Sunday, 07 June 2009
Patron: John, I have a question regarding head coverings. Do women need to wear them in church? I searched and found an article on the EWTN website, as well as an article on Apologetics Int'l, refuting the EWTN "expert." There is a lot of talk about whether it is still the law of the Church. Can you address this? I guess I need to pray for wisdom, and use my head for something other than a veil "rack." Please let me know your thoughts. Blessings.
J. Salza: Hello. St. Paul says that a woman must cover her head when she prays or prophesies, which would obviously include covering up in church (1 Cor. 11:5-6,10). Head covering is an immemorial custom of the Church, with a 1940 year history. Canon law says that an immemorial custom not only has the force of law, but that canon law can't even abrogate it. We would need a papal or magisterial statement abrogating the head covering requirement because it is an immemorial custom. But the Church has made no such statement.
Those who argue against head coverings say that the 1983 code "abrogated" the 1917 code (the 1917 code expressly required head coverings in canon 1262, and the 1983 code is silent about the issue). There are problems with this argument. First, when we say the 1983 code abrogated the 1917 code, that only means that the 1917 has no jurisdiction; it cannot be relied upon as legal authority. But this does not mean that everything that came out of the 1917 code is abrogated. Quite the contrary. This is why the 1983 code says that if a previous law is not expressly revoked (paraphrasing), then it is still in force. The 1983 code did not expressly revoke head coverings, which means the head covering requirement is still in force. Of course, the 1983 code would not have such a law if it trumped every thing in previous law.
This shows the wisdom of the Church. We can't throw away immemorial customs at will, just because the culture wants to push them into disuse. All the previous legislators (the popes themselves) before Paul VI and John Paul II enforced the head covering rule. Paul VI and John Paul II have not changed this.
Patron: John, I received your book in the mail today... It must feel good to hold this in your hands! Thanks for your response on head coverings. After reading it I sent it to my advisor, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, and asked for his thoughts. I thought you might like to read them (below.) I know Dr. Fastiggi to be a holy man of God, who tends to be conservative and consistent in his theology -- always trying to "think with the Church”:
Dr. Fastiggi: Thank you very much for your good question. As I see it, a Catholic woman can still wear a head covering to Mass if she so chooses. In many respects, this could be a valuable sign of devotion and humility. Since what was prescribed in canon 1262.2 of the 1917 Code is not repeated in the 1983 Code, I don't believe we can maintain, as some do, that this requirement still exists. It is up to the Magisterium to interpret and enforce canon law not individual Catholics.
By way of comparison, we can note that the 1983 Code did not repeat the specific prohibition of membership in the Masons. Soon after the publication of the 1983 Code, however, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith made it clear that membership in the Masons is still forbidden to Catholics. I don't know of any similar ruling by the Holy See with respect to the requirement for head coverings for women at Mass.
In Fr. T. Lincoln Bouscaren's 1957 Commentary on the 1917 Code, he notes that "popular customs may modify this provision [of canon 1262] as the text indicates" (p. 691). This shows that even before Vatican II, there was recognition that canon 1262.2 dealt with liturgical law not divine law. According to no. 83 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we should distinguish unchanging Tradition from "the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time...In light of the great Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium."
Do St. Paul's instructions on women covering their heads in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 constitute unchanging Tradition? It is important to realize that in 1 Cor. 7:10-12 -- on the subject of marriage and divorce -- St. Paul distinguishes between his own instruction and that of the Lord. Perhaps a similar distinction applies to 1 Cor. 11:2-16. In this regard, I agree with the interpretation provided in the March, 1984 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, viz., that St. Paul's main point in this passage is that "women should not attend the assembly in attire that would be considered improper in other public places" (pp. 67-68). This principle still applies.
If you wish further instruction on this matter, perhaps you should contact the Bishops Committee on Liturgy of the USCCB; this office could give you a more authoritative response than I can. I hope my brief thoughts are helpful as a start. Please let me know if more is needed.
J. Salza: I will briefly address Dr. Fastiggi’s thoughts regarding the head covering issue. First, in the 1983 code of canon law, canon 20 says that a later law abrogates an earlier law only if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it, or completely reorders the entire matter of the earlier law. Further, canon 21 says, in case of doubt, the revocation of a pre-existing law is not presumed, but later laws must be harmonized with them. Since the 1983 code is silent about head coverings (which means it did not expressly revoke the 1917 requirement, did not add anything directly contrary to it, and did not reorder the entire matter of the 1917 requirement), then we cannot presume that the head covering requirement has been revoked. In fact, there must be a presumption of harmonization, not revocation, with respect to the later laws. This is one reason why I do not presume that the head-covering requirement has been revoked.
