Question: The article on the Veil which appeared in the Messenger (July 2004) stirred up discussion in our area and some rebuttals. Is it a sin not to wear the veil to Church during Mass or before the Most Blessed Sacrament? What about a child who says to her friend she wears her veil because it would be a sin not to. Someone asked a priest whether or not Canon Law still mandates women to veil. It seems not to.
Answer. 1983 Code of Canon Law. Canon 6; P. 1 When this Code comes into force, the following are abrogated:
1. the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;
2. other laws, whether universal or particular, which are contrary to the provision of this Code, unless it is otherwise expressly provided in respect of particular laws,
3. all penal laws enacted by the Apostolic See, whether universal or particular, unless they are resumed in this Code itself;
4. any other universal disciplinary laws concerning matters which are integrally reordered by this Code.
The above means the 1917 Canon Law was not added to in 1983, but explicitly nullified and replaced.
See what was stated in 1917:
Canon 1262 - P. 1 It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.
P. 2 Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise, women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.
The force of the first law about separating men from women would be the same as the latter, if the code of 1917 were still in effect.
The important point to consider is this: It is a gesture of reverence for women to be veiled in Church in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament. St. Paul the Apostle required it in his New Testament writing.
"I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head - it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God" (1 Corinthians 11: 1-16).
The debate you describe smacks of legalism. The concern should be the desire to have special reverence in the presence of God Incarnate sacramentally present and perpetuating the Sacrifice of the Cross. From apostolic times head coverings, as mentioned by St. Paul have been a sign of reverence and submission.
If one goes only according to Canon Law and says it no longer applies then would it be acceptable for men and boys now to wear head coverings in church since present Canon Law does not require that they should be bare-headed? Or would it now be proper for woman to come to church immodestly dressed?
About 50% of the people who come here to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament are not Catholic. They are asked to be dressed modestly and observe silence in Church. They do and do not resent it. In the hot summer weather the shrine provides coverings for those who arrive in shorts. On occasion I've noticed a non-Catholic man may inadvertently forget to remove his hat as he walks about the side aisles of this shrine where the approximately 7 foot monstrance reveals the consecrated Host which is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and before which adoration takes place day and night. When a Knight of the Eucharist whispers to a man who did not remove his hate there seems no resentment.
Since there is no longer a law explicitly pointing out that men must be bare-headed, could one argue men should now wear hats before the Most Blessed Sacrament and even that modest dress is no longer required? I hardly think a reasonable person would so conclude.
I can understand a child simplifying, saying, "Girls should wear a veil because it is a sin not to." I would advise the child as a parent to say, "I wear the veil as a sign of reverence in the presence of Jesus, my Lord, God and Savior." A more detailed answer could add - "and as a sign of submission to God from whom all authority comes."
From the point of Canon Law there is no longer the force of law. If we did things only when required by Canon Law, and that was our motive for love and reverence and submission, I would not anticipate great growth in spirituality. Canon Law does not require Catholics to participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass on weekdays. Yet many do and all are encouraged to when possible.
If some in your area do not want to wear a veil or head covering, that is their decision. St. Paul referred to it as being "contentious." The practice observed widely until recent decades, mentioned in the Bible, cannot be unclaimed except by the uninformed. The article you referred to pointed out that the women's liberation movement, NOW organization, etc. campaigned that veils no longer be worn. It appears they no longer wanted the sign of submission to be used by women.
Because the code of Canon Law does not explicitly mention the veil I would not tell her she is sinning against the law of the Church. But hopefully the article on the Veil and this answer will be the occasion to help the growing movement to restore the ancient practice of wearing the veil as a sign of reverence before God and a sign of right ordering of family life.
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