Do Women Need to Wear Head Coverings at Mass?

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion, Bible, Canon Law, Liturgy

Are Head Coverings at Mass Required for Women?

The question of whether women need to wear head coverings (mantillas, chapel veils, etc.) at Mass keeps coming up.

With the greater freedom to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy, it poses the question anew, since prior to the current rite of Mass head coverings were required for women.

If a woman is going to an Extraordinary Form Mass, does she have an obligation to wear one, in keeping with the law at the time?

I’ve blogged about the subject before. More than once, in fact.

But the question keeps coming up, and with the new twist based on the broadened permission to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, it’s worth looking into again.

So what’s the answer?

Head Coverings at Mass in Canon Law

The requirement that women wear head coverings at Mass was part of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which provided:

Canon 1262

§2. 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.

Notice that this didn’t establish a requirement for any particular form of head covering. It could be a mantilla, a veil, a hat, a scarf, etc.

But when the 1983 Code of Canon Law was released, it provided:

Canon 6

§1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:

1° the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;

Laws which had been part of the 1917 Code, including canon 1262, thus lost their force and the legal requirement was officially ended. (The custom had already fallen into disuse in many places.)

Since it was the 1917 Code and not the Church’s liturgical documents that established the requirement, it would seem that when the 1917 Code lost its force, the obligation ceased for Latin Rite liturgies in general, regardless of whether they were celebrated according to the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form.

But wait . . . what about St. Paul’s mention of them in 1 Corinthians?

Head Coverings in the Bible

If St. Paul’s directive that women wear head coverings were binding today then it would apply to both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms (as well as non-Latin Rite liturgies).

However, in 1976 the Congregation for the Faith dealt with the issue and judged that St. Paul’s directive on this point is not binding. In its declaration on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood (Inter Insigniores), the CDF stated:

Another objection is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.

So it would appear that neither canon law nor the Church’s liturgical books nor Scripture establish a requirement that women today must wear head coverings, at either Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form Masses.

Of course, women are still absolutely free to do so, and doing so can be a beautiful expression of devotion.

Common Sense & the Extraordinary Form

Given the natural expectations of many people at Extraordinary Form Masses, one can see a certain appropriateness to wearing them in that context.

People there would commonly expect the use of head coverings–precisely because there was an obligation in 1962–and not using them could cause puzzlement or consternation.

Still, it would be nice to have some additional insight on Rome’s thinking into this question, which leads us to . . .

Cardinal Burke on Head Coverings & the Extraordinary Form

I was pleased recently when I discovered that Cardinal Burke had addressed this question in a private letter that is now available on the EWTN web site.

This letter does not represent an official ruling, but since Cardinal Burke is head of the Holy See’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, his opinion carries weight and certainly gives insight on the kind of thinking that Rome applies to these issues. So here is what he said on the subject:

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.

Cardinal Burke thus seems to envision a middle category of “expectation.” Not a legal requirement. And not something that must be fulfilled on pain of sin. But not a matter of complete indifference, either.

That corresponds to my sense as well. At the Ordinary Form there is neither a requirement nor an expectation that head coverings be used, though women are totally free to do so. And at the Extraordinary Form there is and expectation but not a requirement, certainly not one binding on pain of sin, that they be used.

What do you think?

Learning More

By the way, if you’re interested in liturgical matters like this, they are one of the topics I cover in my mailings to the Secret Information Club. If you’re interested, you should click here to learn more or sign up using this form:

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

What is the Secret Information Club?I value your email privacy


DocSharkey July 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm

@JimmyAkin3000 just joined your secret club. Don’t tell anyone.

JimmyAkin3000 July 17, 2012 at 6:10 pm

@DocSharkey Mum’s the word!

DocSharkey July 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm

@JimmyAkin3000 thanks. I always thought that bird was the word.

DeaconSmith July 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm

@JimmyAkin3000 @DocSharkey Secret Info club sounds so Gnostic. I’m in! Don’t tell Dan Brown!

DocSharkey July 17, 2012 at 6:02 pm

@JimmyAkin3000 is “Mass Confusion” still in print?

JimmyAkin3000 July 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

@DocSharkey Yes. The updated version is called Mass Revision. Here’s a link:

CatholicPoet July 17, 2012 at 6:28 pm

@JimmyAkin3000 maybe we should atleast return the “modestly dressed” of 1262 … Should go without saying.. but it doesn’t sadly.

