From Sri Lanka comes the following article:

Priests at St Lucia’s Cathedral in Colombo are insisting that young women cover their heads while at Mass. The move is part of a drive to have churchgoers dress appropriately during religious ceremonies.

Many Catholics have complained that churchgoers in Colombo turn up for services in short skirts, halter tops, low cut blouses and shorts. In a recent Sunday homily, Father John Paul Vinoth, ….a priest at the cathedral, said that modest dressing would help create an atmosphere that is more “conducive to a spiritual experience.”…..

“Modest dress is beginning to disappear,” said Father Anthony Victor Sosai, who is also vicar general of Mannar diocese….. noting that Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim places of worship have enforced a strict dress code for centuries.

Laypeople have also expressed concern over declining dress standards.

These are excerpts, the full article can be found HERE

[N.B. I am suffering from a rather bad stomach virus and all the unpleasantreis that go with it. I hope you won’t mind if I recycle an old, but popular post on the issue of women and veils.  Perhaps some newer readers to the blog have never seen it. I should be back in shape tomorrow if this is one of those 24 hour things. ]

This blog post is not meant to be a directive discussion about what should be done. Rather an informative discussion about the meaning of head coverings for women in the past and how such customs might be interpreted now. We are not in the realm of liturgical law here just preference and custom.

What I’d like to do is to try and understand the meaning and purpose of a custom that, up until rather recently was quite widespread in the Western Church. The picture at the right was taken by LIFE Magazine in the early 1960s.

With the more frequent celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, the use of the veil is also becoming more common. But even at the Latin Masses I celebrate, women exhibit diversity in this matter. Some wear the longer veil (mantilla) others a short veil. Others wear hats. Still others wear no head covering at all.

History – the wearing of a veil or hat for women seems to have been a fairly consistent practice in the Church in the West until fairly recently. Practices in the Eastern and Orthodox Churches have varied. Protestant denominations also show a wide diversity in this matter. The 1917 Code of Canon Law in the Catholic Church mandated that women wear a veil or head covering. Prior to 1917 there was no universal Law but it was customary in most places for women to wear some sort of head covering. The 1983 Code of Canon Law made no mention of this requirement and by the 1980s most women, at least here in America, had ceased to wear veils or hats anyway. Currently there is no binding rule and the custom in most places is no head covering at all.

Scripture – In Biblical Times women generally wore veils in any public setting and this would include the Synagogue. The clearest New Testament reference to women veiling or covering their head is from St. Paul:

But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor 11:1-11)

This is clearly a complicated passage and has some unusual references. Paul seems to set forth four arguments as to why a woman should wear a veil.

1. Argument 1 – Paul clearly sees the veil a woman wears as a sign of her submission to her husband. He also seems to link it to modesty since his references to a woman’s hair cut short were references to the way prostitutes wore their hair and his reference to a shaved head was the punishment due an adultress. No matter how you look at it such arguments aren’t going to encourage a lot of women to wear a veil today. It is a true fact that the Scriptures consistently teach that a wife is to be submitted to her husband. I cannot and will not deny what God’s word says even though it is unpopular. However I will say that the same texts that tell a woman to be submitted tell the husband to have a great and abiding love for his wife. I have blogged on this “difficult” teaching on marriage elsewhere and would encourage you to read that blog post if you’re troubled or bothered by the submission texts. It is here:

2. Argument 2 – Regarding the Angels- Paul also sees a reason for women to wear veils “because of the angels.” This is a difficult reference to understand. There are numerous explanations I have read over the years. One of the less convincing ones is that the angels are somehow distracted by a woman’s beauty. Now the clergy might be :-) but it just doesn’t seem likely to me that the angels would have this problem. I think the more convincing argument is that St. Paul has Isaiah in mind who wrote: I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.(Is 6:2-3). Hence the idea seems to be that since the angels veil their faces (heads) it is fitting for women to do the same. But then the question, why not a man too? And here also Paul supplies an aswer that is “difficult” for modern ears: A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. In other words a man shares God’s glory immediately whereas a woman does as well but derivatively for she was formed from Adam’s wounded side. Alas this argument too will not likely cause a run on veil sales.

3. Argument 3 – The argument from “nature” – In effect Paul argues that since nature itself veils a woman with long hair and this is her glory that this also argues for her covering her head in Church. What is not clear is that, if nature has already provided this covering, why then should she cover her covering? I want to take up this notion of glory in my conclusion.

4. Argument 4- The Argument from Custom- This argument is pretty straight-forward: Paul says it is customary for a woman to cover her head when praying and, other things being equal, this custom should be followed. Paul goes on to assert that those who insist on doing differently are being “argumentative.” In effect he argues that for the sake of good order and to avoid controversy the custom should be followed. However, in calling it a custom, the text also seems to allow for a time like ours where the custom is different. Customs have stability but are not usually forever fixed. Hence, though some argue that wearing veils is a scriptural norm that women “must” follow today, the use of the word custom seems to permit of the possibility that it is not an unvarying norm we are dealing with here. Rather, it is a custom from that time that does not necessarily bind us today. This of course seems to be how the Church understands this text for she does not require head coverings for her daughters.

Conclusions -

1. That women are not required to wear veils today is clear in terms of Church Law. The argument that the Church is remiss in not requiring this of her daughters is hard to sustain when scriptures attach the word “custom” to the practice. There may be some local ordinances by bishop’s conferences but there is no universal Church law on this matter.

2. I will say however that I like veils and miss women wearing them. When I was a boy in the 1960s my mother and sister always wore their veils and so did all women in those days and I remember how modestly beautiful I found them to be. When I see women wear them today I have the same impression.

3. That said, a woman does not go to Church to please or impress me.

4. It is worth noting that a man is still forbidden to wear a hat in Church. If I see it I go to him and ask him to remove it. There a partial exception to the clergy who are permitted to wear birettas and to bishops who are to wear the miter. However, there are strict rules in this regard that any head cover is to be removed when they go to the altar. Hence, for men, the rule, or shall we say the custom, has not changed.

