Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Veil

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 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 women 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 for 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 Gd 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 anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the Churches of God. Paul 11:1-11:16

St. Paul says something very curious. He says the woman ought to veil her head during mass "because of the angels." Paul tells us that the angels participate with us during mass, and this is reinforced by the writings of St. John: "And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne." (Revelation 8:3, see also Matt. 18:10). The angels watch everything that is going on during mass, as they participate in the same liturgy we do. They are also well aware of the customs of the Church and what they mean -- even the custom of veiling. Angels are offended when we ignore or refuse to follow any liturgical custom, whether it be failing to kneel or veil in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.

Though the custom has generally lapsed in western cultures, particularly English-speaking nations, it is not erased entirely from the conscience of western Christians. For example; what's the first thing a Catholic mom does when her daughter is preparing for first communion and confirmation? She goes out and buys a veil. Likewise, what's one of the most important accessories to a bridal gown? Why it's the veil of course! Finally, when a baseball game or community event is opened in prayer, regardless of the religious denominations of those in attendance, what's the first thing everybody does? The men all remove their hats, and the women do not. Funny how that works, isn't it. This doesn't just happen by accident. It all goes back to the ancient Christian custom of veiling.

For 2,000 years, Catholic women have veiled themselves before entering a church or any time they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., during sick calls). It was written into the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1262, that women must cover their heads -- "especially when they approach the holy table" ("mulieres autem, capite cooperto et modeste vestitae, maxime cum ad mensam Dominicam accedunt") -- but during the Second Vatican Council, Bugnini (the same *suspected* Freemason who designed the Novus Ordo Mass) was asked by journalists if women would still have to cover their heads. His reply, perhaps innocently enough, was that the issue was not being discussed. The journalists (as journalists are wont to do with Church teaching) took his answer as a "no," and printed their misinformation in newspapers all over the world. 1 Since then, many, if not most, Catholic women have lost the tradition.

After so many years of many women forgetting or positively repudiating the veil, clerics, not wanting to be confrontational or upset radical feminists, pretended the issue didn't exist. When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was produced, veiling was simply not mentioned (not abrogated, mind you, but simply not mentioned). However, Canons 20-21 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law make clear that later Canon Law abrogates earlier Canon Law only when this is made explicit and that, in cases of doubt, the revocation of earlier law is not to be presumed; quite the opposite:
Canon 20 A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law, if it expressly so states, or if it is directly contrary to that law, or if it integrally reorders the whole subject matter of the earlier law. A universal law, however, does not derogate from a particular or from a special law, unless the law expressly provides otherwise.

Canon 21 In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed; rather, later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them.

Canons 27 and 28 add to the argument:

Canon 27 Custom is the best interpreter of laws.

Canon 28 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 5, a custom, whether contrary to or apart from the law, is revoked by a contrary custom or law. But unless the law makes express mention of them, it does not revoke centennial or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs. 2

That which is Veiled is a Holy Vessel
Note what Paul says, "But if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering." We don't veil ourselves because of some "primordial" sense of femine shame; we are covering our glory so that He may be glorified instead. We cover ourselves because we are holy -- and because feminine beauty is incredibly powerful. If you don't believe me, consider how the image of "woman" is used to sell everything from shampoo to used cars. We women need to understand the power of the feminine and act accordingly by following the rules of modest attire, including the use of the veil. By surrendering our glory to the headship of our husbands and to God, we surrender to them in the same way that the Blessed Virgin surrendered herself to the Holy Ghost ("Be it done to me according to Thy will!"); the veil is a sign as powerful -- and beautiful -- as when a man bends on one knee to ask his girl to marry him.

Now, think of what else was veiled in the Old Testament -- the Holy of Holies!
Hebrews 9:1-8
The former [Old Covenant] indeed had also justifications of divine service and a sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made the first, wherein were the candlesticks and the table and the setting forth of loaves, which is called the Holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies: Having a golden censer and the ark of the testament covered about on every part with gold, in which was a golden pot that had manna and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed and the tables of the testament. And over it were the cherubims of glory overshadowing the propitiatory: of which it is not needful to speak now particularly. Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle, the priests indeed always entered, accomplishing the offices of sacrifices. But into the second, the high priest alone, once a year: not without blood, which he offereth for his own and the people's ignorance: The Holy Ghost signifying this: That the way into the Holies was not yet made manifest, whilst the former tabernacle was yet standing.

