A controversy about head coverings for woman in church

There is some discussion going on in the Catholic blogosphere about the obligation, or lack thereof, for women to cover their heads in church with a mantilla or hat, etc.

On St. Louis Catholic there was stark statement about my position:

The first author, Rev. Zuhlsdorf, summarily dismisses the obligation of head-covering for women in church, stating, “[A]ccording to Church law you are not obliged.” He bases his conclusion on an apparent reductionist equating of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 with any other Church law.


Reductionist?  Summarily?

Well… as my late pastor, Msgr. Richard Schuler used to say: "When you’re right you can’t be wrong."

I’m right.

What bugs me about St. Louis Catholic blog entry is the way the entirety of position was ignored.

In fairness, they ought to have clarified that whenever I state that there is no obligation under the Church’s law at this time, I nevertheless think this is a very good tradition.  I think woman and girls should use mantillas.  I have always made sure to include that when stating that there is no obligation.

I have written about the head covering issue many times, here and elsewhere.  I also dealt with it in PODCAzT 45 in response to a question.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Tom says:

    Sounds about right: no obligation under positive law, but something that ought to be done because of hthe strong custom about this practice, which after all,is based solidly upon Sacred Scripture.

    That being said, it’s not an issue that should cause a woman to avoid coming to a traditional Mass in fear that she’ll be branded by some zealot who’s not minding his own business.

  2. I recently was looking into this…no I just ran across something on the internet about why head coverings are not required since the new code of canon law.
    The article I read stated that the 1918 code also required that men and women be separated in church.

    Is this true?

  3. Ken says:

    I wish we would stop focusing on what is REQUIRED and instead focus on what is RIGHT.

    Saint Paul is quite clear on headcoverings — focus on that.

    The same goes for holy days (well, it’s the second Monday after the third full moon after the presidential election, so it’s not a holy day of obligation…). We know what’s right — go to Mass on All Saints Day.

    The same goes for fasting and abstinence.

    If we would simply state the practices in place in, say, 1962, instead of feeling some obligation to inform people of all the loopholes and ways out of discipline and tradition, perhaps we could advance the traditional ball a bit more.

  4. Michael J says:


    I do not want to re-open old issues, but would you mind expanding (again) on why head coverings are not required?

    As I understand it, the new code of 1983 is completely silent on the issue and Canons 2 and 5 (?) certainly seem to indicate that where not expressly abrogated, the prior liturgical law remain in force.

  5. Maddie says:

    I really do not see how one can be a Biblical Literalist about this issue.

    It just does not hold.

    St. Paul wrote in an era when the definition of modesty entailed a woman being veiled – in a culture, like the contemporary middle east -in which this was the norm. Think of it that way.

    Head coverings/hats were also the norm in the West for formal wear for women until about half a century ago. No more. You may bemoan it, but it is just true, except in African-American communities.

    St. Paul also, in the Catholic letters, describes the qualifications for presbyter and bishop, detailing that these men should be the husbands of only one wife and shown to be good, responsible fathers.

    I’m sure that most commentators here would quickly explain that away.

    One can also read passages like this in 1 Timothy:

    Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences. They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer.

    Which I’m sure will also be contextualized and explained away by those will then immediately embrace Paul’s admonition for women to cover their heads as…Gospel.

  6. Geoffrey says:

    “…where not expressly abrogated, the prior liturgical law remain in force.”

    The Code of Canon Law actually says that if it is not in the new Code, it is gone (cf. Can. 6).

  7. Gravitas says:

    Father, while I think they misrepresented you, I also think sometimes that you think you’re only talking to the ultra-educated in Catholicism crowd that’s here on your site. But most Catholics just don’t get it and you have to explain things much more thoroughly outside this space.

    Maybe something like: “While it’s no longer written Canon law, it was never officially recinded either — and woman should feel compelled inwardly to cover their heads, as St. Paul called on them to do.”

    As Ken said, let’s forget the loopholes, and just focus on what’s right.

  8. a catechist says:

    should! well, as I’ve posted here before about Receiving on the tongue, experience is more convincing than argument. I don’t know a single woman who veils in church, but I started to about 5 mo. ago & it has been a natural, non-distracting practice. Then last Sunday, the numbers doubled! Another woman turned up in a mantilla!

    I think if more women felt like they could give it a try without being pressured into a whole pile of positions many people seem to think come with veiling, many women would discover for themselves the good of this custom.

  9. Michael J says:


    How do you decide when to take Sacred Scripture literally?

  10. Personally, I will not step into the Church without my head covered. It is my right and my personal choice to cover my head. Women also have the freedom of choice not to cover their heads, and I respect that freedom and choice. I would humbly pray that those who make the choice not to cover their heads show understanding, and respect the freedom and choice of those who do wear the veil.

    I have been to some pretty liberal parishes while traveling and have been looked at like I crawled out from under a rock. At first I would wonder if I had egg on my face and then I would realize they were staring at me because I had on a veil and so did my granddaughter. It is just a part of my Sunday attire and I would not feel fully dressed if I didn’t wear the veil. On the other hand I have had folks in parishes other than my own, walk up to me and tell me how refreshing it is to see a woman veiled.

  11. Michael J says:

    I looked it up here : http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2.HTM
    and Canon 6 does state that the 1917 Code is ogated.

    Does this mean then that the “liturgical laws in force until now ” referred to in Canon 2 mean all liturgivcal laws *except* those in the 1917 code?

  12. Derik says:

    Luke 6:22

  13. Bob says:

    Michael J “Liturgical laws” mean laws contained in the liturgical books or in the decrees of the Congregations. Canon 6 totally abrogates the 1917 Code.

