QUAERITUR: Women should cover their heads, not just in church, but all the time?

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From a reader:

I am a traditional Catholic woman (attend an ICKSP oratory) and always cover my hair when in a church. I was taught that 1 Corinthians 11 is referring to women covering their hair in church only, which makes sense to me; however, I recently learned that many of the early Church fathers taught that women should have their hair covered at ALL times.
I’ve read much of what they wrote on the topic, and it concerns me, because I wonder if they taught that due to cultural norms of modesty or if this is something that was needlessly thrown out over the years (because as we both know, it’s hard enough to get Catholic women to wear veils to mass, let alone outside of mass as well). Please enlighten me on this subject of full-time head coverings for Catholic women. Thanks in advance!


I have written several times about head covering for women while in church (in short: it is not obligatory, but it is a darn good thing and the custom should be revived).

I wonder who will say/write the Magic Word first! I may have to send a prize.

Now, I am just going to back out of the room very carefully.

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  1. Bea says:

    God is everywhere, not just in church, so it makes sense to want to cover ones head everywhere.

    Though He is present in church in His actual presence , Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist in the Tabernacle or during Exposition, I can see why covering in church would be MORE desirable (even required) to cover one’s head there.

    I would be leery of covering my head everywhere, however, due to the presence of certain women of “other” religions for whom this is required everywhere. During these trying times, I would not like to tempt fate and being mistaken for a member of this “other” group.

  2. Patti Day says:

    We’ve been down this road before, eh? What is the good of covering one’s hair if the rest of one’s anatomy is on display? I doubt you could convince even the women who wear a veil or other cover at Mass (which I think should have remained the norm) to wear it all day, everywhere. I’d happily settle for modest attire (that being in my opinion, no bare shoulders or back or cleavage or knees or pants or shorts) at Mass, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe this should have been a poll.

  3. Johnno says:

    In the times the Church Fathers lived in, women with heads covered was common and there was no Islam.

    Head coverings are a reminder of the glory of God and the presence of angels present at the Mass and the beauty of women. Certainly the advice can be carried outside as a constant reminder much like penitence, or as an outward sign of humility for example : the habits of Religious nuns; which at the time didn’t exist as organizations and orders like they did later but were close knit communities of early Christian women to whom the Fathers would’ve been addressing.

    Nonetheless, these are matters of discipline, not doctrine, and can change or be modified.

  4. Elizabeth D says:

    I saw a woman in a chapel veil and miniskirt the other day. I did a doubletake. I also think basic modesty is the priority.

    On the other hand, reading the writings of feminist religious sisters who seem to hate Saint Paul recently made me look more closely at what Saint Paul says about head coverings, and I do not think his reasons are simply cultural. It’s hard to think of any such simple act that goes more directly against the liberationist feminist mentality than wearing a chapel veil: man is the head of the woman, which is an image of the deeper truth that God is the head of humanity. I think we could do with upholding that principle a little more, but it doesn’t seem like it necessarily has to be by wearing a veil all the time. I myself am not a chapel veil wearer, having grown up in the non-chapel-veil era I associate it with nuns and I am protesting not being able to be a sister by not wearing a chapel veil. I’m not claiming it’s a good reason.

  5. mamajen says:

    Where does it end? Burqa?

    [It was inevitable. The Magic Word! Send your snailmail address via my email link (above) and I’ll send a prize, if you wish.]

  6. APX says:

    I just went St. Paul’s other recommendation and cut my hair off. So much easier than being one of those scrupulous traditonalist women worried about distracting men with their long flowing hair. It’s far more humbling to lose your long beautiful hair than to cover it up with some pretty lace thing.

  7. katerosemar says:

    I wear hats pretty much daily: broad-brimmed for sun protection on walks and errands as well as a other styles for a “finishing” touch for my outfit, depending on style and season. I don’t put on a head covering as I walk into church, because I’d have had something on already. I generally wear my hat to work, but never *at* work. That is, I take off the hat along with the shoulder bag when I get to my classroom or desk. [Incidentally, for casual wear, I usually end up with an Oxford-style shirt, cardigan, and twill or some sensible skirt, but I have skirt suits for more professional settings.]

    My wardrobe choices are more a matter of being comfortable, economical, no-fuss. I am well aware 1) that this is not a religious requirement or even recommendation, 2) that it is not intended as judgement on others, much better dressed and holier than I, 3) that local customs and climates vary, and 4) that there are More Important Things to think about right now [learning, teaching, writing, helping a friend, and attending a funeral are at the top of my list this week].

  8. maryh says:

    What’s the magic word, Father? Hats? The western tradition is hats, not veils, to cover the head. I’ve been thinking of getting a hat for church.

    Then I get to thinking how practical a hat really is – protects you from the weather, etc. The main reason against wearing a hat seems primarily because it might mess up your hair. I wonder if the main reason hats stayed out of style (I understand they actually went out of style for women precisely because they weren’t compatible with the beehive hairdo) was because hats reduce the need or ability for obsessing about one’s hairstyle in public.

    I do notice those women of other religions, and also nuns in habits, and can’t help thinking a head covering is actually attractive – or at least, can be. It certainly seems a shame NOT to wear a hat or covering because of them.

  9. msc says:

    Is the magic word “misogyny”? Many of the Church fathers were, of course, people of their time, and the early years of Christianity brought with it some unpleasant attitudes towards women. I identify as a traditional Catholic and politically conservative, but I can’t deny that some of the Church fathers were, if not misogynistic, at least wary of women. Many of those that advocate women covering their heads all the time do so because of reasons similar to those Muslims advance. “Immodest” dress brings dishonour on the men in a woman’s life, because they cannot control her. Immodest dress indicates that a woman is seeking sex with men. Women’s hair was seen as a particularly tempting part of their anatomy (an attitude that continues in religious orders where a novice’s hair is cut), so they had to cover it lest they tempt men into sin. Of course veils and face coverings were advocated for the same reasons. Most of the early Church Father also argued against women wearing any jewelry, or fine fabrics. Finally, women were seen as being still particularly tainted by Eve’s sin, so they were particularly urged to cover their heads before God out of guilt. At the time there were also lots of strictures about what men should wear and how. Tertullian wrote a work defending his wearing of the pallium, a type of cloak, instead of the toga. I’m certainly not going to start wearing a pallium, though.
    Now, while I believe in modest dress, as I’ve said before, what’s considered modest varies greatly even within a country like the U.S., let alone between decades. I don’t agree with the basic assumptions behind most of the arguments for women covering their heads/hair and see no need for it. I’m not a weak, sex-driven man who will be distracted by an uncovered neck or elbow and not be able to think of God in Church. I won’t look at a women with lust in my heart merely because I can see her hair (I presume I can admire her hair without being lustful).
    So, cover your head if you wish. Orthodox Jews do so and I admire their firmness in the face of an overwhelmingly different surrounding culture. But I don’t really think that Catholic tradition calls for it today.
    Sorry if that’s a bit disjointed–I’m dashing this off before I have to go out for much of the rest of the day….

  10. Choirmaster says:

    I’m wondering what the magic word is… so I’ll make a comment to see if I say it.

    A woman covering her head all the time usually sticks out like a sore thumb here in North America. I wonder if one can be called “modest” while making somewhat of a spectacle of one’s self? Normally, I would attribute the word “witness” to something like this in my modern American context.

    Veiling or covering that which is beautiful to hide it from vulgar gaze, like a woman’s hair, is a powerful sign for our Catholic concept of beauty. If a woman were to do such a thing I think she would be well justified and a true witness. If a woman were to dress modestly in a contemporary fashion to “blend in” with the rest of the work-a-day world, still I think she would be doing nothing wrong. “In the world but not of it” and that sort of thing.

    So much of St. Paul’s teaching is like a live wire applied to modern sensibilities. That alone should make us think twice before dismissing it entirely as “he’s a sexist” or “that was only a cultural norm”. There’s more to this issue than any shallow modern concept of “feminism” or “superiority” or “equality”. Those of us who ponder this issue in all seriousness maintain that veiling a Christian woman’s head/hair has nothing to do with disrespect/subjugation and everything to do with deference/elevation.

  11. maryh says:

    That’s the problem, isn’t it? Since the main group where women still cover their heads includes the religion where it is required for modesty, head coverings are now connected with Islam and burqa.

    But that’s just an accident of fashion. If hats had never gone out of fashion, western women would still be covering their head, albeit not with veils or scarves.

    Of course, I agree – rather modest without a head covering than immodest with one. Covering your hair doesn’t automatically bestow modesty on you.

  12. benedetta says:

    I would like to just take a moment to reminisce here about the time that I proposed that were I to veil, I would wear something in flaming orange, and, AnAmericanMother promptly advised me to buy hunting netting and run it through the sewing machine to craft myself on one my own. Since that time, I have been attending the Extraordinary Form, and can report that although I completely forgot something last Sunday, in general I use scarves for coverings. Nice to have some variety.

    As to the point of this quaeritur, I would just note that Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish married women cover their heads. I believe there is a movement within certain evangelical circles to cover all the time as well.

    Because our culture is “let it all hang out” and expose all, it seems young people are confused by and large as to what constitutes beauty or holiness as a general matter.

  13. Sissy says:

    My position on veils is the same as pants (on women). I don’t wear pants to Mass (and I never did to any protestant service, either) because I think it shows appropriate reverence and respect to dress modestly and in a traditional female manner during worship. It’s what my conscience recommends to me. I don’t expect others to conform to my own view.

    But, just because I feel appropriately dressed wearing a skirt or veil doesn’t mean I think it’s immoral to NOT wear a veil or for a woman to wear pants. It is just my own personal way of showing respect. If I thought wearing pants was immoral, I’d never do it, even at home. Likewise a veil – if I believed that it is immoral to go about with my head uncovered, I wouldn’t do it at home alone, either.

  14. benedetta says:

    Pants Fr. Z! That is the Magic Word!

  15. maryh says:

    We’re a society that generally distinguishes women from men in clothing only through immodesty. Women almost always show more skin.

    The skirt or the dress is a distinguishing type of clothing, but is fairly rare, and when worn according to fashion, is generally immodest – the hem too high, bare shoulders, etc.

    If we were to get back to some kind of clothing to distinguish male and female, I’d rather prefer a practical hat or scarf to going back to skirts and dresses. Pants are just too practical most of the time, IMHO.

    I do distinguish between covering the hair and covering the face, though. I can see lots of good reasons to cover the hair / head — almost none to cover the face.

  16. bbmoe says:

    I think more thought has to go into why we would cover our hair to begin with. In some cultures, hair is a “turn on” and inflames a man’s desire; in others, the way it’s worn is a signal of a woman’s availability (in India, loose women wear their hair loose). We don’t put that much sexual significance on hair in the West, and I really don’t want to go there. I dress modestly, have taught my daughter to do likewise (she still gets harassed) and I pity the guy who tells me that because my hair is uncovered I’m leading him to sin (come and take it, as we say in Texas.)

    I think it’s fine to cover one’s hair in Church. But my husband, bless his heart, wishes that the lectors would wear suits and ties, too. And don’t get me started on the bare-legged EM’s. We have our work to do below the neck, folks.

  17. mamajen says:

    @maryh – It’s not so much that the veil reminds me of the burqa, but once you start down the road of scrupulosity, it’s easy to get carried away. Goodness, in Victorian times they used to cover furniture legs lest they give men impure thoughts.

    I have no problem at all with chapel veils, but I don’t think that a piece of lace on the head in this day and age has anything to do with actual modesty. Perhaps an argument could be made for humility, but even then I think it’s often not the case. I suspect that for most women who wear them, it’s another component of “Sunday best”, a means of showing respect for God and the sacrifice of the mass. They’re not trying to hide their gorgeous hair, or show that they’re unworthy. These days it’s a symbol more than anything. And I think it’s perfectly okay that the veil is part of a distinction between the mass, and everyday life. A priest doesn’t walk around in his vestments all the time.

  18. APX says:

    Benedetta, it was the traditional practice in Rome that married woman wearing a “flaming red” veil in order to indicated their married status.

