Sunday, August 4, 2013

Modesty and Chapel Veils

I received a very informative email from a reader, Inara, concerning the wearing of chapel veils by Catholic women.  Inara is a contributor to a website entitled “The Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate”, where you will find many good resources on modesty.

The following is an email she sent to the parochial vicar of her parish, just prior to the EF Mass being celebrated weekly at her parish.
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Dear Father,

Thank you for your support! It seems many good priests understand at least some of the theology behind veiling (as a sign of being under authority in God's natural order, as a component of modesty, a symbol of the holiness of purpose of woman's body, etc.), but the disagreement seems to come in when trying to determine if the Church still considers it binding.

Please forgive my boldness, but I think it may be the case that the Church does actually still require it (though a woman's culpability may be mitigated, since the rebellion against it has been so great in Western culture). The argument to the contrary seems to be "it was in the 1917 Code, but was not included in the 1983 Code, therefore the Church no longer requires it." This would seem to make sense, if we are talking about a juridical topic; however, head coverings for women is a liturgical issue. In the chapter summaries of every Catholic Bible I have examined, Paul's discourse beginning in 1 Corinthians 11 on veiling is classified as part of "answers to liturgical questions."

Canon 2 of the 1983 Code states, "This Code for the most part does not define the rites that are to be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. Therefore, current liturgical norms retain their force unless any of them are contrary to the Canons of this Code." Since head coverings for women:

were required by 1917 Code, canon 1262 & there is no canon in the new Code which is contrary to it,

supercede canon law by virtue of being an Immemorial Custom (see canon 26 & 27),

are mandated in Scripture by St. Paul, with no exceptions or allowances (plus an appeal to Natural Law),

it seems clear that they are a liturgical norm which retains force. Even the Canonical Defender himself, Dr. Edward Peters, says on his blog, "Faithful with liturgical questions probably ought not look to the 1983 Code for answers because, with a few important exceptions, Canon law does not treat liturgical matters."

We also have a concrete statement from a much more recent source than the 1917 Code. In June of 1969, Annibale Bugnini (later named Archbishop), Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and head of the Liturgical Commissions under Popes Pius XII, John XXIII & Paul VI, when asked about his comment from a month earlier that veils were "not on the agenda" of the current reforms (which was incorrectly reported as veils were "no longer required"), said,"The rule has not been changed. It is a matter of general discipline."  

Even if one were not convinced that the above evidence is enough to compel women to cover their heads at a Novus Ordo Mass, there still seems to be a case for doing so at the EF. At least one eminent opinion agrees: "It is the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads." ~ Raymond Cardinal Burke, April 2011 (in a letter responding to precisely this question, archived on

Whether "expectation", "rule", "force", "discipline", etc. = "binding under pain of sin" can be debated, I suppose, though St. Paul's strong words seem indisputable, especially since he leads with this topic when addressing problems occurring within the assemblies at Corinth. After all, how can we simply ignore a command of New Testament Scripture? Is that not a dangerous precedent? I think he was clear this was a non-negotiable issue precisely because he understood how timeless it was. Appearing before the Lord uncovered is actually full of impudent, modern feminist symbolism..."I can stand before my God bareheaded, same as you, mister!" (which is why he says it offends the angels present at Mass...even they cover themselves in the presence of the Lord)

At any rate...I certainly did not expect you to come dashing out of the gate tonight yelling "cover your heads, you brazen hussies!" As you said, there is much catechesis necessary if newcomers (including me!) are to appreciate & immerse themselves in the riches the EF contains. I only wanted you to have resources to refer to in case you were posed this question. I thought this might be likely to happen, especially if those fond of the EF from around the diocese attend this evening with mantillas galore! :o) This is such a beautiful part of our Catholic identity that has been lost, and I hope more women will seek to understand & embrace it. As a convert who later was prompted by the Holy Spirit to investigate this custom (despite no one else at my parish doing so), I can attest to the beneficial spiritual effect it can have. There is something very comforting about overcoming your own will to submit to a practice you know in your heart is pleasing to God.

Humbly yours,



  1. I always wear a veil to Holy Mass.

    As I've said, my Parish has the TLM. Women do wear veils to the Latin Mass here. Everywhere else, it's a different story. I wear my veil to daily Mass at another parish and am the only one doing so, despite the few ugly looks from people.

    I love to veil. Sometimes I wonder why can't we all just worship as we once worshiped. No, instead others look down on us who love tradition and want to worship as we once worshiped.

    We mustn't ignore Sacred Scripture. St. Paul said veil, therefore I will obey. Period.

    God bless!


  2. When did this concept of 'veiling' come into being in North America? I grew up in the 50s and 60s and 'veiling' was not a concept we knew. We covered our heads to go into a church but a veil was something worn by religious sisters, first communicants and brides. Other females wore hats, kerchiefs, tuques, or whatever they had at hand if a hat wasn't available (Kleenex and bobby pins, anyone?).

    Please note that I have absolutely no problem with putting something on my head to go into a church. But I have a problem with 'returning' to something that didn't really exist, at least not in my country or the US. In all my years in church never was 'modesty' ever evoked as a reason for wearing a hat.

    1. Hi Gabby. I grew up Catholic in Tennessee, WVA, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. I graduated from grade school in 1966. In every state, the Catholic Churches I attended saw the women with covered heads. Yes hats, kercheif, babuskas, and beautiful chapel caps and mantillas.

  3. BRAVO Dr. Jay: I think it is clear that we must COVER and veil, which I do all the time these days .
    Women are to cover their heads and come in their Sunday BEST!
    Men are to wear suits and take their hats off when entering the Holy Sanctuary ...
    Modesty is a must at all times and in all places ....
    We are called to be obedient to the ways of GOD and not do our own thing, Obedience ...something that took me a very long time to embrace ....God Bless

  4. @Gabby: What country did you grow up in? I grew up in the late 50s and 60s here in the U.S. and I remember quite clearly always wearing a little covering on my head. I don't know what it was called; it wasn't a veil, just a small, round piece of lace that was bobby pinned on. I think that's what my Mom wore too, not a veil.

    But to say that veiling didn't really exist? Uh, no. Veiling most certainly did exist. Maybe it depended on what part of the country you lived in, whether women and girls wore veils or those little things I wore.

  5. I grew up in Canada. Yes we covered our heads in church. Any picture you see from even back in the 20s shows women wearing hats, kerchiefs, berets, etc., no 'veil'.

    'Veils' such as mantillas didn't come into the picture until Jackie Kennedy wore one to the Vatican and even then it didn't replace the hat. It became a convenient piece of kit to keep in your purse because it could be folded really small and slipped into a plastic case in case you went to confession or dropped in to pray. Sunday best still included a hat.

  6. Gabby, it's very true that in most parts of the world, lacey mantilla-style veils have not been the norm throughout history. Until the mid-18th century, lace was handmade and very expensive. Traditionally, women most typically wore a scarf or shawl, long enough to conceal their hair beneath it.

    The Church only requires that women's heads be "covered", though that has been interpreted in different cultures in different ways, which may or may not fully embrace what the Church has in mind. If we look to the early Church Fathers, they indicate that headcoverings should be at least long enough to reach the neckline of one's clothing & be opaque rather than sheer, a detail that the lace ones actually don't seem to fulfill.

    I think the reason they have become popular lately is that they are lovely... & those who wear them are part of a reaction against the iconoclasm & stripping of the beautiful from our churches & liturgy. So, while lace veils may not actually be "traditional" in the sense that North American women used to actually wear them, they represent a desire to regain the richness & beauty we have lost.

  7. I am old. In the late 1940's and 1950's I went to Mass in the United States, France, Germany, Spain,etc.

    In the US, women wore hats, usually, or headscarves, sometimes. Hats were more proper and "dressy". Mantillas were worn in Latin countries. Then in the '60's, Jackie Kennedy wore a mantilla to Mass, and it became "OK" for everyone to wear a mantilla. In Catholic schools nuns began to permit the little round chapel veils instead of the beanies or other ugly uniform hats that were normally required. That said, I wear a mantilla to Mass in the summer and a hat in the winter, because nice summer hats are hard to find and very expensive.


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