  14. tradone says:

    As with many other Catholic traditions this was pushed and swept out the door. Courtesy of no other than, you guessed it, reforms after V2.
    “Back in the day”, we wore scarves & hats. Then the chapel veil was introduced around 1964. I don’t know what happened after early 70’s. I left when guitars & sandal wearing folks entered the sancutary & other things that appeared “not right”.
    Now upon my return, I always wear a scarf, hat or in a pinch,a chapel veil. Who started the mantilla? (I hate to complain but some look like table coverings).
    But then if you forget your hat, you have to wear the dreaded CLEAN kleenex. Just kidding, but this is what we did. We felt embarrassed but it would be worse to have a bare head!

    We have beautiful traditions, many are just not understood. Many are forsaken for modernism.
    Rant over….for now.

  15. tihald says:

    While resorting to arguments from Canon Law may have some merit, isn’t the best reasoning that this is the time honored custom of our forefathers. This is why they did it and these are the reasons you should do it. You may not have to, but you may find that it’s good for you nonetheless. Being a male I almost think I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, although my wife veils and if she had asked my opinion I would have told her that I’d think it to be a good idea. What does affect me and is analogous is abstaining from meat on Fridays. The US bishops have ruled that I don’t have to do this. But I find that observing the traditions of those that came before (Chesterton’s ‘democracy of the dead’) brings small graces. So isn’t it better to argue from tradition (even small ‘t’) that leads to grace? My two cents worth anyway.

  16. Michael says:

    It is nice to enter a church and see all ladies covered, instead of making of themselves a ceter of attraction in a place of worship. That is essential. Any one who comes to the church for a self-show should do it elsewhere: there is nothing wrong it if it decent, but the church is not for it. While the Moslem ladies go over the top, the basic truth is there: not to make themselves available to everybody.

    Of course we men too should come to the church as we come in an office at least, not as in a workshop or picknick.

  17. Maddie says:

    Michael J:

    How do *I* decide when to take Scripture literally?

    That’s not the issue. Folks here cherry-pick as much as the most inveterate Fundy who swears by the Bible except for John 6, and a few other things.

    The question is – how does the *church* decide? Obviously, in regard to the clear statements accepting married priests and bishops, the Church decides not to take that literally. Or with the association of required abstaining from certain foods with the demonic.

    So, my question is, on what standards would folks decide that Paul’s statement regarding head covering be taken literally?

    It is not required that Roman Catholic women wear head coverings to Church in 2008. I don’t even see why it’s a point of discussion.

  18. Ed says:

    On the head covering discussion, is it better to ask, first, are we really loving our neighbors, truly praying for our enemies?

    At one point, I got a strong reminder (from Romano Guardini) that all the other people in the congregation are not there for me, they are there for God. In that light, my correctness-commentary pretty well evaporated.

    Something in Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on hope, “Spe Salvi,” seems relevant: “Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen.”

    If “this present reality” is experienced and leads to a desire to wear a veil, what a grace! If it leads to some other expressions of devotion, what a grace!

  19. Molly H says:

    I am a young one, and have only heard of the wearing of chapel veils etc. I have more of a question, I was a theology major in college, and even in the classes that I had about Christian Tradition, there was never really any major talk of why women were to wear the veils over their heads, I am curious as to why it started and why only women wear them? Again, I am young and do not know the background of this issue, which is why I am asking.

  20. Michael J says:


    Yes, *you* decided that this particular Biblical poassage was not to be taken literally when you stated “It just does not hold”. I wanted to know the basis you used for that decision.

  21. Sean says:


    It is simply not true that head coverings were the custom of the Middle East during the life of Paul. The pagans had no custom for veiling (other that when getting married). As a matter of fact, veiling would have been counter-cultural for the early Christians (as it is today).


  22. cheyan says:

    It is nice to enter a church and see all ladies covered, instead of making of themselves a ceter of attraction in a place of worship. That is essential.

    It’s not very nice to have it assumed that someone not wearing a hat or a scarf or a mantilla is there to be a “center of attraction”.

    This Advent I started wearing a scarf at Mass (not a mantilla, because I can’t have lace against my skin; not a hat, because I don’t own a nice hat) – so, three Masses so far. I am not doing it because someone might be attracted to my hair or my ears or the top of my head. I am not doing it because I was previously seeking attention, or because I think people will think I am “available to everybody” if I don’t. I am doing it even though I expect that I will now get more attention than I would, even though I don’t want attention drawn to me, because I will be unusual among the other women at my parish. Certainly I know that when I’ve seen women wearing hats or mantillas or scarves it’s caught my eye, and I don’t spend my time making sure the people around me are dressed appropriately.

  23. marnie says:

    You just took me back 35 years with the CLEAN Kleenex bit. I only forgot my veil that one time. The embarrassment was devastating. Please pray for me so that I can muster the courage to walk back into church, 30 years later with my head veiled.

  24. tradone says:

    After further reflection on this matter,

    I really don’t care if it is required or not. Covering my head in Church is a sign of respect. Respect for The Real Presence of Our Holy Trinity. Inside the Catholic Church is The Home of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
    All things respectful in Gods Home!!!!!
    We need to hold our traditions dearly for they be lost forever. I only takes a generation for a tradition to be forgotten.

  25. Pseudomodo says:

    There’s nothing in the 1983 code that requires men to remove thier hats…

  26. tradone says:

    It really was easy. Maybe there is an element of militantism, but I thought I’m taking back my Church!
    So be it.
    Prayers for you!