5. This leads me then to a possible understanding of the wearing of the veil for women and the uncovered head for the men that may be more useful to our times. Let’s call it The Argument from Humility.

For both men and women, humility before God is the real point of these customs. In the ancient world as now, women gloried in their hair and often gave great attention to it. St. Paul above, speaks of a woman’s hair as her glory. As a man I am not unappreciative of this glory. Women do wonderful things with their hair. As such their hair is part of their glory and, as St. Paul says it seems to suggest above it is appropriate to cover our glory before the presence of God.

As for men, in the ancient world and to some lesser extent now, hats often signified rank and membership. As such men displayed their rank and membership in organizations with pride in the hats they wore. Hence Paul tells them to uncover their heads and leave their worldly glories aside when coming before God. Today men still do some of this (esp. in the military) but men wear less hats in general. But when they do they are often boasting of allegiances to sports teams and the like. Likewise, some men who belong to fraternal organizations such as the various Catholic Knights groups often display ranks on their hats. We clergy do this as well to some extent with different color poms on birettas etc. Paul encourages all this to be left aside in Church. As for the clergy, though we may enter the Church with these ranked hats and insignia, we are to cast them aside when we go to the altar. Knights organizations are also directed to set down their hats when the Eucharistic prayer begins.

I do not advance this argument from humility to say women ought to cover their heads, for I would not require what the Church does not. But I offer the line of reasoning as a way to understand veiling in a way that is respectful of the modern setting, IF a woman chooses to use the veil. Since this is just a matter of custom then we are not necessarily required to understand its meaning in exactly the way St. Paul describes. Submission is biblical but it need not be the reason for the veil. Humility before God seems a more workable understanding especially since it can be seen to apply to both men and women in the way I have tried to set it forth.

There are an amazing number of styles when it comes to veils and mantillas: Mantillas online

This video gives some other reasons why a woman might wear a veil. I think it does a pretty good job of showing some of the traditions down through the centuries. However I think the video strays from what I have presented here in that it seems to indicate that women ought to wear the veil and that it is a matter of obedience. I do not think that is what the Church teaches in this regard. There can be many good reasons to wear the veil but I don’t think we can argue that obedience to a requirement is one of them.

76 Responses

  1. AJD says:

    Dear Monsignor, I hope and pray that you feel better soon and recover quickly.

    I have found great contentment and peace of soul in covering my head for Mass and whenever I am in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It helps me as a young woman to emulate Our Lady, to be a woman of modesty, chastity, and humility; a woman of submission, strength, and sacrifice.

    I often wear a simple crocheted veil in blue, chosen in honor of the Blessed Virgin. I have a beautiful lace veil in an antique-white that I wear occasionally, especially on feast days of Our Lord. I also have a versatile black cap, which is easy to wear and perfect for times when I’m going to a parish in which other women don’t veil.

    This is a stunning and beautiful quote from St John Chrysostom that touches on veiling:

    “Woman, because she was created by being drawn from man’s side, is constantly trying to return to him. She desires the original unity of one flesh and one bone. The desire for unity between man and woman is a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the soul. As woman longs for union with man in human relationships, she is also drawn to unity with God. He calls her to become one with Him: to come under His side and become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. This occurs during reception of Eucharist. The covering of the head with a veil symbolizes the reality of woman sheltered in the side of her Source and becoming one with Him. She becomes covered and hidden in her Divine Spouse.”

    God bless you.

    • Vijaya says:

      This is a beautiful quote from St. John C. And I will echo the same feeling of humility and the desire to obey both God and husband. Veiling helps me to concentrate better and because I am often overcome with tears as I gaze upon the crucifix, or listen to some hymns or readings, it also affords some privacy. My thick glasses help as well. I have wool shawls from India for the winter and for Christmas got some lacy Spanish veils for the summer months.

      I believe we need to do a better job of teaching the young girls about modesty and obedience, especially in a culture that misunderstands it.

  2. Dismas says:

    Hope you’re back on your feet in time for all this weekend’s important events. However, I can’t help but wonder what could be born of the unpleasantries of a bad stomach virus and find myself mindful that all big dreams usually require some pain and sacrifice. You’re always in my prayers, God’s speed.

  3. Ruth Ann says:

    Please get some rest so you can get well, Msgr. Pope.

    I agree that modest dress is appropriate and should be encouraged. Beyond encouragement there is probably a need for some gentle, respectful education on exactly what constitutes modest dress and its relationship to reverence in church. However, modesty is possible to attain without ordering women or girls to wear a veil. Headgear of any kind for women ought to be optional as it is now.

    In my parish there are many men and women who dress modestly, and they are good examples for everyone. There are also some who dress immodestly.

    If immodest dress were a serious problem in a particular parish, I would suggest to the pastor to form a committee or group of women to suggest some standards for women and a group of men to do likewise for the men. Maybe these groups could come from the Ladies’ or Mens’ Society of the parish. Maybe they could be from among those parishioners who consistently dress modestly. Perhaps the parish could sponsor a church fashion show.

    When I was in Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica had signs with simple graphics posted to show appropriate dress for men and women. Inside the basilica there were ushers who would not let violators of the standards enter.

    If people can’t or don’t cooperate parish ushers could do the same thing.

    • J says:

      I like your example, Ruth Ann, about what is done at St Peter’s Basilica. It makes me wonder, however, what need there is for the formation of a committee, if a church can employ the ushers it already has and signs like the ones that St Peter’s employs, as you pointed out, successfully.

      • Ruth Ann says:

        I have no idea how St. Peter’s Basilica arrived at their standards. Maybe the pope decided. Maybe a member of the curia decided. Maybe St. Peter’s has a parish council???? Don’t know.

