Regarding the use of head coverings for women the 1917 Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church stated that, “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”). (http://www.fisheaters.com/theveil.html) There has been a great amount of debate as to whether after the Second Vatican Council this code of Canon Law was still valid and if women were still required to wear the head coverings in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Many argue that after the Second Vatican Council it no longer applied because it was specifically never reaffirmed as to it being a requirement; therefore, after the council had ended this tradition faded and many women no longer wore veils. The counter argument to this was that because there was no discussion of it and there weren’t outright statements about its validity, therefore, women were (and still are) supposed to wear head coverings.
When I was younger and would attend Mass, there were always the few women who still wore the veil in compliance with the Canon Law and I never truly understood it. Actually I guess it wasn’t as much a lack of understanding as much as it was intimidation. I was intimidated because I saw their head covered as being an outward sign of their holiness. I thought, “only the holiest of women would wear a veil, or even be bold enough to do so.” I confronted this sort of thinking the previous semester when Our Lord began putting this deep desire for humility and modesty on my heart, and slowly I felt like he was calling me to be bold and veil myself in His presence. My prayer life and devotion increased because I was truly trying to understand exactly why women wore head coverings in the past, why they stopped, and why it is slowly make a resurgence. All of this led me to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 11 of his first letter starting with verse 5 he states:
“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.”
What is Saint Paul saying here? First let me note that he wasn’t sexist and against women at all. He was just pointing out one of the many beautiful things about us, that we were made to honor our Lord, especially in modesty. Saint Paul goes on later to talk about, “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.”
Wow! Saint Paul is now telling us that it isn’t because men and woman are independent from one another. It is in the love of the family unit that draws women to veil what is most sacred to us…. the gift to bear life. We veil this gift because it is not for our own glory, or for the glory of the man, but for God’s own glory.
This scripture and the one in Song of Solomon which says, “Behold you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil.” (Song of Songs 4:1) were the two answers from Our Lord that I needed in order to understand what the veil truly represented, and in that understanding have the boldness to wear the veil in humility as Our Lord had been asking.
I realized that my first perception of the veil was wrong. The veil isn’t a symbol of holiness but rather one of submission to God’s will. The veil is an outward sign that God’s glory is the sole purpose of worship and nothing else, the veil is the outward sign of the protection we as women have for the lives that we bear. We are not covering up our “feminine glory” because of shame but rather allowing for Christ’s glory to shine instead. I heard a beautiful comment on this very discussion that mentioned that as women we submit ourselves to husbands much as Our Lady submitted to the plan of the Holy Spirit, her spouse, and in every image of Our Lady what is she wearing? You got it. A veil. This veil is a sign that we will be obedient, just as Our Lady was obedient, and that like her we will continue to protect and remain to be vessels of life.
There are different forms of head coverings including; a veil (or mantilla) that is black or white, a simple hat, a shawl wrapped over your head, a cotton scarf, or any long scarf that you can easily maneuver to wrap around your head. I wear a lace scarf I happened to buy at Forever 21 a year ago that just happens to work perfect! I just wrap it around my head whenever I am in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Be bold sisters in Christ.