...The Ark of the Old Covenant was kept in the veiled Holy of Holies. And at Mass, what is kept veiled until the Offertory? The Chalice -- the vessel that holds the Precious Blood! And, between Masses, what is veiled? The Ciborium in the Tabernacle, the vessel which holds the very Body of Christ. These vessels of life are veiled because they are holy!

And who is veiled? Who is the All Holy, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Vessel of the True Life? Our Lady -- and by wearing the veil, we imitate her and affirm ourselves as women, as vessels of life.

This one superficially small act is:

  • so rich with symbolism: of submission to authority; of surrender to God; of the imitation of Our Lady as a woman who uttered her "fiat!"; of covering our glory for His glory; of modesty; of chastity, of our being vessels of life like the Chalice, the Ciborium and, most especially, Our Lady;
  • an Apostolic ordinance -- with roots deep in the Old Testament -- and, therefore, a matter of intrinsic Tradition;
  • the way Catholic women have worshipped for two millennia (i.e., even if it weren't a matter of Sacred Tradition in the intrinsic sense, it is, at the least, a matter of ecclesiastical tradition, which also must be upheld). It is our heritage, a part of Catholic culture;
  • pragmatic: it leaves one free to worry less about "bad hair days";
  • and for the rebels out there, it is counter-cultural nowadays, you must admit!

The question I'd like answered is, "Why would any Catholic woman not want to veil herself?"

*Wearing the veil during Mass shows devotion to the Virgin Mary.

*Wearing the veil during Mass shows submission and obedience to Christ and to the Catholic Church.

*Wearing the veil during Mass is an acknowledgement that a woman's role in the Church, the family, and society is different from man's role.

*A married woman who wears the veil in Church is also acknowledging her husband as the head of her family.

"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians

When a woman covers her head in the Catholic Church it symbolises her dignity and humility before God, not men. It is no surprise women of today have so easily abandoned the tradition of the chapel veil (head covering) when the two greatest meanings of the veil are purity and humility.

The woman who covers her head in the presence of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is reminding herself that she must be humble before God. As with all outward gestures, if it is practised enough it filters down into the heart and is translated into actions that speak volumes. The “veil” covers what the Lord calls, in Holy Scripture, “the glory of the woman”, her hair. Covering her hair is a gesture the woman makes spiritually to “show” God she recognises her beauty is less than His and His Glory is far above hers.

In doing this she is reminded that virtues cannot grow in the soul without a great measure of humility. So she wears the veil to please God and remind herself to practice virtue more ardently.

Yes, Christian women are supposed to veil during worship, and this is especially true for Catholic women who understand the incarnation of Christ and His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. According to the Bible, this is not optional. All Christian women are expected to do it, but it is to be done voluntarily, without force or coercion. The custom was removed from the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, but it was never abrogated as a Biblical custom of the Faith. To veil properly, women must do so voluntarily, and they must do so with proper understanding of the custom and what it means.

I would also like you to ask yourself. Why do women in meeting the Holy Father still wear a veil? Certainly for respect, but does not Our Lord deserve more respect then the Holy Father? If the Holy Father wanted use of the veil to stop why are women still instructed to wear it in his presence?

Who got women to first remove the veil? It was the feminists, in particular the N.O.W. organization which in their Handbook the following quote was printed.

"A. Religion Resolutions, Because the wearing of a head covering by women at religious services is a symbol of subjection within many Church's.NOW recommends that all chapters take on a effort to have all women participate in a "national unveiling" by sending their head coverings to the talks forces chairman. At the Spring meeting of the task force of women and religion, these veils will be publicity burned to pretest the second class status of women in all Churches (Dec 1968)

Judge Bork in his book Slouching toward Gomorrah shows that these same women also on their cover stated:

"NOW is the time to take back control of our lives, NOW is not the time to assimilate to bureaucratic puppeteers who want to control, degrade, torture, kill and rape our bodies, NOW is the time to drop a boot heel in the groin of patriarchy. NOW IS THE TIME TO FIGHT BACK.

Do these sound like women you want to be like?

in the Jerome Biblical Commentary they explain why St Paul wrote his letter.

