiling written by two Catholic women.  These have nothing to do with the requirement of veiling, but rather give a more personal take:

The first is by a writer named Loraine at Catholic Restorationists who takes on some of the theology of veiling, prompted to do so by a pamphlet from Requiem Press on the subject:

The wearing of chapel veils is a neglected tradition, by many forgotten, by others rejected as a form of misogyny or chauvinism. Therefore, lest any reader approach this topic with a cynical attitude, I shall imitate the aforementioned pamphlet and set the tone with a quote from Chesterton:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”

In other words, before we dismiss a practice observed by Christian women for centuries, we must understand what is at stake.

Here is the most pertinent Scripture passage:

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head. The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.” (1 Cor 11:3-10)

The veil draws together the symbolism of several mysteries. First, the extraordinary intimacy of love and union between a husband and wife. As St. John Chrysostom remarks: “Even from the very beginning woman sprang from man, and afterwards from man and woman sprang both man and woman. Perceivest thou the close bond and connection?”(Homily 20 on Ephesians) Since the beginning of creation, when God took Eve from the side of Adam, man and woman have naturally desired a return to their original unity. Our Lord said of marriage: “Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said:For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.”(Matthew 19:4-5)

Now, the relationship between husband and wife reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. As Eve came from the side of Adam, from the pierced side of the Crucified Savior flowed the saving power of the Church. St. Thomas quotes a gloss on Romans to that effect: “From the side of Christ asleep on the Cross flowed the sacraments which brought salvation to the Church.”(ST III.Q62.5) Similarly, the unity experienced by man and woman in marriage reflects the unity which ought to exist between Christ and His Church.

In Ephesians 5, St. Paul develops the parallel further, revealing something about the respective roles of husbands and wives. It is the duty of women to reverence and obey their husbands as the Church submits to Christ, and of husbands to love and care for their wives in imitation of Christ, who suffered death for His Spouse the Church. In this way, their union acquires the order and harmony of peace. Chrysostom notes the connection between peace in the home and peace in the Church: “If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church. For indeed a house is a little Church..”(Homily 20 on Ephesians)

As a composite of body and soul, man derives his intellectual knowledge from sensible things. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas held that God could have ordained creation in any number of ways, but he established the natural order of the universe just as He did so the world might best reveal spiritual truths to mankind. Here is a perfect example of that principle at work. The natural relationship between man and woman in marriage is an image which prepares us to understand and honor the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Recognition of that mystical relationship is most necessary and fitting during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for it is then that the Church unites Herself to Christ in an extraordinary way through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Because the natural relationship of marriage is a means of understanding the mystical relationship, bringing the symbolism of human marriage to the liturgy helps manifest the significance of the Eucharist.

Women suffer no shame by acknowledging their submissive role. As Pope Leo XIII wrote: “The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity.”(Arcanum, 11) In fact, Chrysostom claims that it is denying her proper role which brings shame:

“Not to abide within our own limits and the laws ordained of God, but to go beyond, is not an addition but a diminuation. For as he that desires other men’s goods and seizes what is not his own, has not gained any thing more, but is diminished, having lost even that which he had, (which kind of thing also happened in paradise): so likewise the woman acquires not the man’s dignity, but loses even the woman’s decency which she had.”(Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians)

He draws attention to these words of St. Paul: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”(1Cor.11:3) Though equal with God the Father, Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”(1 Phil 2: 8)Chrysostom emphasizes the importance of this: “For what if the wife be under subjection to us? it is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor. And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God.” (Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians.) Thus, women have a unique opportunity to imitate Christ through their obedience.

Likewise, for men, it would be shameful to ignore their role in the family. They are to imitate the headship of Christ over the Church and, as a symbol of this, attend the liturgy with heads uncovered. Chrysostom admonishes men: “For the ruler when he comes before the king ought to have the symbol of his rule. As therefore no ruler without military girdle and cloak, would venture to appear before him that has the diadem: so neither do thou without the symbols of your rule, (one of which is the not being covered,) pray before God, lest you insult both yourself and Him that has honored you.” (Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians.)

There are two further levels of symbolism for the chapel veil. First, the woman’s role in marriage is also an image of the soul’s proper disposition toward Christ. In marriage, a woman unites herself to a man by accepting his protection and rulership. Using the imagery of Genesis, it is as though she draws into the shelter of his side once again. She is receptive, both physically and spiritually, receiving his seed into her body and accepting his loving care. Through her receptivity, she brings forth the blessing of new life: “Thy wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of thy house.”(Psalm 127:3) Similarly, the soul which accepts the graces bestowed by Christ yields great spiritual fruit. By recalling the feminine role in human marriage, the chapel veil reveals something about the relationship between Christ and each soul.