    I don’t actually think the Church wants lay women ceiling everyday in public. This issue has come up to Rome regarding whether or not it would be appropriate for Consecrated Virgins living in the world to wear a veil, as was the tradition in the past. The veil she was given during her consecration was to be worn all the time. Such is not the case anymore. Rome has indicated that wearing a veil is specific to religious and their habit and not appropriate for a Consecrated Virgin living in the world. I think we can take our lead from this.

  19. APX says:


    Dumb autocorrect.

  20. Cosmos says:

    It’s crazy how many Catholics consider themselves sufficiently educated, simply by virtue of living in the 21st century, to cast judgment on St. Paul’s teaching and declare him to be a product of his cultural context. Has anyone who has actually read ancient philosophy or literature (Plato, Aristotle, Solomon) come to the conclusion that those men were not reflective enough to question their cultural assumptions? It’s really kind of ridiculouos if you think about it:

    We know that Paul was a Roman citizen born in Turkey of Jewish parents, who studied to be a Jewish Pharisee (a sect of Judaism in battle with at least 2 others), but had converted to “the Way” in the midst of a violent persecution, and then traveled the world preaching to people of every background. So we know he knew there were lots of ways of understanding the world.

    We know that St. Paul wrote: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So we know he understands that human beings draw all kinds of distinctions based on race and sex and class that are ultimately meaningless to God.

    We know that Paul argued with Peter to stop imposing Jewish legal requirements on the Gentile converts Paul was making throughout the Mediteranean. So we know Paul was thinking about what parts of the Jewish law were eternal and which parts were conditional.

    We also know that Paul was aware of Jesus’ teaching on marraige, etc., so we know Paul believed that many revered customs and rules were simply distortions of God’s original plan.

    Yet when we read Paul’s unussually long argument for head coverings (1 Corintheans 1-16) in which he bases the need for women to cover their head on different types of authority–tradition, theology, nature–we are supposed to just casually write this off as culturally conditioned.

    There is no way you can faithfully read the New Testament through this lens. It’s dead end street that leads to an authoritarian view of Catholicism based purely on the power of the current Magesterium. I can accept that the Church had the power to abrogate head coverings as a matter of law, I am not ready to accept the idea that it can abrogate Pauline teaching as ancient prejudice.

  21. “What’s the magic word, Father?”


  22. wmeyer says:

    Modesty can be achieved without scrupulosity, much less a burqa. A good first step is to keep in mind the notion of “Sunday best.” That means no shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, and so on. No one should go to Mass looking like their dash out the door after receiving will be to the beach. And no women, much less teen-age girls, should appear at Mass in clothing which not so many years ago would have been scandalous on the street.

    A chapel veil at Mass, a skirt and blouse which don’t scandalize if you bow, and a nice pair of shoes, for the women. Slacks, jacket, and polished shoes for the men. Ties seem to be out of favor for many, even when they wear jackets. But simply wearing a jacket and tie means no shorts, cargo pants, blue jeans, or flip-flops.

    It’s not a picnic, but the reverent worship of our Lord.

    And if your Sunday best influences your choices outside of Mass, that might be a Good Thing, as well.

  23. Tradster says:

    I would say the magic word is “yes”.

  24. Joe in Canada says:

    Modesty is, I think, the key, and a very difficult concept, apparently, for most people to understand.

  25. maryh says:

    And Victorian England wasn’t Catholic. Scrupulosity is always a factor.

    And I think we in the English speaking Protestant dominated countries need to be aware that Protestant errors actually make a lot of difference in things we tend to ascribe to traditional Christian habits. A lot of the time, they’re Protestant customs, not found in primarily Catholic countries.

    Unless you are an expert on the early Church Fathers [I’m not], I’d be careful about attributing misogyny to them. From my experience with feminists, they are extremely good at using proof texts out of context. Every time I’ve actually done the research, the charge of misogyny doesn’t stand – although I’m not saying there might not be a case where it would.

  26. Miss Jensen says:

    I think the first thing to keep in mind is that “we,” that is, readers of Fr. Z’s blog, or members of a certain parish, can possibly come to a consensus on this head-covering issue, but that will not make our decision binding on anyone. It may well have the effect of alienating everyone who does not understand the point.

    I am all for modesty in church and everywhere else, but I cannot believe that means wearing the same outfit everywhere. I can consider as modest for running an outfit that I would not dream of wearing to church. But who would go running in a dress and hat? It seems like doing so, or not running at all because of sartorial scruples, would not be helping anyone, and as someone pointed out above, would be making a spectacle of oneself. As for the standards of female dress that I see printed out on occasion, how was it determined that the upper arms are immodest, but not the lower arms? Why the knees and not the ankles? What if my neckline is 3 or 4 finger-widths below the pit of the throat? Four of my fingers would be two of someone else’s. The choices we make for our appearance via hair and clothing are, in general, both highly personal and highly visible/public. Also keep in mind that not everyone was born with good taste or the ability to put together an outfit that is both modest and attractive.

    In the end, our Lord’s injunction to “judge not, lest ye be judged” seems especially apt when it comes to our ideas of modesty. Whether we were raised to dress modestly, got used to dressing more modestly, or wear sportier clothes (for example) for reasons of our own, it is all too easy to look at women wearing _something else_ and (a) feel superior or (b) feel their choices are a comment on our own. We should strive to do neither. We should strive to see in the appearance of our sisters in Christ, no line of demarcation denoting personal faith and belief, but simply our sisters in Christ. Above all, put on charity.

  27. Jeannie_C says:

    No, I do not believe it’s necessary for a woman to cover her head. I believe that was a cultural norm at one time, and while I agree it is a beautiful practice during Mass, I firmly believe that modest dress goes a long way in living the faith. There are a number of Mennonite women in my area who cover their heads with a tiny little hat – does nothing to cover the hair, but is symbolic, just as my wearing my crucifix is to me. And another thing – what did the scriptural passage really mean where it is written “because of the angels”?

  28. mamajen says:

    @Miss Jensen – Exactly.

  29. lizaanne says:

    I manage a couple of online groups for women who cover. Some really interesting things come up with women who cover full time, and it’s always made me question the practice.

    **If one covers full time, then how is covering in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist any different? How do you distinguish honoring HIM if you dress that way when scrubbing the potty?
    **If modesty is the motivation, why is the hair immodest, but not the eyes? I know some men who are completely captivated by a woman’s eyes.
    **Are we sure that we are not covering full time to satisfy some personal social issue – hiding from the world in plain sight?
    **In our desire to be plain, are we actually making ourselves stand out even more, thus invoking a bit of martyrdom when sideways glances or comments are made?
    **How is wearing a thin band of ribbon on your head a “head covering” when in public so you don’t stand out? Oh, because it’s symbolic? Then what’s the point?

    I’m not saying that I agree with all of these statements – but these are things that come up when full time covering is discussed. There are actually a lot of women out there who cover full time, and there are just as many reasons/excuses for doing so. I’m concerned about the rationale of many of them quite frankly, because a lot of the motivation does not appear to be healthy – spiritually or emotionally.

    I would much rather see a woman just keep herself neat and tidy, and modest in a common sense manner (not so covered up so as to look like the Amish), than all wrapped up (figuratively and literally) and trying so hard they are missing the point.

  30. Miss Jensen says:

    @mamajen – Thanks!

    I laughed about the Victorian furniture legs and agree with your take on the veil as a symbol today. :)

  31. DisturbedMary says:


  32. mightyduk says:


    “I identify as a traditional Catholic and politically conservative”

    you’re kidding right?

  33. shin says:

    True Christianity yes.. modesty.. covering yes, at all times.. As it is supposed to be. . . the good way it is supposed to be. . .

  34. Michelle F says:

    It is not unusual for women in Eastern Orthodox countries to cover their heads with scarves when they are out and about, and Orthodox Jewish women frequently wear scarves on their heads as well.

    Plenty of Hindu women also cover their heads with scarves.

    It seems to me to be a practice followed by women across cultural and religious boundaries, and for that reason something tied more to womanhood than to culture or religion.

    I suspect the problem western women have with covering their head is that the practice is tied to women as women, and we western women have a problem with being women. We don’t mind being seen as “one of the boys,” nor even as a sex toy, but being seen as a woman with all that being a woman really implies is out.

  35. Muv says:

    Sissy – “I don’t wear pants to Mass.”

    Try saying that over the teacups after church in England. You would be dragged straight off to confession.

  36. gracie says:

    No way jose.

  37. AttiaDS says:

    Abracadabra!!! (Do I win?)

    I think it is good to do the following concerning modesty (taken from a bulletin found online):

    To dress becomingly for God and neighbor, and in keeping with the reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament, kindly refrain from wearing shorts, tee-shirts, tank-tops, revealing blouses, sleeveless or backless dresses, or form-fitting clothing of any sort. Please do let dresses and skirts fall below the knee. With due regard to time and circumstance, all are encouraged to wear decorous attire befitting sacred and divine worship.

  38. Suburbanbanshee says:

    For most of human history, both men and women have worn hats, hoods, scarves, etc. on their heads when outside or in public. This was true even in Roman times (especially for Jewish men!), although many men were finding more excuses to not wear head coverings in public.

    The primary reason to wear head coverings is weather protection (rain, cold, sunstroke, sunburn, wind). The secondary reason is status and fashion indications (looking good and looking proper).

    The problem with not wearing a head covering for women was not so much that hair showed, as that hair showing was a sign of not being properly put together to go out and look respectable. Western culture has long used deliberate dishabille as a signal that proper behavior is now out the window and morals should follow. (Looking like crap because you’re tired and messy is generally not a sexual signal anywhere sane.)

    It has never been Christian custom that women should wear head coverings all the time, especially not to the extreme that some Orthodox Jewish women try to do (wearing wigs and scarves even in bed, only taking them off in the bathroom to care for the hair, or sometimes when alone with husband and both are under the covers). The closest we have to that are the older rules for nuns, which classified pretty much all the time except bedtime as public time.

    The only Christian place I can think of where it’s been total covering all the time was in Lima, Peru, during the heyday of the silver rush. Women went totally veiled and cloaked except for one eye showing, and the noble ladies of Lima were notorious for their bad morals and constant arrangements to hold affairs being “cloaked” by their unidentifiability. Saints like St. Rose of Lima were fighting this culture of coverup. (And really, her brand of asceticism was very body-forward, in its way. She was modest and retiring, but she didn’t hide.)

    Oh, and you’re not supposed to put a cone of perfume on your head at parties to ooze all over your head as it melts, either, according to the Fathers. And there was something about the way Christians preferred to use flowers that was different from the wearing patterns of Roman partiers, also.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    Several points. First of all, I am a hat person. And, I have for a long time, worn a mantilla or hat to daily Mass and Sunday Mass. In addition, I think women should have their arms covered and not wear sleeveless tops in church, which is the rule for most cathedrals in Europe still.

    Secondly, I am firmly, adamantly sure that women should wear dresses or skirts. Why? We are not men. We need to look feminine. One of the ugliest sites in English and Irish churches are the number of older women wearing trousers. They look like men. Sorry, but in some cases, I cannot tell whether a person is male or female.

    Thirdly, I have been for two months, living in a Muslim area of Dublin, and I am seeing women in pants and short skirts who are Muslim with head scarves. Also, there are women here who are completely covered, even over their faces. This to me is one reason I would not want Western women to comply with wearing head covering all the time. In the West, we have not done this for a very long time, and it smacks of a double standard of freedom. I do not want to identify with the hateful culture of Islam which makes women chattle and causes so much domestic abuses here and in England. Look at the statistics.

    Clothes are symbolic and sadly, the Islamic way of dress is slavery and a sigh of the bitter degradation of women in that culture. For Christians to adopt a tradition which has not been enforced for hundreds of years, except in some cultures, seem arbitrary. And, may I add that the Catholic women of Europe were dressing without head coverings when the Anabaptists and Calvinists insisted on head coverings in the streets.