Melanie R July 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Thank you for the insight on this topic, Jimmy.
I have a friend who used to wear a head covering at Ordinary Form, but stopped when she realized that it was a turn-off to many others at Mass — especially women — who perceived her as “holier than thou.” She desired to draw more people closer to Christ through her reverence, kindness, and prayer, rather than pushing them away with what can be seen as stuffy, old-fashioned, etc. I really respect her decision. This is, of course, not to say that one should reflect the culture or fall into sin in order to make others feel comfortable (I would never advocate for a woman to dress less modestly to appease others), but I believe we should use discretion in such topics.

Robyn Broyles July 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I really dislike the “expectation without pain of sin” position.  In a sense it means enforcing “traditions of men.”  It’s not a law of God nor of the Church (thus not a sin to violate it), but an expectation held by people around you. For those women who attend the E.F. and do not wear a head covering (yes, there are many), it casts more shadows than light.
It reminds me of when I was a child, and a particularly extreme schismatic priest allegedly said that for a woman to wear pants (ever) was “almost a sin.”  We girls mocked that statement tirelessly:  it’s either a sin or it isn’t!  I have great respect for Cardinal Burke, but I do not agree with the idea of placing an “expectation” on an issue without real moral weight.

Kay July 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I go both forms of the Mass.  I do not wear a veil, nor do I intend to unless told otherwise.  The veil means nothing to me, and for me, neither contributes or detracts from my efforts at holiness in the Mass.  I often wonder the motive of women who wear them, especially when they were born after veils were no longer worn.

Jennifer72 July 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I for one do wear one in loving devotion to my Lord, Jesus Christ.  I am a convert.  Just as Moses took off his shoes because he was on Holy ground, I cover because my conscious convicts me to…I am in a Holy Place, I am receiving Jesus into my body, out of reverence I wear a head covering.  By covering I hope to convey that something very special is going on we are in the presence of Almighty God.  I hope to wear it as a way to love Jesus more.  1 Corinthians 11.  However, I don’t feel any illness towards women who don’t wear one.  It is not my place to judge them as it is not their place to judge me.  Pax Christi.

PsalmChanter July 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I attend the EF, and I choose to veil, but do not question the choice of my friends who choose not to veil.  I certainly don’t see the veil as an indication of which women are holier.  For me, the practice leads to an inward-turning that allows me to pray better at Mass.  I am so used to it now, that I feel a little “naked” without it when I’m in church.  (I usually don’t wear it at the OF unless I see others doing so, as I don’t want to offend anyone.)
That said, Robyn, of course expectations matter.  We have expectations about proper behavior in almost every venue, and those expectations are not necessarily related to sin, though they can be.  We expect for people not to yell and scream and make “rock-concert sounds” during a classical music concert.  We expect people to dress nicely for funerals, and not in bright yellow or ultra-cheery prints.  We expect people to keep their clothes on unless they’re at home or in the doctor’s office. :-)  When these expectations are broken, it causes discomfort for others.  So Cardinal Burke is saying it is reasonable to expect that a woman will wear a veil in the EF, because of the traditional nature of the form of the Mass, but it isn’t a sin if she doesn’t veil, just as it’s not a sin to wear bright clothes at a funeral.
I like Cardinal Burke’s explanation.

Robyn Broyles July 18, 2012 at 5:58 am

Is Cardinal Burke merely observing that an expectation exists, or imposing an expectation on those for whom it never existed before?  Since many women attend the E.F. without a head covering, I think it’s the latter.  There are lots of reasons for covering or not covering, and I think it’s a form of personal devotion in either case (in my case, not covering was meant as an exterior sign to God of my decision to choose obedience over schism).

Jamie July 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I have considered this question myself.  My problem is that as a Native American, I believe that covering my hair is a sign of shame.  As if I was “hiding” from The Lord.  If you think about it, when you are looking out at a group of children, you notice YOUR child by their hair first, and clothing…second.  I am a sinner and that does cause shame, however I certainly do not want to hide from God.  I dont think I could even bring myself to wear a veil at my wedding…just a thought.  I would hope that noone would try to “require” me to do so. 

Shin July 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm

So some nameless official in the CDF thinks the 2,000 year old universal wearing of head coverings by women, is “‘probably’ inspired by the customs of the period” “scarcely more than disciplinary practices of ‘minor importance'”  and its among those that “no longer have a ‘normative’ value.”
And that single dismissive and impious statement is considered by some of greater weight and authority than everything else, and the authoritative end to headcoverings and their requirement by God.
Interesting. It reveals a great deal when a person who states such a thing and the people who would believe it.
What times of ignorance these times of apostasy are. To think that the practice would or could be ended in such an impious fashion.