        But in a regular parish, I think the issue needs to be discussed by adult members, standards established by consensus, and then implemented.

  4. Magistra Bona says:

    We might also look at current practice among the Orthodox Jews with respect to covering the head/hair.
    Jewish women who are married are required to wear a head covering of some kind, a lot or a little. Single women are not. Why? It makes it a whole lot easier for single men to refrain from shaking hands with a married woman (forbidden among the ultra-Orthodox and preferred among the Orthodox). Neither married or single men are to touch the wife of another. Adultery is a whole lot less likely when you don’t touch. Single men, on the other hand, can tell–without touching–that a woman is available. Why spin your wheels? Go for the bareheaded. You can’t touch them either, but you can strike up a conversation or propose marriage. This is common sense at work. I like this system.
    As a feminist, I prefer to let the choice of headcovering belong to the head that wants to wear a veil. Let my sisters cover their heads if they like. They’re still the same woman underneath that veil. And when it is their free choice, I know they are not cowering under male or female disapproval. They do not offend me.
    St. Ignatius had a complaint against women covering their heads when they were not married. The whores of Salamanca, often the concubines of priests, took to covering their heads with mantillas in imitation of the donas who were married. It offered them status. But it was a lie. Ignatius commanded them to un-cover their heads. They were scandalous. Leaving aside the issue of why would a whore go to church in the first place, it should be clear that there are more important things for women to do in church besides cover their heads. if those heads are filled with ignorance and self-loathing, then the veil hides sin. If the veil is an occasion for pride in one’s righteousness and superior modesty to those bareheaded vixens, then the veil hides sin. If the veil is used as a pretext for denying access to the sacraments to otherwise reasonably dressed women, then the veil hides sin. Demanding the veil instead of asking for reasonable dress (no bare body parts that distract or offend) is overkill. Ask for the modesty that springs from a desire to be focused on Christ–not the nostalgia of traditionalists.
    When I was married, I wore the veil. Now that I’m not I don’t. I am still myself and Christ knows my face, even if priests and the nostalgic do not.

  5. Linus says:

    It is unfortunate that some women ( both young, the middle aged, and even some elderly) do not seem to have a sense of modesty in their dress at church. It is something priests and bishops are reluctant to address. But it is a real problem. Nor do some know how to behave properly ( legs should not be crossed, no display of physical affection should be given). Indeed modesty of dress and comportment should be practiced both at home and in public and at work. Why should it be limited to church? The old testiment has a few things to say about the dress and comportment of women. Lack of modesty and comportment is wide spred even in Catholic grade schools and high schools. I get a monthly magazine from my high school almamater which is just scandelous. One is afraid to even open it. Even the covers make one blush.

  6. Linus says:

    Let me add that I greatly admire the way Amish and Minnonite women dress and comport themselves in public. Catholic girls and women could do worse than to follow their example. Old fashioned, perhaps, but wholesome looking and sober. I think they dress and comport themselves the way God intended.

    • Speechless says:

      ??????? Uhhh… they dress that way because they are prisoners in a modern day religious cult!!! Did you not see the HUUUUUGE story back in 2008 about the fundamentalist cult that got raided because the elders were committing statutory rape on their multiple under-18 teenage ‘wives’ that were forced into marriage? The hundreds of kids taken into protective custody? The sad stories of young women who basically succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome after growing up under men who were pedophiles and women who were too subservient to recognize the evil in their own families?

      What’s next? Burqas? Then the women will be completely covered and that will hide all of the marks from where the men hit them? Don’t be fooled by the way these people dress — appearing “modest” doesn’t mean anything when they treat women as property and order them around like slaves!!!

      • A little extreme here don’t you think speechless?

      • kirsten says:

        there is a big difference between the Amish and the cult you mention. i live near Lancaster PA and know many Amish and Mennonite, my (extremely strong minded and liberal) mom is friends with many of them as well.

        the only thing they have in common is MAYBE their clothing.

        Amish women are not restricted in where they go. they are not kept home, they WORK , in fact many Amish women are the ONLY member of their family to work outside the home and farm. that is, ujnlike the oppressive cults they are the ONLY members of the family to routinely deal with the outside world. hardly the same at all.

        is there abuse? sure. every group has abuse issues. my friend came from a family that was part of a free love, swinging, dress to seduce culture…and she was abused, which is one reason why she now dresses extremely modestly, because. as she says, “my body is not there because some other guy wants to look at it. its taken me years of therapy to get to the point where i can say my body is my own.”

        which is also why she , and many other abuse survivors, wont get on an airplane with the new scaners and pat downs. far too traumatic.

        you are reacting against something in YOUR past, speechless. dont project it onto people like me.

        for the record? i used to be one of those immodest people. i strive to be better now. my husband was more baffled than supportive at first, he certainly had nothing to do with it.

  7. Erica says:

    Hope you are doing better!

    The article about Sri Lanka is interesting. Can a priest really insist people dress a certain way if it is not required by Church law? Somehow I can’t see that happening in the United States.

  8. J says:

    I bought my wife a veil for Christmas.

    I told her that I was going to before I bought it, in order to bounce a couple of ideas around. What size? What color? But her first reaction was to tear up with a big smile on her face.

    I believe that a woman’s wearing of the veil in church is a supernatural activity, that Paul’s injunction is clearly intended to speak to the souls of women, not merely to the conventions of one particular time and place.

    After I told my wife that she would be getting a veil for Christmas, she later told me that, until she got the veil, she felt different going to church. Underdressed.

    Now, I usually forget about the veil until Sunday morning when I see her with it suddenly on when we’re about to leave. She never forgets it, whether for Sunday Mass or any other day of the week. And, how strange, although she’s a very reserved woman, phlegmatic of temperament, introverted, she has never been afraid to be thought too pious by our American Catholic parish in the D.C. area (which usually means, men wear polos and khakis or jeans, women wear tight, bosom-emphasizing shirts, teenage girls wear skirts which expose their knees and thighs). On the first day, I noticed that as we were walking to the Church, as I was holding my son’s hand and she was carrying our daughter, she reached up and took hold of my arm with her free hand. It was a subtle thing, but I knew what it meant: “Here is my tiny kernel of fear as we approach the doors; take it and encourage me.”