    Interesting, but Catholicism frees us. Worship to God is different and we should cover our heads in church, but to demand a sign of servitude in the world is retrograde. And servitude to what? I am sorry, but I am a Catholic, not a Moslem and when I am on the street as I shall be tomorrow morning on the way to Mass, where I shall cover my head with a scarf, I do not want to identify with a false religion.

  40. BakerStreetRider says:

    To answer the original question: a Christian should conform to a culture’s standard of modesty and attire. Since it was customary in ancient times for women to cover their heads all the time, we should not be surprised that the Church fathers recommended this practice. However, I don’t think there is any reason to assume that this is a universal law, since the Church has never given us any reason to think so. Rather, the Church, who has the authority to interpret the Bible, has interpreted the Scriptures to mean that women should wear a head covering in church. (And yes, I know this practice is no longer obligatory. However, that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.) The type of covering has never been specified, so whatever we want to wear is fine. This is clearly not for reasons of modesty. Otherwise, it would be binding at all times.
    Rather, the purpose of head coverings is to show a woman’s role, just as a man’s uncovered head shows his role. A woman is an image of the Church and has a very Marian vocation. A head covering is a reminder that the Church is a bride, whose goal is to unite with the Bridegroom, to be the Body, with Christ at its head. This is not demeaning, but is a sign of honor as well as submission, since it shows a woman’s unique place. The man’s is also unique and very important, and he uncovers his head, again, both as a sign of humility, and also as a sign of honor, since men should try to imitate Christ’s role as head: either as a priest, of a family, and so on. As we know from St. Paul, a groom should love as Christ loves the Church, through self-sacrifice. That is why for a man, a bare head is both a sign of humility and service and an honorable sign of his unique role, just as a head covering is a sign of humility and an honorable sign of a woman’s unique role.

  41. maryh says:

    @Michelle F

    Yes, what you say makes sense. Covering the head seems to be a cross-cultural cross-historical custom connected with being a woman.

    It only recently (within the last 50 years or so) went out of style in the west, and while I might implicate feminists somewhat with the loss of the veil in church, I think they had nothing whatever to do with the loss of the custom of hat wearing. The cynic in me says there was more money to be made by getting women to get their hair cut and / or styled frequently than in getting them to wear different hats.

  42. I completely agree with Supertradmum, bravo and well-said. For a Catholic woman to cover her head in Church is pious, right, and should be revived everywhere; it is explicitly mentioned as a custom in Scripture, and has moreover been retained for all the centuries since then. On the subject of a woman covering her hair all of the time, I might also add that the practice has traditionally been retained in religious orders among women religious, along with covering most of the rest of the body as well, and like many other of the ways in which religious radically live out the universal call to holiness (to echo Vatican II and John Paul II), it is fitting and proper that something common to all Catholic women should be especially and radically lived out among those who have sacrificed many goods to attain the highest spiritual good as a sign of living out the Catholic, Christian, and Apostolic calling of the radical Gospel values of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

  43. JuliB says:

    I agree with BakerStreetRider to a certain extent.

    In my 4 yr diocesan Scripture class I just finished, we did learn to keep in mind that books and letters were written with a certain audience in mind. While this approach can be overdone, it has merit.

    St. Paul also said not to commit certain actions if it would harm the newly forming faith of other Christians. He wrote in a period of persecution and to communities outside of Israel. So ‘fitting in’ with the greater community in lesser important things was probably a concern. Why rub peoples’ faces in our unimportant differences when the real differences would be enough to set us apart. We should strive to be good citizens of where we live. So who knows what the circumstances are that caused him to make that recommendation. When I think that he had to call out allowing an incestuous situation to be accepted in 1 Thes 4, I can just imagine what was going on in the 1st century church.

    So in other words, I read his recommendations to cover one’s hair, etc as something aimed at specific community and not literally aimed at everyone. Come of the Church Fathers interpret things more loosely, but their opinions may not reflect what should be applied in the 21st century western world.

  44. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Here’s a picture of some 19th century Lima ladies. I think we’ll all agree their custom went a bit far. :) But in the Andes in winter, it would have its advantages, so there’s some function even here.

    Another interesting thing I just found out: Spain and its territories periodically passed regulations restricting veils, cloaks, etc., because the lingering of Moorish veil customs among the Moriscas (female descendants of Muslims who converted) was a religio-political problem. The “saya y manto” overdress and heavy veil pairing in Lima came from Moriscas, they say, and pretty clearly is an attempt at a Spanish burqa.

    The word for Spanish women who cloak and veil A LOT was “tapada,” covered-up one. (From tapa, lid. “Tapas” comes from the same root.)

  45. Phil_NL says:

    The magic word is, or should be, ‘islam’.

    Perhaps it’s less evident in the States, but here in Europe you see plenty of headscarves on the streets, and they have nothing to do with modesty. They have everything to do with islam though, proclaiming 1. “we muslims are here to stay, and we’ll never relent in fighting western society”, and/or 2. “this piece of walking meat is owned by a man” (usually the husband to be found 7 paces ahead, or otherwise as a cousin, brother or even son as a chapperone).

    Over here, islam and headcoverings have become synonymous (and plenty of people share my intense allergy towards the practice). Any Catholic would be well advised to leave the topic alone, lest he / she makes the entire Catholic community look utterly rediculous, if not the target of folks who are less discriminant about which religion is in their crosshairs. And foremost, it would make life much more difficult in the necessary fight against the islamization of this continent.

    Mantilla’s in church are already something best avoided, IMHO, for this very reason, but outside church?? Please, let’s not go there.

  46. capchoirgirl says:

    Mamajen, I’m totally with you.
    I’m not opposed to veiling during Mass. That’s fine, as long as you’re not doing it to be singular, but doing it because you feel called to do it in humility.
    Personally, I don’t want to wear a hat all the time. Lay women *aren’t* nuns, and I don’t think we should try to dress like them. A hat at the beach, or while gardening, is one thing. If I wore a hat to my job, my boss would ask me to remove it. In fact, the only women I see wearing hats outside of church are women who are undergoing chemo, and, quite understandably, don’t want everyone looking at their bald scalps. Or, they’re Amish. So, Catholic/Christian women, outside of church, don’t wear hats or veils as a matter of custom in my area. It would be strange and, like I said above, probably singular, which is an outcropping of pride to be “special” or “unique” in that way.

  47. msc says:

    Mightyduk: I’m serious, and the response to this question shows that one can believe in the traditional Mass without thinking that we have to live in the 19th century, or turn North America into 1940s Italy and Ireland. And one can be a traditional Catholic and still read the Church Fathers in a historiographicaly appropriate way. After all, that’s what the Church has been doing for years, as opposed to fundamentalist sects. The Church has changed over the years in many ways while holding on to theological truth. Because we want continuity in our worship and don’t want to throw out all the important things from Church tradition does not mean that we need to live as the fourth-century, or eighth century or twelfth century or nineteenth century Catholics did. The Mass is eternal, God’s truth is eternal, fashions in clothing are not.
    I am not formally an expert in patristics, but I have read a very large amount of the writings of the Church fathers (both pre-Nicene and post-Nicene), Doctors of the Church, and can read Latin and Greek. So I don’t think I’m selectively citing my sources.

  48. Jeannie_C says:


    Sadly, now in my middle years, no cut of dress or skirt makes me look feminine any longer. Thick in the middle, estrogen deprived, greying hair and varicosed legs, I am long since past being eye candy. Maybe you still look beautiful in a dress and you feel feminine doing so, but many of us don’t and are simply more comfortable in pants. It doesn’t matter to me whether someone mistakes me for a man or not from a distance. Why should it matter? In fact, I don’t really care who or why anyone is staring at me from afar. I’m not in church to be seen nor to stare at others. I dress modestly, am neat and clean, that should suffice. Veiling in church is one thing, but imposing wardrobe rules upon others based on personal preference is quite another matter.

  49. Sissy says:

    Muv said: “Try saying that over the teacups after church in England. You would be dragged straight off to confession.”

    Thanks for that reminder, Muv. I’m also always careful not to mention my Aunt Fanny when taking tea with my English friends. ; )

  50. APX says:

    The wearing of hats went out of fashion the same time the beehive went into fashion because the beehive couldn’t accommodate the wearing or a hat. It was around this time when the trend of wearing a chapel veil became more prominent than the old custom of a hat, scarf, or Kleenex.

  51. pseudomodo says:

    Taking this to the next logical step I note that men (laymen for the most part) are obliged to remove thier hats when in church. I have not seen any mention that the Church Fathers recommended me go without head coverings all the time. I would be rather choked as I have more than a few hats!!

    ridiculous ad infinitum

  52. Supertradmum says:

    Jeannie C, you and I have a lot in common. I am not attractive, or beautiful at all. That has nothing to do with the subject. But, androgyny is a sign of decadence, especially in Europe when men wearing make-up and dresses are more and more common, even in church. Cross-dressing is a serious sin for men, but why not for women, unless they have a utilitarian need for such.

    maryh, As to head covering outside, it is wrong to say that historically it has just happened in the past 50 years, as we have much evidence in art that the late Renaissance witnessed a change to no head covering in many cultures, upper class more so, as head covering was a sign of the lower class service. But, the Protestants were way more strict on this point of head covering than the Catholics. I have photographs of my ancestors in Prague in the 1880 and the women are not wearing head coverings. The same is true of photos I have of my ancestors on the plains of Iowa, from Luxembourg at about the same time. No head coverings in those photos. And, paintings from as early as the 1640s show Catholic women without head coverings.

  53. Nan says:

    @APX, still laughing at women being ceilinged! My mother tells tales of summer lake visitors coming to her parish in dungarees and with a kleenex. She occasionally dressed like a tourist as well.

    I’m surprised in all of this that nobody has mentioned the true reason that St. Paul advocated women covering their heads during Mass; according to St. John Chrysostom, it’s because the angels are present.

  54. Suburbanbanshee says:

    She’s right! And there were plenty of other times when a bow or a ribbon in the hair was counted as just fine in public or at Mass, by even the most pious of ladies. You can spend a long time looking at the work of Catholic Masters, painting portraits of the Virgin Mary and the female martyrs wearing such hairstyles, as well as ordinary women.

    And btw, if women have to cover their heads ALWAYS because of the head of women verse, then men have to Biblically have their heads uncovered always because of the head of Christ verse. No warm winter toques for you men, eh? And yet, that’s not what Christian custom has ever taught, oddly enough!

  55. maryh says:

    Well, I suppose I should make clear that I don’t think Catholic women should be required to wear head coverings all the time, or even just at Mass. I just think hat and scarf wearing in public might be a nice custom to revive. And I certainly don’t mean all the time, even in public.

    I suppose if I did it, I wouldn’t be wearing a hat or covering as a sign of humility, per se. As for standing out, just receiving communion on the tongue at an OF Mass does that. I don’t see anything wrong with standing out – although it makes me, personally, somewhat uncomfortable.

    I think if I wear a hat or veil at Mass, it would be primarily for the reasons @BakerStreetRider gives – to identify with my role as a woman. And if I start wearing a hat outside of Mass, I think it would be mainly as a practical, pretty and convenient sign of femininity – like skirts, only more practical. So @Supertradmum, if you see me wearing pants in Church, maybe you’ll be able to tell I’m female by my hat. ;)

    I can see the problem where wearing certain kinds of head coverings could be considered a sign of belonging to another religious group. And Muslim head covering is connected with subjugation of women. I see women in the grocery store here who wear very colorful or ornamented scarves around their hair, that don’t cover any part of their face. Those are the ones that I think of as attractive, and that I’m sometimes tempted by (when I’m not thinking of a cloche).

    In my area, it doesn’t strike me as being particularly militant. Since we are getting more Indians in my area, I have assumed that some of these women might be Hindu. I don’t think head coverings are required for them, but they do wear them sometimes. I guess I connect Islam, or at least violent Islam, with ugly dark scarves or veils that cover more.

  56. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Basically, if you want to advocate decorum and dressing nicely, I will support you. Me and my snazzy hats are right there, and I will point you to every form of fabric headdress or veil fashion I can find you.

