Three Catholic Queries for a Jewish Audience

Busted Halo is a website for outreach to the younger generation, kinda wide mix. They have been running a lot of Jewish material like this. and here. The former Jewish article is a sweet one. There are three questions that struck my eye. The first is that whenever I am overseas in religious areas, I can buy Catholic head coverings as gifts like mantillas. What happened to head covering for Catholics in America? My wife actually wanted to know. If I was more of an entrepreneur, I would be importing hats from Italy and Spain. (I see the potential mark-up from the pottery cost there and the mark up in the NYC store Sur Le Table) Basically they just let the requirement for women to cover their hair fall into disuse but it may still be technically required. The second one is how do they explain do not make a graven image.Answer- Roman custom. The final question is on the source of Christmas. Jews have always wondered about its relation to Saturnalia. Well, here is the Catholic take on it. Yes, the date is arbitrary and connected to Springtime, Mitra, and Saturnalia.

Why do women no longer have to have their head covered while at mass? And why do some still do it?

There has long been a practice of women covering their heads in public, and especially in holy places, across religious traditions.  Paul makes note of it in 1 Cor 11:4-16.  Drawing upon this, as well as tradition and local custom, as in the Middle East, the 1917 Code of Canon Law originally required women to cover their heads in church (#1262).

Especially after Vatican II, the practice of wearing veils has largely faded away among Catholics in the West; non-Western Catholics and those who prefer a traditionalist or Tridentine observance of the faith here may still wear them more regularly.  Some say this veil was a casualty of feminist resistance as well as the decline of hats as part of fashion and social custom more generally.  But the 1983 Code of Canon Law omitted any ruling on veiling, perhaps as an accommodation to Vatican II’s attempts to modernize the Church. There is some dispute on whether this omission cancels out the 1917 canon on this matter.

Second Question

Christianity emerged from Judaism, which itself rejected figurative religious art as being too much like idol worship (see Ex 20:3).  But once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in the 4th century CE, it was not long before Roman practices of portraying and honoring the divine (their gods and emperors) would make their way into Christian practices as well.

Although the saints are portrayed in statues, icons, paintings, and other media, they are not worshipped as God is.  Rather, we venerate the saints, meaning that we honor them, give them respect, and show them devotion for what they have accomplished in their lives of faith.  John Coleman, SJ sees saints as generally having five characteristics:
exemplary model
extraordinary teacher
worker of wonders or source of benevolent power
possessor of a special, revelatory relation to the holy.
In short, they invite to see and relate to God anew. Asking saints to intercede for us is not idol worship because they themselves are not the object of worship.  We are asking for their help to make our case before God, just as you might have a friend advocate for you.

Third Question

How did December 25th get to be Christmas Day?

An exact date was attempted to be calculated for the Nativity of the Lord but it was deemed impossible (there was/is not enough information available to determine this).  So originally, March 25th the first day of spring was discussed as an appropriate day to celebrate the birth of Christ to coincide with the re-birth of the spring!   However, other scholars noted that this would be a better day to place Jesus’ conception, as we believe that God becomes incarnate at the moment he is in Mary’s womb.

Therefore, if we add 9 months to that date we get…December 25th!

Secondarily, many Romans were sun worshipers.   Many celebrated a kind of sun feast day on Dec. 25, while others note a virility god named Mithra with the same birthday.

Lastly, the Romans observed a debaucherous time of year called Saturnalia Dec. 17-23. Thus, Dec. 25 offered a date with a good theological basis that also would counter several pagan holidays.In 336, the Emperor Constantine officially named the “birth day of Christ” Dec. 25.

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