  27. Fr. Terry Donahue, CC says:

    One way that the Church decides which elements of Scripture passages are unchanging doctrine and which are changeable discipline is through statements from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Paul\’s admonition for women to cover their heads in church (1 Cor 11:2-16) was addressed in Inter Insigniores, a 1976 declaration on the question of ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood:

    \”Another objection [made by advocates of women\’s ordination] is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.\”
    (Inter Insigniores, 4, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Paul06/p6interi.htm)

  28. Geoffrey says:

    Basically it is a tradition, a beautiful custom, that no longer has the force of law, i.e., it is no longer required.


    I recall reading that it is still required when in the presence of the Holy Father, whether in a private audience or even at a papal Mass. Is this in writing anywhere, because it doesn’t seem to be enforced in either case.

  29. Ohio Annie says:

    I like it when women wear veils or whatever. I would look silly in one. At my parish you can be veiled or not and nobody has a cow about it. And nobody impugns my motives for not wearing one (modernist!) or anybody else’s for wearing one (self-righteous!).

    I was even told that if I went to my local indult parish and forgot to bring a veil nobody would be mean about it. I think all this is a sign of charity in good Catholics!

    Several families with young children sit up front and the little girls are so cute in their veils and what I call “Dorothy slippers.” (all sort of sparkly)

    I sit over toward the side, dressed down in case somebody from the homeless shelter down the street comes in and might feel out of place. Oh, there’s one too, I can sit over there and feel safe.

    But I am just a convert and don’t know anything. I really AM “the least of these!”

  30. Sacristymaiden says:

    This seemed to be relevent.

    1 Corinthians 11:2-16:

    I commend you because you remember me in every thing and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. 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.) 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, 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.

  31. Origen Adamantius says:

    THere are two questions concerning reading Paul. The first is, when should Scripture be read literally? The simple answer is when the church does so. Scripture should always be read in context. One conntext people often forget is the actual way in which the CHurch understands it as revealed within her actual liturgical practices.

    THe second is how do we understand this particular passage of Paul on women covering their heads? The fuller context of the passage and the situation at Corinth, seem t indicate that Paul was addressing a misunderstanding of \”neither male and female in CHrist\”. Where some Corinthians took it to mean androgeny or the masculinization of femininity. This is the issue that Paul addresses. He challenges them on several levels including the use of cultural norms–guys shouldn\’t strive to be girls and girls shouldn\’t strive to be guys. The core meaning is central not the local custom that he uses.

    A caution should be taken in overreading this text. In the Jewish tradition males cover their heads. In our tradition BIshops cover theirs at significant parts of the liturgy. ( Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head)

  32. tradone says:

    Ohio Annie,
    Not to worry! There are no head covering police. It is a matter of personal preference. The TLM is no different than at the NO.
    There is no need for name calling. I deeply feel sorry for all who have missed what the Church looked and yes, felt like many years ago.

  33. Ann says:

    I agree with Maddie.
    I do not consider myself a greater expert on Scripture than whoever drew up the 1983 Code of Canon Law. So I accept what it says – and does not say. It is the Code of Law of our Church and we should respect and obey it, whatever our personal views. There is no requirement for women to cover their heads in church. People who try to ridicule women wearing veils are wrong; so are people who try to force women to wear them or imply that they are inferior Catholics if they don’t.
    Incidentally, why does this only seem to be a major issue among Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) worshippers, if both Forms of the Mass are equally valid? EF massgoers are surely not holier than others, now are they? I like going to the EF but would have words with anyone who suggested I wear a veil. Fortunately our church isn’t like that – no one puts pressure on anyone, which is how it should be. There are far more important things to worry about when attending Mass.

  34. Sean says:

    I get so sick of people giving me a hard time when I bring my monkey into church. Show me anywhere in canon law where it says I cannot bring my pet monkey into the sanctuary…

  35. tradone says:

    Sean…..I hate when that happens!

  36. Gravitas says:


    Are you saying men that believe women should veil their heads hate women? [It’s not worth it. Leave it be.]

  37. St. Rafael says:

    Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, Has also made his case that Headcoverings are still on the books:

    “Should Today’s Women Wear Head Coverings? A Scriptural, Historical and Canonical Analysis”


  38. Berthold says:

    Head-coverings are not limited to Mantillas. In the late 1980s the elderly ladies in my then (very mainstream) parish close to Munich would always wear a hat to church. I do not think that there was ever a campaign against this habit, it merely died out with them.
    Although this question does not personally concern me, I would regard a hat as the more appropriate choice in countries north of the alps, were veils or mantillas just do not belong to the normal outfit there.

  39. St. Rafael says:


    “Here we see that the 1983 code puts limits around itself in relation to
    previous canon law. Apparently, the 1983 code will not allow itself to
    automatically dismiss an earlier law unless the 1983 code:
    (1) “states so expressly,”
    (2) makes a statement about that law which “is directly contrary to it,” or
    (3) “reorders the entire matter.”

    “Title II of the 1983 code has six canons in regards to “custom.” Custom is
    important in Catholic legal code for two reasons. First, Canon 27 says: “Custom is the best interpreter of laws.”

    “This means, even though canon law is its own legal entity, it is not an end in itself, since it must be interpreted in accordance
    with tradition, and, as we saw above, it must “harmonize” with previous codesof law.
    Second, if an act is practiced long enough in the Catholic Church, then itassumes what the code calls “the force of law,” and it becomes a law, in itself,without having to be validated by or connected to a canonical law. Regardless whether the custom enters or leaves canon law (as it did in 1917 and 1983,respectively), it remains a custom, since custom, legally speaking, is distinct
    from canon law. In fact, custom is so strong that, if the custom has beenpracticed for 100 years or longer, then not even a canonical law can nullify it.”