    If you want to advocate crazy stuff that goes to oppressive extremes, I will fight it just as hard as if you said we should all wear only our underwear in church, or go nude in the dead of winter. That’s just how ego convolvo.

  57. momoften says:

    It was stated above: “Also keep in mind that not everyone was born with good taste or the ability to put together an outfit that is both modest and attractive.” Does that mean that one just gives up on
    modesty? I am hoping that is not what the person meant by this. But you are all distracted by this
    topic? Veil in church? I think, that if you have never done it over time–you would never appreciate it. I am hearing from some, I would never wear a veil…but when I started wearing a veil it was awkward, now it is awkward if I don’t…at any Mass. I don’t do it as a pious act, but as an act of submission to God. To wear it everyday? No, when it is saved for Mass only, it becomes a symbol
    of Catholic women entering the church for Mass/prayer/ or services. It becomes special and unique for the woman. Amazing how many women won’t even try the veil-yet are eager to criticize
    it, or downplay it. I think if they tried it for a few months, they may feel differently.

  58. Supertradmum says:

    May I add, the women are outside without head coverings, not merely inside, which is the topic, I believe.

  59. mike cliffson says:

    Lady Godiva.
    An extreme situation, remembered only for a laugh amongst moderns, but inconcievable in all the natural religions.

  60. Supertradmum says:

    APX, you are wrong. I have mentioned the above photos. I also know that women who were in college and universities even before the WWI in England and in America did not wear head coverings all the time outside and especially after the war. This did not all happen in the 1960s. Look at photos of women working in the American Civil War-no head coverings. And, in England, in the time of Jane Austen, hats were optional. not worn at balls or certain gatherings., for example. There is plenty of artwork and drawings on line of women in various places with no hats or even little lace coverings.

  61. Supertradmum says:

    One more thing, sorry to clog the box. One of the condemned false seers of recent times said that God wanted women to wear head coverings all the time. I think we need to be careful of some of these false extremes.

  62. scarda says:

    Covering up with a veil or even a hat can be considered extremely provocative depending on how you behave when you wear it, among other things. Belly dancers wear veils and it is not to be modest. Niqab is about as provocative as any costume I have ever seen. Do you really think that a direct, burning gaze from an eye slit is in and of itself modest?

    In the Antipodes where I went to school women wore hats when they went out in public. We were told at my girls’ school that it was because the Queen always wore a hat, and she set the tone. You can look tidy in a hat or you can look otherwise; the hat does not make the final statement. Hats are wonderful for keeping your head dry or warm, but they can also attract a lot of attention, like Princess Beatrice’s ‘toilet seat’ hat at a recent royal wedding.

    When I worked in the middle east, women wore scarves over their hair if they did not wish to be considered loose women. Wearing a hat was quite provocative because it was so foreign, and it was borderline scandalous in public. But ultimately it is how a woman behaves in her clothing is more indicative of her modesty than anything else.

  63. maryh says:

    Hmm. I suppose the operative word is wearing of a hat “all the time” in public. Up until the 60’s, I think it was still customary to wear hats in public, even if people didn’t always do it. What do you think, Supertradmum?

  64. Charlotte Allen says:

    @Jeannie C:

    You don’t have to be “eye candy” to be feminine. There is such a thing as maternal and even grandmotherly femininity. Look at this photo of two older women taken during the 1950s:


    The lady on the right has clearly put on a few pounds. She’s no sex object. But she looks sweet and ladylike in her print dress. The lady on the left isn’t young or slim, either, but she is well put-together in her dress and jacket, and she has taken care to put herself together even for a routine trip to the library.

    One of the worst mistakes a woman who is past her prime can make is to think that she can obscure her figure problems by wearing pants. On the contrary, pants outline and accentuate all figure flaws, even on the youngest women. A graceful, well-fitting skirt will cover them up. The older a woman gets, the more she ought to eschew pants, unless she has a fabulous figure left over from her younger days. Most older ladies refuse to follow this counsel, but believe me, skirts and dresses on older women make a big difference. They tell the world that she is still a woman, no matter how old she may be.

  65. Tony McGough says:

    This is all more than a bit daft. Surely the requirement is to dress modestly and respectfully – both men and women – in church and out?

    I go to Mass every day. I wear my everyday clothes. What else would I wear? So does my wife. She always dresses modestly and without ostentation. On Sundays, she dresses up a bit -well, she is female – but my Sunday dress is much the same as weekdays.

    She has not worn a mantilla since – with a sigh of relief – she emerged from her convent school. She never wears a hat, in church or out; and wears trousers rather than skirts. The result is elegant and modest. Anyone who wants to quibble will have me to deal with.

    If you look at old newsreels of football matches, only say 50 years ago, you will see every man in the crowd wearing a hat or a cap. Today, very few. Fashions change. Times change. Modesty and decorum are constant, but the application of these virtues to a given social or religious occasion will vary from age to age.


  66. scarda says:

    To be just, plenty of Muslim men are quite provocative in their glances, and I cannot respect a religion which puts the entire burden of morality on women, as Islam tends to do. Hat or veil, a man’s humility of behavior before God should be equal to, though different from, a woman’s.

    If a human has the interior intention of modesty of soul, that will shine out. Do you really think that a young Mother Teresa, stripped naked, would have been any less modest than the elderly sister wrapped and veiled in her sari?

  67. Supertradmum says:

    No, it was not common except at teas, weddings, baptisms, funerals, Church, and luncheons. One did wear hats for luncheons. My maternal grandmother was a milliner, as well as a writer and one of the first women to go to law school in St. Louis, and I had lots of lovely hats, but when Grandma and I went out to lunch when I was a child in the 1950s, she did not wear a hat. In fact, Jackie Kennedy made hats popular again. Note, if you have family photographs of the 19th century, one can see that hats were not necessarily worn. In fact, my mother, a very smart looking petite woman, said that kids in St. Louis when she was a child in the 1930s, would make fun of the old peasant women wearing their babushkas. It was not cool. I think head coverings did have something to do with class structure. My mom, who is 85, went to college in the 1940s and they did not wear hats except in church and at teas as it was a sign of dressing up. Both of my grandmas went to college before WWI and they wore hats on special occasions, not necessarily everyday. One grandmother became an administrator in the 1930s of Koch County Hospital and she did not wear a hat all day but most likely worn one outside for style rather than any rule of modesty. This idea that Catholic women always had their head covered outside or at work is simply not true.

    If you look at women in higher education even in the 1920s, hats were optional. There is more than one photo of St. Benedicta of the Cross without a hat and one famous one with a hat. Of course, hats were lovely and keep one cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

    Having said that, I had to wear a beanie in my first years of grade school, but that passed and of course, we had to wear scarves, or chapel veils in church.

    Interesting though, when I had a fellowship at the University of Bristol, on Fridays, which was formal dinner day and we faculty ate on the dais, I had to wear a formal dress, my MA gown and MA mortar board. Fun days. And, in the 1980s in London, after-five hats became all the rage I had two, which sat on the front of the head and had little veils for going out to early suppers. But, the idea that women wore

  68. Supertradmum says:

    oops cut off, the idea that women had to wear hats or did as a rule does not coincide with historical data.

  69. Elizabeth D says:

    I have to respond to a particularly horrible comment–in fact I would recommend the removal of the comment and my reply, as inappropriate: “If a human has the interior intention of modesty of soul, that will shine out. Do you really think that a young Mother Teresa, stripped naked, would have been any less modest than the elderly sister wrapped and veiled in her sari?”

    You give a horrifying image, apparently imagining an example of an involuntary humiliation of a beloved Saint, to claim what? Modesty is indeed about not revealing what should remain concealed, particularly, as the Catechism puts it “the intimate center of a person.” This is a virtue. It has a spiritual dimension, as in being modest about one’s accomplishments and not inappropriately displaying them, and it has a physical dimension, as in clothing oneself modestly. The person who is violated by another person by being stripped, like Jesus, or Mother Teresa in your apparent intention, is not thereby stripped of the virtue of modesty. But a woman/man who does not fittingly cover her/his body does not have that virtue. Someone with a degraded sense of modesty because of conformity to the fashions of the day, simply is not well formed in that virtue, and while in some cases they may not be that culpable since others have failed to teach modesty or help them, the objective lack of covering of the body presents near occasion of sin for others. Everyone really has a duty to try to raise their own standard of modesty appropriately. Looking at traditional Catholic standards regarding covering the shoulders, skirt hem length well below the knee etc is decidedly a fitting way to begin to form oneself in modesty.

  70. suzannaleigh says:

    As a woman who wears a headcovering all the time, I thought I would toss in my two cents.

    I began to cover all the time because I felt the conviction that I am always in the presence of God and His angels, and that covering my hair would be not only a sign of humility but to remind me to be obedient to God and His Church. I spoke to my spiritual director at the time and she approved the idea. My current spiritual director hasn’t told me to stop or questioned my practice. I think a woman who is considering covering all the time should go to their priest or spiritual director, to make sure they aren’t doing it out of spiritual pride.

    I’ve never had a problem with being confused with a Muslim, mostly because of the style of headcovering I wear. I deliberately chose something (a snood) that wasn’t readily connected with another religion. If anyone confuses me with a different religion, it’s usually Orthodox Judaism or Amish. Actually, wearing a headcovering has made a bit of common ground with two Muslim women that I know, opening the door to my sharing the Gospel with them. As far as I know, I haven’t attracted a lot of attention and I’ve noticed that men have begun treating me with more courtesy. I’ve also noticed that men don’t try to flirt with me like they used to do.

    One unexpected benefit was that it’s become something special between my husband and me. He is the only one who gets to see my hair now. So, it’s created a new level of intimacy in our marriage.

    If a woman chooses to not cover, then that’s her choice. As someone else noted, this isn’t a matter of doctrine. Now, if Pope Francis were to issue something tomorrow saying that women shouldn’t wear headcoverings at all, or if he says that women should wear something like the Muslim hijab (which covers the head, neck, and shoulders), I would obey in either case. That should be the starting point. If a woman can’t say that she would obey the pope (or her local bishop or her priest) regarding this matter, then she shouldn’t cover, because she’s doing it for the wrong reasons.

  71. Transportsjoie says:

    I wear simple hats a lot of the time, ones that are described a s a “cloche” – often to Mass and then for being out and about. Wearing a hat with a slight brim provides the wearer additional privacy while attending Mass, for example, in case one is moved to tears – and also helps with custody of the eyes. After you get used to wearing a hat, it feels strange not to wear one.
    There’s a woman at the NO parish where I am organist who always wears a mantilla to Mass – it is beautiful. She is the only woman wearing one, but that is her statement and I admire that.

  72. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Knox has a historical interpretation of veiling and praying in the early chapters of Enthusiasm. He suggests it was directed to that particular community, because they were having problems with self-proclaimed prophetesses, and the veils covered women head to toe (like the aforementioned Burkas)

    The prophetesses would often be scantily clad, roll around, and generally put on a show. So….
    Veil, so that any statements you made were NOT all about sexy little you and were all about God, or….. don’t veil, but keep your mouth shut.

    Which does bring up some interesting modern applications for the veil. Though I’m unclear how a veil would prevent some of the craziness that comes out of some publications…

  73. mamajen says:

    Oh goodness, I wasn’t expecting that! LOL! Thank you, Father. I’ve used your email form, so hopefully it went through.

  74. MarkG says:

    When I was in high school in the late 70’s early 80’s, at the SSPX Chapel where my family went, women mostly wore hats and a few of the lace veils. The loaner veils were just cheap men’s handkerchiefs.
    Gradually through the years it has transformed to all lace veils, and even the loaner veils are lace.

