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Debi Flemming wrote:

Hi, guys —

Thank you in advance for the opportunity to learn more about my blessed Catholic Faith.
I am a convert from the Methodist faith.

During Holy Communion, when the bread and wine are consecrated and the bells ring (after the priest says, "Do this in memory of me." ), I notice some members of the congregation tap their chest three times.

  • What does this mean?
  • What is the purpose of the short black and white lace head dress worn by some Catholic women?

    They are so beautiful.

  • In what situations are these appropriate?
  • What does the Catholic Church teach on the disposition of our body and soul during the time period after our death on earth, until the time Jesus returns to earth?
  • Are we with Jesus during that time, or united with Jesus only upon His return?

I hope my questions are clear, if not please let me know.



  { Can you address the tapping of ones chest, the head dress on women, and the time after death? }

Mary Ann replied:

Dear Debi,

Welcome! You are sure observant!

  • The triple "tap" is really a symbolic beating of the chest, a Hebrew way of expressing guilt and sorrow for sin. It is usually done at the "through my fault, etc." portion of the Confiteor, at the "have mercy on us" of the Agnus Dei, and at the "Lord, I am not worthy" prayer before Holy Communion. It is a private, not liturgical, custom to do it after the Consecration when one silently says the prayer, "My Lord and my God!"

  • The head dress you refer to is a species of veil. It can be tiny, mid-length or long, and is called a chapel veil or mantilla (a Spanish word). It used to be a requirement of Canon Law, reflecting a longstanding custom that Catholic women cover their heads in church with a hat or a veil. Small veils were carried in every Catholic girl's purse just in case you stopped in to visit the Blessed Sacrament. Until the 1960's, women generally wore hats to Sunday Mass. After that custom died out, the mantillas become more popular. Some people still follow the custom, which is no longer part of law. They are appropriate to wear when inside a Church which has the Blessed Sacrament reserved.

  • Our souls undergo a particular judgment, with its reward, purification or punishment, and our bodies return to the earth. At the end of time, we will be reunited with our bodies, which arise either unto glory or damnation, and at that time we enter into the fullness of the life (or death) that we have chosen. So the souls of the blessed are with God or are being purified until the last day. There is a lot on your last question in the Catechism.

Mary Ann

John replied:

Just to add to Mary Ann's comments.

The tradition of women wearing a head covering dates back to Paul's admonition to the Corinthians that women should wear them.

At the time, the only women who went around without a head covering were women of ill repute, but "honest" women wore head coverings as a sign of submission to their fathers or husbands.

Today that symbol has lost its meaning, and clearly, all the women who don't cover their heads anymore are not prostitutes.

Later, the discipline took on a different meaning. By the 1960's, most folks had lost the meaning, hence, the tradition was dropped.

John DiMascio

Mary Ann replied:

Debi —

One last thing about head coverings. Many people today who wear them believe that they are still mandated by Canon Law, because they say that the old Canons were not abrogated since new Canon Law is supposed to be understood in light of the old.

Well, they are misunderstanding some canonical principles, and ignoring some others, and its too arcane to go into. So in talking with a veil devotee — and a veil is a lovely and good thing — be aware of the argument, and the attitude that flows from it, that it is really a requirement.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi Mary Ann,

When you say:
Many people today who wear them believe that they are still mandated by Canon Law, because they say that the old Canons were not abrogated since new Canon Law is supposed to be understood in light of the old.

Well, they are misunderstanding some canonical principles, and ignoring some others, and its too arcane to go into.

Can you explain their point a little further.

  • What canonical principles?

It sounds like they are reading parts of Canon Law from the Canon Law book, while ignoring others. I want to be fair.

  • Do those that say wearing veils are mandatory have any leg to stand on?
  • Why would they think they do?


Mary Ann replied:

Well, there is the canonical principle that the old law is still in effect, in the sense that it is to be used to understand the new Canons. However, the Code of 1917 is abrogated and the Canons terminated.

Many traditionalists say it is not, probably for the above reason. Also, there is principle about customs — If they have gone on for a hundred years, and they are not against the present law, they are not suppressed, but can be tolerated or kept if the bishop thinks they can't be removed because of circumstances. If they are not "centenary or immemorial", then they are suppressed.
If there are universal or particular customs, which are apart from the law, they are preserved. (Canon 5, #1 and 2)

As to head coverings, this would mean that you may wear head coverings, but don't have to. Some traditionalists believe that the preserving of customs apart from the law means that the wearing of head coverings is preserved as mandatory. That seems to be argued against by the fact that the wearing of head covering was not apart from the law in the old Canons (I am told, I don't know), and because it was an actual Canon, it is therefore terminated as a Canon, as a requirement. So it can continue as a voluntary custom, but not as one of the customs that
"are preserved".

Mary Ann

Debi replied:

Thank you for such a clear, concise response on these questions.

My husband is a "cradle Catholic", but with being a convert, I missed a lot of the teachings of
pre-Vatican II and cannot get enough of Catholic history.

The Church has brought me to a spiritual height in my life, as I experience the deep rooted devotion and pride that stem from belonging to the 'rock' which goes back to the time of Jesus.

Thank you!


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