Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Are mantillas a sign of vanity?

Yesterday I stumbled upon this fascinating exchange which I had inadvertently provoked by what I thought was a pretty innocuous comment. Oh, well. I just cannot figure out why it is proper decorum to wear a mantilla in the presence of the Pope but considered vainglorious to wear a head-covering at one's local parish Mass. I asked a priest about this dilemma and he told me that anything can be a source of spiritual vanity, even NOT wearing a mantilla, as much as wearing one; only God can see the heart.

As a small girl, I always wore a doily on my head to Mass; all women and girls did, in fulfillment of canon law. I began wearing a veil again in my twenties, when I joined the Secular Order of Carmel. To me it was a sign of consecration to the Mother of God, who in her ancient icons was always shown veiled, as well as a sign of penitence. A hat or mantilla at Mass also was an aid to recollection; I found it made me focus on the altar by limiting my peripheral vision. My parents taught me not to worry about what people think, as long as I was doing the right thing. So I wore a head-covering to church whether others did so or not, because it was not only devotional, but an ancient practice in accord with Scripture and tradition.

The Catholic Church like a good Mother has always provided her children with outward symbols rich in inner meaning. Over the years, I continued to research the symbolism of the veil. Of course, there is St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 3-10 explaining why women should pray with their heads covered, out of respect for the angels. Pope St Linus, St Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, St Augustine, and St. John Chrysostom all reinforced in their writings and homilies the mandate of the Apostle. St Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on the First Corinthians said that "angels" refers to"priests," and that women should have their heads covered in Church out of reverence for the ministers of the altar.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law continued the tradition by stating, "Women shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the altar of the Lord." (Canon 1262.2) The 1983 Code did not mention head-coverings at all. Canon 20 states that an old law is not revoked unless the new law "states so expressly;" according to Canon 21, "revocation of a pre-existing law is not presumed." So we are safe in assuming that head-coverings were not abolished by the new Code, and that the veiling of women is regarded by the Church as a tradition which may still be practiced.

In Genesis 24: 68, Rebecca veiled herself at the approach of her bridegroom, as a sign of modesty and reverence. Every Mass is the marriage supper of the Lamb, where Christ is the bridegroom of every soul. In Exodus 40:19, Moses veiled the tabernacle which sheltered the ark of the covenant. "And when he had brought the ark into the tabernacle, he drew the veil before it to fulfill the Lord's command." We think of Our Lady, the new Ark of the Covenant, we think of the holy of holies which is every Catholic sanctuary where Mass is offered. Women are called to imitate Mary, as brides, as mothers, either on the spiritual or physical level, being vessels of grace.

It is a beautiful calling, and head-coverings are intended to reinforce that symbolism, especially at the Eucharistic sacrifice, as signs of women's dignity, not of any kind of oppression. If ladies feel inconvenienced by hats or veils; if it is not helpful to their devotion, then by all means, go bare-headed. But for those who are drawn to the ancient and beautiful practice, follow your heart; do not be afraid. Share

9 comments:

Steven said...

Dear M. Vidal,

Once again said gently, with restraint, but firmly and your point is so well made. Thank you.

shalom,

Steven

A11ison said...

What a beautiful article!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, A11ison!

Thanks, Steven, for your kind words! I am grateful.

Georgette said...

This is very well articulated as usual, Elena. It is a sad fact that too many people today do not understand what basic modesty is, let alone the idea of wearing a head covering in Mass. Your pastor is right that it can be an issue of pride by NOT wearing the headcovering just as much as wearing it can be. (And it all depends where one's heart is, and that's for God to judge of course.)

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Georgette! You are right about the basic lack of comprehension about modesty. There is nothing more ridiculous than seeing a woman with a miniskirt and a mantilla - kind of defeats the whole purpose! I have come to the conclusion that some people really don't know any better....

alaughland@goeaston.net said...

I find it ironic that the demise of modesty in women and the wearing of head covering in church began about the same time as the 'sexual revolution' of the 60's. One step forward and two steps back.

melanie said...

Beautiful article, elena! I hope many young women are inspired to return to the tradition.

Kristen said...

I used to wear the mantilla all the time when we lived in Virginia. But when we moved to Milwaukee, I stopped because people were not even kneeling at the Mass, so when my family (8 kids) kneeled, everyone was already looking at us, and I felt like we already were drawing too much attention away from the altar. When we move again this year (probably this summer), I will likely bring out the mantillas again, if it can be done without drawing too much attention, that is...

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Kristen! Yes, you have to do what's best for your family.