Are Women Obliged to Cover Their Heads in Church?

Q: In a Catholic magazine I frequently see advertisements for chapel veils. The ad always says, "canon 1262 is still in force." I guess that this canon says that women must wear chapel veils. Is this true? Are all women still required to wear chapel veils in Church? If we are, how come nobody ever mentions this? I'm sure many women would wear them if they knew they were supposed to. — Marianne

A: There is much misunderstanding about this question these days, especially in more traditionalist Catholic circles. Let's look first at which law is the current law. Then we'll take a look at what the current law actually says about women covering their heads in church, and finally, we'll examine several possible reasons for the confusion.

The Code of Canon Law which is in force today was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983. It was the result of long years of hard work by canonists who were instructed to reorganize the Church's laws in light of Vatican II documents.

The 1983 code abrogated (i.e., replaced) the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which had been promulgated by Pope Benedict XV. Canon 6.1 n.1 of the 1983 Code specifically states that the entire 1917 Code of Canon Law is abrogated by the new one.

Much of the Church's law actually remained the same, although it was largely reorganized. A significant number of canons, however, were removed entirely. The entire code revision process was guided by the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that if a matter can be handled by a lower authority — a diocesan bishop or a parish pastor, for example — then it should not be addressed by a higher authority. In other words, the new Code of Canon Law was arranged with the deliberate goal of avoiding micromanagement by Rome!

The canon 1262 which this advertisement cites is from the 1917 code. For the record, the complete text of the canon was as follows:

1262.1 Conformable to ancient discipline, it is desirable that the women be separated from the men in church.

1262.2 Men are to assist at sacred functions, whether in the church or outside of it, with their heads uncovered, unless a reasonable national custom or special circumstances justify a departure from this rule.  Women, however, should cover their heads and be dressed modestly, particularly when they approach the Lord's table. [My translation.]

There is no equivalent canon in the 1983 code. Current law is, therefore, silent on the issue of women covering their heads in church.

And considering the principle of subsidiarity, this should not be surprising. It is easy for us Americans to forget that the Church's laws are not intended only for the Western world. They govern all Catholics, from Milan to Mumbai, from Seoul to Seville, from Atlanta to Accra. Obviously there can be vast and radical cultural differences between Catholics worshipping in, say, an obscure African village, and those attending Mass in the great cathedrals of France — yet all are equally bound by the same canon law as Catholics. Accordingly, through her Supreme Legislator, the Pope, the Church has declined to require all Catholic women to cover their heads while in church. It may, after all, be an inappropriate or unreasonable request in some cultures. (Note that the old canon 1262.2 makes a passing reference to this fact.) That does not mean, of course, that women may not wear chapel veils if they wish.

Why, then, do so many conservative Catholics continue to insist that the law still holds? I know nothing about the particular advertisers to whom you refer, so cannot speak to their motives. It is entirely possible that they err in completely good faith, unaware of the change in the law. After all, how many Catholics are really aware that the Church was given a new Code of Canon Law during the pontificate of John Paul II?

Unfortunately, however, many of us are perhaps familiar with traditionalists who consciously reject the notion that the 1917 Code of Canon Law has been abrogated by anything new. By doing so, they are in fact refusing to acknowledge the authority of the Holy Father, who is the Church's Supreme Legislator (cf. c. 331), to change Church laws if and when he sees fit. It is difficult to see how such people could be construed as anything other than schismatics, those who withdraw their submission to the Supreme Pontiff (c. 751). In any case, a practicing Catholic cannot deny the existence of Church law which is currently in force, or the duty to obey it!

Recently I myself came across a particularly confusing website, presenting yet another erroneous argument why women are allegedly still required to veil their heads. According to the author, the wearing of chapel veils is a custom which has acquired the force of law, and cannot be abrogated by new canons to the contrary.

On a superficial level, this appears to be a clever and convincing argument. Canon 26 notes that if a custom does not contradict current canon law, and has been observed for 30 consecutive years, it acquires the force of law. Additionally, universal law does not revoke a custom unless it expressly says so (c. 28; cf. also c. 5.2). The web author asserts that women wore chapel veils for well over 30 years, so this was a custom that has in effect become a Church law. Furthermore, he claims, since the 1983 code does not specifically mention the subject of chapel veils, this custom has not been revoked, and must still be followed.

But the author of the website fails to make an important distinction. Women were required for over 30 years to cover their heads by the previous canon 1262, and not because of universal custom. The fact that Catholic women followed canon law for so long did not somehow transform the then-existing law into a custom. By that logic, any canon of the 1917 code which was faithfully observed by Catholics worldwide has become a custom which could not be revoked by promulgation of the 1983 code!