  75. Supertradmum says:

    One of the wonderful things about the Catholic Church is that we are not a cult. We are not culturally exclusive, like the Amish or Bruderhoff. We are universal, which means appealing to all the world and allowing for culture within the limits of modesty. Those of us from some cultures wear mantillas, some of us wear hats, some wear longer skirts, but to think we all need to look like Little House of the Prairie is cultist. I always wear a skirt, but I wear those which blend in modestly with the culture of Europe, where, btw, many more women wear skirts and dresses than in the States. To be feminine and not masculine in dress is essential for our identity as Catholic women, but to have what I would deem as Protestant dress from anti-Catholic communities is not Catholic. I lived in a community for years and it was important that we did not become cultist. Our identity was Catholic, and all the beauty of our heritage in modesty was allowed. Simple does not mean looking like Caroline Ingalls. And, the vast majority of Catholics in the world live in urban areas, not rural. Modesty also means not sticking out like a sore thumb and drawing attention to one’s self in eccentric dress. Modesty is humility and appropriateness.

  76. Aw fer Pete’s sake…!
    *I* say a woman should cover her hair when she chooses to — and a gal’s best head-covering is a cowboy hat.

  77. jfish313 says:

    I cover my hair most of the time outside of Mass, and always when I’m inside a church. I usually wear a scarf (like the Orthodox Jewish ladies wear) and or a hat out and about and one of a dozen or so (I’m kind of obsessed) lace veils in church. It just seemed to make sense to me? It’s also, I suppose, a little bit of a self-imposed penance for my *extreme* vanity before I converted.

  78. Gretchen says:

    My family (husband, myself, young adult daughter) just recently began attending a parish in which veiling and a dress code is encouraged. Us girls were a little put out at first, but were willing to comply. Yes, awkward at first (some veils/scarves can be very hot in summer), but after a few weeks we noticed something. We felt somehow protected. Let me try to explain.

    We felt as if our womanhood was being properly acknowledged as something wonderful and spiritual, and that the veiling took the emphasis off our physicality. It lifted us beyond what our coarse and highly sexualized culture does to women–it objectifies us as primarily sexual beings. But when we go to Mass, our modest clothing and veiling frees us from that label. My husband says it unites the congregation in worship, it makes us neither Jew or Greek, male or female. The distractions of sexuality are greatly lessened, for both women and men.

    I am sure there is more depth to the subject, and I think we will find it as we go on. That is one of the things I love about the Catholic Faith. There is no end to it. The more you go on, the deeper it gets.

  79. Lin says:

    We have lost our way. And I have read just enough of “Marketing Evil” to understand why. And it has re-enforced my belief that Our culture is in serious trouble because we’ve not been Catechized. There is no sense of right or wrong. I cannot believe what many people feel comfortable wearing to Church! As I’ve stated on this blog before, many are not permitted in the major basilicas in Rome without their shoulders, backs, and knees covered. We MUST get back to that in the US. But than you’ll have the progressives say, it is better that they come to MASS. I’m not so sure. Perhaps we need to sort out the chaff from the wheat? We have become a culture with no backbone! We stand for nothing anymore and permit everything. And if we do stand up for the TRUTH, we are insensitive bigots. It is time to impose MODEST dress at Church at a minimum!

  80. Jeannie_C says:


    A cowboy hat? Well, I do have a shady brady with a stampede string, but don’t wear it to Mass, and yes, I live in Canada’s west so know the value of good cover.

    I’ve been enjoying this veiling discussion enormously, some excellent points and valuable opinions expressed. I attend a NO parish where only one lady veils, an elderly Italian woman. If more women veiled, I would happily veil, but feel if I started doing so now on my own would stick out like a sore thumb, as though wishing to draw attention to myself. I remember, as a little kid, when those lace mantillas were sold at corner stores, grocery stores, heck, even the hardware store had them, and used to see women placing them on their heads as they climbed the stairs to enter the church. A lot of women wore gloves back then, too, and hats for all occasions. As for covering my head outside of church? No, I don’t see the need for it myself but if it makes others feel closer to God then go for it. If it makes them feel self-righteous, then no, not a good thing.

  81. flasharry says:

    Well… I don’t wear my Smithbilt to Mass, even if it is one fine bespoke cowboy hat, replete with handmade Blackfoot beadwork hatband.. And as an aside, my inner Scotsman wonders if a kilt would be acceptable at Mass? ( and if a man can wear his kilt, then his goodwife should be allowed her trews, fair play and all, eh?)

  82. joan ellen says:

    I have worn a head covering 24/7/365 for over 10 years. I am wearing a bandana tied in the back as I type this. Why? For personal reasons.

    1. To remind me to be prayerful for Our Blessed Lord. And to pray during the day. Do not ask me how this helps, but for me it does.
    2. In reparation to Our Blessed Lord for my sins of the past and for those I will commit each day.
    3. To be a help and reminder to practice virtue, (I still fall short each and every day.) Because it remminds me to pray during the day by thinking more of Our Blessed Lord, that also helps me to think/say/act more virtuous. Even though I fall so pitifully short…I shudder when I remember how worse I was before my headcovering.

    Am I fashionable? Not according to a woman friend whose home I was at today to baby sit her children. At Mass? Some of the young women at Mass wear a covering similar to mine…I used to wear a babuska style scarf tied in the back. Too many times I was called sister, and I did not want to imply that. Now I roll the scarf so that it is more of a head band type of scarf. I like the gentlemanly respect from the men who seem to appreciate this type of dressing, very noticeable compared to my old days of slacks. I otherwise dress in a simple skirt and a blouse with a sweater or other top over that, or a simple home sewn dress with a sweater or other top over…with long skirt and high neckline. I do not feel I am out in left field, and no one, man or woman, has ever made me feel that way. I myself feel like I am dressing more like Our Blessed Lord would want me to dress.
    Jewish, Mennonite, and Amish friends almost always seem to be so feminine, and yet smartly dressed, and always modest. If my dress is similar to theirs, and if that supports them as they support me as a woman, I’m all for it.
    As I read the above comments I think of what my mother used to say: “To each his own.” My style of dress will not appeal to other women necessarily. I do relate to Supertradmum, suzannaleigh, Gretchen, et al. Especially that feeling of protection of which Gretchen writes. RomeontheRange helped to balance it. ;)
    So noticeable greater respect from the men, and support for and from other women is a win win for me…in this regard. I have plenty of areas in my personality where that is not the case. In this case I am most grateful. It is Our Blessed Lord whom I am trying to please above all of it. Why? My soul’s salvation.

  83. Patra says:

    I attend my parish’s EF Mass every Sunday, but on occasion I do attend their NO Mass. Regardless, I never wear pants and I always cover my head with a mantilla. Not because I think I’m pious, or need to make a statement, but because I know that I am a guest in the Lord’s “house” to partake in His supper. It is out of respect for Him that I cover my head.

  84. lampada says:

    I am a firm believer in the necessity for women to be modest. In our day and in our culture, how we will be modest will differ from other centuries and cultures. For Americans, headcovering is strongly associated with Protestant sects and with Moslems. We are Catholic and not Protestant or Pagan. Here is a delightful piece from a Father of the Church who advocated burka coverings for all women. You will see, of course, that a snood, or a lace mantilla or some other covering does not suffice as a coif must be worn because the neck is part of the head and the woman is like a streetwalker if she leaves the neck uncovered.

    Chapter XVII.—An Appeal to the Married Women.

    But we admonish you, too, women of the second (degree of) modesty, who have fallen into wedlock, not to outgrow so far the discipline of the veil, not even in a moment of an hour, as, because you cannot refuse it, to take some other means to nullify it, by going neither covered nor bare. For some, with their turbans and woollen bands, do not veil their head, but bind it up; protected, indeed, in front, but, where the head properly lies, bare. Others are to a certain extent covered over the region of the brain with linen coifs of small dimensions—I suppose for fear of pressing the head—and not reaching quite to the ears. If they are so weak in their hearing as not to be able to hear through a covering, I pity them. Let them know that the whole head constitutes “the woman.”332 Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound; in order that the necks too may be encircled. For it is they which must be subjected, for the sake of which “power” ought to be “had on the head:” the veil is their yoke. Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face. A female would rather see than be seen. And for this reason a certain Roman queen said that they were most unhappy, in that they could more easily fall in love than be fallen in love with; whereas they are rather happy in their immunity from that second (and indeed more frequent) infelicity, that females are more apt to be fallen in love with than to fall in love. And the modesty of heathen discipline, indeed, is more simple, and, so to say, more barbaric. To us the Lord has, even by revelations, measured the space for the veil to extend over. For a certain sister of ours was thus addressed by an angel, beating her neck, as if in applause: “Elegant neck, and deservedly bare! it is well for thee to unveil thyself from the head right down to the loins, lest withal this freedom of thy neck profit thee not!” And, of course, what you have said to one you have said to all. But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who, amid (the recital of) the Psalms, and at any mention of (the name of) God, continue uncovered; (who) even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness place a fringe, or a tuft, or any thread whatever, on the crown of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered? Of so small extent do they falsely imagine their head to be! Others, who think the palm of their hand plainly greater than any fringe or thread, misuse their head no less; like a certain (creature), more beast than bird, albeit winged, with small head, long legs, and moreover of erect carriage. She, they say, when she has to hide, thrusts away into a thicket her head alone—plainly the whole of it, (though)—leaving all the rest of herself exposed. Thus, while she is secure in head, (but) bare in her larger parts, she is taken wholly, head and all. Such will be their plight withal, covered as they are less than is useful.

    It is incumbent, then, at all times and in every place, to walk mindful of the law, prepared and equipped in readiness to meet every mention of God; who, if He be in the heart, will be recognised as well in the head of females. To such as read these (exhortations) with good will, to such as prefer Utility to Custom, may peace and grace from our Lord Jesus Christ redound: as likewise to Septimius Tertullianus, whose this tractate is.

  85. KAS says:

    “BakerStreetRider says: “To answer the original question: a Christian should conform to a culture’s standard of modesty and attire.””

    I find myself disagreeing. Today’s culture has lost its sense of real modesty. The standards are not modest if the short skirts in some business suits are the standard. I look in the magazines and walk though the mall, and cannot see that the current standard has much modesty in it at all!

    If one is merely conforming to the current “culture’s standard of modesty and attire” then one is failing to reach a standard worthy of the dignity of their humanity.

    I would love to see the practice of head-covering for Mass revived. If most of the women were doing it, then nobody would be a spectacle for wearing a veil. For now, I stick to my own standard of modesty which is a good bit more than that of the current culture, but perhaps too much for most women. It suits me and I don’t consider myself virtuous for the way I dress. I happen to dress modestly because I like to dress this way– hence, no credit can be had for the virtue of modesty. It is a by-product of doing things my own way.

  86. Gratias says:

    At our Diocesan Traditional Latin Mass we have about 180 attendees, about half of them ladies and only between one half and one third wear a mantilla. No problem. We are just so happy to be allowed to have an immemorial Mass.

  87. Gratias says:

    Should have said only half to a third of the ladies wear a mantilla at our mass.

  88. Ben Kenobi says:

    as ex-Mennonite, I have my own take on it. I like the veils, and I don’t see how it’s ‘culturally exclusive’. If this were so – you wouldn’t see the orthodox Jewish ladies do the same. We have a lot of work to do to get this culture back to where it was.

  89. CharlesG says:

    Mantilla’s in church are already something best avoided, IMHO, for this very reasonSt. Paul’s exhortation and the Christian custom long predate Islam. Why should we give Islam the power to make us ditch valuable Christian traditions? If a lady doesn’t cover in Church for fear that it might seem Islamic, the terrorists will have won!

  90. RafqasRoad says:

    In Case my first attempt was filled with too many links and didn’t make it past moderation, here it is again, somewhat abridged.

    Thank you Fr. Zuhlsdorf for your patience and willingness to tackle a topic that is considered by many to be rather controvercial.

    Take II

    I have covered not only for church but for all prayer, bible Study and worship/meditation privately and corporately since 7th April 2001. For all but a stretch of around 3 months, I have covered 90% outside of the home also.; the 10% that would be considered non-covering in which a buncover is worn) this is a growing trend amongst a small but increasing number of Christian women across the denominational spectrum; covering, Modest Dress etc. I was prompted by 1 Cor 11: 2-16, prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit whilst still deep in Seventh Day Adventism. I was not alone there. Upon exiting out into Evangelical Anglicanism this decision went with me and has followed me into my Catholic Christian walk.