Second, canon 28 says that a law does not revoke centenary or immemorial customs. Further, canon 26 says that a centenary or immemorial custom can even prevail against a canonical law which contains a law prohibiting future customs. Head-covering is an immemorial custom of the Church. We know this from Scripture (St. Paul devotes a lot of ink to this issue in his first letter to the Corinthian church because evidently women were not covering their heads) and Tradition (there are many Fathers who wrote about the necessity for women to wear veils, beginning with Pope Linus, the direct successor to Peter).
Thus, head covering is not only a centenary (100) year custom, but an immemorial custom of the Catholic Church. This means that not even a later law can revoke it. Canon law shows the wisdom of the Church by protecting her immemorial customs, even when the culture attempts to plunge those customs into disuse. This means that we have to presume the head-covering requirement, until the Magisterium says otherwise. But to date, neither the pope nor the Magisterium has expressly revoked the head-covering requirement. While some people argue that “Vatican II changed everything,” Canon 1262 of the 1917 code (which required head coverings) was in effect during Vatican II, and the council never changed it. Even Annibale Bugnini, after the close of the Second Vatican council, publicly stated circa 1975 that head-coverings were part of the Church's discipline and that this discipline has not changed.
Regarding Dr. Fastiggi's comments about the 1983 code not explicitly mentioning Masons, this only proves my point. The Church's prohibition of Catholic membership in Freemasonry has been taught always and everywhere, and this was expressly stated in the 1917 code. Just because a later law (1983) was silent about the Masons did not mean that the prohibition (1917) ceased (just like head coverings). It took the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to affirm this fact, which is precisely how we are to interpret later codes of canon law that are silent about previously existing law (I address this in my upcoming book about Freemasonry). The same applies to head-coverings.
I agree with Dr. Fastiggi that disciplinary and liturgical traditions of the Church can change. But, because canon law limits its power to change immemorial customs, such change can only come about through a specific mandate from the pope or Magisterium. We cannot presume that immemorial customs, liturgical or otherwise, have changed because the people in the pews no longer choose to follow them, and priests no longer choose to enforce them.
Regarding Dr. Fastiggi's comments regarding canon law and the liturgy, canon 2 says that canon law generally does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions, and liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the code. Thus, the 1983 code is admitting that it hasn't defined many of the things that take place in liturgical actions. Since veil-wearing is a liturgical action, which the 1983 code does not address (but which was addressed in the 1917 code in a liturgical context), then we can presume that the law of veil-wearing is "in force until now" and "retains" its force in the absence of canons contrary to it.
Regarding Dr. Fastiggi's query that there may be a distinction between Paul's teaching and the Lord's teaching regarding head-covering, I disagree. First, the Lord never addressed head-covering in the Scriptures, so this is a bit of a straw man argument, since no distinctions can be drawn. Second, I don’t know how anyone could argue that St. Paul, or any sacred writer, could ever contradict a teaching of Jesus Christ, since their inspired writings were dictated to them by the Holy Ghost. Third, Paul says that women must wear veils "because of the angels" (1 Cor. 11:10). This puts Paul's mandate in the realm of a divine command. The angels are intimately involved with the proceedings of the liturgy, and are observing our conduct as we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If women must wear veils "because of the angels," this suggests that if they don't, the angels will have a reaction to it. Since elsewhere in Scripture the angels are known to report our behavior to God and bring out God's punishments, I don't believe the angels’ reaction to a woman not covering her head would be a good thing.
Moreover, in the whole context of veil wearing and the role of women in the church (being silent in church and submissive to their husbands), Paul backs up his teaching by writing "as even the Law says" and "what I am writing you is a command of the Lord" (see I Cor. 14:34-37). Therefore, Scripture itself is clear that Paul's teaching about the role of women in the Church comes from God Himself. To attempt to bifurcate Paul's teaching from that of the Lord flies in the face of Scripture.
Finally, since the March, 1984 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral review that Dr. Fastiggi cites has no binding authority on Catholics, I won't address it, other than to say that its comments about veil-wearing as dealing with proper versus improper attire are way off the mark. Veil-wearing has nothing do with "attire." It has to do with symbolizing that women are under the authority of men, just as men are under the authority of Christ, whose head is God (1 Cor. 11:3). When properly understood (as I hope I did in my book), this is a beautiful blessing to families from our Lord. This is the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Holy Catholic Church.
Grace be with you.