  40. Ken says:

    Father Donahue quoted Paul VI: “these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.”

    I would argue that Paul VI no longer has a normative value.

  41. St. Rafael says:


    Pope Paul VI:
    “Another objection [to ordaining women as priests] is based upon the
    transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the
    prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the
    difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it
    must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs
    of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of
    minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to
    wear a veil on their head (1Co 11:2-16); such requirements no longer
    have a normative value.”

    Robert Sungenis:
    “Paul VI’s main topic, and the one to which he appears to be making a
    definitive decision for the Church, is the issue of ordaining women tothe priesthood, not head coverings. The issue of head coverings is added only to serve as evidence that St. Paul was not a misogynist or that he did not have “prejudices against women.” Thus, Paul VI is not making a decision on whether women should wear head coverings. The rule of interpreting magisterial documents is this: unless the magisterium is addressing the specific topic in question and intends on giving adefinitive decision on that topic, than that topic is not being officially addressed and no formal decision regarding its validity is being decided.”

  42. thetimman says:

    Fr. Z, if you want to provide a link so your readers may read the canonist’s argument on my site, it is here:


  43. Kale Dunn says:

    Fr. Z,

    I’m disappointed by your response to the St. Louis Catholic regarding the head covering article.

    You simply state your opinion, then refer readers to prior postings of yours on the topic for an explanation, such as the one where you state, “The bottom line is this: Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, women were obliged to wear head coverings. Since the 1983 Code, they are not. That’s is. It’s really easy.”

    That’s rather too “facile,” Father. If the answer is that easy, then why do you not explain to us non-initiated the reason?

    Is it because Canon Law 1262 was in the prior code, but is no longer in the present one? If that’s the case, then there should be no requirement for women to be modest in church any more, because modesty was a requirement that was also part of Canon Law 1262 in the old code, but is no longer specifically referenced in the new one.

    Please provide a more articulated argument.

    Thank you.


  44. Jordanes says:

    Maddie said: Obviously, in regard to the clear statements accepting married priests and bishops, the Church decides not to take that literally.

    Really? You mean the Church allows priests and bishops to be married more than once?

    Or with the association of required abstaining from certain foods with the demonic.

    Really? You mean the Church thinks the crazy notion that “some foods God made for us to eat are a sin to eat” is not a demonic doctrine?

    So, my question is, on what standards would folks decide that Paul’s statement regarding head covering be taken literally?

    Maybe on the standard that he wasn’t speaking metaphorically, symbolically, or allegorically, but actually laid down the literal and obvious rule that women are to wear veils in church while men should uncover their heads when they pray. That would certainly explain why it was the law of the Church until 1976, when the CDF opined that it was no longer normative. There has never been the slightest doubt that St. Paul was speaking literally. The only question today would be whether or not St. Paul’s commandment is still in force (the Church says it’s not, though it had been from the time of the apostles until 1976), not whether or not we should take St. Paul literally when he speaks literally.

  45. supertradmom says:

    I sincerely hope you gentlemen allow HATS. I prefer a modest hat, especially in the winter, as I walk to Church. I, also, as a woman, never judge another woman who does not have a head covering. Our culture has allowed the opposite for so long, that many ladies are simply uncomfortable with head coverings. Be gentle, and the culture will change…albeit slowly. We no longer wear “after five” hats or hats for tea, so the hat or mantilla for Holy Mass seems odd to many. Those of us who have been attending EF for some time do wear head coverings naturally. Most of us had to re-learn the tradition, and study the Scriptures for understanding.

  46. David Kastel says:

    What does the code mean in canon 2 “liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the Code.”

    Canon 6 says clearly that the 1917 code is abrogated. It seems that the question remains…what did canon law say before 1917? If canon law prior to 1917 required women to cover their heads, then that is still the law. Neither side has proved its case here.

  47. Liam says:


    Your link is to a rather dubious source, not scholarly (or at least Catholic scholarly – it’s really a Protestant home church-oriented site). Veiling for women going about in public in the eastern Empire was indeed cultural practice in antiquity.

    * * *

    As for the larger issue: while I do not object at all to those who choose to cover their heads, I think that those who are spending time wondering about whether those who do not are failing to obey a law are misdirecting their energies.

  48. Richard says:

    Wear a hat or mantilla if you wish. Don’t wear a hat or mantilla if you don’t wish. Does anyone here really think Jesus would care? [Since you have not idea what Jesus would think about this, it is perhaps best not to inject this sort of thing into the mix.]

  49. TerryC says:

    Edward Peters,JD has made it quite clear on his blog that the 1917 Code of Canon Law has been abrogated by the 1983 code. He has also made it clear that the phrase “liturgical laws” refers to liturgical rulings by the various Congregations and not to the corpus juris canonici, which was in force prior to 1917.
    In other words this eminent jurist agrees with Fr. Z.

  50. Tina says:

    I happened to run into the campus priest today (ok, not happened, I went to say hi..) and asked him about the head covering of females. He said it came from Paul and that back in the day, the only women who wore their heads uncovered or hair down were prostitutes, therefore respectable women would cover their heads.

    Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t see how having my head covered is going to make me more respectful or reverent at Mass. I can see it making me more fidgety as I play with it and adjust it all through the Mass.

