Women’s Head Coverings at Mass: Won’t Say I Told You So, But . . .

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law, Liturgy

Mantillas

Some time ago I did a post (possibly more than one) dealing with the subject of women’s headcoverings at Mass—a practice that was required by the 1917 Code of Canon Law but that then fell into desuetude after the Second Vatican Council and was abolished by the release of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

I have no problem with women wearing head coverings. In fact, I’m rather partial to the practice, and I fully support any woman’s right to wear one.

But I’m not going to falsify what the law requires concerning them.

My post was occasioned by queries I got from time to time about whether the former practice of women wearing some form of headcovering at Mass is still required.

Some of these queries were prompted by a maker of headcoverings who was trying to gin up business by running ads that quoted the old law as if it was still in effect.

Others, including canonist Dr. Edward Peters and Fr. John Zulhsdorf, also wrote on the subject, pointing out the same thing: The law requiring head coverings ceased no later than the release of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which abrogated the prior law requiring this (found in the 1917 Code).

Yet that hasn’t stopped people from making spurious arguments to the contrary.

Now Ed Peters has a post in which (after noting Fr. Z’s and my replies and saying some extremely kind things about us) he reports Cardinal Raymond Burke has weighed in on the subject as well.

For those who may not be aware, Cardinal Burke is the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which “functions as the supreme tribunal [in the Roman Curia] and also ensures that justice in the Church is correctly administered” (John Paul II, Pastor Bonus 121). That means: He heads the highest Church court.

In a letter to an inquirer, Cardinal Burke writes:

The wearing of a chapel veil for women is not required when women assist at the Holy Mass according to Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force. It is not, however a sin to participate in the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form without a veil.

Ed notes:

Burke’s note is not an “authentic interpretation” nor a formal sentence from the Signatura: It’s simply a calm observation by the world’s leading canonist (not to mention a man deeply in love with the Church and her liturgy) about whether women have to, as a matter of law or moral obligation, wear veils at Mass. Any Mass. And the answer is No.

I’d like to add a couple of remarks to Ed’s concerning Cardinal Burke’s reply. I think it is extraordinarily balanced and well phrased.

His first statement—that the use of chapel veils is not required when women assist at (i.e., attend) the ordinary form of the Mass—is quite true. The 1983 Code abolished the requirement established by the 1917 Code. That much is absolutely clear and straight forward. But what about the celebration of the extraordinary form of Mass according to the Missal of 1962 (i.e., the approved form of the traditional Latin Mass)? Here is where Cardinal Burke’s statement is remarkably well crafted.

He makes two points: First, it is “the expectation” that women attending this form of Mass will wear a head covering, but “it is not … a sin” to refrain from doing so.

Note that Cardinal Burke does not say that the use of a chapel veil is required under the 1962 Missal. This is because it wasn’t the 1962 Missal that contained the requirement. It was the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and that requirement has been abolished. Thus there is no clear legal obligation to do so. The degree to which an obligation that existed in 1962 but that is not mentioned in the Missal would be applicable to the celebration of the Mass according to this Missal today would be, at the least, debatable. According to the 1983 Code,

Can. 14 Laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law.

Because of the debatability of such a requirement in the extraordinary form of the Mass today, the law concerning head coverings does not bind (at least until such time as we get further clarification from Rome on the matter).

Thus a woman attending the extraordinary form of the Mass could not be accused of violating the law, much less of sinning.

Nevertheless, it is clear that those who participate in the extraordinary form of the Mass are intending to celebrate it as it was celebrated in 1962, to the extent provided by present law, and that included head coverings. Those regularly celebrating this form of the Roman Rite thus have an expectation that head coverings will be used. Failure to use them could be cause for puzzlement, even if it is not legally required. And the expectation (without legal requirement) may extend higher up the hierarchical chain, though Cardinal Burke does not make this clear.

In any event, it strikes me that Cardinal Burke’s statement is exceptionally well crafted. It acknowledges the clear lack of legal requirement for the use of head coverings (at both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of Mass) while acknowledging the practical expectation but not-legally-required use of them at the extraordinary form of Mass, together with the non-sinfulness of their non-use.