Another distinction which is being lost in this argument is that between permitting women to wear chapel veils, and requiring them to do so. The silence of the 1983 code on the topic of women's head coverings does not imply that they are forbidden to wear them; it simply indicates that they are not obliged to wear them. There's a big difference!

(By the way, what is the real purpose of the laws on custom, if they do not apply in this instance? Well, a correct example of custom acquiring the force of law might be seen in the practice of Polish Catholics who bring Easter baskets to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. Blessing baskets is certainly not contrary to canon law, and it has been done for generations, so it can be argued that the practice has acquired the force of law. So if, for example, a bishop suddenly decided to forbid the blessing of Easter baskets on Holy Saturday, the canons on custom would apply. He could not forbid the blessing; but at the same time, the custom does not mandate that Catholics must bring Easter baskets to be blessed on Holy Saturday.)

In the wake of Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, permitting wider use of the 1962 Missal, some are already suggesting that women will be obliged to cover their heads if attending a Tridentine Mass. Once again, this argument has no merit. The text of Summorum Pontificum does not in any way suggest that canons that were abrogated by the 1983 Code of Canon Law are now back in force. The current canon law still applies. The motu proprio simply permits the faithful to use the 1962 Missal, and none of the Mass rubrics it contains have anything specifically to do with the wearing of chapel veils by members of the congregation. It is understandable that many people associate the two in their minds, since the 1917 code, requiring women to cover their heads, was in force back when they attended the old Mass. But the permission to say the old Mass does not in any way include a return to the obligations of the former canon 1262.

The bottom line is that the advertisement which you quote is factually incorrect. Women are free to wear chapel veils if they choose to, but they cannot be required to do so. And to refuse to allow them to enter a church and attend Mass if their heads are not covered would be a violation of their rights under the current Code of Canon Law.

____________________

Footnotes

c. 1262.1 Optandum ut, congruenter antiquae disciplinae, mulieres in ecclesia separatae sint a viris.

c. 1262.2 Viri in ecclesia vel extra ecclesiam, dum sacris ritibus assistant, nudo capite sint, nisi aliud ferant probati populorum mores aut peculiaria rerum adiuncta; mulieres autem, capite cooperto et modeste vestitae, maxime quum ad mensam Dominicam accedunt.

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  • Guest

    I have to ask then ……Why it is required for a woman to wear a veil when in the presence of the Holy Father and not when a woman is in the presence of God?

  • Guest

    Why is there so much controversy over head coverings for women if the Pope says it is not really necessary anymore? Some people seem to be sounding like the Pharisees and concentrate more on things that are not really that important.

     What is of most importance is our reverence and what we are paying attention to as far as Jesus and the Mass are concerned. Women can wear all the head coverings they want, but if they are not focussed on what is happening in church and are just trying to be self righteous and what they conceive of as pious(false piety) it is a waste of time.

  • Guest

    We care for people like you ….that have not been taught what Tradition, Obedience  and Reverence are.

     You stated the Popes says it is not really necessary any longer….If that were true. Then why are woman required to wear a Viel in the Pope's presence ? If that is true, do you not think that a woman should wear a veil in a Church with God Himself present?

     

    Besides ….The Blessed Mother always wears one ……Surprised

     

    I do not see what the big deal is about wearing one ……God has made woman a creator like himself. A woman veiling herself is showing submission to her God and creator.

     

     

  • Guest

    The basis of this law is Scriptural command, not Canon Law.  The repeal of its mention in Canon Law does not void the Holy Bible.  Its been dropped in practice in the west because of rampant feminism, just like modesty in dress at Mass.

     

    1 Corinthians 11:4-6 Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head.

  • Guest

    First of all, I met the Holy Father Pope John Paul II (private Mass in his chapel, meeting afterwards) and the women were NOT required to cover their heads.  Second, according to tonycast's argument above, it would also be desirable to separate women and men in church.  I've never been to a TLM where the women and men were separated — has anyone ever seen this?

  • Guest

    It's amazing how many people seem to forget that law is not a matter of opinion.  Nor is obedience to authority, if you're a Catholic.  You don't have to like what the law says, you just have to follow it.  The law says what it says, whether you agree with it or not.  If you want to decide on your own authority that the Pope is wrong, or the law is bad, or the Bible has more authority than the Church's teachings, go ahead, but please don't call yourself a Catholic!  You can become a protestant and write your own laws, and then you can make women wear anything you like!  But as for me, I'm going to follow what the Holy Father has given us.  I believe that God gives the Holy Father a kind of guidance that he doesn't give to me.  That's why he's the Pope and I'm not. 