    What do we mean by head covering anyway? I hear that and I think of burkas…

    Perhaps instead of focusing on incidentals, we should be trying to get people to Mass in the first place…


  51. David Kastel says:

    You “hear that and think of burkas”

    That is an excellent point. The Islamic countries require women to wear burkas so as not to be an enticement to men. The head covering serves the same purpose at mass. Like it or not, a woman’s hair can be a distraction to men at mass. I know this has been the case for me on more than one occasion.

    The burka should be viewed as a way to protect the respectful treatment of women rather than as a sign of the oppression of women. The West considers that women are respected and ‘liberated’ since they can take their clothes off in public and abort their children. The Islamic countries are the only ones remaining where abortion by and large, is illegal.

  52. gsk says:

    Sigh. I didn’t think we’d get back into this. I only want to respond to the hyperbole:

    Tradone says: “We have beautiful traditions, many are just not understood. Many are forsaken for modernism.”

    David says: “The burka should be viewed as a way to protect the respectful treatment of women rather than as a sign of the oppression of women. The West considers that women are respected and ‘liberated’ since they can take their clothes off in public and abort their children. The Islamic countries are the only ones remaining where abortion by and large, is illegal.”

    Well, David, in your ideal world perhaps that’s what the burkas SHOULD do, but Islamic law is a vile piece of work that degrades women and has a bizarre mysogynistic view of marriage. I wouldn’t want to give any false credit to a society that can stone a woman who dares show her hair or beat her for expressing her opinion.

    These comments reveal the wild hyberbole that says uncover women at Holy Mass is one step removed from endorsing nudity and abortion, or that those who question headcoverings are basically modernists at heart. The beauty of our faith is its reasonableness, which comments like this undermine.

    And btw, contraception and abortion are both rampant in Islamic countries — veils or no. The same legal codes that “forbid” honour killings allow all sorts of crimes to go unpunished.

  53. dcs says:

    The head covering serves the same purpose at mass.

    Not really – it is a symbol of authority (St. Paul literally calls it “an authority”), i.e. that the one who wears it is under an authority. The issue of distraction/modesty is important but secondary.

  54. Tina says:

    I also wonder about how the women need to be covered because the men are so easily distracted and can’t control themselves.

    Perhaps I should start going to Mass in a box so I don’t cause any men to be distracted.

    But it is okay for the men to distract the women…

  55. gsk says:

    Authority — exactly, dcs! That’s why I hold out on this topic. I have no problem with authority. If the head covering [still] indicates submissiveness, then women should wear them all the time. If not, then the cultural artifact no longer holds that meaning.

  56. Maureen says:

    People get very wacky about headcoverings, mostly because so many Catholics don’t have the institutional memory of just wearing a hat or a scarf, without all this drama.

    You didn’t “veil” in Greco-Roman society; you wore a big ol’ stola partially on your head and partially over your upper body, which was like a huge shawl, whenever you were out on the streets or in public. (If you were married.) Later on you got society chicks wearing gauzy veils, but IIRC, that was only semi-respectable.
    Braids and no stola were what the bad professional ladies and easy society ladies wore!

    So mostly, early Christian ladies were in an interesting position. Church was kinda like being at home with family; but if you took off your stola for Mass, the newbies might think all those urban legends about making out at the agape feast were true. Also, apparently sometimes women who prophesied would throw off their stolas in a frenzy, or women who were mad at their husbands would throw off their stolas as an insult.

    So Paul was saying “Leave the stolas on, and save everybody a lot of tsuris. And if you say you shouldn’t have to, because all Christians are brothers and sisters and you’re at home, then think of the poor angels and leave them on.”

    So the basic point is, look respectable, which is why we can wear braids now even though Paul says they’re kinda trampy, which they were. And if you want to bond with this tradition even more, wear a hat or a scarf or a stola. Or a mantilla, since that’s okay, too.

  57. SC says:

    I am new (this past year) to the TLM. My husband stared going when I was out of town! Now our family has joined an FSSP parish and we have been greatly blessed! Veils were a HUGE hang up for me until…until a wonderful, young, kind, holy priest explained the reasoning to me in the confessional when I asked him. I could not even tell you what he said now, but I can tell you he said it with LOVE and it softened my heart! For me it might as well have been Christ Himself speaking to me. I do not like wearing a veil and I probably never will. However, since that conversation, I think of Jesus, I think of what I am about to experience in the Mass and I do it because I love Jesus. If the Mass is truly the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, we should be transported at Mass. Maybe the veil helps with that, I don’t know.

    I do know if I focused on what veils mean to modern society I would never wear one! David, spare me the wonders of the Islamic countries that have no abortions, simply the rape of children and women burned alive! Those comments make me crazy! gsk has it right; the burka is ‘a vile piece of work.’ It is not helpful to compare burkas to veils in Mass!

  58. Lawrence says:

    We should not look down on those who do not veil as most women are unaware of the reasons behind veiling and many are uncomfortable with the whole idea of this action. First we should seek to get Catholics to stop just going through the motions and believe in God’s Presence.

    Using a veil indicates the recognition of the presence of the Holy at Mass and in the woman. Since many do not recognize the presence of the Holy at Mass and many women do not see Holiness as something good, veiling has been discarded.

    It is much easier to go with the culture and disregard Holiness and unfortunately until both men and women regain the desire to be holy and humble, veiling will be relegated as just a cultural thing of the past, instead of what it truly is.

    Instead of seeking what is the least required we should seek to do the most for Christ, and recognize the Holiness that accompanies Him in His Majesty and the Angels who are present at each Mass. If you do not believe in the Presence of Christ and His Angels, then our actions which acknowledge the Sacred will be insignificant to us.

