Could we re-learn respect and modesty by covering our heads at Mass?

Having now read some of the blog posts at the (new) Association of Catholic women bloggers, I must apologise to the good lady who asked me to join it. At the time I saw it as a kind of breakaway movement from the proposed Guild of Catholic bloggers which has been discussed on the Herald blog site, and felt that we needed to be united, not divided. What I did not appreciate, in my haste to reject the proposal, is that it is not a question of ‘Either/Or’ but of ‘Both/And’. The Church is rich, diverse, and we Catholics have a multiplicity of different ways of communicating our common faith; thank God for it.

There are obvious difference between the posts on the Catholic women’s blog site and the Herald’s: the former is more personal in tone, less engaged in politics, less disputatious and argumentative, more concerned with sharing stories of conversion or ‘reversion’ and how faith is lived in family life and in adversity. In short, it points to the difference between men and women.

A remark on one of the posts has triggered this blog: “I [now] cover my head at Mass.’ I have sometimes debated this question with women friends. I grew up in the days when women always covered their heads at Mass, with scarves or hats; if I or my sisters emerged from the house on a Sunday without an appropriate head covering, my father would send us straight back indoors to find one. It came as a shock after Vatican II to see that this ‘rule’ was now totally disregarded. Even the elderly gradually stopped covering their heads.

The exception was and still is those who attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass. There you observe a sea of black mantillas. Keeping to the Old Rite meant keeping to the old respectful form of head attire. This makes me ask: is it disrespectful for a woman not to cover her head in church? St Paul, naturally, says ‘Yes’. Cardinal Raymond Burke says ‘No’ – but he makes a careful distinction between women who attend the New Rite, for which head covering is not obligatory, and the Old Rite “where it is the expectation.”

Fr Zuhlsdorf, quoting Cardinal Burke, agrees that in the Latin Church “women are not bound to do so” but interestingly, he admits he “wants the tradition to be revived, even though it would not be obligatory.”

For myself, attending the New Rite, I cover my head for at least nine months of the year.

This is for the same reason that Pope Benedict gave when asked why he was once spotted wearing the camauro: “I suffer from sensitivity of the scalp.” i.e. I feel the cold. I have a friend who attends Mass in both forms; for a time she wore her mantilla to both; then started to feel that at the Ordinary Form she was drawing undue attention to herself and looking ‘too pious’, so she now keeps it strictly for the EF. The blog post that triggered these thoughts suggests that its author always covers her head at the OF.

Now that our bishops are reinstating the rule of ‘fish on Fridays’, I rather wish, as Fr Zuhlsdorf does, that the tradition of wearing a head covering could also be revived. Just as the bishops have argued that we need to remember Christ’s suffering on Good Friday by a particular observance, could they not argue that the modesty and respect that scarves once symbolised has now often been lost by participants at the OF, and that restoring the practice might help to remind us that casual dress is not appropriate?