Monday, December 13, 2010

Headcovering in the Catholic Church

I honestly don't know how this got on my radar screen... probably reading a blog on another (Catholic) topic and stumbled across another post.  I don't remember where it was though so I can't credit that person with the inspiration for my intrigue... (so to anyone out who there has written a post on this topic, thank you!)

The mantilla, or lace veil, or other head covering worn by most Catholic women and girls was previously required under Canon law from 1917.  When Canon law was revised in 1983, the topic was left out and since 1983 law essentially repealed the 1917 law the requirement no longer exists.  You can find an excellent summary of this topic on the EWTN website.  To sum up their summary, it basically points out that the requirement for women to cover their head while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament was left out, not that it is no longer appropriate.

This is an interesting topic to me, because to wear a head covering in Church these days is usually pretty rare... at least in my diocese and the parishes at which I've attended Mass.  Head covering is still a sign of modesty in most cultures around the world and I don't think the US is that different.  If you were to see a Muslim woman walking down the street wearing her hijab, most people are aware that it is an outward sign of modesty, this belief in being modest comes from their faith.  If you see an Amish family (common in my area), the women and girls are wearing a head covering over their hair pulled into a bun.  It is said to be tradition that when a woman has a meeting with the Pope, she is to wear black with a head covering (except if she is a reigning Catholic monarch).  To clarify, the Vatican does not require women to cover their head.

The Catholic faith has never stopped teaching modesty, but in the US and most of Europe it has been, in my experience, less prominent of topics.  Some might argue that there are "bigger issues" plaguing our culture (i.e. culture of death, etc.) or that covering your head is demeaning to women.  I believe that if people start treating themselves with more respect physically, mentally and emotionally then it will translate directly into respect for all life.  For example, the more I learned about my body through NFP, the more respect I gained for it and all which it is capable.

Others say that head covering in general is demeaning to women, and I honestly am not sure why this assumption could be.  I think, there has to be some requirement by another person or organization for a woman to wear a head covering (or do anything) against her will, now that is demeaning.  But for a woman to cover her head because she chooses it to be an outward sign of modesty, can not be demeaning as it is her choice to do so.

As a Catholic woman, I try to be modest in the way that I dress out of respect to myself and to my husband, not because I am subservient to him, but because I respect our marriage.  (Who am I trying to impress?  Ha ha!)  For me, that doesn't mean floor length skirts and long sleeves.  For one, I can not wear dresses or skirts to work for safety concerns (loose clothing is a no-no in a lab).  One reason I love winter time is because fashion and weather makes it very easy to not show too much skin.  Honestly, I don't know what I think about head covering during Mass.  On one hand, I find it a beautiful way to show respect for ourselves in the presence of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, I could see these things being distracting to others in Mass (not that I expect it, but it could be an unintended side effect).  

What are your thoughts or experiences with head covering in either the Catholic Church or any other situation?


  1. I've never worn a head covering, but did toy with the idea a while back. Ultimately I decided that it would be bad for me personally because I would likely become puffed up with pride by doing it. Also, as you said, I think it would be distracting to other people in mass as well, since absolutely no one in the parishes around here wears one.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth, that is kind of how I feel about it. I worry that the part of me that is "attracted" to it and I am not necessarily comfortable with that.

    I do know that if I were to ever choose it, I would likely do something "non-traditional" to avoid becoming a distraction.

  3. I've also done some research on this a while back and again recently. Our parish in Washington and now our parish in Germany (on the military base) both have several families in which the women follow this observance. It doesn't bother me at all and though I try to explain the practice to my husband, I will say he is still quite distracted by it. But he's working on it :)

    I think it is a beautiful observance, so long as the women are doing it for the right reasons (which of course we wouldn't know, nor is it for us to judge I don't think). I know the scripture reference and the history, but part of me still feels that if this is going to help me be more reverent in the presence of the blessed sacrament, where is the male counterpart? Do men not need this "help"? For me personally, I think it is best for me to observe reverence in other ways. I try to imagine having a son and a daughter and trying to explain to them that my daughter needed to wear the covering to be reverent but my son does I making any sense? :)

  4. I agree Marci! I also question what is the male equivalent sign of modesty, because it is considered disrespectful to wear a hat in church in most cultures (that I know of). Although, male fashion is typically more modest, outside of teenagers with their pants down showing their underwear, but collard shirts and slacks are modest in & of themselves. I don't think having your hair showing is immodest (I don't cover in Church), but I guess being more focused on what your hair looks like before going to Church rather than preparing for prayer could be bad? I don't know that I agree or disagree with the whole thing... it is a very interesting debate.

    As for having children to address this, it could be reversed when the little girl wonders why she can't become a priest. In my opinion it comes down to the fact that being created male or female gives you certain roles within the Church (and society), none of which are less important than any others. I like your point though!