    Once more Catholics start believing in God at Mass, then maybe they will start acting like it. Until then you will just have silly discussions on seeking what is the least required and if God really cares about the differences He made in His creation.

  59. Jack007 says:

    I couldn’t resist posting this, as I always saw it as one of the most IRONIC things I have ever seen.
    Abp. Bugnini enforcing the chapel veil!
    Published in a southern US newspaper 21 June 1969:

    Jack in KC

  60. I\’m of the opinion that veils should be worn…

    I prefer when I look at problems to try and simplfy them.

    When I\’m teaching a class each semester. The lesson that I teach from the previous day is not abrogated by the newest lesson.

    I\’ve seen both interpretations, where something that isn\’t explicitly mentioned is the previous code is enforced, and where the 83 Code trumps everything. (Thinks the Pope can give a clear message about veiling)

    According to a Nigerian priest friend of mine, everyone still veils in the Nigerian Church…I have a hard time with the evidence mounting for veiling going against it.

    The Blessed Mother always has a veil…hmmmmmmm

  61. GOR says:

    My reaction to this whole ‘controversy’ was “much ado about nothing”…especially the comments on the St. Louis Catholic blog. So many references to Canon Law, 1917, 1983, St. Paul, the Fathers, law, custom, tradition etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    It’s not that big a deal, people! Don’t read into it (the wearing or non-wearing) more than is there. There are more important things in life and in our Faith…

  62. Maureen says:

    The only thing that disturbs me about “veiling” is the hermeneutic of discontinuity from what most Catholic women were wearing at Mass before Vatican II. A lot of traditional ladies and gentlemen model themselves on what they remember from before the Council; but what they remember is the year or so after their moms started wearing beehive hairdos, and stopped wearing hats or scarves and started wearing lace chapel veils for fear of messing up the beehive.

    Jackie Kennedy mantillas are not the source and summit of female Christian life. They have become a powerful symbol and quasi-sacramental for traditional folks over the last forty years, for perfectly understandable reasons. But it’s not the way things have usually been.

    Over the vast stretch of church history, the important thing has been that a woman shows up at church and has something on her head. It isn’t about being “set apart”, “not distracting men”, “being like the Eucharist in a tabernacle”, “looking romantically feminine”, “closing yourself off from the world”, or “being countercultural”. It’s just dressing respectably and fulfilling a very light mandate by the Church. And if you go and look at those old Life magazine photos of American and Northern European Catholics from long before the Council, you’ll see that.

    Now, it may be that this is a fruitful spiritual thing that augments the rather mundane experience of getting dressed and heading off for church. But some of this stuff really borders on Islam, or “women should never ever cut their hair” Biblical literalism, and that’s very worrying. There is such a thing as being _too_ defiantly countercultural.

  63. Maureen says:

    I forgot “dressing like the Virgin Mary”. Historically, also not a motive. (And I need to find that list of medieval paintings where Mary wears cute hats.)

  64. Richard says:

    If I remember the 50s and 60s correctly, Maureen is right regarding women in the US wearing a veil. In fact, in my Ohio parish at the time, the older women were very upset at the girls wearing a mantilla or veil because it wasn’t a hat.

    I haven’t had my coffee but at this point in the thread I am beginning to wonder, ‘do the girl angels dancing on the head of a pin have to cover their heads?’ and ‘how many of them can dance on the head of a pin?’

    Let us show respect for Our Lord and each other by our action, words and dress but let’s stop obsessing about specks in others’ eyes.

  65. LeonG says:


    Do you mean a hat pin or safety pin?

    That’s what I love about the head covering debate: it is endless and can visit strange places.

  66. Mary Jane says:

    I’m with Maureen on this ever-recurring topic. Headcoverings for females are not “the source and summit” of womanhood.

    Since I’ve now learned that women’s hair is distracting, I’ll make sure I sit in the back of the church. And LeonG is right, the strangest things come out every time we have this discussion. Some of them are a trifle unnerving for someone of the female persuasion, but it’s always interesting to know what’s going on in people’s heads.

  67. Antiquarian says:

    I can confirm that veils were rare before the 60s, at least here in the US. I remember the ladies at church in hats and yes, the occasional tissue bobby-pinned on. Here in DC veils and mantillas were initially regarded as something Latin American women wore, and the practice spread fairly quickly.

  68. wsxyz says:

    Whether or not women should cover their head, they shouldn’t feel like others are despising them if they don’t. I am a member of an FSSP parish, and have attended traditional masses in various places. Generally most women cover their head, but a decent minority don’t, and no one seems to be bothered by it.

  69. Sean says:


    Just because the source comes from a Mennonite doesn’t mean that the information isn’t true (Catholics aren’t the only historiographers). There are Catholic sources that argue the same, but I didn’t have it at my fingertips.

    I liked that article because he states plainly that St. Paul wasn’t just bending his teaching to placate pagan social norms. Christ and the Apostles were “counter cultural” in a number of ways, why would Paul be so sensitive about an issue that would only be viewed by other Christians (that is, only Christians were at mass to see unveiled women). Becoming a Christian was a practical death sentence in the first centuries AD, why would Paul strive so hard to appease pagan cultural norms in private Christian worship?

  70. Ohio Annie says:

    I have always wondered about the “distraction” argument. It is now more to the fore with more Moslem people around.

    Anyway, I would probably not be considered a distraction to any man (normal, that is). 8-P

    I think the “distracted by hair” argument is pretty weak. Stronger is the “Paul says it so do it” argument. But that even smacks of sola scriptura unless you add the Church tradition aspect.