It’s a difficult set of points to make in a short space, but Cardinal Burke’s statement navigates these difficulties well.

If only everyone were so careful on this issue.

What do you think?

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{ 27 comments }

Dan April 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

So basically what His Eminence says is that all women are required to cover their heads at the Traditional Latin Mass.
We really see more and more of a difference in the, at least, extrinsic disciplines between the the TLM and the NO.
There are even different laws that apply to the two forms of Mass.
Other than a valid consecration in both if the correct form and matter are used, they are two different Masses.
As much different as the Ukranian Catholic Mass and the Novus Ordo, even the NO offered in Latin Ad Orientem.

The Pachyderminator April 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

So basically what His Eminence says is that all women are required to cover their heads at the Traditional Latin Mass.

No, that’s exactly what His Eminence did not say. Did you read the article?

The Masked Chicken April 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

So basically what His Eminence says is that all women are required to cover their heads at the Traditional Latin Mass.
Actually, he said the opposite. The opposite of a necessity is not necessarily a necessity, but a possible (sorry, doing too much modal logic, recently).
It is not necessary for women to wear head covering at the TLM, but it is traditional and salutary as a way of preserving that historical practice.
The Chicken

Dan April 26, 2011 at 10:10 am

I did read it.
And I understood the following to mean that at the TLM women are required to cover their heads:
“It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force.”
I was taking the word “expectation” as woman are “expected”, ie: should wear head coverings at Mass.
I am sorry if I was wrong.
As an aside, by the same token, if the 1983 code, by its silence on head coverings for women thereby abrogating the 1917 code, did the 1983 code abrogate the 1917 law that men uncover their heads in church?
In other words, since the 1917 code required men to bare their heads in church, and the 1983 code was quiet on the issue, therby abrogating this law, may a man wear a hat in Mass without incurring a sin?

The Masked Chicken April 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

In other words, since the 1917 code required men to bare their heads in church, and the 1983 code was quiet on the issue, therby abrogating this law, may a man wear a hat in Mass without incurring a sin?
Canon Law does not cover all of the moral law. For instance, it does not specify certain liturgical actions, such as the proper formula to use to confect the Eucharist. Nevertheless, if one intentionally uses the wrong formula, one sins. That being said, it is historical tradition of immemorial standing that a man removes his hat in the presence of the king. Now, since Jesus is the king of Heaven and Earth, one may draw the conclusion that, while not a violation of Canon Law, per se (which is not divine law), it is a form of negligence of a nominal duty to the King of Heaven.
Notice that the same cannot be said for women, as there never was an expectation that any woman would appear before the king, so the question of head coverings is decided on a different basis.
My opinion, usual disclaimers…
The Chicken

Dan April 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

I just read what St Paul said in Corinthians, which is historical and divine Tradition of immemorial standing:
3 “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not have her head veiled she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.”

The Masked Chicken April 26, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Well, I don’t think we have a real problem. I happen to think that traditional piety is the right way to go. My comment was on head covering as reflected in the Code, not what is best in practice. Scripture and Tradition are a part of the Ordinary Magesterium. Your comment, however comcerned whether or not, because something had been omiited in Canon Law it no longer was a sin. It is not a sin by the Code, but it may be sin by other considerations. The Chicken p.s. I hope this formats properly. I’m using an unusual browser.

Dan April 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm

So Chicken
You are saying that Canon Law is not the final say so on whether or not something is a sin?
The salvation of souls is a higher law?
I just quoted St Paul, because he expressly says men cannot cover their heads whilst praying, or this would be a sin.
I did not realise this.

Sharon April 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm

On Catholic Answers some weeks ago a very well known apologist guest, in answer to a caller, gave advice which seemed to come down on the side of obligation to wear a mantilla (chapel veil).
If you wish to wear a mantilla (chapel veil) go ahead but you don’t have to. On the rare occasions I attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form I wear a mantilla because it feels right and when I attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass I don’t because it feels right.

