The veil is a beautiful symbol of the natural order affirmed by Scripture: “Man was not created for woman, but the woman for the man.” (I Cor. 11, 9) The man was not to cover Ms head “because he is the image and glory of God.” But “the woman is the glory of the man because she came from the man… thus the woman is under the power of her husband.” That women should remain veiled in church while men do not is one symbol of this harmonious natural order establishing the husband’s authority over the wife.
Thus the veil represents the natural hierarchy established by God in which the woman is subject to the man: “Let wives be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is head of the Church” (Eph. 5, 22.23). This sublime comparison of husband and wife to the union between Christ and His Church suggests a benevolence in command unimagined before the rise of Christianity. It establishes the loving respect, along with the protection that a man should provided for his wife. The woman is not only the companion of a man’s material life, but also of his spiritual life – destined to be the other half of his existence. The married couple is meant to have only one body and only one heart.
The veil is also a sign of espousal for both the bride of man and the bride of Christ. It is very significant that traditionally many of the great moments of a woman’s life show her concealed. Thus the veil signifies a spirit of submission and self-sacrifice, which forms the very core of a woman’s nature. It is this spirit that the feminists simply cannot abide. They would change all that. They would have women in the forefront, independent wage-earners and bold decision-makers. They perhaps understand the great symbolism of the veil better than many conservatives, and thus have taken great care to throw it off with a contemptuous laugh. But the ironic smile that lingers on their bitter lips reveals a great unhappiness and discontent. For when a woman revolts against the divine order, she soon becomes a woman who has lost her self-identity and dignity.
That women should cover their heads was preached by the Apostle of the Gentiles: “But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head.” (I Cor. 11, 5 – 6). Thus, this custom was practised by Catholic women from the earliest days of the Church.
However, it is precisely these verses that feminists most ridicule and revile. These loud, strident and proud revolutionaries label St. Paul a misogynist, because they erroneously claim that he based the tradition of submission of women to men on his personal opinion. This is not true. The teachings of St. Paul promote the true vocation of women and make it quite clear that it is Our Lord Himself who desires and commands women to cover their heads in church as a visible sign of the order He established. The real reason the feminists relentlessly denigrate the apostles is because of their own obsession to place women on an equal level with men in all things and lead her along masculine ways.
Notwithstanding the fact that women are mandated to cover their heads by Scripture, Tradition and Canon Law, the post-Vatican II Church capitulated on this point with many a protest. Influenced by the spirit of adaptation to the modern world, a generalised relaxation of formalities in the sacred rituals and a more casual dress for Mass, many women began to leave off the head covering even though Church discipline had not changed. But everything else was being changed, simplified, relaxed, thrown out or off – why not the veil?
In fact, after the Council, Canon 1262.2 of the old Code of Canon Law, which stated that women must cover their heads “especially when they approach the holy table, was never repudiated. It was only gradually ignored. Finally, the 1983 new Code of Canon Law gave implicit approval to this egalitarian trend by simply making no mention of women covering their heads in Church.
It seems to me that most women did not leave off the veil or a head covering as an explicit act of revolt. Nor did they do so to please men. I have never heard a man – except for a few progressivist, bad-spirited priests – ridicule a veiled woman praying in church. To the contrary, I have heard many men admit that they stand in a kind of awe at the beauty, refinement and mystery of this custom. Clothing is never without meaning, and a man intuitively understands that the veil represents a gentle submission that lies at the very essence of womanhood and femininity.
Rather, it has been the mockery of feminists and the slavish submission to modern fashion that have been the horrible traitors to the dignity of women. How many young women in veils have lost courage in face of those superior, self-confident smiles of their bareheaded peers? How many women have succumbed to that scornful look of the gentle sex, which cruelly labels the veiled woman as “old fashioned” or out of step with modernity? A simple remark, “Oh, she must be a Trad. She’s in a veil,” becomes a reason for shame and confusion, rather than pride and self respect.
The solution to counter the egalitarian trend in dress is now so difficult. Women need to realise the profound and marvellous meaning of the veil, a ceremonial vestment that makes them pleasing in prayer in the sight of God and the angels. It is women who must restore this tradition. For a woman to submit to this norm of the Church is a sign of her acceptance of her femininity and her place in the divine order. With this assent she can find a small part of the fulfilment, dignity, serenity and joy so sadly lacking in the modern liberated woman.