    All the pictures of Masses from before the 1960’s in the US that I have seen have women wearing HATS, not veils. Veils, I think came from the Hispanic people, or so I was told. This was back when my father wouldn’t think of leaving the house without a hat. Remember old movies, there’s a big emergency, the building is burning down, but still the men grab their HATS.

    I, too, sometimes long for the old days and the culture that went with it (people being respectful to each other, the relative lack of vulgarity, etc.) but we need to build something for this time now. We can’t turn back the clock.

  71. gsk says:

    WSXYZ: You kind remark is undermined by Lawrence above who states:

    “It is much easier to go with the culture and disregard Holiness and unfortunately until both men and women regain the desire to be holy and humble, veiling will be relegated as just a cultural thing of the past, instead of what it truly is.”

    The implication is that those who question veiling don’t desire to be holy or humble. Doesn’t warm me to The Cause. As long as we’re using Our Lady as paradigm, why can’t we remember that Our Lord would never have prayed without His own head covered?

  72. Liam says:


    Because you liked the article and found its reasoning plausible doesn’t make it true either. The Mennonites have a reason to read history in a biased way on this subject (Mennonites require head covering for women). But I think the evidence that Paul was being countercultural on the issue of headcovering (at least in the eastern part of the Empire) is pretty thin.

  73. Sean says:


    Catholics, just like the nearly every other Christian denomination, read the same thing into scripture and history for over 1900 years. The Mennonites aren’t the innovators here, modern Catholics are. So, in the 1960s, when feminists were burning their bras and liberal nuns were tossing their habits, it is suddenly permitted for Catholics to discard a tradition that has scriptural support and an immemorial, continuous, and universal practice?

    Yes, I do find the historical argument convincing. Sure that doesn’t make it true, but it makes more sense to me than St. Paul was kowtowing to contemporary culture for private Christian worship.

    Prior to 1917, veiling was never canonically required. But I would hazard to guess that women never entered a church without their head covered prior to 1917. So, I also don’t buy the “it’s not in canon law anymore” argument.

  74. Maureen says:

    Thing is, I don’t think there’s any harm — probably a lot of good — in wearing mantillas/chapel veils. If you wear them knowing that you could wear no headgear but choose to do
    so, and that this is the community norm for TLMs in your area but not a requirement or historical norm, then you can show unity and tradition and be in tune with truth, too.

    It’s inadvertent spreading of misinformation that freezes my blood, and the odd bit of censure founded in ignorance that toasts my tookies. There’s a range of acceptable choices, and tradition is very wide. Narrowing it to 1960, that’s… modernist. :)

  75. Sean says:

    “There’s a range of acceptable choices, and tradition is very wide. Narrowing it to 1960, that’s… modernist.”


  76. Lawrence says:

    “The implication is that those who question veiling don’t desire to be holy or humble. Doesn’t warm me to The Cause. As long as we’re using Our Lady as paradigm, why can’t we remember that Our Lord would never have prayed without His own head covered?”

    I did not mean to imply that all those who question veiling don’t desire to be humble or holy. I do hold that those who promote headcoverings have at the core the recognition of the Presence of Christ and uphold holiness as good. Generally the recognition of God and His Holiness requires our acknowledgment.

    Until Catholics start to believe in the faith again we will just be seeking what is the minimum required instead of upholding the fact that we should all seek to do the maximum possible for God. We will seek to comply with only what is specified until we realize that God is present and we should act like Catholics again.

    Until Catholics rediscover the faith, then culture and our own desires will rule. So if my comments turn you off, I just encourage you to pray, go to Mass and recognize the Presence of Christ in the Church. I may not be the most charming person, so disregard my poor taste in comments, go to Mass, confess, look to Christ and do the most you can for God and His Holiness.

  77. I have absolutely no theological or doctrinal opinion whatsoever about chapel veils for women in church — and would keep it to myself if I did.

    Except that, as a man, I must admit that women of all ages look right fetching in veils or mantillas.

    However, in none of the 76 posts so far in this thread — nor in any of the hundreds or thousands of posts in previous threads on this literally thread-worn topic — have I seen mentioned the REAL REASON why I’ve heard several women say they prefer wearing chapel veils.

    Which is that it intensifies their prayerful participation in the liturgy — by isolating them from the view of people on either side, who because of the veil can neither peer at them nor be peered at during Mass.

    In short, the veil helps women focus their attention on God alone. The only remaining question is why men should not, for this same reason, wear chapel veils to Mass also.

  78. gsk says:

    “I do hold that those who promote headcoverings have at the core the recognition of the Presence of Christ and uphold holiness as good. Generally the recognition of God and His Holiness requires our acknowledgment.”

    First of all, correlation doesn’t equal causality. In Fr Z’s first discussion of this months ago, I presumed that he liked seeing women in chapel veils because such a symbol betokened a common faith, a core of belief that was outwardly recognisable to him as orthodox. He agreed. It’s like driving through a neighbourhood and seeing the Marine Corps flag. You know a good guy lives there — patriotic, loyal, generous, and he probably has a slew of great stories if you had time to stop for a beer.

    That is not enough for me — it doesn’t say WHY I should cover my head, because the token is no longer organic. It’s a reaching back for an outward sign that carries no meaning in contemporary western culture. Is it modesty? Is it submissiveness? Is it humility? In the year 2008, to say the veil is those things is not true. It is being revived by some as a “code word” for something, but it is contrived, not natural.

