To Veil or Not to Veil, That Is the Liberty

Genevieve Kineke has written a number of posts on chivalry over the years. It’s one of her blog categories. She has some interesting things to say and links to many good sources.

Of late, Genevieve has been involved in a debate on women’s use of chapel veils, which I have not followed myself aside from what I just read on her blog.

Over the years, I have found myself arguing reciprocally for the formation of a Catholic culture on the one hand, and for a broadminded exercise of prudence on the other. In reality, there is no contradiction between the fighting spirit of prowess and the moderating spirit of courtesy, but that is not to say that finding the balance is easy. I can appreciate what Genevieve means when she says:

The tradeoff which always concerns me is the inhospitality with which many interpret some acts of piety, which bear the aforementioned “code.”

We are always fighting to hold our ground as the swamp of our godless culture encroaches upon the sanctuaries of our homes and churches. As a motley group of sinners, Catholics will not always agree on how best to do this.

Unless usages like the chapel veil are mandated again by Rome there will always be legitimate arguments about the relative merits of such traditions. And even if Rome were to solve such questions, we will continue to disagree in good faith concerning practical discernment relative to our way of living as Christians in non-Christian world.

I think too much is at stake not to seek our advantages in terms of restoring tradition; however, without a great deal of virtue this often translates into a kind of inhospitality, where the ones alienated are often those who would be otherwise most likely to embrace a more Catholic way of life.

I really don’t think there are any pat answers here. I am often told that I should be more black and white. (That should say something about the circle in which I travel). We who crusade for Catholic culture don’t like gray–any gray. Unfortunatley, some things are gray. And upon many things Catholics of good will can and, in a sense, must disagree.

In a lecture entitled “Culture and the Coming Peril,” G.K. Chesterton used the word “vulgarity” to describe modern culture, and he defined vulgarity as “standardization at a lower standard.” Indeed, he argued for a high standard, but not for complete uniformity. He ended his lecture with these words:

[T]here never was a time in the whole history of the human race when it was more necessary to defend the intellectual independence of man that this hour in which we live.

The secularists, as we know, are not at all committed to diversity in the way they contend. They wish to stimy all debate, as they do, for example, in regard to the issue of same-sex marriage. The answer to the dictatorship of relativism, however, is not a to have a rule supplied for everything to which everyone must conform. There is a place for rules. There is also a place for liberty.

In certain things unity. In doubtful things liberty. In all things charity (St. Augustine).

But even where there is no argument asserting the binding nature of this or that practice, but just that its merely “better” or “more Catholic,” we are going to run into tension. And that is not altogether a bad thing. We need a fighting spirit. We need to regain some Catholic territory and burn into our hearts an unambiguous Catholic identity. But we also need to avoid all that is sectarian and narrow minded. We can’t turn the Church into the club of our own opinions, no matter high minded or traditional those opinions may be.

The path, I think, is to be as good natured and as open to the upright intentions of others as possible. G.K. Chesterton and his brother Cecil used to bring a stack of books each to the dinner table and vigorously argue to their hearts content. Later in life, Chesterton said that he had never had a quarrel with his brother because they always argued. There is much to be said for that.

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11 thoughts on “To Veil or Not to Veil, That Is the Liberty

  1. Excellent assessment. I am delighted to have found your site and will peruse it at leisure. So heartening to see chivalry lived so heroically — bless you!

  2. This is refreshing! I, too, at one point wanted SOMEONE in the Church to make things black and white. Let’s face it … black and white is so much easier. You know what to do and not to do and there’s no room to discern on your own … and thus maybe make a wrong decision!
    But over the last ten years or so, I have come to change my mind on this. I see some of this ‘need’ for so much black and white as really a fear … a fear of failing … a fear of sinning. Fear, of course, is not of God. Granted, we should not AIM to sin and we need to aim for that holy perfection but we must be realistic … we ain’t gonna get there in this life!!
    Now, in saying that, there is MUCH black and white in our Church as has been said on this blog before. For instance, the Church is quite black and white about Mass attendance each week. Yet, the Church has gotten wimpy on some things it should be more bold on … abc, for instance. There are many things, however, in which I feel are just not so black and white. Like it or not, we are called to discern them individually. Also, we are on different parts of our journey and there are some things that I accepted a few years ago that now I can no longer accept … the Lord has led me to a different spot that I wouldn’t have understood a few years back. We must be patient with one another because we all have areas such as these and we are all still growing spiritually … we all eat some words from our past, I’m quite sure.
    As for the gray areas that must be individually discerned, I can think of a couple of examples. For instance, I know people who say they’d never own a tv or computer because of the smut on both … Satan is surely alive and well in these platforms. But, God is alive and well on these platforms as well and we must seek Him! So, I do not fear the computer or t.v. …. I must discern. Yet, there are those who may severely struggle with, say, pornography. In that case, get the computer out of the house if that’s the only way you can escape that temptation. But, don’t insist that it must be that way for everyone because some of us really have no struggle with pornography … we have other struggles, mind you.
    The same is true for genres of music … I know there are some that say “NO” to entire genres of music. Now, if a certain genre causes you to have impure thoughts and are very distracting … then, yes, you need to avoid that genre. But, many people do NOT have that struggle and are very capapble of discerning the music for content and perhaps the groups singing, or whatever. It’s not a struggle … there is really nothing intrinsically evil or holy about classical music as a genre, bluegrass/country as a genre, opera or rock-n-roll. Same with instruments … they just carry a unique sound. I know some musical purists who would NEVER allow for an electric keyboard … I say there’s a place for it! There’s nothing intrinscially BAD about an electric keyboard! I wouldn’t want to hear a Debussy piano concerto on anything but a grand piano … but that’s my personal taste. Period.
    So … as for the head coverings … I, too, have gotten into debates on this and you’re right, Father Angelo, there’s no truly right or wrong answer. We all see that there’s a definite degradation in the devout and respectful dress at Church after Vatican II. I suspect that when one wears a chapel veil, there might be a reminder of where you are and how you are to ‘behave’. As a culture, we have become far more ‘casual’ and there’s a downside to that. My husband sees it at the workplace as well … when men used to wear a shirt and tie, there was a certain professional attitude that simply has disappeared with the allowance of dress-down. So, I have not made a specific decision on the veil for me personally yet. At some point it might be worth trying it to see if I ‘feel’ any differently. I suspect not, quite honestly. But, if some women feel this way then by all means wear it!
    I could say so much more, (surprised?) but I’ll leave it at this for now.
    Blessings .. Jen

