The wearing of chapel veils is an uncertain topic among Catholic women. Should women wear veils at Mass or in a church? Why or why not? The Church has said that women don’t need to any more, right? So why bother? In this post I want to answer common questions about veiling and address common objections.
Where does the tradition of veiling come from?
In 1 Corinthians 11:4-6, St. Paul says,
“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.”
And in verses 13-15, he continues,
“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 […]?”
Let’s dissect both parts of St. Paul’s direction.
First, he addresses men by directing them to remove their head coverings while praying. You’re probably aware that for a man to remove his hat or head covering is, and has always been, a form of humbling himself and submitting to someone greater than himself. Men still remove their hats at Mass because they are humbling themselves before Christ, Who is truly present in the Host and Tabernacle.
Conversely, for a woman to wear a covering over her beautiful hair, “her glory” as St. Paul puts it, is to humble herself in the presence of God, since He is physically present in the Tabernacle and she receives Him in the Host. Because Christ, Our Lord and Savior, is truly present at Mass – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – a woman who veils points to her belief of this truth by humbling herself before Him.
What is the symbolism of veiling?
Another reason to veil is that sacred things are traditionally veiled. At Mass and in Catholic churches, the sacred vessels, the tabernacle, chalice, ciborium, and monstrance, are all veiled at times.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was always veiled or covered. It contained sacred manna (the bread God sent from Heaven), the rod of Aaron (a symbol of the first High Priest), and the Ten Commandments (God’s word to the Jews).
Our Lady is recognized as the “New Ark of the Covenant” because she carried Jesus, the Bread of Life, High Priest, and Word of God, in her body. In art, she is almost always depicted as wearing a veil, and in Church-recognized apparitions she always wore a veil as well. As women, we share with Our Lady the sacred potential to bring new life into the world. We are potential arks, not of the Covenant, but of new life (also sacred). So it makes sense that we should be veiled too, right?
But didn’t the Church rescind the veiling requirement?
The 1917 Code of Canon Law 1262.2 stated:
“Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.”
But since then, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was replaced by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Whatever the 1983 Code of Canon Law did not reiterate from the 1917 Code is no longer in force. So, because the 1983 Code of Canon Law is silent on the matter of veiling, women are no longer required to wear veils in Catholic churches or at Mass.
This was confirmed in 2011 by Cardinal Burke when he was the Prefect of the Supreme Apostolic Signatura:
“The wearing of a chapel veil for women is not required when women assist at the Holy Mass according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force. It is not, however, a sin to participate in the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form without a veil.”
So, yes, the Church did rescind the requirement for veiling.
You can probably agree that just because the Church doesn’t force us to do something definitely doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do that thing. I mean, the Church doesn’t make every Catholic wear the scapular or pray the Rosary every day, or even go to daily Mass. Does that mean we shouldn’t do those things though, since it’s not mandatory? Not in the least! All of these devotions are pleasing to God, and certainly more pleasing than if we don’t do them. Just because we don’t have to do them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them. Similarly, wearing the veil is a devotion which is pleasing to God, and just because we don’t have to veil doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
But doesn’t veiling draw attention to me?
Doesn’t a Nun or religious Sister wearing her habit or a Priest or Deacon wearing his Roman collar or cassock in public draw attention to herself or himself? People who see a Priest or Nun know that they are a Priest or Nun. When a Priest or Nun wears their habit, it points to their Catholic faith and what they believe in – it’s not about them, but rather it’s about their belief. When a woman wears a veil, she also points to what she believes in – the true presence of Our Lord in the tabernacle and in the Eucharist.
That being said, wearing a veil shouldn’t be done to say, “Look at me!” or “See how holy I am? I’m better than you.” Don’t be like the Pharisees in the Bible, trying to get attention for your piety and sanctity. If you’re acting this way, you need to step back and take another look at some of the reasons for veiling.
O.k., I’ll veil at the Latin Mass but not the Novus Ordo.
Many women seem to have this mindset. However, in both forms of the Mass the sacrifice is the same. Our Lord is still present, both in the Tabernacle and in the Holy Eucharist. The Mass is the Mass, whether said in the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form; it still has the same graces, the same end goal (to worship and glorify God), and the same sacrifice. So the reasons for veiling remain.
If you’re going to veil, I would suggest that you do it all the way. Do it well and be consistent. It seems somewhat fickle to wear your veil at one Form and not the other, don’t you think? And if you’re afraid of drawing attention to yourself at a Novus Ordo Mass where others may or may not veil, please read the objection above, and the one below may be helpful as well.
But nobody else at my parish wears a veil.
It’s always hard to be different and not fit in, isn’t it? It’s always hard being the only one to do certain things. But Jesus calls His followers, including us, not to be afraid to be doing something alone or to be different from others. He calls us to be o.k. with being judged (and even persecuted!) for being different from others. Also, if other women see you veil, maybe they’ll start veiling too!
What do the different colors mean? Which color should I get?
Traditionally, white veils are worn by unmarried women (virgins), and black veils are worn by married women. It’s really a matter of personal preference though, and you can choose any color you like. Some women like having a gold veil that they wear for Christmas, Easter, and special occasions. Some will have a purple veil for Lent and Advent, and others will wear blue for Marian feasts. Again, you can wear whichever color you want.
Veils can be pricey though, so remember that you really only need one veil. In light of that, I’d personally recommend getting a neutral color to start with, like black, white, or brown. To be perfectly honest, I only ever had one veil which I wear, and it’s white (since I’m unmarried). It’s all I’ve ever needed and it matches with everything. Win-win!
My veil is distracting and uncomfortable, and it’s always falling off!
O.k., so you get a veil but you find that it distracts you. That’s totally understandable. I mean, if you don’t typically wear a veil and didn’t grow up with it, I can definitely see where you’re coming from. Getting new things and wearing new things is often uncomfortable and distracting. But in time, we get used to them. It’s the same with veils. The first time I wore a veil in Mass I was so distracted and uncomfortable. I mean, it just feels weird, right? But it didn’t take long to get used to it, and it won’t for you either.
However, if your veil is distracting to you, and you always need to adjust it, then it’s probably distracting to others as well. The easiest solution is to buy a veil with a comb or clip attached. You can also sew one on yourself. Another option is to buy an infinity veil, which quickly solves discomfort and distraction as well.
Where can I buy a veil?
It’s true that finding veils can be hard. Some Catholic bookstores or parishes sell veils, but most veils can be purchased online. I got my veil at Veils by Lily, and I totally recommend their veils as well as other products (and they have a sewn-in comb or clip option).
Other stores include:
I hope I have answered and addressed some common questions and objections to veiling. Wearing a veil is a beautiful symbol, practice, and devotion. It is also a wonderful way to be an example of reverence, a way to “reclaim reverence”. At Mass, we see our Lord, God, and Savior in the Tabernacle and receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. That’s a pretty big deal. Wearing a veil is also a way to do something more special and out of the ordinary, like wearing your “Sunday best” when going to physically see Jesus.
And anyway, why not wear a veil?