    We are a small but increasing number. Myself and others have wrestled long and hard over this decision in the face of an ever increasingly immodest world and DON’T do it to say ‘look at me, ain’t I holy!!’ but out of deep conviction that does not come without struggle.

    For me, my daily attire is either a skirt and modest top (skirt near ankle-length but not a trip-hazard), tops with three-quarter or long sleeves, waistcoats, jumpers (sweaters), wraps etc. in winter months, and an elegantly draped long summer scarf sometimes held in place with a scarf-clasp, on other occasions left free to hang in front. My headcoverings consist of wide headbands or bandanna-style coverings for daily use (cotton or lace) and mantillas for church. Summer dresses are micro-floral for the mostpart and might be considered ‘prairie’ by some, but ‘country chic’ by others. I purchase from Christian home businesses who specialise in modest attire, some Catholic, others evangelical sisters of good will, and all far more affordable than similar findings in those lovely country fashion stores in ‘antiquing and ‘tearoom’ towns’.

    As some have commented here already, the world’s standards for dress (in and out of the church setting) are so far off the mark its alarming. Any student of historic costume and fashion will be awake to this, and as others have commented upon, there are deeper darker forces at work re the undressing of the western world, especially in terms of women, but increasingly applicable to men.

    many thanks and I support each and every one of you who is on this path, and for those who aren’t but of good will towards us, I support you also.

    Love and God’s blessings,

    Soon to be ‘South Coast Catholic’ (Aussie Maronite).

  91. Fr Z, you are such a troublemaker! You KNOW your blog lights up like a Christmas tree when you start talking about this!

    I just went St. Paul’s other recommendation and cut my hair off. So much easier than being one of those scrupulous traditonalist women worried about distracting men with their long flowing hair. It’s far more humbling to lose your long beautiful hair than to cover it up with some pretty lace thing.

    Atta girl. I’ve had short hair for years, and currently it’s just below jaw length and is causing no spiritual danger to anyone, as far as I can tell.

    I wear head covering if I go to the EF, because Cardinal Burke (I think) said it was the appropriate thing for women to do for the EF. Otherwise I don’t. But I dress modestly for Mass and at all other times.

    And I let everyone else follow their own consciences about this. Except men, of course, who get roundly scolded for even daring to express the faintest shadow of an opinion on the subject. (Gentlemen, kindly revise the section on ‘custody of the eyes’ in your tattered Baltimore Catechism, and shut the heck up.)

  92. bookworm says:

    “a Christian should conform to a culture’s standard of modesty and attire.”

    I would tweak that to say “a Christian should take his/her culture’s standard of modesty and attire and strive to be at least slightly, but not drastically, more conservative.” Obviously we are not meant to conform to a “standard of modesty” that encourages women to dress like streetwalkers and men to look like thugs or hoboes. But neither are we meant to revert to the standards of the 19th century or to the standards of Saudi Arabia or the Taliban.

  93. PS. I WEAR TROUSERS. ALMOST ALL THE TIME. They are loose and long, and I wear long tops as well.

    Just so everyone’s clear on that.

  94. Joan M says:

    I regularly read most comments on any of Fr. Z’s posts and recall reading a number of posts similar to this one. There is one thing I just don’t get – we women should cover our heads because of the angels????? What??? Why??? We are human being, created in the image of God. He designed us all – men and women – to have hair on our heads, but women should cover their heads because of the angels? Explain that to me. I’m serious, I would like to know why women should cover her hair in church because of the angels.

    Being “elderly” (70 years old), I certainly remember wearing hats to Mass and, for some years, wearing a black mantilla. I haven’t worn any head coverings for years and years. Now living in the tropics, the only time I wear anything on my head is to prevent sun stroke!

    I have no desire whatever to return to covering my head at Mass. If it was required of us by the Pope, I would obey, and try to understand the reasons, but I think, knowing my rebellious nature, I would have a hard time understanding.

  95. The Masked Chicken says:

    I don’t have much to say on the subject. I have no fashion sense (cargo pant are not appropriate? – the ones I wear to teach in look exactly like dress pants with two extra pockets). Colin Donovan has an article at EWTN that covers the basics:


    The classic Thomistic explanation is in the Summa Theologica, II.II Q 169:


    I, in this case, have to disagree with St. Thomas, slightly. When he says that modesty is partially determined by culture, he pre-supposes a stable cultural norm. In our day and age, no such norm exists. Are mini-skirts modest? I would bet that half of people think so. Are pants on women? The same percent or more. Fashion is, basically, at a level of quodlibet. Where there is no norm, there can be no moderation; where there is no moderation, there can be no justice; where there is no justice, there can be no discernment of modesty. Thus, most ideas of modesty, today, must be derived from either an attempt to re-impose so sort of cultural standard, or from what is intrinsically evil.

    As for my own tastes, I like pipes, but I don’t smoke. I like hats on women, because I think they are cool. I appreciate them in Church. While not required, they bring an extra dignity to the Mass. Outside of Mass, I highly recommend that women wear hats. It is the best place to conceit your gun :)

    Really, like Friday abstinence giving a Catholic identity, I would not be opposed, in principle, to Catholic women being identified as hat-wearers.

    As for the angels, if you look at both the Greek and the Latin, it says, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on [her] head because of the angels.” [1Cor 11:10]

    The idea of power on her head refers to two things: authority over the woman from without and authority over the woman from within. In other words, a woman is subjected to her husband from without, but she responds to the authority from charity within. Just as the angels are subject to authority from Christ, so should a woman be to authority. A rebellious woman is a subject of sadness to the angels.

    The Chicken

  96. A rebellious woman is a subject of sadness to the angels.

    Hear that, JoanM? Put that hat on this instant.

    As someone who is so subject to authority that it isn’t funny – spiritual director, boss, family, parking inspectors, tax man, police, people who ring me up to ask me questions about why I use one phone company and not another – I find I can manage it all nicely without wearing a hat.

    (I actually wear about seven different hats, come to think of it, all in the course of every waking hour of every day. It’s just that they are figurative or anagogical, rather than literal. I am sure someone can find a Church Father who talks about this somewhere.)

  97. sw85 says:

    @ Cosmos,

    “It’s crazy how many Catholics consider themselves sufficiently educated, simply by virtue of living in the 21st century, to cast judgment on St. Paul’s teaching and declare him to be a product of his cultural context.”

    Amen. The impiety which these types of conversations (relating to ancient practices now regrettably suppressed) always brings out is distressing.

  98. VexillaRegis says:

    Weeelll, my hair covers my head perfectly.

    So long!

  99. Precentrix says:

    How abouts we worry less about covering the head and/or hair, and more about covering up the rest of one’s body? There is nothing weirder than young ladies in church wearing chapel veils whilst exposing cleavage and/or wearing short skirts.

    Girls, seriously… two inches below the knee, no visible cleavage, no midriff and cap sleeves are an achievable minimum, right? Mid-calf, high neckline and 3/4 sleeves aren’t that hard to manage (though it’s admittedly tricky to find non-frumpy skirts).

    FWIW, I’m a long-skirts 3/4 sleeves kind of gal. I always veil in church (daily Mass and adoration) but I have a funky array of headscarves and pashminas and I’ve learnt various ways of tying them. I seem to be beginning to cover more and more outside of the church environment, and the only comments I’ve ever had (e.g. at orchestra rehearsals) were complimentary. So my vote is that no one should force anyone to do it, but a little encouragement can go a long way. I know ladies who cover when they go to the TLM but not at the Novus Ordo which is odd… but they just don’t have the guts to do it.

  100. anachy says:

    I do enjoy reading all these comments. This obsession with women’s attire is fascinating to me. Personally, I don’t see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as an occasion to affirm my femininity; I’m pretty sure that the Mass isn’t about me or my femininity or anyone else’s, or about anyone’s masculinity, for that matter (no doubt some will wish to correct me on that). The only attire I pay any attention to at Mass is that of the priest. If the priest is wearing some nasty polyester eyesore for vestments, or wearing a stole of his favorite football team, it grieves me greatly and distracts my prayerful participation in the Mass. Otherwise, I really don’t give any thought at all to what anyone at Mass is wearing. Nor would I, as some commentators have said, feel “protected” by wearing a head covering (well, a helmet, maybe!). I usually find that the best thing to wear to feel protected is a sidearm.

  101. Charlotte Allen says:

    Where does St. Paul say that Christian women are supposed to cut their hair off and look as unattractive as possible so men won’t be tempted?

    Here is Paul in 1 Cor. 11:5-6 (in the Douai-Rheims)

    “But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head.”

    Paul is saying that short hair on a woman is actually ugly, mannish, and shameful! This isn’t always true–some women, especially pixie types, look great with short hair–but most women look better with longer, fuller hair. Paul agrees: He calls long hair the “glory” of women and women themselves the “glory” of men, which is why God created them. Women are supposed to look nice! Especially for their husbands. Men are very visually oriented, and married men really appreciate the effort their wives put into looking attractive (which does not mean spending every waking moment in front of a mirror or bankrupting the household on clothes).

    That said, I basically agree with St. Paul that Christian women ought to cover their heads in church. I’m torn when I read a passage such as the one above because–I admit it!–I don’t cover my head myself. That’s because not another female soul in my parish (well, maybe there’s one lady) covers her head, and I’m already the conservative parish gadfly and I don’t want to be the conservative parish eccentric weirdo as well. I’ve decided to pick my battles, and trying to get some better music and more Latin into the Mass is the battle I’ve picked. I also try to set a good example of proper church dress by wearing a skirt and high heels to Sunday Mass. It’s an example that has no effect whatsoever. We must be the most determinedly informal parish in Washington, and dressing up for Sunday Mass for most of my fellow parishioners means putting on a clean pair of sweatpants instead of the ones they wore all week.

  102. Unwilling says:

    Veiling is piety is religion is justice.
    …commutative justice,
    if (if if if if if!) the woman likewise receives justice.
    Justice demands payment in a transaction of exchange for what is received;
    but it does not demand payment when nothing is received
    or when something instead is taken;
    [Lament poor! sad! Miley Cyrus…
    aliasque feminas victimas Molochi! victimas Magno Satan!]
    otherwise what is given is supererogatory
    charity and sacrificial self-immolation.

  103. Salvelinus says:

    Women wearing burqas in Mass is kinda weird, for sure. But as a redblooded male, I can also say that the way women dress (especially in the Novus Ordo parishes) is VERY distracting!!!

    It does seem very weird when families make their young female children wear mantillas.
    I thought the reason was to minimize distraction, so why do the young kids wear them?

  104. Cathy says:

    Veiling can be distracting as well, and I agree in regards to veiling children. In as much as it is distracting to see a girl or woman play with their hair during Mass, it is also distracting to see someone constantly playing with their veil or their child’s veil during Mass. Honestly, I wish we could simply bring pretty back. Pretty sturdy dresses, not I’m a floating fairy dresses. It is difficult to find a pretty modest dress as opposed to something that resembles a sack cloth. Perhaps we need Catholics to enter the fashion industry in order to provide something completely different from what is provided by popular retailers.

  105. Anna says:

    Salvenius it’s because those children will one day be adults and they are being trained to be virtuous adults. We don’t say why are those parents teaching their children not to hit it’s not as if they can really hurt anyone? So why the double logic woth regards to the virtue of modesty?

  106. Anna says:

    I think the magic word is Mary.

  107. PA mom says:

    Since the last discussion of this, I bought a nicer winter hat which I am willing to leave on during Mass and continued wearing it during the season I always wear hats.
    I liked it, it was practical in that my hair was no longer headed towards the ceiling all of Mass from having had a hat on and taken it off, and it was special to have a little extra demonstration of obedience and respect for tradition for Jesus.
    That said, I have not yet bought a summer hat, but am sure there will be much more said should I take that next step.

  108. Anna says:

    Head coverings are not an evil to be fought off.

    It is virtuous to cover ones head, in church or (gasp) all the time, if it’s done out of interior modesty or as a symbol that you respect authority. It is good to cover ones head if in a muslim country to preserve one’s life.

