I am in the process of putting together an article about why women choose to wear head coverings, despite the abuses they suffer for this humbling act of reverence. But while researching some background information, I have found at least 2 traditional Catholic websites using faulty logic to make a claim that head coverings are actually still required by the Church. They put forward several great arguments (it almost seems as though 1 of them might have copied from the other), but one of the arguments is simply false and seriously diminishes their credibility in their witness.
Don't get me wrong. I am 100% in support of women wearing veils at Mass. But trying to force the issue with this faulty logic will only harm credibility and potentially push people away.
One argument hinges on Paul's First Epislte to the Corinthians. While it's a good argument for head coverings in a subjective sense, there is nothing there that currently obligates, per se, a Catholic woman to cover. One person understands this as an ordinance for the whole Church, where another sees it as Paul pointing out cultural customs in a particular region. Theologians and lay people can argue all day long about whether it is a requirement to "cover" or not, but the fact remains that Catholics are not bound by opinions...we are bound by the Laws and Doctrines given by Christ's Church through the Magesterium. And, as it turns out, the Magesterium didn't bind any woman, at the 'whole-Church-scale', to veil until the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Nowhere else in any Council will you find such a requirement. So, while the appeal to Scripture is a good one, and one which I happen to agree with, it doesn't represent a current binding law on the entire Church faithful. We can, and should, use this Scripture to point out the REASONS Paul used in order to show the importance of humility and respect. But it fails when trying to show it as some obligation for Catholic women to cover their heads at Mass, unless you also want to defend that women should be silent in Church, or that a woman can excuse herself from the obligation by shaving her head. While that would be a bit ridiculous, it would at least be logically consistent.
There are other arguments made that are mostly appeals to emotion and holiness. These are also great arguments in my opinion, in fact they are the strongest ones. But these do not represent a current binding law on the entire Church faithful either. As strong a reason of "humbling yourself before Christ, Who is truly present in the Eucharist" is, it doesn't make for a binding law. Should every woman desire to cover her beauty to keep from distracting men's attention from the Lord? Sure! But again, this does not make for a binding law on all the Catholic faithful. So, what DOES?
The Code of Canon Law in 1917 bound all the faithful to the following:
§1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.
§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 key point that is typically honed in on is "...women...shall have a covered head...".
"SEE!" they say. "It says women have to wear a veil!" Well, no, it says they have to have a "covered head", which could include a veil, but can also include any manner of covering. That may be a minor detail, but it's an important one if someone would rebuke a woman for wearing a hat, or a handkercheif, or anything else that might cover her head, as opposed to a chapel veil. But here's something very important, and this is where the articles I read go astray and simply get it wrong. Both articles in question claim that this law was never revoked, or "abrogated". They list a few Canons in the current Code of 1983 that seem to support their position on the surface, but they completely neglect to read the introduction to the Code, which says in Canon 6:
Can. 6 §1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:
1/ the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;...
...and then lists other ordinances that were also abrogated/abolished. Now, the fact is that the covering of women's heads was already largely being ignored by this time. However, whether it was right for women to stop covering before 1983 is a different matter altogehter, and it's not a relevant to anyone who reached the age of reason after 1983.
The Canons used by the authors of these articles are Canons 20, 21, 27 and 28. Here is what those Canons say:
Canon 20 A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law, if it expressly so states, or if it is directly contrary to that law, or if it integrally reorders the whole subject matter of the earlier law. A universal law, however, does not derogate from a particular or from a special law, unless the law expressly provides otherwise.
Canon 21 In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed; rather, later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them.
Canon 27 Custom is the best interpreter of laws.
Canon 28 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 5, a custom, whether contrary to or apart from the law, is revoked by a contrary custom or law. But unless the law makes express mention of them, it does not revoke centennial or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs.
And here is why that is all irrelevant when it comes to head coverings at Mass:
Their use of Canon 20 only refutes their own position because they neglected to read Canon 6. Canon 6 DOES "expressly provide otherwise" when it says the 1917 Canon is "abrogated". The use of Canon 20 becomes ever WEAKER when pushed further because there is NO CURRENT LAW to compare the old to. You can't "derogate" (subtract from/diminish) a law that no longer exists...that has been "abrogated". There is no parallel law for head coverings in current Code of Canon Law. Where is the liturgical law that we would have to compare to the old Canon to see if there is a derogation?? It doesn't exist...it has been "abrogated".
Use of Canon 21 in their argument falls flat for the same reason: this Canon is written in the context of the entire section of Canons 7-22, and is, by its very language, in regards to parallel laws where doubt exists as to the harmony of those laws or the revocation of the older by the newer. But there is no "later law" in regards to the covering of a woman's head...no parallel...it has been "abrogated" per Canon 6.
Canons 27 and 28 don't apply in this case because once head-coverings became the Law, in 1917, it was not considered a "custom"...it was LAW. That law has been abrogated.
Now, is my testimony about Canon Law trustworthy? I'm not a Canon Lawyer, so I won't claim to infallibly understand it all. But the only Canon Lawyer whose opinion on this matter I could find said essentially the same thing I just did. I have yet to find any Canon Lawyer that would agree with those who believe Canon 1262 in the 1917 Code is not "abrogated".
How theologians want to interpret 1Corinthians is a matter for theologians. WE are only bound by what the Magesterium binds us to. And the Magesterium does not bind women to covering their heads at Mass. It used to, from 1917 to 1983. But in 1983, they abrogated that law. Is the covering of a woman's head a noble and humble practice to show reverence to our Lord? You bet it is!! And there are PLENTY of good reasons and logical arguments to use to support veils and head-coverings. But trying to force the issue with abrogated laws, laws which do not exist, only hurts the effort, dimishes our credibility and pushes people away in our attempt to witness.
The reality is, if ANY of the Canonical explanations given by the authors of the articles "prove" that veiling is still in force...a law we are bound to, then we are equally bound to accept that men and women must sit separately in the Church. That law is in the EXACT SAME 1917 Canon as the requirement to "cover", and is presented as no less a custom as the covering of heads. My question to them is: "Why are men and women no longer required to sit separately in Mass?" Whatever answer they give will be the exact same reason women are not required to veil. Anything else is logically inconsistent.
Links to the articles in question:
http://www.christianfamilyoutreach.com/(look for "The Veil" in their pamphlets section)
Pertinent sections of Code of Canon Law:
Jimmy Akin explains in depth:
The only Canon Lawyer whose response to the issue I found: