When I was a little girl, there was an older lady in my parish who frequently had a round, lace doily bobby pinned to the top of her elaborately coiffed hairdo. While it seemed a strange fashion choice, I never really gave it much thought…until about a year ago, when I saw the very same woman, wearing what was probably the very same “doily” (AND what I suspect was the very same blue wool peacoat!) We were visiting the parish in which we grew up, which is a most unique place in that it doesnt seem to feel the passage of time. The parishoners are the same people I grew up with 20 years ago. The pastoral associate is the same. The woman who works the desk at the rectory has been working there for 30 years! In the 1980’s, the parish’s use of contemporary guitar music was ‘progressive’– today, it’s frankly a little stale and tired sounding. The parish has changed very little in the past 10 years, including the elderly woman wearing what I now know to be a formally referred to as a chapel veil.
So let’s talk for a moment about chapel veils. As noted, I didn’t grow up in a traditional Catholic parish. The one veil-wearer was an anomoly, not the norm in any way. My mother was not a veil wearer. Neither grandmother was Catholic. After leaving my childhood parish, The Auditor and I have been members in about four other parishes– and in none of these places have I ever seen a chapel veil.
So imagine my surprise when, about a 18 months ago, I began to feel an urge to cover my hair in church. An urge I didnt really understand and paid even less attention to. Fast forward to April of 2009, when I joined an online community known as the Catholic Answer Forums.
I had a lot of questions about my faith, which is what drew me to this particular apologetics organization. One of the forums listed is Traditional Catholicism– a treasure trove of information! And what to my wondering eyes should appear…(go ahead, finish it, ‘but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer!’ Got that out of your system? Ok, then let’s get back to the point)…but a thread about headcovering during mass!
So I’m reading this thread, and taking in what everybody has to say. The more I read, the more drawn I am! These women are discussing how head covering has changed their prayer lives. They are discussing the Biblical justification behind head-covering, and the fact that Christian women from year 0 to about year 1930 UNIVERSALLY covered their heads in church. Why? Well firstly because St Paul reminded the Corinthians that it’s the right thing to do, and secondly, because we, as sinners, are meant to humble ourselve s in the presence of God.
1. Biblical Justification for headcovering:
There are numerous allusions to headcovering in the Old Testament– headcovering in the Old Testament is a “given”. When women worship, they do so humbly, and respectfully. While headcovering is not specifically a TEACHING of the Old Testament, it sort of seems as though it doesn’t need to be taught. Humility, humbleness and modesty are the teachings, and head covering is a small peice of these three aspects of worship.
Fast forward to the New Testament. The Corinthians are in a bit of trouble– they’ve been falling away from the teachings of Christ. When Paul hears of this, he needs to take action, and so he pens a letter, which is distributed to the people both orally AND writtenly. (Glad I took that New Testament class! See? I was paying attention!) St. Paul says…
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn! But since it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For indeed a man ought not to cover his head, being the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason the woman should have authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In any case, woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman, in the Lord; 12 for as woman is [created] from man, so man is now [born] through woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
So let us deconstruct what Paul is saying here. To me, it is pretty clear he is saying that women are to cover their glory (their hair) during worship. Covering the glory is to humble onesself before God. Incidentally, Paul reminds then men NOT to cover their heads during worship. It’s funny how we have retained THAT peice of this letter, isn’t it? For men to wear hats in mass (where you are in the physical presence of Jesus through the Eucharist) is still today considered a great disrespect to God. And yet, we have let the commands given to women fall to the wayside! The headcovering woman in Mass (again, it bears repeating– in the physical presence of Jesus) is the anomaly in most American and Canadian parishes.
Personally, I am of the opinion that this has a LOT more to do with some perverted form of “feminism” than with any decree from the Vatican. Incidentally, in most of the world, Catholic women are required (and would never dream of NOT) to cover their head in the presence of Christ (at Mass). The second Vatican council is actually SILENT on the practice of headcovering. Nobody ever said “hey dont bother with this anymore, it’s not longer relevant”. I believe offically the decision (like, sadly, so many others) was left up to the local bishops to administer as far as what was “the norm” of the culture.
For those of us growing up entirely AFTER the second Vatican counsel– we know nothing else. We dont know a time when women covered their hair in church out of humility and respect for the Lord, ever present in the Eucharist. The concept seems foreign to us– because it quite literally IS foreign!
When I started headcovering, I was actually mistaken for an immigrant. The preist (new to our parish) asked me what part of the world I was born in. He seemed surprised to discover that I hail from upstate New York, and that the past 5 generations of my family have all hailed from the New York, Pennsylvania area.
So lest you think me legalistic (GASP! NOT LEGALISM! HORRORS!), I would also like to share with you, dearest readers, the spiritual reasons that so many of us cover our heads in Mass (and why some of us cover our heads at all times! yes, these women exist as well!).
The first time you cover your head in Mass, you feel self conscious. This is particularly true if you live in a major metropolitan area. This is even MORE true if you live in a…shall we say…Blue State. This area is overrun with feminists– the scary, militant kind! The kind who give you dirty looks IN CHURCH because you are wearing, on your head, a “symbol of oppression” (Oppression!? Really!? Get a life wackos!). The kind of feminists who see a conservative woman and start collecting pebbles, ready to stone the rebel who is single handedly undoing 40 years of their hard “work”.
(side note– ever meet a pro-choice Catholic? I HAVE. Too many of them to count. Usually women. Usually of a certain age. Usually very VERY angry. But I digress…)
So anyway, the first time you cover your head in Mass, you get some wonky looks…some dirty looks, some curious looks…and possibly even some obnoxious comments from the Fem-Nazi peanut gallery.
But then the second time you cover your head in Mass, you feel joy. You did it! You overcame the “norm” and the sniping, and the looks, and you did it FOR GOD! You did it because you felt it was right– because God was calling you to it all along, beckoning, whispering…and you listened to His call.
The third time, you almost forget that your lace mantilla sticks out like a sore thumb in the sea of bluejean clad parishoners. You are able to pray without distraction. You are able to worship in a more sincere fashion. You no longer harbor any subconscious thoughts about how awesome you think you are, because right there, on your head, is the symbol of your own subordination to God.
(nota bene– I dont think there is anything wrong with wearing blue jeans to church, quite honestly. I dont think “casual dress” is the same as “inappropriate”. That being said, BOY have I seen some inappropiately clad teenagers in recent weeks!)
As the weeks go by, people have less to say about it. You become “that lady with the head thing”. Many people assume you are a nun (until the next week they see your with your husband, struggling wildly to calm your very enthusiastic and noisy Little Scribbler! Then they REALLY get confused!)
Headcovering becomes second nature to you. You no longer enter the church without it– because every time you enter the church, you are in the physical presence of Jesus, and by now, you are more fully aware of this fact than you have ever been. Your headcovering reminds you of the reverence due the Blessed Sacrament. It reminds you of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for you. It reminds you to be subordinate to the Lord in all things. Frankly, it transforms your prayer life…your spiritual life…your married life.
The Blessed Mother never would have worshipped the Lord with her hair uncovered. She wouldnt have dreamed of it. God made her our perfect example of a woman– of a wife– of a mother. Just some food for thought.
I have more to say about this, but Little Scribbler needs to get to bed, so I shall continue in the comments, or perhaps in another post if people really want to talk. I highly recommend the Catholic Answer Forums for more information on this subject– also for fellowship for headcovering Catholic women. We have a group there where we discuss, encourage, support and educate. There are MANY more of us out there than you think!
yet ANOTHER nota bene– I feel headcovering should be a woman’s personal choice. My feelings on headcovering are not in judgement of women who do not practice this most ancient tradition. I will not be forcing this tradition on the Little Scribbler– although I WILL be modeling it for her, and talking about it, and explaining it, and hoping that she chooses to humble herself before her Lord in this way.