Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Choir lofts and mantillas...

Well, I did it. I bought a mantilla. I am still full of many questions, however. A friend of mine who is half Mexican, (Alena) pointed out that here, people wear mantillas "backwards," at least compared to Mexico. They are worn like a bandana, but in Mexico, the point goes in front, so it doesn't slip off as easily. I tried it on both ways, and analyzed it in the mirror. Having the point in front really only affects the slippage when the point is so far forwards that it is almost to ones eyebrows, and looks a little silly, I thought. Otherwise, I think they are equally slippery. Does one pin it up? Or just tug at it regularly during Mass? However, I am still undecided about the actual prospect of wearing one myself. I shall certainly wear one when A and I drive to Assumption in Detroit on Friday, (for you-know-what!) I shall probably eventually begin wearing one to daily Mass, but I do want to ask my boss what he thinks of it. Because it is not cultural for us to wear one, I suspect that many people view women who wear mantillas as waving their piety around. (is that the word I wanted?) But I think that the kind of people who go to daily Mass wouldn't care so much, usually someone else there is.
But that brings me to the question of actually wearing one at St. P's during Sunday Mass. To begin with, I don't think I would, simply because of my visible (not literally,) position in the parish as the music director. I think our parish would have to take some more steps in a certain direction before I would feel alright doing that.
But...that brings me to consider, interestingly, the history of the choir loft.
This was discussed at the CMAA colloquium by Dr. Mahrt, and while he certainly wasn't talking about mantillas, it makes me think about them. I remember (correct me, or fill in info if I'm wrong,) that he talked about how originally the "choir" was designed specifically to remove the laity from the sanctuary? and, to extend that line of thought, then wouldn't I be, while in the choir loft, physically removed from the rest of the church in a way that no one outside the choir loft is? So wearing a mantilla would actually LEAST apply to me, in that sense.
And actual reasons TO wear one?
It was recently pointed out to me (and this in particular is really what got me thinking about this,) that the Code of Canon Law of 1917 or whatever did specifically say women should have their heads covered while in church, and that was never actually abrogated, so of course all of us liturgical snobs know that it still technically applies. However, it could certainly be pointed out that there is SO much of that stuff that we actually don't follow any more, this is really quite a small thing.
So we go back to the original reason that women were supposed to have their heads covered?
Of course, we know that men are more easily distracted by women's physical appearance than vice versa, (just go ahead and try to argue with me if you don't agree with that statement...go ahead...I dare you...) and I have noticed in everything from my own observations to classical literature, that hair is quite seductive, and therefore it seems helpful for men for women to cover it for the sake of modesty and less distraction for men during Mass. That seems like quite a plausible explanation to me. but...these mantillas that you buy? really, they are sooo lacy and sometimes even extravagant, it seems to me that kind of defeats the purpose! shouldn't we just wear like a simple black cloth?

After talking to A more last night, it seems that my mantilla is specifically designed to be worn with the point in back, because the Mexican mantillas have a much softer "point," so it doesn't look weird at all for them to be worn in front.


BONIFACE said...


Excellent thoughts. I wouldn't worry about your position in the parish; I have a position in a parish and my wife wears one.

Second, I don't think the "throwing their piety around" argument is a good one. It's like the guy wearning shorts and sandals to Mass accusing the guy in a Sunday suit of trying to look too pious; nobody should be faulted for trying to live out the time honored pious tradition of wearing the mantilla.

Finally, I think the original reason for the head covering goes back to St. Paul in 1 CORINTHIANS 11:6 -- "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered." Also, there is this mysterious verse, CORINTHIANS 11:10 -- "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."

I'm not sure of the theological import of these, but I know that head coverings for women is rooted in the New Testament. I hope to see you wearning one soon! If I was a woman, I'd totally wear one.

Cantor said...

Heehee. :)

I get in trouble, being a guy, for proposing the idea that women are less susceptible to men’s appearance than vice-versa. Never mind the number of times I have heard it said that “men are more visual” in how they live that part of their lives.

I think, in an ordinary parish situation, one woman wearing a mantilla would actually draw more attention to herself. Why not a pony-tail to keep hair from being a distraction?

A choir loft is the best way, IMO, to keep musicians engaged *as* part of the assembly, not removed from it. In other configurations (such as, alas, what I have in my parish), the musicians are on display, “performing”. A choir loft keeps that in check.

Mara Joy said...

I was hoping you could shed some light on Mahrt's talk (and it's relevancy in determining the relationship of the choir loft to the rest of the congregation in regards to this particular discussion,) cuz I have such a horrible memory about stuff like that, and you might be the only other person who was there who reads this!
(also in my parish, at the later Mass, I've counted at least 8 women wearing mantillas-er, maybe 2 or 3 women and all of their female progeny, but I'm currently in discussion with the boss about how this applies to me personally at Sunday Mass...)

torreon said...

About a ponytail being less of a distraction, I'm guessing that would depend on the ponytail. It could still be a distraction, if for a particular man a woman's hair was a distraction.

Also, found this at Catholic Answers:

Q: Did the Vatican ever publish a document stating that women are not supposed to wear head veils to church anymore?

A: No. Women are free to wear a head covering to church if they so desire. It’s just not required.

The document Inter Insigniores by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (October 15, 1976) stated that the 1917 Code of Canon Law (canon 1262.2) requiring women to wear veils on their heads was a custom of the period and that such ordinances "concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance." Thus the obligation "no longer has a normative value." But, as a sign of respect, women still are required to wear a veil when meeting the pope.

Cantor said...

Torreon - good comment; I hadn’t heard of that document, though I have indeed seen postings about the 1917 Code re mantillas.

Mara, I actually wasn’t at CMAA this year. Hopefully I will be next year. You might contact Dr. Mahrt, though, via Stanford or via CMAA; maybe there was a transcript made of his talk that you are referencing.

Mara Joy said...

I was emailed this link to a rather long article (the article itself sometimes annoys me, but makes some good points.)
It makes a decent response to the Inter Insignores document mentioned above.

Cantor said...

Interesting. My gut reaction is to read Canon 6 and, like Donovan, say “duh, 1983 replaces 1917”.

I don’t know that we can put the wearing of mantillas under the “custom has the force of law” bit. Except for in very few places, it is not a custom anymore. At least, for you and me, Mara, it is not a custom. :)

Cantor said...

To add to the above, I suppose if a canonist is to tell me that “1983 abrogates 1917” does NOT imply that the 1983’s silence on mantillas does not abrogate the requirement, well, I guess I don’t have the competence to argue against him/her.

What I would wonder, though, is how precisely one would have worded Canon 6 to achieve the effect of “if it’s not in 1983, it isn’t law, even if it’s in 1917”.