    That said, I lack this virtue. When my children are constantly pulling on my mantilla I take it off. I’ll tie a scarf around my head sometimes, when working in the garden, but I can’t stand wearing anything for any length of time. I’m sure that if I suffered it for a couple weeks I would begin to be able to endure it. I
    I don’t think it should be enforced but encouraged. Though if someone thinks it makes them superior perhaps it should be. The norm is no longer Catholic.

    The most basic styles are immodest. A priest once told me I should fit in and my town at that point in time haf three styles over 50 wore pastel capris and tank tops, under 50 wore short shorts and tank tops and there are the menonites, I smiled, then I chuckled.

  109. ChristoetEcclesiae says:

    I have been veiling for several years after quite a battle with myself. Ensconced in a liberal parish with a pastor openly disapproving of my more traditional practices, I try to fly under the radar. Called to veil for far longer than I have actually done so, I finally surrendered to what I believe is God’s will for me and relinquished my own in this matter. When asked, “Why do you wear a veil?”, my short answer is this: because the Blessed Mother asked me to and Jesus approved.

    I would encourage any woman thinking about veiling to take it to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Similarly, I would encourage any woman strongly opposed to veiling to take it to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. There is a beauty and simplicity and symbolism to veiling that is compelling, but it needs to be an opportunity pondered by each woman, and not an obligatory practice. Too, we can do an outwardly good thing for a bad reason. So a woman should ask herself, “Why do (n’t) I want to veil?”

    Veiling in church is a beautiful and worthy custom, and I agree with Fr. Z that “it is a darn good thing and the custom should be revived.” So why veil? Among the reasons, for me, are these:

    1. It is a sign of acknowledgement of, respect for, and surrender to God…that he is the Creator and I am his creature. Simply that.
    2. It is a sign of our faith. It signals to all comers that there is something different going on inside a Catholic church and that we know it and reverence it. It signals that, in crossing that threshold, we enter the presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle and/or that we are about to bear witness to a miracle during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that we approach the Mystery with awe. Ours is a tradition rich in symbolism, in bells and smells. The veil is another symbol that expresses our faith in Jesus.
    3. It helps me pray. It may sound strange, but the veil has come to help me focus and limit distractions. It is also a signal to others that it is not a time to chat with me. I used to wear it only in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I now wear it whenever I am going to pray at some length. I keep one in a desk drawer at my (very secular) office and another in the glove compartment. It is a useful tool of my prayer life. Can I pray a rosary without a physical rosary? Of course, but the object aids the prayer. So, too, I have found, does the veil.
    4. It makes me feel protected, and serves as a reminder of Our Lord’s love for me. I find no oppression in the veil. To the contrary, it reminds me that our Church has often veiled things of mystery, things we value, things we consider precious. Think of the tabernacle or the chalice and their veils, and what they house. Then think of woman, who serves as tabernacle to potential life because God has made it so. The veil is a reminder of God’s grace, and the respect and esteem he expects be shown women that Jesus modeled for us.
    5. It is an excellent conversation starter. As the first woman to veil in my parish, I have been approached by young and old about the veil. “Why do you wear that?” is the usual question. There are now several in our parish who veil. It has led to other questions, e.g. “Why do you receive Communion that way?” (on the tongue) This simple, silent practice has led to important conversations about reverence, the Real Presence, the complementarity of the sexes, and more.

    Each of these reasons points back to Jesus in some way. So, though I really fought against it at the beginning because I didn’t want to be the center of attention, I have found that the veil has not made me so. Rather, it has provided me with opportunities to talk about him and better serve him, to point back to him. So in losing the battle with myself, I seem to have won something more.

    And I’m very sorry this is so long. But I think the topic more important than we are inclined to believe at first glance.

  110. priests wife says:

    hmmm…I’ve been very quiet on my blog- perhaps I should write a pants post? ;)

  111. James Joseph says:

    Regarding the very first comment….

    “God is everywhere.”

    Oh goodie. Thanks Calvin. Thanks Luther. Thanks Zwingli. Now I do not have to go Mass or even be a Catholic.

  112. eulogos says:

    From kindergarden through the end of high school, girls were not allowed to wear pants (American usage) to school. Girls wore dresses or skirts, period. They sent girls home for wearing culottes. I went to a college where we were expected to dress for dinner and seminar, which meant a skirt or a dress for women. (Sadly, although many traditions remain at that school, that one has gone.) So I have a learned feeling that a dress or skirt is proper for dressy occasions for a woman. I wear dresses and skirts to my workplace even though many women wear jeans. I always wear a dress or skirt to Sunday mass. Now that I attend the EF more frequently, where maybe a third of the women wear chapel veils, I have taken to wearing a scarf. There are Orthodox churches I have visited where wearing a scarf is expected, and I happily conformed. Like several other contributors, I am not young, and not thin. But I feel more feminine in a dress. As for the head scarf for church, I like it. I am not sure why. The angels are unlikely to be affected one way or the other by my short grey and white hair! But it gives me a kind of modest, subordinated feeling, and some sense of continuity with a great multitude of unknown humble and pious women. Of course, that is a feeling, and I probably don’t live up to it much outside of church. Still, it is a nice custom.
    I used to walk home with all the Catholic girls-the town was mostly Catholic- in my home town, and accompanied them only to the doors of the church as they made their “visit” to the Blessed Sacrament, putting on a veil, kerchief, or even a kleenix fixed with a bobby pin. I could tell they enjoyed this little custom and did not at all feel demeaned by it. I suppose I like the idea of having joined them now.
    Susan Peterson

  113. aquinasdad says:

    I hope we can change the culture in other ways, don’t you?

  114. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Re: the quote from “On the Veiling of Virgins” above, Tertullian isn’t a Father of the Church. He died a Montanist heretic as far as his contemporaries knew (possibly because he was sad after his wife died, my personal theory), so even the stuff he wrote while sane is only classified as being by an “ecclesiastical writer”. His day job was as a lawyer. The best scholarly guess on when he wrote “Veiling” was after he broke up with the “Psychici” and was trying to be even more heretical. So it’s not exactly what you’d call a superdedupery thing to quote. (I love Tertullian, but this is just no.) [What an … interesting description of Tertullian.]

    2. If an early medieval pope could tell the Bulgarians that he didn’t care if their women wore pants, or if their men wore robes or pants, I don’t see why we’re trying to be less enthusiastic about pants than a medieval pope. Having now seen a lot of manuscript pictures of medieval women working in the fields with their skirts kilted up to miniskirt length and their hosen looking like pants, I can see why medieval popes weren’t shocked by pants on women. Especially when it was much more worrying to have rich young men showing their legs all the time, in their hose and tiny little tunics that didn’t even cover their waists, instead of wearing decent long robes or medium length cotes, like a sober man of means with business to get done.

    3. We’re never going to get anywhere if people are thinking, “Conservative and obsolete outfits are modest.” We need to wear fashion-forward, flattering, well put together outfits that also happen to be modest. (Because “modest” is really really aiming low, ladies. Seriously.) This is the way to make your point, but it’s also just nicer. St. Francis de Sales has a very good chapter “On Modesty in Dress” where he notes that you should dress to the occasion, and that while your clothes should be simple and unpretentious, they shouldn’t look terrible. “For my own part I should like my devout man or woman to be the best dressed person in the company, but the least fine or splendid….” He then quotes King St. Louis, whose rule of thumb was “that the right thing is for every one to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say they are over-dressed, or younger gayer ones that they are under-dressed.” (Of course, St. Louis was assuming that young people would have a tendency to want to dress up more rather than less! But it’s still a fair rule.)

    4. I suspect that veiling/hatting is a hot topic because Catholic women don’t tend to do much mortification, asceticism, saints’ guilds, etc., etc. We are looking for something to give our feet some purchase in the weird world, and we grab at this stuff. Well, that’s natural, but it’s better to anchor your devotional life on other stuff that’s more solid, like the Rosary or the Hours or Scripture reading. It’s not something that past generations had to spend all this angst and brainpower on, and neither should we. Do it or don’t, but don’t dwell on it.

  115. chalynm says:

    I have not read all the comments, so perhaps others have addressed some of these things…

    I cover my hair daily, and I also dress modestly. For me, this means long skirts or dresses and long sleeves year-round. As for my covering, I have a grey Amish-style prayer kapp (my preference at the moment), as well as a number of Jewish-style head scarves. Neither my manner of dress nor any of my coverings have ever caused me to be mistaken for anything other than Amish, except on one occasion when someone asked me if I were a nun, to which I had trouble responding for a moment, as I was about 8 months pregnant at the time. :)

    I began veiling for Mass several years ago when I met our third child’s godmother, who also veils for Mass. As a relatively recent convert, I was unfamiliar with modern veiling, so she gave me a few resources to investigate. After researching, I felt called to cover full-time and to dress more modestly. We require our daughters to veil for Mass once they reach the age of First Communion. Once they leave home, they will be free to discontinue veiling, if they choose. We do not require them to dress the way I do, but we do put restrictions on their clothing options; they absolutely dress much more modestly than the vast majority of girls their age.

    My understanding is that veiling for Mass has never been removed as a requirement, but, as it has not been specifically mentioned in official documents since before Vatican II, the practice has largely been abandoned. In my experience, most priests, if they have anything to say on the subject at all, will say that it’s a private devotion and therefore not to be particularly encouraged or discouraged, but that it is a worthy pursuit, should one feel called to it.

    Some women, like our daughter’s godmother, cover as a penance, some as a special devotion. I do it, as I said, because it’s what I feel called to do. It makes sense to me. If we should cover our hair when we pray, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, and we should pray without ceasing, as he teaches in 1 Thessalonians, then we should always be covered. I find also that my covering and manner of dress do set me apart from the vast majority of those around me. This encourages me to be very aware of the way I present myself and the way I interact with others, so as to be the best witness to the faith that I can be.

  116. Unwilling says:

    Tertullian was mistaken, perhaps culpably, even on the veiling of women. He is not declared a Saint. But he is counted as a Church Father in the traditional Catholic Encyclopedia:

    See also Origen there, as well as other non-Saint Fathers.

  117. Ella says:

    Two points. One, why is it that the exact same women (even “traditional” ones) who screech about being judgmental are the first ones to label (or strongly imply) their headcovering sisters are holier than thou, ill educated about the Bible and Church history, eagerly anticipating being ordered to wear a burqa, etc. Besides being simply wrong, it is judgmental and uncharitable. Two, I started wearing a headcovering in church back when I was a Baptist because of my study of history and the Bible. I do not care whether anyone else wants to do so or not. I have considered covering full time but have not yet been convinced to do so. I do know that the scarf I wear every Mass keeps my eyes from wandering and being faithful in that one little thing has caused me to receive far more graces and blessings than I ever could have imagined. Soli Deo Gloria!

  118. Mary says:

    Head covering is an extension of, a deepening of, the head bowed. Humility. By grace, growing in it each day.

  119. Cafea Fruor says:

    Pants. Sigh. I would like to know, how exactly was it determined, or who determined it, that pants-wearing is for men alone? So many, including many men, in favor of skirts only for women claim Mary as the example to follow. Well, Jesus isn’t exactly depicted wearing pants in any icon or painting of Him that I’ve ever seen. Do you ever see a picture of Him kickin’ back in a pair of Dockers? Or even in suit pants? I didn’t think so. He’s always seen wearing a full-length cloak, or at least one that extends roughly mid-calf, with an over-cloak on top of that. So men, if you ask us to follow Mary as a model and swear that veils aren’t at least partly cultural, why aren’t you taking your own advice and using Jesus as your role model by wearing full-length cloaks? Oh, but that was just a cultural thing? Oh, because it’s practical to wear pants? (practicality is actually why pants were invented – they were first only worn by soldiers on the field, while the stylish men wore togas and the like) Well, since when is practicality solely for men? Why is it so wrong for me, a woman, to wear pants to church? I sometimes walk 3 miles or more to and from church because I don’t own a car. I wear skirts usually, if the weather’s OK. But if it’s extremely cold, snowy/rainy, and windy, do you seriously expect that I should be wearing a skirt that’s going to get more dirty, wetter, and be harder to walk in, all because you think it’s more modest, but it’s OK for you to wear nice, warm, practical pants? I’ll be wearing pants, thank you very much. And I expect you will be, too, because, even though Jesus Himself didn’t wear pants, somewhere down the line, culture shifted and said that pants were OK for you because of practicality. But you’ll want me to wear a skirt because Mary would have. But isn’t Jesus the greater example?