Fr. Terry Donahue, CC April 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Concerning St. Paul’s statement to the Corinthians quoted above, the CDF has stated that this was a discipline based on customs of the time, not a permanent moral obligation:
“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 their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.”
(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter Insigniores: Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, 1976, n. 4, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19761015_inter-insigniores_en.html )

The Masked Chicken April 27, 2011 at 5:32 am

I was going to remark about the Corinthian quote being custom of the period, but lacked a citation. On the other hand, while customs come and go, there is the notion of an underlying reverence for God which is required in any case. How that reverence is manifested will depend on time and culture. As for Canon Law not containing the whole of the moral law, your are being cynical, Dan, right? Obviously it does not and it even says that there are other things covered in other book, such as liturgical law. The Chicken

Dan April 27, 2011 at 7:01 am

Chicken,
I agree.
Plus Canon Law can be interpreted to correspond to liturgical and higher law, such as canon 144 etc.

mary April 27, 2011 at 10:08 am

I too would wear a head covering but what I hate the most is seeing faded torn jeans and Tshirts- for goodness sake everyone can afford one decent outfit- I bought mine at discount store wear, one pretty much every warm weather Sunday and another pretty much every cold weather Sunday becuase the rest of my week is pretty casual. ( I work from home)I also hate seeing panty lines, bras, women’s busts that are in danger of falling out, colored undies under sheer light clothes. Men- what is wrong with a nice sport shirt or a nice polo shirt and casual pants or decent jeans even? in the hot weather climates what is wrong with actual men’s dress shorts if you really can’t stand a lightweight pant/

Agnes April 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

+JMJ+
I, personally, would have no trouble wearing a mantilla at a traditional Latin Mass. I think it shows more respect for Our Dear Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. But what I would like to see come back, even more than seeing the head covering come back, is reception of the Host on the tongue, and reception while kneeling. I really miss the Altar Rail.
P.S. Welcome back, Chicken! We missed your insight on all of Jimmy’s posts. Happy Easter!

Dan April 27, 2011 at 11:12 am

Agnes,
Couldn’t agree with you more!
The only way we see the communion rail come back into every Catholic parish is if the Holy See mandates it.
Even the Holy Father is trying to set an example in doing this, example will only take you so far, and not that far at that apparently.
What we need is more authority used by the Holy Father and leass example.

The Masked Chicken April 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

for goodness sake everyone can afford one decent outfit
I haven’t been able at certain times in my life. There is a difference between indifference with regards to dress and doing the best one can.
The Chicken
p. s. Thanks, Agnes (I blush).

DMS April 28, 2011 at 8:04 am

The first paragraph is misleading: the “practice” of covering the head was not “abolished” by the 83 Code. The canonical obligation was “abolished.”

Dan April 28, 2011 at 8:41 am

“The first paragraph is misleading: the “practice” of covering the head was not “abolished” by the 83 Code. The canonical obligation was “abolished.”
DMS,
The canonical obligation was apparently abolished way before ’83.
I remember in the early to late seventies, as an altar boy in my parish seeing most of the women not wearing head coverings.

DMS April 28, 2011 at 9:17 am

Dan,
The canonical obligation was present, and apparently ignored in some places, until November 27, 1983, when the 83 Code came into effect. I know of no official relaxation of this obligation before 1983. In any case, I still say the opening paragraph is misleading.

Agnes April 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

What we need is more authority used by the Holy Father and leass example.
I agree that we need more authority, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say less example. We need more of both together. Peace.

Dan April 28, 2011 at 11:31 am

Agnes
You are right.
I do agree.