  • Guest

    I read this about a year ago, from a sister in Christ: 

     

    …I began to sense a call to cover my head. To remind me that I am in a holy place and the lace covering my peripheral vision reminds me to direct my worship to the Lord and away from the random thoughts which plague me at the worst possible time.

    I have questioned my wearing the veil. Am I doing so for the right reasons? Am I trying to appear to be more holy?
    I will tell you the reasons I began to veil, with a HUGE dose of God's grace and a lot of study…

    …Finally, I reverted to the faith of my childhood, and it seems it was permanent, and maybe something in me was seeking an outward sign. And outward commitment to something I had internally realized.  Believe you me, I am feminine through and through. But something happens when I enter God's house; I understand that I am a woman; and perhaps someday I will be the woman He created me to be. I am a woman in His image and everywhere, I see His mother upheld as an example of femininity. She is veiled. She always points the way to Jesus and in doing so, she is a leader among all women, as well as men.

    I heard the call to imitate Our Lady and I have found, through wearing the veil, that no matter what I am outside of Mass, when I arrive to worship, I am a woman of God, and nothing else matters.  The veil is a sign of modesty and submission to God. It is a reminder of the holiness of our location, and I do need this reminder at times.

    My other point is, and some of you may already understand. I am vain of my hair. Yup. My hair is my best feature and I like to show it off. But a line has to be drawn, and I do so at Mass. I don't go to Mass to look good or receive compliments. I go to worship God. He already knows all about my hair, and my veiling it for Him is a form of modesty. It's a small way of my saying to Him, "Ok, this is not about me, but all about YOU, and so I will cover myself so that I become smaller and YOU absorb all the attention which is so rightfully due to you."

    Then a point was brought home to me. I went to my regular adoration hour a few weeks ago, and did not wear my veil. As he was leaving a gentleman leaned over as he stood, and said to me, "Boy, kid, you sure do have pretty hair!"

    He finished his goodbyes to Jesus and went on his way.

    There I sat, veil-less, wearing a pony-tail, realizing that had I worn my veil as usual, this man would not have felt the need to compliment me. I was not there to be complimented. And what's worse, I feel that my hair actually distracted this man enough to divert him from his own prayer. Now, is that my problem? No, it is not. We all have distractions but the reality is that I have taken pains for my hair to be noticed in certain times, and this incident reminded me that thus, I have a certain obligation to NOT be a distraction to others.

    During Mass or Adoration, that is NOT the time to garner anyone's attention. So I veil.

    Some may argue that's the wrong reason, but in my heart, I have come to understand that it's the right thing to do. I will not lobby for all to wear the veil, for I don't think that's necessary. It would just be seen as another law, and some would resent it.

    I would like to see more formal education on the topic. Last summer I was accused of being disobedient to the Magisterium for wearing the mantilla, and my explanations (including history of it) fell upon deaf ears. She referred to my mantilla as a "doily". I had to remind her that it is blessed and is therefore, a sacramental. She accused me of being disobedient because the American Bishops have not spoken on the subject, either yay or nay.

    The reality is this; wearing the veil is a personal devotion. God may speak to us all in different ways, and maybe some of us need the equivalent of blinders used on horses to keep our attention forward. I do not want anyone to see me as other than a sinner in need of correction, for ultimately, that is why I veil.  There are many acceptable reasons to veil, and they may vary from person to person. For myself, it's my vanity and a certain reminder that I am a woman after Mary's own heart and God has willed it this way. He has willed that I be a Catholic woman, to follow in her footsteps and point the way to Jesus for others. I don't have to be a religious sister for this; I need only recognize that as a woman, I have a duty in God's service, as do we all.

    We do not cover our heads out of submission to men. I abhor the thought! We do not cover our heads to stand out or seem more holy than others. We cover our heads out of respect for the Lord who is present.

    If we as women go to visit the Pope, we are to veil ourselves. How much greater is Jesus than His Vicar? Isn't the decision to veil, then, in the presence of Christ obvious?

    Is there any more to be said, or as usual, have I been too-long winded?

  • Guest

    I have read many comments here on whether chapel veils are or are not required for women during mass and I have perceived some genuine anger in some of the submissions. This confuses me.

    As a woman I am grateful for the custom of head covering when entering into the presence of Our Lord and God. It is such a simple, easy, act and one which allows me to express respect, devotion and humility in the presence of my Creator. Although, admittedly of lesser value, it is much easier than attending daily mass or praying for hours, but it affords the opportunity for me to say to my God, "I love You, I adore You and I feel my humility in Your presence. I cover my head in Your presence to show You and remind myself and others that I respect You and know that I am quite small in Your presence. It is a humble expression of my love for You."