  3. I have recently started to veil when I am in the house of our Lord.
    I prayed on this for a long time, and felt called. It was hard, as I am the only one in my parish, but I do think it is right for me. These are a couple of the ‘reasons’ I wear it.
    First, it is a reminder of obedience and submission to God and to my state in life. I wear it partly to remind myself to pray for greater obedience and submission when I am in Our Lord’s presence.
    Also, in almost all images of Our Lady, even from recent apparitions, she has her head covered. If the Immaculate Conception covers her head for respect and obedience to God (it is mentioned in the bible several times, and she is always in His presence now), than a sinner like me can only be helped by imitating her.
    I do not wear it because I think I am holy, I wear it because I hope to be holy someday, and I believe this devotion will help me.
    I know that it isn’t for everyone, but hopefully this will give one perspective.

  4. I’m Reformed Presbyterian, so I reckon you can take my comments for what they are worth. My wife wears a headcovering in worship (and public Bible study, for that matter) and, like one of the previous commenters, is the only one in our congregation who does so (for now?).

    Our reading of I Corinthians 11 seems to make it clear that the veil/ covering is to be a sign of authority by a woman’s husband for public worship. The discussion by Paul is in universal terms regarding the God-to-man/ Man-to-woman relationship and not merely local customs. (After all, if that were the issue, methinks the Apostle would have merely said, ‘Follow the local custom’ similar to his discussion of eating foods sacrificed to idols.)

    I agree that the Church should not quibble over the non-essentials; we do not, therefore make a big production of my wife covering her head. However, it has not gone unnoticed and has caused fruitful discussion–not the least of which has been in the overarching area of the man’s headship over the wife.

    As with much of Christianity, it is a heart issue and we musn’t let ourselves slip into a Pharisaical legalism.

  5. Dear Sir

    It is all very interesting and at the end of the day it all rests with beliefs, values and behaviours.

    I am a little concerned with the concept of sin and that your congregation and therefore all human beings or at least catholics, are a motly group of sinners. I feel that is a tad unjust. Surely, whether chatholic or others, first of all we are all doing our best to be at our best, whatever that may be. From time to time we may break the rules. To see us as foremost sinners may just possibly a good reason why congregations are falling drastically.

    Motly? Nature is incredibly diverse and that is it beauty and its resiliance. No Sir, your congregation are the most beautiful and incredible creation of God or nature.

    If you can reinvent the meaning of sin you might just see the beauty. Then you might find the answer to other troubling daily problems alittle more in line with the original values of Jesus.

    The force be with you.

  6. How interesting, I have a veil and I wear it at the latin Mass. I have had some interesting conversations with my friends concerning the veil. They are so open to many things the church recommends but thier reaction to the veil was one of no way no how. Very emotional. I have thought sometime about it and I wonder if it is a “submissive ” thing. I was quite interested in the comment from Gela and how she feels about wearing her veil. I don’t feel as it is a submissive posture as much as a unitive act. I wear mine to unite to my Lord and My king. It is to set me aside for Our Lord. It helps me keep focused and on task. I want to wear it more but sometimes I am distracted by being the only one or I’m counting others wearing the veil, silly things like that.

  7. I think that submission to God’s will is unitive. It is uniting your will to His and letting go of self (decrease) in order for God to increase in you.
    As for the sinners, the plain and simple fact is that we are all sinners, the only people that never sinned are Our Lord and Our Lady. Adam and Eve fell and the rest of us fall daily- it is our human nature. We must do our best to avoid sin, but we will all fail. Changing the definition of sin distorts sin, and makes it harder to recognize, which ultimately keeps us from growing closer to God. There is NO beauty in sin, the beauty is in reconcilliation. Sin is ugly because it hurts us and it hurts God. Most important, sin separates us from God who is mercy and love. His mercy is mind-blowing and beautiful.

  8. Pingback: The Culture of Death « Mary Victrix

  9. i find it interesting that i am one of a very few who wears veils in my church. but i am CONSTANTLY asked where i got oit if i wear the traditional long mantilla style veil. (not so much when i wear a scarf)
    there is a real interest in it.

    i also belong to a modest clothing group on a social network (livejournal) and its funny how all of us view modest clothing (and often headcovering) very differently. most of us, however, see it as a “i am NOT public property, i am NOT here for your entertainment” message

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