Not that long ago, Christian women always covered their heads at church, and now many are choosing to once again. While lots of women are going the route of the chapel veil, others are choosing things like hats, scarves, or stylish headbands.
What are their reasons for doing this?
1) It’s in the New Testament
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head–it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.)
That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.)
Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:1-16)
Now, I know that this is a hotly debated passage, but let me try to explain.
2) The Church veils things that are sacred
The tabernacle is veiled. The chalice is veiled. Altars are veiled. Moses veiled his face after he had seen God. A veiled woman shows reverence for God, symbolizing the veiled bride of the Church, but also honors herself as a woman before God.
[See also: 22 Beautiful Altars Worthy of the Sacrifice of the Mass]
3) Men and women are different
Men represent Christ, the bridegroom, which is why we have the male priesthood. Women represent the Church, the bride. All laymen take part in the feminine nature of the Church, but women symbolize the Church as the bride.
Veiling goes against a society that tells us that men and women are the same, that there are many genders, and that gender is not important when people want to marry. Veiling is an outward statement against modernity and its lies. A woman choosing to be submissive as a wife, as woman, to her husband is against all that our society tells us about man and woman. St. Paul talks about women submitting to their husbands, the Church submitting to Christ, Christ loving the Church to the point of his suffering and death, and husbands loving their wives in this same way.
4) Women and men are equal
St. Paul said this, which went against his culture’s ideas about men and women: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”
Christianity has made men and women equal in God, and St. Paul says this right in the middle of the passage where he talks about women covering their heads. It is important to remember that when Jesus and St. Paul talk about women in the Scriptures it is in a new way that was not normal to their cultures. Women veiling is not putting them lower than men, but must be seen in conjunction with men not covering their heads. It emphasizes the difference of men and women, and the symbol they are as the image of God.
5) A veil accentuates the natural beauty of a woman
St. Thomas Aquinas explains in his commentary on veiling passage of 1 Corinthians that human beings in general naturally augment their natural beauty with clothing.
Women naturally have beautiful hair, and a veil ornaments and accentuates that beauty. In general, we want to bring the best of ourselves to liturgy, and veiling is a way of doing so.
6) It is part of the tradition from the Apostles
St. Paul writes that he wishes the Corinthians to “maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” He did not make this up just for their culture. Rather, he is passing on a tradition of women covering their heads and men not doing so. This tradition was from the Apostles and it was maintained until the 1960s when so many liturgical traditions were discarded.
The 1917 Code of Canon law required women to cover their heads and forbade men from covering their heads. The 1983 Code of Canon law omitted the passage about women covering their heads, but maintained that men should not.
It is unclear why the Code was changed, though it is clear that head covering by women is no longer required by Church law. It is also clear this has been a tradition passed down, and as laity there is no reason why we cannot continue that tradition even if it is not in the Code of Canon law.
7) Some women pray better that way
Some are choosing to veil not just in church, but anytime they pray in private or in public. It is a way to help them focus. A prayer to pray when putting on a veil when entering a Church is, “Blessed am I whom am called to the marriage feast of the Lamb.”
8) Having a veil or hat immediately dresses one up for church
Whether at church on a weekday or on a Sunday, when a woman puts something on her head, she is saying to herself and to others that she is dressed for church. A working woman can mentally distinguish between work wear an church wear by using a veil. A woman who wears “mommy clothes” all day, can instantly be dressed up for church when she puts on a veil.
9) Robing oneself in a beautiful veil in the presence of God feels right
It makes the woman feel beautiful, and some husbands think that veils are “hot.” The beauty of the veil is something that honors God in the same way beautiful architecture or beautiful vestments do. They contribute to giving God the worship that is due to Him.