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Restoration: Let’s Begin with the Veil

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

One venerable tradition with much metaphysical significance that has faded in the horizons of the post-Vatican II era is the practice of women covering their heads in Church.

The veil is a beautiful symbol of the natural order affirmed by Scripture: “Man was not created for woman, but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:9). The man was not to cover his head “because he is the image and glory of God.” But “the woman is the glory of the man because she came from the man… Thus, the woman is under the power of her husband.” That women should remain veiled in church while men do not is one symbol of this harmonious natural order establishing the husband’s authority over the wife.

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The veil: the sign of purity of the bride
The veil represents the natural hierarchy established by God in which the woman is subject to the male: “Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church (Eph. 5:22:23). This sublime comparison of husband and wife to the union between Christ and His Church suggests a benevolence in command unimagined before the rise of Christianity. It establishes the loving respect along with protection that a man should provide for his wife. The woman is not only the companion of a man’s life, but also of his spirit – destined to be the other half of his existence.

The veil is also a sign of espousal for both the bride of man and the bride of Christ. It is very significant that traditionally the great moments of a woman’s life show her concealed. This hidden role of women makes up part of the secret of Mary, the Morning Star — which rises in advance of the sun in order to lose itself therein. Mary does not come into prominence for her own sake, but for that of her Son. This spirit of self-sacrifice and surrender, which forms the very core of a woman’s nature, is what the feminists simply cannot abide. They would change all that. They would have women in the forefront, independent wage-earners and bold decision-makers. They perhaps understand the great symbolism of the veil better than the conservative, and thus have taken great care to throw it off it with a contemptuous laugh. But the ironic smile that lingers on their lips reveals a great unhappiness and discontent. For when a woman revolts against this divine order, it is easy to predict the beginning of the woman who has lost her self-identity and self-respect, or who has become the slave of man and his passions.

The veil: Its history

Both the men and the women of the Old Covenant covered their heads in the Temple. That only women should cover their heads was preached by the Apostle of the Gentiles: “But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head” (1 Cor. 11:5-6). Thus this custom, rooted in Scripture, became a tradition practiced by Catholic women from the earliest days of the Church.

However, I am unaware of any verse more ridiculed or any Apostle more reviled by the feminists. These loud, strident, and academically proud revolutionaries labeled St. Paul a misogynist because they erroneously claim that he based this tradition on his personal opinion. This is not true. The words of St. Paul actually make it quite clear that it is Our Lord Himself who desires and commands women to cover their heads in church as a visible sign of the order He established. The real reason the feminist scholars relentlessly denigrate the Apostle is because of their own mania to place women on an equal level with men and stimulate masculine ways.

It was not only Scripture and Tradition that prescribed women to cover their heads in church. It was also mandated by Canon Law. In fact, the old Canon 1262.2 stated that women must cover their heads “especially when they approach the holy table.” This Canon was never repudiated in those heady days of change that followed Vatican II. It was simply ignored.

Nothwithstanding the fact that women are mandated to cover their heads by Canon Law, Scripture and Tradition, the post-Vatican II Church capitulated on this point with nary a protest. Influenced by the spirit of adaptation to the modern world, a generalized relaxation of formalities in the sacred rituals and a more casual dress for Mass, many women began to leave off the head covering - even though Church discipline had not changed. But everything else was being changed, simplified, relaxed, thrown out or off – why not the veil?

Finally, the 1983 new Code of Canon Law gave implicit approval to this egalitarian trend simply by ignoring all mention of women’s veils.

The veil: Its restoration

It seems to me that most women did not leave off the veil or a head covering as an explicit act of revolt. Nor did they do so to please men. I have never heard a man - except for a few progressivist bad-spirited priests - ridicule a veiled woman praying in church. To the contrary, I have heard many men admit that they stand in a kind of awe at the beauty and mystery of a veiled woman. Clothing is never without a meaning, and a man intuitively understands that the veil represents a gentle submission that lies at the very essence of womanhood and femininity.

Rather, it has been the mockery of women and their slavish submission to modern fashion that has been the horrible traitor to the dignity of women. How many young women in veils have lost courage in face of those superior, self-confident smiles of their bareheaded peers? How many women have succumbed to that certain look of the gentle sex which cruelly labels the veiled woman as “old-fashioned” or out of step with modernity? A simple remark: “Oh, she must be a Trad. She’s in a veil,” becomes reason for shame and confusion, rather than pride and self-respect. How many women in cases like this shamefully follow Peter, who denied Our Lord for fear of a laugh of a serving girl…

The solution is simple. Women need to realize the profound and marvelous meaning of the veil, a ceremonial vestment that makes them pleasing in prayer in the sight of God and the angels. It is women who must restore this tradition. For a woman to submit to this norm of the Church is a sign of her acceptance of her femininity and her place in the divine order. With this small fiat, which mirrors that grand fiat of Our Lady, she can find a small part of the fulfillment, dignity, serenity and joy so sadly lacking in the modern liberated woman.


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