Finally, we veil that which is sacred to God. Now, each woman has the potential for receiving life within her body. This power must not be used outside of the ordinances of God. In other words, a woman’s fruitfulness is reserved to God: “My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.”(Cant. 4:12) Furthermore, women are called to imitate Our Lady in a particular way and she was the living tabernacle of the Most High. Just as women bear life within their body, so the tabernacle on the altar holds He who is Life itself, “the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.”(John 6:50) Thus, the veil indicates woman’s unique role of motherhood and the call to imitate Our Lady. We recall this during Mass in order to better understand the presence of Christ in the tabernacle. [For this last facet of symbolism, I am indebted to Alice Von Hildebrand.]

In conclusion, I hope it is clear that the chapel veil betokens not abusive male domination but, rather, befittingly recalls a rich array of truths in order to illuminate the purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


This second effort is from the site owner of fisheaters.com, who goes by the screen name Vox Clamantis:

That which is Veiled is a Holy Vessel

Note what Paul says, "But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering." We don't veil ourselves because of some "primordial" sense of feminine shame; we are covering our glory so that Hemay be glorified instead. We cover ourselves because we are holy -- and because feminine beauty is incredibly powerful. If you don't believe me, consider how the image of "woman" is used to sell everything from shampoo to used cars. We women need to understand the power of the feminine and act accordingly by following the rules of modest attire, including the use of the veil. 

By surrendering our glory to the headship of our husbands and to God, we surrender to them in the same way that the Blessed Virgin surrendered herself to the Holy Ghost ("Be it done to me according to Thy will!"); the veil is a sign as powerful -- and beautiful -- as when a man bends on one knee to ask his girl to marry him. 

Now, think of what else was veiled in the Old Testament -- the Holy of Holies!

Hebrews 9:1-8
The former [Old Covenant] indeed had also justifications of divine service and a sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks and the table and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the Holy. 
And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies: Having a golden censer and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory: of which it is not needful to speak now particularly. Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle, the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices. But into the second, the high priest alone, once a year: not without blood, which he offereth for his own and the people's ignorance: The Holy Ghost signifying this: That the way into the Holies was not yet made manifest, whilst the former tabernacle was yet standing.
...The Ark of the Old Covenant was kept in the veiled Holy of Holies. And at Mass, what is kept veiled until the Offertory? The Chalice -- the vessel that holds the Precious Blood! And, between Masses, what is veiled? The Ciborium in the Tabernacle, the vessel which holds the very Body of Christ. These vessels of life are veiled because they are holy!

who is veiled? Who is the All Holy, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Vessel of the True Life? Our Lady -- and by wearing the veil, we imitate her and affirm ourselves as women, as vessels of life

This one superficially small act is:  

  • so rich with symbolism: of submission to authority; of surrender to God; of the imitation of Our Lady as a woman who uttered her "fiat!"; of covering our glory for His glory; of modesty; of chastity, of our being vessels of life like the Chalice, the Ciborium and, most especially, Our Lady;
  • an Apostolic ordinance -- with roots deep in the Old Testament -- and, therefore, a matter of intrinsic Tradition;
  • the way Catholic women have worshipped for two millennia (i.e., even if it weren't a matter of Sacred Tradition in the intrinsic sense, it is, at the least, a matter of ecclesiastical tradition, which also must be upheld). It is our heritage, a part of Catholic culture;
  • pragmatic: it leaves one free to worry less about "bad hair days";
  • and for the rebels out there, it is counter-cultural nowadays, you must admit!

The question I'd like answered is, "Why would any Catholic woman not want to veil herself?"


Anonymous said...

If a person chooses, for himself or for herself to wear a head covering, let him or her choose it for noble and authentic reasons.

However, the problem comes when one group imposes a particular style for another (especially when men (popes included) are making clothing choices for women - let's face it guys, it's not our strong suit - no pun intended).

Over the centuries, our church has called on heaven and scripture as its witness in its most sublime preaching of the gospel. However, it has also perverted the witness of heaven and scripture using it to support slavery, violence and witch hunts.

Personally, I feel the veil perpetuates the stereotype of submission of women to men. This I reject and would not any women I know to feel subject merely on the basis of gender. Today more than ever, we as the people of God need the contributions of all of us addressing issues that really matter - lack of faith, intractable conflicts, growing poverty and environmental degradation.


Anonymous said...

That's an easy answer!



Anonymous said...


Since the end of the Second Vatican Council I've wanted to say this to someone like you and your ilk - You're full of bunk!


Anonymous said...

Dear Anon #1,

Can you site any incident where any pope has imposed a style of clothing on one or any women? Are you confusing style with purity?

It seems to me the only 'men' making clothing choices for women today are the ones who poison them into wearing the very clothing Our Lady warned the children at Fatima about. Read what Our Lady said to the children. Read what she said the punishment for wearing that clothing would be.

"Over the centuries, our church has called on heaven and scripture as its witness in its most sublime preaching of the gospel. However, it has also perverted the witness of heaven and scripture using it to support slavery, violence and witch hunts."

Witch hunts? What would you have God do with Satan's soldiers? Support Slavery? Violence?

Site your statistics. Remember scripture says; "the vomit will come back to the dog"...

Mark S.
New Haven

Latinmassgirl said...

To Anonymous Peace,

You probably didn't read what these two women wrote so eloquently. Wearing a veil is not about submitting to men; we are not Muslims. It is about submitting to GOD with great humility and love.

The two articles above explain everything, but must be read with an open mind to truly understand why women were told to wear veils, and should still do so.

One must not look at the pope as just a man. He is the Vicar of Christ, and both men and women must submit to them, or they are not Roman Catholics.

Carol said...

Hi - this is a real question, not an attempt to pick nits: I'm not Catholic but every picture I've ever seen, in church and out, priests with a rank higher than, well, priest always seem to be wearing a head covering of some sort from the beanie-like cap to a miter. If men are supposed to pray with their heads uncovered as stated in your first citation from First Corinthians, I see a huge contradiction. So what gives?

Spiritus said...

I think some interesting points are made, but I am disappointed by the animosity that is expressed here at times. I think it is important for us to be genuinely loving in our presentation of ideas, even if they are contradictory.

I am more persuaded by clear, even passionate statements, that are made in a respectful tone.

Anonymous said...

Do your wife and children miss you when you spend SO much time pushing this issue? (btw, I've worn a veil every Sunday and Holy Day for the past 32 years)

thetimman said...

Carol, two points. First, laymen do not cover their heads. Priests act in the person of Christ during Mass, so a head covering/sign of humility would not necessarily violate the scriptural admonition. Also, priests and prelates-- including the pope-- do not wear head covering at the time of the canon and consecration.

Spiritus, charity is the key to be sure. Truth and charity are twins. They must go together. I see at least as much animosity in comments from those who consider themselves progressives as from any other group that comments on this blog.



Anonymous said...

I am hoping that someday someone will address the issue of "What kind of women are UNDER those veils?" I personally know 2 veiled women (with ankle length skirts)..who do or have used artificial contraception)

thetimman said...

Hope, surely it is not a good idea, or productive, or fitting, to make comments about the sanctity of those who do, or who do not, wear veils. Sinners we all are, and the quality of the sinner is not the reason for, or against, the rule about veiling.

Rather, the head covering custom is about what is due God, and not how holy we are.

I would not presume to judge the interior disposition of any woman who does not veil; so we should not judge those who do.

Hypocrites are found in every pew of the Church, and in every place outside it to boot.

I hope that these women you say you know have used contraception do not use it anymore-- if that is the case, can you not give them the benefit of the doubt that they have repented and have been forgiven?

Many people were sold a bill of goods on contraception. Some are ignorant-- many culpably so, but some truly ignorant from utter lack of catechesis. We cannot presume the state of another's soul unless Holy Church has pronounced upon it in an official way.

Pray for these women. Pray for yourself, and sacrifice for them. Perhaps wearing a veil may be a mortification to someone, and it could be offered up-- a sign of outward obedience to intercede for perfect interior love and obedience to God.

Latinmassgirl said...


There are always some exception, some people who don't do the right thing. I can make an educated guess, however, that 99% of women who veil do not use artificial contraception! Their enormous families would be evidence to that, don't you think?

Sinning in the past is just that, in the past. If all saints had to be free from sin all of their lives, there wouldn't be but one, the Virgin Mary.