" Some Christian women, influenced perhaps by the liberal atmosphere of cosmopolitan Corinth and emboldened by the attitude of "the knowledgeable" toward ether freedom, were attending the assemblies without wearing a veil. Paul reprobates this behavior as unbecoming to a women, because God has established a hierarchy, in both the natural and the religious spheres, in which the female is subordinated to the male sex. This hierarchical subordination of the woman should be recognized in her behavior and dress. The veil is a symbol of this subordination."

Questions to ponder:

Why did St Paul say women should be veiled, if it were not important?

Why did the Church have the tradition of wearing the veil for nearly two thousand years, if it were not important?

Why did the Church mandate it in Canon Law?

Do you truly believe that the Church was wrong for two thousand years and just in the past few years became wise?


Fish Eaters
The Catholic Knight
Christian Family Outreach

Other good sources:
Tradition in Action

If you are interested let me know and I'll send you a free pamphlet on the Veil by Christian family outreach.


  1. Great topic, R! You are so right that it is a beautiful and fitting ecclesiastical tradition which should be considered more even though it is no longer obligatory.

  2. At our parish, we have many wonderful ladies (and my friends) who wear the veil, even at our novus ordo mass (we also have a Latin Mass, every Sunday as well, though I attend the novus ordo). It is always so beautiful and striking to see the veils. I love the tradition, and I am glad it has not disappeared since the discipline was relaxed.

  3. I'm gonna have to come back to this one....too late at night for me. The bishop that designed the Novus Ordo was a Freemason????

  4. Katlin, he was suspected of being a Freemason. I meant to add suspected to that quote and just did, it was never proven one way or the other. The Pope dismissed him on the suspicion of him being a Freemason but no one really knows for sure if he was or not.

  5. Barbie, I would love to see that pamphlet. I'm so glad you wrote about this topic, which was heavily on my mind a few months ago- but other things came up and I failed to research it further. I'm so glad you brought this back up.

    I LOVE how you explained the phrase, "because of the angels". That phrase always mystified me. And you did a fabulous job of explaining the inherent dignity that women possess- that head covering is NOT because of inferiority or shame, but because of our glory. I love, love, love this quote: "we are covering our glory so that He may be glorified instead. We cover ourselves because we are holy -- and because feminine beauty is incredibly powerful." Right on, girl!

    I had no idea about the history of when we began unveiling our heads. I'd tried to look it up in encyclicals using key words, but came up with nothing. I'm so grateful you went to all this trouble and wrote it out for us.

    When I was researchign this topic myself, I listened to a friend's pastor's sermon who had just preached on this very passage. (Praise God for Protestant ministers who don't shy away from hard teachings...) He noted that in the Jewish culture- it was the priest who covered his head. Now Christian men were being told not to! So we can't blame this passage from Corinthians on the "cultural norm" of the time.

    It occured to me, that I feel like I could note the benefit of the veil and see the beauty in it, and yet keep it at a distance and not see it as applicable to me because it is NEVER mentioned EVER in our Churches. And yet...neither is contraception- which clearly IS a big deal and DOES impact me. Of course, using contraception IS clearly written in moral teachings, whether or not all preists want to recognize it.

    I am so so glad you've written on this subject. I need to get ready for Mass (and I don't even HAVE a head covering!) but will ponder this more and probably email it to a few people to get their thoughts, too!

    Thank you!!

  6. Lauren I need your address is order to send the pamphlet.

  7. I love this post as I love all of your posts on this blog. You and I are so alike and that is so nice to find in an ever changing difficult time for the Church. I admit I have become lax on wearing my veil to Mass regularly, but after reading this I am so ashamed and will begin to wear my veil with purity and humilty. Two things I need more of these days.
    In Christ.

  8. WOW!
    Our family primarily attends the Latin Mass (in the past), but have recently been attending the English Mass because it works better with Bella's nap time. about 80% of women and girls in our parish wear chapel veils. I always felt "weird" not wearing one at the Latin Mass. It is something I need to pray about and maybe consider wearing in the future, especially if we start going to the Latin Mass again.

  9. Thank you so much for such a wonderful, in-depth article! I thought I would list some online shops where you can purchase chapel veils for any ladies who might be interested!

    + www.laudeteveils.com

    + www.silverhilltreasures.com

    + www.catholicchapelveils.com

    + www.veilsbylily.com

    These shops are all run by Catholic women and they are happy to answer any of your questions about veiling. God bless you!