The Two Reasons that Compelled Me to Veil
I started veiling the year I studied for my Master’s in Theology. I was regularly attending the (newly named) Extraordinary Form of the Mass and immersing myself in studying for classes such as Christian Liturgy, Vatican II, and the Tradition and the Development of Doctrine. When studying the documents of Vatican II, I wanted to know why so many things had changed in the liturgy itself and in the all the practices surrounding the liturgy. Naturally, the question of covering women’s heads came up. My mom hardly remembers the time of her life before the liturgical changes due to Vatican II, but I know that she did wear a head covering at church until these changes. I was never told why women used to cover their heads and believed that it was something old and backwards that “we don’t do anymore”. It was not until I looked at the history of this tradition and the Scripture that backs it up that I realized that this tradition is one that should not have been lost.
Here are the two reasons that compelled me to wear the veil:
1. It is in Scripture: In my earliest discussions of why women covered their heads in the liturgy for the whole history of the Church until the late 1960s, I was informed that it is in Scripture. I had no idea. Sure enough, I looked up 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, and there it was:
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. 3 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. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head–it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 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. 7 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. 8 (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 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. 11 (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) 13 Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 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. 16 If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
I then realized that the reason for women to cover their heads was a theological one, it is about the relationship between Christ and His Church, that of a husband to his bride. And it was not a cultural point of St. Paul’s but one specific to the liturgy: “we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.” And here to the Corinthians, St. Paul is making a theological point that men and women are different and that this difference is important in understanding our relationship as a Church to Christ. Only men can be priests and the priest represents Christ in the liturgy. Women then symbolize the Church, Christ’s bride, and are told by St. Paul to veil their heads because they “are the glory of man.”
The Church veils things that are important: the tabernacle is veiled, the chalice is veiled, altars are veiled, Moses veiled his face after he had seen God. A veiled woman shows reverence for God, symbolizing the veiled bride of the Church, but also honors herself as a women before God. Veiling is about men and women as different (think Theology of the Body). It goes against a society that tells us that men and women are the same, that there are many genders, and that gender is not important when people want to marry. Veiling is an outward statement against modernity and its lies. A woman choosing to be submissive as a wife, as woman, to her husband is against all that our society tells us about man and woman, but St. Paul talks about women submitting to their husbands, and the Church submitting to Christ. And Christ loving the Church to the point of his suffering and death, and husbands loving their wives in this same way. This is what veiling is about; it is about submission and about love.
And then St. Paul says this, which goes against his culture’s ideas about men and women: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” Christianity has made men and women equal in God, and St. Paul says this right in the middle of the passage where he talks about women covering their heads. It is important to remember that when Jesus and St. Paul talk about women in the Scriptures it is in a new way that was not normal to their cultures. Women veiling is not putting them lower than men, but must be seen in conjunction with men not covering their heads. It emphasizes the difference of men and women, and the symbol they are as the image of God.
2. Women covering their heads in the liturgy has been the continual tradition of the Church, passed down from the Apostles: Truth has never changed, but the Church’s understanding and knowledge of the truth has increased in the last 2000 years. There are certain traditions that have remained the same, and tradition does not develop in a way that changes what truth is. If it is true for the Church of 90 A.D. that women are to veil their heads in Church, true in 875 A.D. and still so in 1954 A.D., then the way the Church develops does not allow for it to be no longer true in 1970 A.D. or 2013 A.D. This was an unbroken tradition.
St. Paul says himself that the Corinthians are to “maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” The tradition of women covering their heads in Church was from the Apostles and it was maintained until the 1960s when so many liturgical traditions were discarded. I do not know what happened, except that perhaps feminism was infiltrating the Church trying to make men and women the same. The 1917 Code of Canon law required women to cover their heads and forbade men from covering their heads. The 1983 Code of Canon law omitted the passage about women covering their heads, but maintained that men should not. It is unclear why the Code was changed, though it is clear that head covering by women is no longer required by the Church law. What is clear, however, is that this has been a tradition passed down, and as laity there is no reason why we cannot continue that tradition even if it is not in the Code of Canon law.
When I grasped these two reasons for women to cover their heads in Church, I felt compelled to do so myself. I overcame my ignorance of this issue, and my conscience would not allow me to do otherwise. I started veiling immediately, and it was very awkward for me at first. I first wore a veil to a Novus Ordo Mass on campus at my college. I knew by sight most of the people in the chapel, and they could remember that I had never worn a veil before. The number of women who wore veils on campus was minimal, so they stood out. It took about a week to stop feeling awkward, and then I had to face veiling at home with my family and then at Masses with my extended family during our Christmas travels. It has been over five years since my change in head dress, and I still veil or cover my head whenever I enter a Catholic Church, am present at a liturgy, at Eucharistic adoration, or receive any Sacraments. My daughters wear head coverings as soon as they have hair. It has become our habit, and it is my hope that the laity will bring back this tradition, especially in this time when the difference of men and women has become so confused.