    But there are supernatural gifts attendant upon piety, if only we do not expect them as our right, as the hagiographies always show us when the hero goes out into the wilderness before the account of his miracles begins. Starting with John the Baptist, then Jesus himself, and of course Athanasius’ Antony of Egypt, Gregory’s Benedict, Sulpicius Severus’ Martin of Tours, Bede’s Cuthbert, and on and on.

    Supernatural gifts—first of all peace—are attendant upon asceticism and piety. If only we start and bear through with simplicity.

    Thanks, Monsignor, for sharing your love of veils.

    • Plain Catholic says:

      J wrote:
      “But there are supernatural gifts attendant upon piety, if only we do not expect them as our right, as the hagiographies always show us when the hero goes out into the wilderness before the account of his miracles begins. Starting with John the Baptist, then Jesus himself, and of course Athanasius’ Antony of Egypt, Gregory’s Benedict, Sulpicius Severus’ Martin of Tours, Bede’s Cuthbert, and on and on.

      Supernatural gifts—first of all peace—are attendant upon asceticism and piety. If only we start and bear through with simplicity.”

      Tis a beautiful and thought provoking sermon in and of itself. Thank you!

    • A nice story here. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. J says:

    p.s. We bought the veil from veilsbylily.com, a stay-at-home mom in St Louis.

  10. J says:

    p.p.s. When I say that I believe Paul’s injunction is clearly not attendant upon time and place, I want to stress that this higher calling, like celibacy, is not a sacrifice or a restriction, in my understanding, but precisely a higher calling. A “hard saying”, which let him (or her) who can receive it, receive it with joy.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’m a woman, 48 years old and divorced. I converted to the Church in 2003.

    I got cancer few years ago, and for a while I had to wear a hat, even to Mass, to cover my bald head.

    My hair’s grown back, but here is no way I’m going to wear a veil.

    The only men I submit to are Jesus and my priest.

  12. A different Lisa says:

    J, what a beautiful story, thanks for sharing it! I’m not even Catholic, but for me, it’s always so encouraging to hear the stories of faithful families. Thank you for being such a sensitive and supportive husband and father. You bring glory to God. In a way, much more than your gift of the veil and your wife’s faithful wearing of it, but just through living your marriage and family life as such a wonderful sacrament of love, you are truly living the spirit of the Bible passage from Corinthians that Monsignor discusses above. God bless you.

  13. Plain Catholic says:

    Monsignor, once again you bring order to the chaos and confusion of doctrine. Thank you for elucidating the Scriptures and parsing their meanings.

    As a note: when a person or family decides to take up modesty and proper attitudes of respect within a parish, soon other parishioners take heart and follow their example. To see more veils and more modesty, we need devout souls made of stern stuff to consistently set the example.

    The same can be said for proper attitudes and behaviors spreading throughout parish life. All it takes is one person who does not engage in the bashing, the gossiping, the culture of death; one person who chooses the higher calling of living out the mandates of good discipleship to Christ. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us:
    “The only way to fail is to stop-One person plus God equals an army.”

  14. Marie Bell says:

    One hot Sunday (summer) morning at Mass a man brought his two young sons, the eldest about six or seven years old at the most. Both were shirtless, wearing only shorts. I know they were only young children but I felt that it was so disrespectful and reflected badly on the father. What lack of reverance for where they were, or the specialness of being in the house of God. What was being communicated to them by their parent? They might just as well have been on the beach. I think at least thery’re here so I try not to be judgemental. I also see teenage girls in church with bare mid-riffs and wonder why their mothers can’t gently guide them to wear something more appropriate. Sunday best seems a thing of the past. It seems there are bigger worries than whether we women are wearing veils or not! As it happens I don’t wear a veil I used to but I fell out of the habit – or should that be custom – when it seemed I was the only one in church wearing one. Thank you to AJD for the stunning quote from St John Chrysostom. To go off at a bit of a tangent, does anyone know of a good book about this saint, or a collection of his writings? I have been looking for one for ages without success.
    Hope you get better soon, Msgr Pope.

    • J says:

      Chrysostom’s Baptismal Instructions (in translation) is available from Newman Press (1963); there is a series of English translations called Fathers of the Church by CUA Press. I know that a collection of his sermons, at least, is available in this series.

      The Press is also starting a new series of texts with facing translations called the Library of Early Christianity, of which 3 volumes are in print and 3 more are in publication stages (something to look for going forward).

      If you read French the Sources Chrétiennes is the best series of ancient Christian texts in Greek and Latin (with French translations facing).

    • A different Lisa says:

      Hi Marie,
      here’s one little collection of Chrysostom’s writings that may interest you:

      St John Chrysostom: On Marriage and Family Life
      trans. David Anderson and Catharine Roth
      1997, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press
      Paperback , 114pp
      ISBN-13: 9780913836866
      ISBN: 0913836869

      The best introduction to Chrysostom is unfortunately out of print, but you may be able to find it online:
      John Chrysostom (in the Early Church Fathers series), ed. Wendy Mayer and Pauline Allen
      1999, Routledge
      ISBN-13: 9780415182539
      ISBN: 0415182530

      But best of all there are lots of his writings for free at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/ (scroll down to find John Chrysostom under “J”)

      Hope this helps! God bless!

    • THanks everyone, for these citations.

  15. Kathleen says:

    I think we are about the same age, but from different areas and economic backgrounds. In 60s NYC, working-class women didn’t wear lacy mantillas unless they were hispanic/latina! Despite the despair of the Sisters, most mothers and daughters wore (emigrant! peasant!) headscarves, except for Easter hats! When Jacqueline Kennedy wore a “rag” of a headscarf, I think the Sisters gave up!

    Personally, I am enchanted by the way middle-class African-American women dress up for church. Every Sunday could be Easter! Neighborhood mothers who normally live in jeans and sweat-shirts blossom out in organza hats, white gloves, heels, dressy suits, and carry their Bibles in bright covers. This does change a person’s attitude: Church is serious business!

    And Lisa, this is not submission to any one but God. These women show their devotion and respect for God, no one else! They are witnessing by their formal dress to the church service they are going to or coming from. even if they change back to jeans to play with their children or cook dinner.

    I confess to wearing slacks and jeans to church in winter snow and storm, due to arthritis and a half-hour walk to church on bad sidewalks. But when weather and health permits, I like to dress properly for Mass. As von Hugel always says, we are “creaturely” and the body cues the spirit (and vice versa). A man (MANY of whom are grossly immodest and disrespectful at Mass!!) or woman who can afford to (which is an issue for the poor) and does wear a different, formal outfit for Mass than for a sports bar or ball game changes attention and outlook as much as clothing.

    • You are right, women’s head covering has varied a lot over the past century. Hats were most common in the 40s in DC veils came only in the later 50s. Likewise, ethinicity had a lot of influence too.

      • kirsten says:

        as a note to others who wish to give this a try, the Jewish webpages have a lot of instructions for tying scarves in nice ways, not just the “babushka” people think of. i wear the “Dutch Crown” style from http://www.tznius.com

        also if you have a pretty scarf (or hat) and tie it stylishly, people are less likely to give you the hairy eyeball. if being conspicuous is uncomfortable for a woman they would be better off with a stylish head scarf.

        also its warm

  16. Kaylan says:

    I found this article very interesting but I admit, difficult to read. I tried a few years back to wear the veil in our parish, as well as ask my daughters to wear one. At first my children were thrilled with the idea (and me too) until we realized how isolated we were. I felt like everyone in the parish was staring at us or judging us. Perhaps thinking, “they must think they are holier-than-thou,” which of course made me feel much worse. I have never been one to go to church to impress people or because of the social gathering but for God and my obligation to the Church, so suddenly I was surprised at my own inability to deal with the outcast feeling one gets. Perhaps no one was judging us and two men said they really liked that we were wearing the veils but I felt isolated from the other women (who were not) and of course, my young daughters were mortified after awhile and did not wish to wear it anymore. Unless you go to a parish where other women want to wear the veil, it will preoccupy your mind and distract you from why you are at Mass to begin with. I didn’t want to feel like I was punishing myself every time I went to Mass. When I did wear the veil, it reminded me always of Mother Mary and I miss that. But to separate myself from the community was also like being a leper and not easy to swallow.

    • Kaylan says:

      I will add (since I just read “J’s” post about giving his wife the veil for Christmas… that my husband is not Catholic, so I attend Mass with the children alone. This can be a huge difference in dealing with the eyes from fellow Catholics who do not approve of the veil. I think many women especially those of the 60’s and 70’s generation consider the veil to be a sign of submission to men (to the point of no freedom at all) thus the reason I may have felt like women were not supportive. The priest may have been and a couple men in the parish but without my husband to be supportive or to back me up while at church, it was almost a humiliating experience. J’s wife is very fortunate that she has a husband to share her faith. I say this to myself whenever I see a WHOLE family at the parish (husband, wife and children). I often wonder if people think I’m not even married and think I just had kids out of wedlock (since they don’t see a husband with me). I try to make sure my wedding ring is visible. I have 5 children plus another on the way. My non-Catholic spouse has been good with allowing me to raise the kids in the Faith and follow the Church’s teachings on marital relations… so in that I have been fortunate. But from the parish perspective, it does make me wonder how others see us.

      Always enjoy the articles here Msgr. Pope! Please take care of yourself.

      • Vijaya says:

        Kaylan, in my parish, there is an elderly woman who wears the veil and me. That’s it. People have gotten used to me covering myself and have asked me about it. When I tell them what it means to me (submission, obedience — to both God and husband) — they definitely balk. IN this day and age? NO … Some want to take me aside and talk about emancipation. Have I not heard about it? But I try my best to educate … we are new converts so it is not easy for me to speak (the words don’t always come out right) and I’ve only just finished reading the Bible all by myself for the first time, but what is in my heart is true and I don’t mind if others look upon me as strange (being a foreigner, I’ve developed a very thick skin) and even in our regular community people think we are wierd because we don’t have TV or video games so we’re used to it. But we are part of the community … we serve in various ways, we enjoy the friendships, and as I tell our children, you have to let the heart lead … and if that means being different, then so be it.

        I pray that your husband will come with you to Church and lend support. By your faith, you help him, whether he knows it or not. Congratulations on the upcoming new baby! I doubt people think you are living in sin. I think they probably admire you for living the married life as one ought. There are many inter-faith marriages in our parish also and I often see either the husband or the wife bringing the children.

        And Monsignor, I do pray you are feeling much better today.

    • J says:

      Dear Kaylan,

      whenever I get the feeling that my fellow parishioners are thinking “they must think they are holier-than-thou” because of something I have done, and I admit that occasionally, e.g. because I kneel to receive communion, this does occur to me…I just try to smile, not too big, not to seem cynical, but just a smile like I smile at my wife across the dinner table.

      Because if anyone is thinking that about me, then he’s probably looking at me, and maybe if he sees me smiling at him (I’m looking at the floor, mind you) with love, then he and I have gotten closer.

      Shortest verse of the Gospels? “Jesus wept.”

      …but the shortest verse of the Pauline Epistles? “Rejoice always.”

  17. Kaylan says:

    Regarding Vijaya’s comments on modesty. I agree that we need to help young girls and women learn more about modesty. Our culture does not teach this at all anymore in my opinion. Just look at the Disney channel or even cartoons, and the girls romp around in short-short skirts and other bathing suit-type outfits. Not to mention, appear to be obsessed with boys and their appearance. I think all Christians parents have a huge struggle in this area when raising girls. I know a lot of faithful protestant Christians in our area homeschool, thus I often feel the public school setting (where our children often see the immodest attire first hand) is void of Christian example (because the good parents are homeschooling). Those of us who can not homeschool or can not send our kids to a Catholic school are stuck trying to explain to our own children that they can not be like their friends. This difference will be worse as they get older. Some of their young friends are already repeating boy-girl songs they hear on the radio which are entirely inappropriate and wearing things which I would never let my own children wear. It’s a daily battle for parents.

  18. Mary says:

    Monsignor, I hope that you feel better soon. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I am a convert to the church (1985) and I have become more in tune with issues of modesty as I have gotten older. The parish I attended in another state was fairly conservative though the priests would remind people of standards during the summer. I looked at the issue again for myself about a year and a half ago and have taken some additional steps to make certain I am always dressed in a modest and feminine fashion as well as my young daughter. She is very young, but I am hoping to instill in her a love for being feminine, but with Mary-like modesty.

    I have been in disbelief a few times at some of the outfits I have seen at mass, not due to my looking around but just in passing. I agree the standards should be posted and put in bulletins. It is actually a matter of charity to others- dressing in skimpy or inappropriate clothes can be an occasion of sin for someone who happened to look at you.

    I also wish that the principals of the Catholic schools would enforce dress codes mandating hems just below the knee. I have seen some heartbreakingly short skirts on some of the older girls at a schools we were considering for our daughter. Longer skirts = warmer in cold weather + much more modesty.

    I do wear a veil whenever I am in the presence of the blessed sacrament and I also have veils for my daughter. The submission preached by St. Paul is not a barrier to me (I have studied it and understand what he is saying) though it can be very difficult for modern and especially American people to even approach without bias. To me, my veil is a way to help me enter into prayer as well as a sign and symbol of my attempt to be submissive to God. I do find it interesting that though the Code of Canon Law still mandated women cover their heads in church until the 1983 code was promulgated, in many parishes women stopped covering many years before that date.

    • J says:

      I like the comment about “Mary-like” modesty. I wonder if, instead of debating whether Paul’s words are relevant to us today (which can be embittering and divisive), we could make a fortiori arguments to come by baby steps to a radical manifestation of our faith.

      E.g., Would Mary wear what I am wearing right now?

      or, Would I wear what I’m wearing right now to dinner at my boss’s house?

      …would I wear what I’m wearing right now to dinner at the President’s house?

      …woud I wear what I’m wearing right now to dinner with God himself, in his house?

    • Vijaya says:

      “I also wish that the principals of the Catholic schools would enforce dress codes mandating hems just below the knee. I have seen some heartbreakingly short skirts on some of the older girls at a schools we were considering for our daughter. Longer skirts = warmer in cold weather + much more modesty.”

      Amen. I have made a comment about this at our Catholic school and have rec’d no reply. Why make rules about how many inches above the knee? The skirts just keep getting shorter and shorter … I want to rip those hems.

      I think children are naturally modest. It is the culture that dares them to show more skin. My daughter is nine and likes to wear long skirts and dresses. Plus, she copies me … I know that as she grows older, she will want to be more like her peers, but the seeds are planted and she will always hear her conscience speaking to her if she chooses to dress inappropriately even when we’re not there.

    • Yes, the veil disappeared long before the new code.

  19. BHG says:

    In a year or so of covering I have found something interesting, aside from the spiritual aspects of using a veil. Because it is now my habit to wear a veil–and because it looks particularly ridiculous to go to church in jeans and a veil–I am now dressing more appropriately for church as well…..an instance of the habit informing the heart, perhaps?

  20. Speechless says:

    While I agree that a lot of people could do to dress more appropriately for church, this idea seems to show why more people keep leaving the Catholic church. Modesty = good. Wearing something that triggers the thought “Uh, how long until they’re mandating women wear burqas?” = not good.

    If there is a problem with young women wearing short skirts, then say something about that at every single mass until they all get the idea! Deciding to force them to cover up their hair… why? Because the church still has this crazy belief that women are somehow a step below men, that appearing attractive is the work of the devil, or that all the men are so weak that a glimpse of brunette locks will prevent them from praying and turn them into sex-crazed Lotharios?

    You got a problem with people wearing jeans, TELL THEM NOT TO WEAR JEANS! Don’t push the women in the direction of the burqa! (Unless you DO believe everything I’ve written before… in which case we’re all in trouble)

    • Ruth Ann says:

      You stated your position very well, Speechless. I’m with you all the way. I vote YES for modesty, but NO or OPTIONAL for veils. The two are not the same. Modesty is related to moderation of behavior or appearance so as to avoid indecency. One could wear a veil and in other aspects of dress look indecent. So let’s not get hung up on veils.

    • Speechless – you are not ! But again, your extreme answers here miss the point. There is, at least in this country no mandate hence we are in the realm of what seems best and prefered. As for Sri Lanka, I am not sure the mandate can absolutely hold but I do not knwo the culture there. THere are some cress codes that even in the west hold. THere are some restaurnats here in DC that you’re not getting into wearing shorts. Do you think this will lead to burqas? You really need to get over the burqua thing speechless (not speechless). At any rate there is no universal mandate as stated. The commenters here do express preferences and you are free to differ. But I would avoid extremes and caricatures of their arguments.

    • kirsten says:

      in my church, where the priests have said nothing at all about proper dress, it is only the young (often tattooed and body pierced) women who have chosen to wear a veil or (more often) a head scarf.
      i am the odd one as i only have piercings in my EARS.
      many people who are fleeing TO the church are desperately seeking order, structure, stability.
      in a world where everything is changed, the church is a bedrocks of stability.

      in my RCIA class 70% of us (i mean that out of ten, seven) stated that the reason they wanted to join the CATHOLIC church was because she was not changing at the whim of the society, unlike many of the churches we were coming FROM.. three of us being Preachers Kids….

      most of my modest clothing internet group sisters do so partly from religious beliefs, and partly because of feminist beliefs that our bodies DO NOT belong to the casual observer. we do not have to dress to please the men, we do not have to make a sexual display of our bodies.

  21. Vijaya says:

    “this idea seems to show why more people keep leaving the Catholic church.”

    The Church will always stand and what she says is right and true, even if the truths are hard to accept. Henry VIII did not like the no-divorce rule, so he made the Church of England. Other people didn’t like other “rules” so they left the Church. And these fragmented further …

    I cannot express myself easily or properly but God doesn’t need us. We need Him and we should show proper respect and love … Sometimes, when I take Holy Communion, I want to fall at His feet, but I don’t, because we are all standing in line. But the body wants to express its unworthiness … (and I take the Host in my mouth, not in my hands).

    The veil is for the person who wears it … as an earlier poster said, it can change your heart, make it more humble, more obedient.

    As to wearing the burqa, the many Muslim women I know, are devout and wear it to honor God and their husbands.

  22. Paul Hughes says:

    I have always found the argument that Church Law does not require the wearing of head veils rather weak as a justification for not wearing them.

    This comes from of course the fact that it was dropped from the code of canon law in 1983.

    However there was no church “law” in place before 1917 that required women to wear a veil – they just did. So they did not need the code of canon law to tell them to wear the veil.

    However the code does make some strong statements about customs.

    Since veil wearing is a 2,000 year old custom, it is not to be revoked by the law unless expressly stated. Since the code does not say veil-wearing is no longer needed – we simply go back to the wearing of the veil for the same reason every catholic woman wore one before 1917.

    God Bless

    Paul

    • At one level I am inclined to agree with you, however, if I am going to say that something is absolutely required by the Church it helps to have it in writing somewhere. There were a lot of liberals who talked about the SPirit of VC II and I got used to asking them to show me their many notions about what the Council required in writing. We have to be careful about noting strict requirements with the written documents to assert them I agree custom can have the force of law, but even long-standing customs do sometimes give way and I would want to be darn sure I had a basis in law before I started tell women they have to wear veils.

      • Paul Hughes says:

        I understand the position you are taking, however the exact same thing could be said about the exact opposite position.

        I would fear to tell women that they are fine “not wearing” the veil without an official statement saying so.

        Personally I would give significantly more weight to the testimony of the early Fathers, the fact that St Paul himself told the ladies to do so as well as the fact that it did last 2,000 years to our dare I say it, the opinions and practices of our modern lackadaisical age of laxity.

        God Bless

        Paul

  23. J says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out (although I’m afraid I’ve already said too much by expressing a positive position), that praising an act of piety and recommending it to those who have ears to hear, is not the same thing as mandating the same behavior to all at the point of a sword.

    Paul says, “It’s good to be celibate.” He’s praising a fuller manifestation of the Christian life than not being celibate. That’s what he’s doing: praising.

    Paul (and others on this page) says, “It’s good for a woman to wear a veil.” He’s praising the pious practice of wearing a veil. Praising. Encouraging.

    But you choose not, for whatever reason, to respond to this calling. Fine.

    Does that mean you have to attack the calling of celibacy?

    Does that mean you have to attack the wearing of veils?

    I see a lot of feeling like one has to control others, coming from the negative posts…

  24. Magistra Bona says:

    How about we let women decide what to wear on their own heads. They are, after all, sentient beings. Under their hair or their veils are brains. Let them use them. Let them form their own consciences about veils in accord with the current Canon law; and let us all respect their choices about something that does not matter to God. It’s lace on top of a head! No different than the doily on your coffee table. Your head was made and designed by God. If you want to be ‘Mary-like’, well and good. We should not chide our sisters who wear veils. But, how about we do not attribute every evil, heresy, and concupiscence to bareheaded women. The bare midriffs, backs, plunging necklines, and absurdly short hems are more of a problem than bare heads. There are secular laws about public nudity. Those should be observed in our churches. And what about male butt cracks that sometimes leap out in church? Can’t we do something about that? Men who can’t obtain clothing in the appropriate size should be required to wear a mantilla around their pelvises.

    • OK, a little bizzare but Ok. In the end, according to CHurch law it is up to women to decide, though I would attribute this more to their rational than merely sentient aspect.

    • J says:

      “But, how about we do not attribute every evil, heresy, and concupiscence to bareheaded women.”

      Could you please be more specific by referring us to the comment on this page where someone is doing this?

      “[L]et us all respect their choices about something that does not matter to God.”

      Good point. All of you people who are aggressively insisting that women wear veils on this page, please stop it now!

      While we’re at it, all you people who are forcing your wives to wear burqas so that the bruises from you beating them won’t be visible—you guys stop it too!

      Once you militant veil-forcers leave us alone, maybe then we’ll be able to discuss the topic with cool heads!

  25. Mantilla With Me says:

    You can find additional information and debate on this at the Mantilla With Me site and blog:

    http://www.mantillawithme.com

    http://mantillawithme.blogspot.com/

  26. Mantilla With Me says:

    p.s. this article is fantastic! Good job!

    http://www.mantillawithme.com

  27. Mr Savage says:

    Dear Msgr,

    In helping to create an ambience where women would feel more comfortable or less conspicuous wearing the mantilla, would it not help if men were more smartly dressed e.g. shirt & tie, jacket, no jeans etc?