Yeoman April 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

“I too would wear a head covering but what I hate the most is seeing faded torn jeans and Tshirts- for goodness sake everyone can afford one decent outfit.”
Probably everyone can afford to dress decently, in not necessarily in a “decent outfit”.
This actually varies enormously by region. I always wear coat and tie when I’m a lector, but in the rural West where I live Catholics rarely dress formally for Mass. They dress in clean clothes, but almost everyone here dresses down. Many people completely lack “dress clothes” in this region, a fact that’s very apparent to me from courtroom work. In a way, an inside joke tends to be that wearing a suit and tie to church, here, is a Protestant deal. That probably isn’t admirable on our part, but there’s a lot of truth in it, perhaps reflecting, on a positive side, that the Church is so much apart of our lives that we aren’t making our attendance at Church distinct in wearing what would be, for this region, very unusual clothing.

Dan Hunter April 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

We should always always wear our Sunday best to Mass, and this should be at least a collared shirt and slacks for males and a dress and arms covered for women.
Whats so hard about aquiring this getip?

Leo May 2, 2011 at 4:24 am

I wear a tie on workdays and so dressing casually marks Sunday as different. In my parish I have noticed that most of the men who wear ties to Mass do not wear ties during the week and vice-versa. There are a few exceptions mainly to do with age.
I have not noticed any correlation between outward piety/misbehaviour and the wearing of ties and headscarves. At First Communion Masses I have see bad behaviour from men with ties and women with hats and veils.
Overall, I think ties and veils are a bit of a red herring.

Dan Hunter May 2, 2011 at 7:01 am

In years of assisting at Mass I have never seen men with ties and women with head coverings behaving badly in Mass.
But I must admit that we go to predominantly Traditional Latin Masses where everyone is extremely reverent during Mass and extremely cordial outside after Mass.

Yeoman May 2, 2011 at 9:38 am

“We should always always wear our Sunday best to Mass, and this should be at least a collared shirt and slacks for males and a dress and arms covered for women.
Whats so hard about aquiring this getip?”
I suppose that would depend upon what “Sunday Best” would mean.
I’ve long bemoaned the decline in dress standards in the United States. We are the sloppiest people on earth. But, having said that, here’s an area where I feel a bit differently. People should present well at Mass, but I don’t know that this means they should dress unnaturally for their station and life. If they are lectors or extraordinary ministers, I feel differently, as they should be wearing clothing that distinguishes the seriousness of that station, but if they are attending, I’m not so sure.
In my region a large percentage of the old Catholics are people who came into this region with strong ties to agriculture and very little money. Today, we are seeing a lot of new Catholics who are Mexican immigrants. What I hope to see from their attendance at Mass is that they will attend Mass. I’d guess that up to 50%, or maybe even 60%, of all men in this region do not own coats or ties. And for women, “nice dress” means nice clean jeans and a nice shirt. This is the way it is. I’ve long noticed than in courtroom work the days are long gone when I expected any man, save for an attorney, to show up wearing a tie. I’d guess that 70% of male witnesses to not show up with one. For attorneys it is part of our costume, but I’d emphasize that, it’s costume.
That’s the reason that I’d hesitate to emphasize this too much. For the pedestrian Catholics in rural regions if we insist that coat and tie means something, you’re essentially suggesting that their station in live is devalued. Sure, I don’t want people wearing a “Big Johnson” t-shirt to Mass (I’ve seen that), but I see a lot of devout Catholics in street clothes, including t-shirts in the Summer. I don’t feel qualified to suggest that they’re doing something wrong by any means.

Dan Hunter May 3, 2011 at 11:31 am

I have been in dozens of used clothing shops and lower prices clothing store where a suit jacket tie and trousers can be purchased at below 20.00.
My wife has purchased modest and tasteful nice dresses for under 15.00.
Granted there are many people Hispanic migrant workers and others who do not not have much money at all, but for God, at Mass most of them can afford this.
I have been outside of the church when the Spanish Mass lets out and seen women in skin tight extremely revealing shirts and sprayed on jeans that fills my mind as a male with massively impure thought and I avert my eyes as fast as possible [fallen human nature].
This is what many males have to look out during Mass, whether they want to or not.
Many of the men dress like slobs, and I know for a fact that some of these immodest and sloppy clothes cost twice as much as a good set of used suits or dresses.

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