    With excellent catechesis and a beautiful liturgy, the Presence of Christ should be known. The awe of that leads to humility and holiness. Submissive women are an essential component of that, but such a philosophy can be shared over a cup of coffee and then simply lived, from Holy Mass to Holy Mass — and all hours between.

  79. Emilio III says:

    When I was a small boy in the late 50s we visited the US a couple of times, and the local custom that I found most surprising was that most women wore hats in church. I had never seen that except at weddings, and I kept looking for the missing bride. By the time we moved here permanently in the early 60s there were at least as many veils as hats, presumably due to a change in women’s fashions. A veil, shawl or scarf seems a much more practical covering for a head which is usually uncovered (what do they do with a hat when they leave the church?)

    Whether or not women should cover their heads in church seems a proper topic for discussion. (What they should cover them with is not the kind of argument any man can possibly win. :-)

  80. pelerin says:

    How I agree with Henry Edwards – wearing a mantilla does indeed help focus the attention although I was amused at his comment on men wearing them too! However when men wore hats they took them off upon entering a church and presumably this helped them realise the sacredness of the building, just as we used to put on a headscarf to enter. A simple gesture by both but in a different way.

    Although I would welcome the return of covering my head in this way, I have to admit that I am not brave enough to be the only one and at the last TLM I attended, I am ashamed to admit that I kept my mantilla in my pocket. I am braver when attending a TLM elsewhere! Perhaps there are lots of us who are all waiting for others to resume the custom?

  81. Michael J says:


    Wondering why things are the way they are is a wonderful way to gain a better understanding. Demanding this explanation though, before agreeing to modify our behavior is not, to say the least, a sign of humility and submissiveness.

  82. gsk says:

    Michael: You cannot be serious!

  83. o.h. says:

    An old 1940’s catechism on my shelf shows a congregation–men on one side, women on the other–with the ladies about half and half between hats and chapel veils. So I don’t quite buy that they were a novelty from the 1960’s.

    Like other women posting here, I never found any of the arguments for covering to be compelling. But the more I read, the more I saw that the default for Catholic women in all times and places has been covering, & it struck me that I rather needed a compelling argument not to cover. The best I had was (a) embarassment at standing out & (b) fear that it would be interpreted as my standing for traditionalist positions I don’t hold. But (a) seemed unworthy, and (b) was overcome by photos of Dorothy Day in head coverings. Hey, if *Day* wore a nice hat or snood….

    I did give up hats here in the Southwest after being physically blocked by an usher when trying to enter a Spanish Mass with a (nice) hat on; there were lots of ladies with lovely mantillas (real mantillas, not chapel veils), but a hat was a sign of disrespect. Now I just go with veils.

  84. Elizabeth says:

    I thought the reason men did not wear hats in Church was because each time they saw a crucifix or Holy Statue they would raise their hat, that is why it is preferable not to wear a hat – is this true?

  85. Michael says:

    As a man it is difficult to come up with suggestions; but I can convey to you what I would feel had I saw you alone with the mantilla: I would have a kind of respect toward you which I would’t toward others; particularly now that I hear what you would have to overcome in order to do it. There is nothing to be ashamed of: you should be proud to be – humble.

  86. pelerin says:

    Thank you Michael – perhaps my reluctance to be different shows that I am not humble? Mea culpa.

  87. Charivari Rob says:

    Elizabeth – “I thought the reason men did not wear hats in Church was because each time they saw a crucifix or Holy Statue they would raise their hat, that is why it is preferable not to wear a hat – is this true?”

    I had never heard that, but I suppose it might be so.

    I always understood it to be that as a general point of behavior, a man does not wear a hat inside a building. A hat belongs to/is needed for the outside. To do so (wear a hat inside) would be a sign that we intend to leave, that we are impatient with being there, that we have better things to do and better places to be, that we are more important – certainly an insult to our host, especially our social betters. To extend the point, the Almighty is considerably more than a ‘social better’.

    We don’t wear a hat for the same reason that we down tools (turn off the cellphone) and fold our hands in prayer – we’re stopping everything else because there is nothing more important than attending God.

    The exception would concern uniforms and uniformed duty.

    Knights (Columbus or Peter Claver, for example) certainly wear hats during (part of) Mass. It is part of the uniform for those occasions when they turn out in body as part of the duty of their calling. The Peter Clavers remove their hats immediately before the Gospel and keep them off until after Communion. I believe the Knights of Columbus follow a similar practice.

    A police officer on duty for a major assemblage (at a cathedral, for example) might leave his hat on during the Mass. I’m not sure – that may vary more depending on the particular police department (and bishop)

  88. Michael J says:

    After a bit more research, I found something that seems directly on point. This is from the Canons of the Spirit of Vatican II which can be found here and copied below:


    Canon 6

    If anyone sayeth that venerable and pious customs, traditions, practices and devotions should not be abandoned by the laity to avoid being perceived as different from our protestant seperated bretheren; or that Catholic identity is more important than fitting in with the customs of the world, let him be anathema.

  89. Emilio III says:

    Michael J,

    That’s pretty good! :-) Unfortunately the real Spirit of Vatican II doesn’t have documents. It works by emanations from penumbras rather than anything written down. As I told our DRE, if the Spirit of Vatican II is not the same as the Spirit of Vatican I, and all the way back to Jerusalem, to Hell with it!

  90. Michael says:

    It is not a mortal sin, don’t worry.
    The real point of my use of the word “humble” was this: it is the visible sign of an intention to “set aside all the earthly cares” (as they put it in Byzantine Liturgy) in this unique act of worship as it is the Holy Sacrifice.

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