  28. kirsten says:

    I do hope and pray that by the time i post this you are feeling much better…..
    i wear the veil to church. i started to do so half way through my RCIA classes. while , like most things, i am inconsistent in my practices i find it helps me to maintain my concentration and to pray. for a while i was covering my hair most of the time.

    i also belong to several online groups on modest clothing. Unlike what many expect these are populated by young, internet savvy, independent women. Most of us view modest clothing as a statement of our independence, some as a feminist statement, others as a religious one. we are accustomed to being the only one not showing skin, the only one wearing a head scarf, the only one with a Rosary in hand.

    In my church it is the very young, and the very old who cover their heads in church. the old because it was what they grew up with, the young as a conscious choice to rebel against what the world expects of us, and to try to find discipline and order in the world.

    • J says:

      The young are reclaiming our cultural inheritance, which our parents of the boom generation have exerted their energies to deny us. We are not rebels, except by definition. When the anit-culturists are making their labels, we seem rebellious to them.

      But we are not rebels.

      We are peacefully taking up the cultural inheritance that we have a right to inherit. The only thing we could be rebelling against is a set of prejudices acknowledged as meaningful only by those who hold them.

      • Cecilia says:

        yes, I’m Gen X with 3 little kids, and I started wearing the veil a couple of years ago. I think it’s right on that I’m claiming an inheritance. For me, it wasn’t that I felt a certain idea ( be like Mary, for example) so much a s a basic desire to try out an old custom. I wanted to for a while & I got veils when Not wearing one became more of a distraction that wearing one would be. I can say that while I’m veiled, I feel more focused: I remember I’m there to worship God, not keep my children well-behaved. I also veil at home, esp. to read Sacred Scripture.

        Not all priests are pleased to have someone veil, but that’s their problem, not mine.

  29. Blanche says:

    Let’s pray that insisting on appropriate dress will become a trend in U. S. parishes, not only for women.

    As if American women would tolerate pastors laying down the law on veils while tolerating the deplorable dress of some males, even those participating in the service. One of the ushers in my parish shows up in faded blue jeans, dirty shoes, huge rodeo-type belt buckles. I think one of the other ushers, always appropriately dressed, & a humble type guy is embarrased by this.

    Reverence should be expected of all attendees, but more so by those assisting in any role.

    Dioceses need to address the issue of dress at Mass, but to target women only is a way to fail to communicate.

    • Matt says:

      I think that the problem being addressed is modesty because of the danger of men lusting after immodest women in church. It is rare that the problem is women lusting after immodest men in church.

  30. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    I think the covering of womens heads in church is the least problem in todays dress style and the chuch should be more specific about dress code from the neck down. After you resolve that problem, then you might have a vailid arguement for the return of the veil.

  31. K. Louise says:

    How wonderful it is to belong to a church where everyone is welcome! I once heard a good and holy priest advise: do not require of others more than the church requires.

  32. Faustina says:

    I am a Roman Catholic woman, and I cover my head. Veiling has brought me closer to God. When you veil you are not summiting to men, but to Jesus. I brothers me a lot when people say that veiling opresses women. (This happens in both the Catholic religion and the Muslim religion). But in all reality it frees the soul so we can love God with all our heart and might. Veiling has truely changed my life for the better. I also dress modesty (follow Mary Like Standards) and I love it. Both modesty and veiling has changed by life for the better. People can not bash the veil and say these bad things against it if you have never tried it. The veil empowers women to love God more. The veil just reccently fell from focus in the 60’s. Women have veiled for over 2000 years and you can see that thoes women radiate the love of God and Our Blessed mother.

    I reccomend all women to dress modestly and veil, it will bring you closer to God and change you life.

  33. K. Louise says:

    From the Spiritual Diary:

    When St. Francis de Sales wanted to prepare someone to live a truly Christian life and to abandon his worldly ways, he seldom spoke of exterior things, such as the hair, dress or some such thing. Rather, he spoke only to the heart and of the heart. He knew that once this fortress is overcome, all the rest will surrender and that when true love of God takes possession of the heart, all those things which are not of God will lose importance.

  34. jackie says:

    In my opinion veiling has got nothing whatsoever to do with modesty. I could easily wear a veil and still be immodest with the rest of my attire.I also dont think god cares what I am wearing (within reason), and feel the hierarchy of the church would be making a big mistake if they tried to impose the compulsory wearing of the veil at mass on women as a condition of belonging to the church.No women who attend the same church as myself wear a veil and I would definitley never consent to wear one. On the subject of obedience and submission,I conserve that for god and god only.I have been married for close to twenty two years and have never and would never submit to my husband. we have a happy healthy marriage based on a partnership of equals .

  35. Marie Bell says:

    Sorry I’ve been off-line for a few days, but thank you very much to J and ‘a different’ Lisa for all the info on the John Chrysostom books available. I really do appreciate the time and trouble taken to give all the names, publishers and ISBN numbers, as well as the advice about the New Advent website which I shall certainly investigate. Having whizzed through all the posts, a few comments: trousers can be very smart, especially a nice trouser suit worn with good shirt or jumper and smart shoes. I was fascinated to see there is a website for tying scarves – I must look at that. Jewish women cover their heads but they are apparently also expected to sit separately, at an upper level I believe. When I was on pilgrimage in Jerusalem we asked the guide about it and he said they have to sit apart as they would distract men who would not be able to concentrate! A lot of Sri Lankan women, like Indian ladies, wear saris, as well as western-style clothes. Its nice to dress up for Sunday, veiled or not, it makes it special. Weekday Masses are different, when I go mid week, I often dress more casually, especially if I’m going on to shop or do something more mundane afterwards. Modesty is not just clothes, it can be a frame of mind as well.

  36. Marie says:

    I wear a veil because it makes my soul fly to God as soon as I place on my head; and dress modestly to protect my body, mind, heart and soul. I know God placed those feelings in me when He claimed me back to Him after 30 years of total indifference on my part. And when I responded, He made sure I looked back to the past so that I could relearn all of what made me a true Catholic young woman then, and would help me to be one now.

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