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Does the Church Require Women to Cover their Heads in Church?


The story is told about someone asking Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, who during and after the Second Vatican Council “presided” over the “reform” of the Roman Missal and liturgy in general whether women still had to wear a head-cover in the churches. His response was that the Bishops were considering other issues, and that women’s veils were not on the agenda. The next day, the international press announced throughout the world that women did not have to wear the veil anymore. A few days later, Msgr. Bugnini told the press he was misquoted and women must still had to wear the veil.  But the Press did not retract the error, and many women stopped wearing the veil as out of confusion and because of pressure from feminist groups.

The veil is simply a symbol of reverence, which recommends itself on very many levels. Can. 1262.2 of the 1917 Code of Canon law said that women must cover their heads “...especially when they approach the holy table”.  But the 1983 Code is silent about this tradition.

This does not mean that the use of the veil is not to be observed or is simply an outdated custom, for the veil has roots in Scripture and Tradition as well.

Christianity has much to say about the dignity of women and their role in the family and in society; women also have an important role in the Church, but one distinct from that of men.

Wearing a hat or veil is an Apostolic custom, as we learn from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth. He strongly denounces the Christian women at Corinth for presuming to come to church or praying unveiled, accusing them of pride and arrogance unsuited to their sex. For he argues that by nature and God’s law, woman is subject to her husband, and that the wearing of a veil is a sign of her dependence:

"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head--it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.  For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.  (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) 10 That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God." (1 Cor. 11:3-16)

Suffice to say that the veil, in this way of thinking, is a symbol of the divine hierarchy established in the relationship of men and women in the bond of matrimony that Paul describes in New Testament terms so beautifully in Ephesians chapter 5:22-30:

“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body”.

Married women should wear black head coverings and single women white, signifying purity. One benefit is that the men in the congregation will be able to tell at a glance which of the lovely ladies might be available.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved