|Back in my childhood, when hats were mandatory for Mass, I never quite understood why my official Mousketeer hat didn't qualify, but Kleenex did. Don't they look innocent? I think the idea was to keep us all ignorant and innocent.|
Heidi Schlumpf wrote an op ed piece on the NCR which has generated a lot of comments. It's about the burgeoning trend amongst young conservative women to wear head veils and mantillas to Mass. The following is an excerpt, and because I disagree with Heidi that this trend is purposely or inadvertently showing submission to patriarchal society, I edited out all of that speculation.
....If traditionalist Catholic blogs are to be believed, veil wearing in church is making a comeback. The biggest supporters? Young women, who see it as a countercultural sign of their devotion to the church. A recent Facebook photo of a young woman, hands folded in prayer and head topped by a lace veil, garnered dozens of "likes" and comments gushing about how it's an "amazing way to express our faith" and "honor the Blessed Mother," as well as an antidote to "immodest dressing." (Seems like an awful lot of weight to throw on a lace doily.)
Other websites supporting a return to head covering for women note that it's a privilege, not a sign of submission, since the only other "covered" things at Mass are clergy, the tabernacle and the chalice. That's a stretch. Most supporters cite 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, which says that "any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head ... she should wear a veil." (I'd have to say this is a stretch, but it's kind of cute in it's really stretched out grasping at straws.)
It's not surprising that traditional Catholics who prefer their nuns in habits and priests in cassocks would want to get in on the dress-up fun. And I understand the power of a nonverbal message sent through clothing. It's why police officers wear uniforms, gang members wear colors and Packer fans wear cheeseheads.
But some of these enthusiastic would-be veil wearers don't seem to see the contradiction in "getting up the courage" to wear a veil as an in-your-face expression of submission and humility. A few even noted how great a veil is for "blocking out distractions" at Mass, as if fellow worshipers are an annoyance during private me-and-God time. (Truthfully though, the TLM is designed to encourage the Mass as a private me-and-God time, and too many priests celebrate it that way for themselves.)
A little history (beyond the romanticized "it was better then" type) might be in order. Veils and other head coverings, for both women and men, have had various meanings throughout history, and it is true that style of dress sometimes signified marital status, purity and virginity, or deference before a deity. While men sometimes have covered their heads for prayer (think Jewish yarmulkes), the cultural requirement for women to cover their heads has often extended not just to prayer and worship but to include any time she was in public (think Muslim hijabs). (But in both cases the idea was to suppress the sexual in favor of the spiritual. Dualism has a long rich history all it's own.)
For centuries, the church's interpretation of Paul's (admittedly confusing) words in 1 Corinthians 11 has been that women should cover their heads at Mass -- a tradition that was enshrined into church law in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Since the 1983 code revision did not address the head-covering canon (1262), veil wearing is no longer required.
I found a lot of the comments just totally fun to read. The young trads have absolutely no idea what a somewhat diabolical farce this hats in Church for women decree really was in actual practice. There was no self affirming choice about it. No self respecting mother with daughters ever failed to have at least one clean piece of Kleenex and one bobby pin in her purse. My mother had to have more than one emergency hat set because she had three daughters. I can remember more than one occasion in which I seethed with anger because I had to have a stupid piece of Kleenex on my head and my brothers didn't. No public embarrassment for them.
Rest assured, it was intended to be a public embarrassment and humiliation when Father so and so would comment from the altar that certain uncovered heads were disrespecting their Lord and Savior. Every daughter's mother would instantly start searching for the emergency hat set. Those lace doilies had really nasty tendency to fall off short clean hair, unless the bobby pin virtually went through your scalp, and gulp, they were so light a somewhat oblivious young lady wouldn't even notice she was sinfully hatless. Whether intended to be or not, this policy was a true from of sexual othering, and it got to be really oppressive at least in the sense that one's worthiness to be at Mass could be dependent on a piece of Kleenex.
One thing I wish the young traditionalists would acknowledge is that even though they are attending the same rite that predates Vatican II, they are attending that rite in context of the Vatican II church. What is spiritual choice for them as they understand it, was just another mandated occasion of sin for those of us who actually lived the pre Vatican II church. There was no choice about incidentals like head coverings for women. There was only sin and condemnation if one was out of compliance, but the real problem is that the punishment for incidentals was way too often the same as the punishment for serious sin. There never seemed to be any nuance, and I suppose this got raised to it's most hurtful and yet farcical apex in the Church's sexual morality in which masturbation sent one to hell just like 'real forcible rape'. Lots of us could never figure out why that was. but too many of us swallowed this kind of thing without ever really looking at it. We were all too conditioned and all too afraid. The young trads are not steeped in that kind of conditioning and that kind of fear and they can thank Vatican II for that.
My last thought about this retro trend, is that it's just another example of how the thinking in the 'reform of the reform' is all about externals. I understand why that is. It's to the hierarchies advantage to have Catholics entwining their spirituality with externals since the priesthood is the biggest 'external sign of God's grace'. If the priesthood is to be kept on it's pedestal, the Vatican has to put place of primacy on an externally reinforced spirituality. The problem is Jesus taught the exact opposite. To follow Him one had to internalize their spirituality, make it the foundation of who one was and from where one acted. This is not selfishness. This is removing the external boundaries between oneself and the God who is found with in. When your fellow worshipers are a distraction to your spiritual life, you haven't got an authentic spiritual life in any meaningful Christian sense. I have come to the conclusion the apparent unbridgeable gap with in the Church is not necessarily between trads and progressives, but between those whose faith is reinforced primarily through external symbols, and those whose faith has been internalized and there for don't prioritize all the external cultural identity markers.
Or to put this differently. It wasn't the external uniform that made Michael Jordan the basketball phenom he was. It was his innate drive and ability. He made the Bulls uniform mean something, not the other way around. Same thing with the vaunted Yankee pin stripes. Those pin stripes would be as vaunted as the Cubs pin stripes, except for the fact the Yankee pin stripes were worn by a bazillion Hall of Famers. So my advice to the young female trads going the mantilla route is this: God doesn't care what you wear on your head, it's what you actually do with your life. Live your life well, as an example of truly understanding what it means to follow the Way, and eventually that mantilla on your head may mean something real. Right now, it just brings back memories of some of the more farcical laws of the old Church.