    Seriously, if men have such a problem with women’s bodies that pants are an issue, why is the burden always being put on the women? Why aren’t men taking up some of the burden and walking around with dark glasses so they don’t have to see the offending women?

    Any distinction between men and women with regard to pants, I think, should lie in the cut of the pants, rather than in the wearing or non-wearing of pants per se. There are modest pants that women look feminine, and there are modest pants that make women look unfeminine. With the right pants, it’s pretty obvious that the woman’s a woman and not trying to dress like a man or anything. To rule out all pants entirely is a bit much.

  120. APX says:

    FWIW, Mary hasn’t always appeared veiled. Our Lady of Good Help, who appeared to Adele Brise in Green Bay Wisconsin in the 1800s unveiled, with her long golden wavy hair flowing over her shoulders.


    There is also an approved apparition of Mary who appeared in…pants. *gasp*

  121. StWinefride says:

    There’s a discussion about women wearing trousers in this article from the UK Catholic Herald – it links to a document from Cardinal Siri in 1960:


    In Rome, the painting of Our Lady of the Miracle in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte has Our Lady unveiled:


  122. inara says:

    I have noticed in nearly every discussion of headcoverings & skirts-only, the women in favor tend to be kind & thoughtful in presenting their opinions, while the opposite camp consistently resorts to flame throwing, condescension & sarcasm.

  123. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Chalynm,

    You make an interesting point. If St. Paul said that women should cover their hair while praying and we should pray without ceasing, does this not imply that women should cover their hair without ceasing?

    Not really, because the admonition to pray unceasingly is for all time, but the admonition for a woman to cover her hair is restricted. In 2nd-order logic, the conjunction of an unlimited variable and a limited variable is a limited variable. For instance, to take some silly examples: St. Paul would never envision a woman keeping her hair covering on while it is on fire, even though the woman might be praying that the fire not spread to he clothing (this could happen in a laboratory) or, suppose, a woman decided to sing a song of praise to God in the shower. Should she keep her head covering on while trying to wash her hair? One can pray at all time, but one cannot wear head covering at all times.

    To understand this, one must read St. Paul more closely. It doesn’t say that a woman should cover her hair when she prays, but, rather, when she is praying or prophesying. I have run out of time to go into this, however.

    Note: it doesn’t say that wearing hair covering at all reasonable times might not be a good devotional act, however, as it most certainly, is.

    The Chicken

  124. Supertradmum says:

    Men have told me, including sems, students, and married men, that trousers on women are way more suggestive than skirts. I am not a man, so of course, I do not understand first-hand the attraction. But my rule is not to be attractive to men in any sort of sexy way. God showed me this a long time ago when I was still young and beautiful. I did not want that kind of power over men. Be clean, modest, and lovely as much as the purse will permit, but one does not have to attract any one sexually.

    Some of the most beautiful outfits in England and Ireland are retro, which are in style this Autumn and Winter. Many dresses, many skirts. And modest. Also, one lady I know from church is from Africa and she makes her clothes and always wears her dresses. She is so feminine

    I do not think we need to look like the Blessed Mother, who lived in the first century and if she were walking the earth today, we would not even notice her. She would dress like any other Jewish woman, not Islamic, and she would be simple, modest, clean, feminine.

    The Catholic Church has never demanded that the laity dress like first century desert people. In fact, I am sure the vast majority of Christians in the early Church, who were Gentiles, did not adopt Hebrew dress.

    In fact, to say such is to fall into the heresy of those who thought all men should be circumcised, and that Jewish food laws should be followed. St. Paul clarified all that for us and so did St. Peter, after his vision of the food. The Gentiles had to adopt NO practices of the Jews. And, by the way, my ancestors on my mother’s side were Jewish and dressed like other 19th women and looked lovely.

    Only small cults insist on medieval dress. I am a Catholic woman in the world and dress as appropriately as I can.

  125. inara says:

    I’d like to add a few comments to some incorrect statements/conclusions made in various places above:

    Pope Nicholas I did state that it was not an issue whether or not the newly-converted Bulgar women wore trousers; however, what he was ruling on was not remotely similar to our modern version of pants for women. In fact, they were a voluminous, poufy, harem-style garment that was extremely loose from the waist to the knees (therefore posing no danger to modesty since the form of the wearer was in no way revealed ~ think MC Hammer, or google “Zouave” or “serouel”). They were fitted around the calf, so as to be easily worn with boots, since they were an equestrian society.

    While the Blessed Mother has not always appeared wearing a veil, she does *always* have something on her head ~ usually a crown (which was the case in the Wisconsin apparition of Our Lady of Good Help).

    Our Lady of LaVang (presumably the apparition being referred where Mary sports trousers) wore a traditional “ao dai”, which does have loose pantaloons underneath, but covered by an *ankle length* long-sleeved gown. I know many long-skirt wearing ladies who wear some type of legging or pants beneath their dresses for warmth or practicality.

  126. Imrahil says:

    As the dear @Supertradmum brought the subject of mediaeval dress up,

    then all unmarried women would not wear a cap and all the married ones would. That was a rule.

    Only small cults insist on medieval dress as a matter of morality, but… beautiful they do look.

    By the way, speaking as a man, I do not perceive in my any sexual attraction of trousers on me. As for the attraction through beauty and loveliness – which certainly is a good thing, and is certainly the main part of any “attraction”, if the word be used, which women have on men – skirts as a rule have more of that because they are, simply, more beautiful.

  127. Precentrix says:

    On the subject of Mediaeval dress…

    But I can wear it if I want to, right?!?!?!!!!

    (with the addition of, say, buttons – we aren’t Puritans after all!)

  128. Supertradmum says:

    BTW, just for a historical reference, it is documented that St. Pio of Pietrelcina in at least two biographies, refused to hear the Confessions of women in trousers, and handed out sweaters to women in sleeveless tops or dresses. Now, of course, this is not doctrine, and one saint’s view. But, he is a saint and I am not.

  129. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Bulgar women were wearing riding pants, just like the Bulgar men. I guarantee that you don’t want floaty gauzy riding pants. Your thighs would be glad to corroborate this.

  130. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Pictures of Bulgars show both men and women wearing either long robes over moderately fitted riding pants and boots, tunics down to the upper or midthigh over moderately fitted riding pants and boots, or divided robes/tunics over moderately fitted riding pants and boots. And no, the women don’t look “mannish,” any more than European women looked “mannish” when both men and women wore long robes. There are differences between the styles and colors which presumably were culturally important, and that how women and men maintained their identities. Sheesh.

    Padre Pio was not sent to be a missionary to the Bulgar horse nomads. If he had been, he would probably also have been wearing riding pants under his habit, and he wouldn’t have been worried about the piety of the lady Bulgars. Worrying about the piety of Italian ladies who travel to Pietrelcina in cars or trains, yet still won’t bother to dress up for church, is a different matter.

  131. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. Like many here, I’m not against wearing stuff on your head. Everybody who knows me knows that I wear hats to church (and anywhere else I feel like it, at the drop of a hat). I wear dresses lots. But there’s a big difference between “it’s a good thing to do” and “you should, you must, you’d better not do anything else.” What the Church says is mandatory is mandatory. What the Church doesn’t say, she doesn’t say.

    2. I am against people believing some weird Catholic theme park version of Catholic history and doctrine. Jesus Christ is the Truth, the Way, and the Life, and you don’t find the Way and have His Life within you if you don’t love Truth. It’s probably better to believe in Cinderella’s Castle rather than believe in no castle at all, but Cinderella’s Castle is not a good guide to fortress and siege architecture. I don’t know what truth will be essential for you to know or for me to remember in the future, so I’m not going to let anything untrue pass if I can help it. If I corrected my teachers’ spelling mistakes and gave helpful tips to my worst enemies, do you think I’m going to let incorrect statements about our faith pass by? No!

    3. Errors and misstatements make me cranky.

  132. inara says:

    Suburbanbanshee ~ yes, I assume the Bulgars’ bottoms were of a sturdy, substantial fabric, since this style of riding wear was used for military & cavalry uniforms even into the 20th century. Maybe googling was not the best suggestion on my part, since that turns up quite a few images of silky, belly-dancing type versions, which obviously are not what we are talking about. I was trying mostly to give a visual of the cut of the garment, to show how they were functional while still concealing the intimate details of the wearer’s body, to illustrate why the Pope would not have concerns about them being a danger to modesty.

    You are also correct that both men & women wore them &, as you said, that distinctions of male or female clothing were made in other ways (more or less decoration, different style of blouse or jacket, etc.)

    As SuperT said (& I think you would agree), the Church does not require a uniform style for all cultures of Christians throughout the world. It does, however, require adherence to a uniform standard of concealing certain areas of the body, since concupiscence does not change with the times. The Popes of the early 20th century were particularly concerned about this, hence the Papal Decree Concerning Modesty of 1930: http://www.olvrc.com/documents/Modesty.Pius.XI.pdf

  133. AgricolaDeHammo says:

    Right on Suburbanbanshee! Some of these comments are too much…
    As a young man I have to agree that modest should not be the opposite of fashion. In fact most people today don’t even bother with creativity/style in dress. My college campus was filled with girls too lazy or uninspired to change out of sweatpants/tights and the same boring tshirts/tight tops. This is something that goes beyond the holy sacrifice of the Mass. A girl dressed modestly with a sense of fashion would stand out right away – in a good way.
    Same goes for guys wearing clothes a size too big… Understand what proper fit is please!

  134. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’m still stuck on the notion of convincing people to dress in their Sunday best for Mass at all. Shouldn’t we back up a step and worry about veils, hats, snoods, and burquas sometime after we convince people to stop wearing not just any pants to Church, but pajama bottoms? I don’t know about where the rest of you folks live, but here in the Northeast, the latest, greatest fashion trend is for people to wear their pj pants and slippers out in public as though it is an actual outfit of some sort. And some of the teens at the local N.O. parishes in my area dress that way at Mass too. Now technically, it still counts as being “modest” to attend Mass wearing a shirt (not a tank or cami) with one’s legs and feet covered, as they are when one wears pj pants and slippers but um….

  135. inara says:

    YES ~ we have become so obsessed with our comfort that we can’t even bother to get dressed anymore. Professors dress like their students (& prefer to be addressed by their first names as well), doctors dress like their gardeners (mine wore capris, a tank top & flip flops at my last checkup) ~ there are no distinctions of authority or propriety. We have forgotten our dignity & are now just a lazy, indistinguishable, sloppy mess.

  136. capchoirgirl says:

    inara: I had a professor in college who put proper dress in his syllabus (this was in 2001-2004, so not that long ago!). He said if you came to class in pajamas, he would count you absent, and attendance was part of your grade. Oh, I was happy the day he gave that announcement to our class!

  137. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Suburbanshee,

    it seems to happen rarely (and I am not proud of that fact, but cannot help it) that I agree wholeheartedly with a comment in its entire contend and tendency… But, there we go:

    I subscribe to the entirety of what you wrote in your last comment.

    (In attitude. Being male I of course do not wear a hat myself in Church…)

  138. AnnAsher says:

    Jeanie_C said “dress modestly, am neat and clean, that should suffice. Veiling in church is one thing, but imposing wardrobe rules upon others based on personal preference is quite another matter.”

  139. Margaret says:

    Anyone who’s ever raised a toddler knows full well that the magic word is “Please.” Sheesh… ;)

  140. frahobbit says:

    It’s easy to imagine torn jeans, t-shirt, disreputable sneakers, army surplus knapsack with magic marker graffiti on the knapsack, tattoos and piercings all over, and a beautiful lace veil…

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