This last installment in our series on the history, usage, and im- portance of veils within our Catholic tradition focuses on anissue that has recently come back into vogue, namely the issue of women cov- ering their heads in the Church. Prior to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, it was re- quired that women wear a head cover- ing whilst in the Church building (yes, even after the reform of the liturgy in 1969, this was the law until 1983, de- spite the fact that nobody observed it). The practice of covering one’s head in a holy place is of the most ancient origin, as a sign of humility, reverence and re- spect. Coming from the teaching of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthi- ans, women were instructed to cover their heads in worship that the glory of their beauty might be subordinated to the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor 11:2-16).
Obviously the question of women wearing veils in Church is one that stirs a great deal of debate, as many of Paul’s reasons for a woman to wear a veil are rooted in what some consider to be out- moded interpretations of the respective roles of the genders. However, there is something to be said for the dignity and beauty of the female gender, especially when looked at through the lens of the Faith. Women are, in no small measure, a visible symbol of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and the veil is meant to be a visible reminder of the perfect sub- mission of the Church to the loving will of Christ. Put another way, a head cov- ering may be seen as a public proclama- tion that one is willing to submit to Christ out of love and serve without question.
For a similar reason, St. Paul for- bids men to cover their heads. To cover one’s baldness, a mark of shame, would be to hide one’s humility with vanity and pride before God. At the heart of the issue for either gender—and a les- son that can be learned by all—is the fact that we all must seek to humble ourselves in the Divine Presence as a reminder that we are truly dependent upon God for all that we need, and that our devotion to Him must always begin with a recognition of our own sinfulness and His mercy.
So, all that having been said, there is no requirement that a woman keep her head covered. It is merely an option that some choose to exercise as a visible sign of their own private devotion. Lest we commit a grave uncharity toward one of our neighbors, we ought never to judge one way or the other. Private de- votion is just that: private. And the di- versity that we can see visibly in how people choose to express their devotion to God should be a comforting sign to us of the greatness of God and His love for all people.
Originally published in The Lewis County Catholic Times on 12 February 2017.