April 11, 2005

Ceremonial Headresses

So, what did you all think about all the black lace worn on Friday at John Paul II's funeral?


We have Queen Paola from Belgium.


There's Laura Bush.


And there's your brand spankin' new Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice.

Vatican II decreed that women did not have to cover their heads at mass---any mass, including the Pope's funeral---anymore. This is well-known by Catholics worldwide. This act forever freed women from trying to pin a scrap of lace onto their heads before they hurried into church.

So, what I want to know is which member of the Vatican protocol office told all these women---more than a few of them non-Catholics, who wouldn't know better---they should cover their heads?

Bear with me here. While I can understand wearing a hat or covering your head is a sign of respect in some faiths, it is not necessary in Catholicism, or even for a visit to the Holy See. It's not a tradition. It's not a custom that needs to be observed.

What the hell is going on here?

Do you honestly think that Laura Bush called up Bernadette Chirac and asked, "What are you wearing to the funeral tomorrow?" There was just too much black lace going on at that funeral for it to be a spontaneous thing. That Condi---the chief U.S. diplomat---wore a mantilla, too, signals to me there's a wee bit more going on here.

Condi is the Secretary of State of the United States. If she went to Saudi Arabia, she would be instructed to cover her head to honor local custom. It would be the same if she were in Iran, where it's the law that all women, no matter what their faith is, should cover their heads. That's protocol. That's following the "when in Rome," line so that the natives aren't offended. Why, as the chief diplomat, was she instructed for her visit to the Holy See that she needed to wear a mantilla to the Pope's funeral? Why is this a matter of protocol?

I know it's the Pope's funeral and all, but there were plenty of women who didn't have their heads covered. Several women sitting with the delegations were bare headed. The woman who read the first reading didn't have her head covered. She wasn't banned from the lectern because her unseemly hair was showing. It was out there, flowing in the breeze, and no one shot her dirty looks. Yet, the black lace certainly was flowing when it came to the diplomatic delegations, wasn't it?

Why is that, do you think? Pope John Paul II was definitely a stickler for the rules, but not even he demanded that women start covering their heads again. He never declared this particular aspect of Vatican II to be something that was in need of correction. So, why is it that someone thought it was necessary to inform women that they should cover their heads? Hmmmm?

And moreover, what precisely does it mean? That the Church wanted to put out a more conservative image and what better way to do that than to get all the powerful females to show this off, like they were strolling down the red carpet at the Oscars? This bothers me greatly. It shouldn't, I know. But a pope who'd been pope for twenty-six years dies, there are huge rumors swirling about who will be his successor and what direction he'll take the church in and we get mantillas at the pope's funeral?

Hmmmm. What point are they trying to make?

Posted by Kathy at April 11, 2005 01:38 AM

I don't know if it's still the case, but traditionally women wear all-black and a lace mantilla during a private audience with the Pope. (Private audience, not when a group of people is received for a blessing and a brief visit.) I believe it's more a matter of diplomatic protocol/etiquette than Church protocol. The funeral would be a comparable situation. The acceptable clothing for a Papal audience for men is dark business suits and ties, women in black long-sleeve dresses with skirts at below-the-knee length. That has been the case for the last 50-60 years.

As for the lace mantillas, they are still worn in Southern Spain during festivals when women wear traditional costumes. The mantillas worn on those ocassions are hand-made, and very expensive -- a status item, similar to say, a Judith Leiber handbag here. Queen Paola's wearing a very large, very ornate mantilla.

Posted by: Fausta at April 11, 2005 08:52 AM

I think I don't care about any headwear at the funeral, because it was voluntary. I do care about the forced stupidity exercised in the Middle East, and wish to be there when Condi tells the Saudis "Give me the keys, I'm driving."
Advance world peace, support the Marines in killing Wahhabi scum worldwide.
Your ANTI-STRIB friend

Posted by: Midwest jay at April 11, 2005 11:49 AM

I'd agree with the first comment -- it's just "what's done," in which sense it *is* a tradition, if not a divine tradition. Like wearing hats to church on Easter, still done in some parts of the country in churches where not a hat will be seen the rest of the year. Why did almost every woman at the royal wedding wear a hat? They didn't have to; some didn't wear one; but it's just what's done.

Posted by: Adrianne Truett at April 11, 2005 12:38 PM

Actually, if you do a little research, the requirement for women to cover their heads at mass was never changed at Vatican II. In fact, it wasn't even addressed. The general guideline is that if a particular rule is not specifically mentioned and changed, it is still in effect. So, technically, women are still required to cover their heads in church. That said... it is not often enforced. Think of it as being like J-walking. It is illegal, but when's the last time you got a ticket for not crossing in the crosswalk. Same deal. You are supposed to cover your head, but if you don't no one is likely to say anything. Personal opinion: bravo to Mrs. Bush and Ms Rice for their knowledge of Vatican protocol and general respect and propriety.

Posted by: Stefanie at May 6, 2005 12:42 PM

It isn't so much that they stopped enforcing it, it's just that in the 60's there was a lot of disagreement about the meaning of veiling etc (whether or not 1 Cor was a clear scriptural mandate for veiling in church, and also whether or not it was a symbol of the subjugation of women) and so they left the line about veiling out of the abridged version of the canon laws. It's still there in the complete volume of canon law, but they recognised that many Catholic women no longer agreed with the rule and quietly agreed to disagree--so now it's a personal choice issue. However, in the Vatican and in particular in the presence of the Pope men may not wear hats and women should wear veils. Non-Catholics aren't really expected to follow the rule (although it is appreciated as a sign of respect for our beliefs). Catholic women at the funeral who didn't wear veils did so either because they actively chose not to, or possibly because they were encouraged not to. For instance I generally wear a veil in church as it is still customary in our parish, but the priest asked me not to when I participated in the readings because he wants to make it clear that unveiled women are just as welcome in mass as women who do wear the veil. So as a favor to him I leave it off when I sing or read in church.

Posted by: Mary Catherine at June 4, 2005 09:56 AM
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