    It seems that the floodgates for mediocrity have been opened in our church since the 1960's. This breaks my heart because there is so much devotion and respect which we can express to God by way of simple, little, acts which are now either eschewed or unknown by Catholic parishioners.

    I am very grateful to our pre-Vatican II church and my parents who  taught me various ways of always remembering the awe and mystery of my Creator by performing little acts of respect toward Him in my daily life. I am only sorry that those things are no longer taught to our young members.

    By bowing my head, reciting ejaculations, dressing respectfully, covering my head and genuflecting, to name just a few, I remind myself and God of where I fit into the grand scheme of things and express respect for where and from Whom I came. And as a special bonus, I hurt no one and do not interfere with any one's faith in the process.

    Why then all the hoopla and furor over such a small, modest, little act? When I enter my local church to attend Mass knowing that I am the only woman or one of perhaps two wearing a chapel veil I am inwardly saddened, but not offended. I genuinely believe that we are all here working toward the same goal at our own pace and level. I am only sorry that the other women in my congregation are missing the ability to express love and reverence to God in such a simple and modest manner.

    Each time we eliminate these small acts of subservience to Our Lord we all loose. Collectively there is less respect shown to God and the resulting outcome is that subconsciously these omissions undermine our awareness and devalue our estimation of the power and grandeur which is He. Put quite simply we forget what we owe our loving God.

    I am reminded of an incident I observed in Mass this summer. Down the center isle came an extraordinary minister dressed in a brightly-flowered, Hawaiian shirt (shirttail out), Jamaica shorts, and feet clad sock-less in sneakers. As I watched him saunter down the isle, arms swinging in a most casual stride I thought to myself, how could this man dress this way and approach the Blessed Sacrament so casually if he believed in the True Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist?

    This incident brought home to me the fact that those little acts of respect are what help to keep us connected to the reality of our existence. By replacing them with a casual, everyday approach the importance and grandeur of the Blessed Sacrament slowly slips away. We are ego driven creatures in need of constant reminders of the respect and love we owe our God.

    In view of this consequence the importance of the fine lines of cannon law pails. What is more important than faith and the help the one, true, Catholic and Apostolic Church can offer it's member in this pursuit?

  • Guest

    To have a clear understanding about women wearing headcovering in Church please go to http://www.tldm.org and read Directive from Heaven no. 178 to hear what Our Lady and the Saints have to say about the subject.

  • Guest

    Having Bayside on that site and you refering us to it ….Adds nothing to this conversation.

     

    http://mariancatholicforum.forumco.com/default.asp

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  • Catholic

    But – why don’t you mention that St. Paul states in the Bible that a woman should not pray without her head covered? You’re not telling the complete truth here. The fact that Canon law doesn’t mention it doesn’t mean it’s not required. It does not mention it, well – but another of our authorities does, the Holy Bible! So what if Canon law does not mention it? It’s superfluous, because God’s eternal word tells us that women should veil their heads. This should be common sense?

  • paul

     http://www.catholicintl.com/index.php/component/content/article/60-traditionalism/270-should-women-wear-head-coverings

  • Anna

    I don’t cover my head.

  • Jacqueline

    I have been covering my head for years;gonna keep on covering it.

  • joyce

    Sorry, but there was no mentionn of it in Canon Law after Vatcian ll, so it still remains in effect, because ….we always view everything in light of TRADITION. Our Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow…He is STILL and always will be present Real in the Blessed Sacrament on our Altars….Protestant do not have the REAL JESUS, so they do not have to cover thier heads…..Catholics need f to give Our Lord the Highest service and Respect…WOMEN COVER YOUR HEADS with a MANTILLA! -God Bless-joyce

  • http://www.facebook.com/karen.salstrom Karen Salstrom

    Since St. Paul laid it out so very clearly in I Corinthians 11, I see every reason for women to cover their heads. The 1960′s whining over not wanting to have men tell women what to do has spilled over into good, common sense. I was a teen in the 60′s, so I know exactly what I’m saying. Look how horribly it effected the Church: few women wear veils at their weddings (or sleeves, for that matter!)….and our precious little girls no longer value that First Holy Eucharist Veil (but they LOVE those spaghetti strap dresses!)
    I believe this all to be a domino effect of Catholic women being babies about covering their heads in the 60′s. And who is really being dishonored now??? God himself. As St. Paul says, a woman’s hair is her glory. So by entering the Holy Places with our heads uncovered, we bring honor to ourselves rather than to God.

  • Bucky Badger

    PROTESTANTS DON’T HAVE THE REAL JESUS? Joyce, they worship the same God as the Catholics. (John 3:16) The arrogance of Catholics regarding this is anything but Christian. Lutherans share the same heritage as Catholics, Martin Luther made a left turn when the Popes were selling indulgences.

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