TaylorKH July 18, 2012 at 3:18 am

I think that we should consider Cardinal Burke’s personal opinion and go from there.  Since there is no formal requirement, whatever we do should be done as an act of true love for God and neighbor.

Barbara July 18, 2012 at 5:26 am

Head coverings are one thing but the requirement for women to dress modestly should be re-established. The requirement should also be required of men.  Some the dress I’ve seen in Holy Mass would be more appropriate for the beach.

Annette Egan July 18, 2012 at 6:02 am

I don’t have to be required to “kiss my husband” everyday, I do this because I love him and it is an expression of that Love.  I don’t wear a Chapel Veil because it is required or not, I wear it as a sign of my love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  I don’t think that women who choose not to wear a veil love Jesus any less, it is an expression of my love for Him!!!!!!!

Annette Egan July 18, 2012 at 6:18 am

Also, in response to the person who feels wearing a head covering at Mass is a sign of shame:  I only want to add that “Things that are “Sacred are covered and concealed”.  Such an example might be the covering of the opening to the Tabernacle, or when a Bride is presented to her Groom, or When a Priest wears his vestments for Mass.  All these are designed to say this place is special and we are all here for a special reason.  We are not in a amusement park, or a movie theater, or a rock concert.  We are here to show reverance, and adoration for the “ONE” Who created us and brought us into being.  What we wear shows what we “Believe”.  Also, in the Middle East, the area where our faith has it’s roots, a free woman is one who covers her head because it is a sign of her freedom.  One who was a slave, didn’t cover their head because that was also a sign of their slavery.  Our Mother the Church is a Free Woman and we are Her Children, thus as Her Children we are Free of Slavery, and free to Love God.
Now, I am not saying that it is a sin to not wear a veil.  Again, God wants our Hearts!!  He wants us to show our Love for Him and our respect for Him.  

Jennifer72 July 18, 2012 at 6:33 am

 @Annette Egan AMEN!

WSquared July 19, 2012 at 5:10 am

 @Annette Egan The veil is a sign of modesty, and submission to the Lord, wherein one “decreases so that the Lord may increase.”  I know that a lot of people, women certainly, have a problem with the word “submission.”  But think about it this way:  it does remind us to put the Lord first, and everything and everyone else falls into line behind Him.  It prompts us to recall Who we are rooted in, He in Whom we are all called to find our identity (our identity in Christ, that is…), and upon what, therefore, we stand our ground.
We all submit to and obey SOMETHING.  The far more important question is whom or what.

Elizabeth D July 18, 2012 at 6:33 am

I think this can be a distraction from the ongoing necessity of dressing modestly at Mass… especially when approaching to receive Holy Communion. That doesn’t have to be in canon law to be important. No low cut tops or uncovered shoulders, skirts (or shorts–though more dignified not to wear, and certainly not on Sundays) minimum to the knee (to be truly modest, well below the knee). Brides should dress modestly on their wedding day and have their bridesmaids dress modestly. Modesty is for all the time, but especially at Mass and especially for people who have some kind of liturgical role in the Mass. I think people who decide to stop in at a daily Mass even though they are not dressed modestly SHOULD do so without hesitation but perhaps consider that dressed as they are, it would be reverent to abstain from approaching to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. Our beautiful Saints and our Catholic tradition tells us that immodest dress offends Our Lord, it also makes it appear that the person is not really aware of their own dignity and that of the Holy Mass and that at Mass they are truly present at the Last Supper, the foot of the Cross, the Resurrection. How would you dress to be there with Our Lord?

Maggie C July 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

 @Elizabeth D
I can’t imagine how wearing a head covering could be a distraction from dressing modestly at Mass.  I carry a small head covering in my bag “just in case”  so I am prepared to visit Jesus at any time. 

Nick L July 18, 2012 at 7:42 am

I suppose that in the long term it truly is a matter of choice as it relates to how one approaches the Holy Eucharist.  However, the larger question for me is the total abrogation of The Code of Canon Law of 1917 by The Code of Canon Law of 1983.  If my wife feels it correct to wear a Mantilla (and she does), then it is a non-issue from the jump.  However, my wife has been approached by female members of our parish to be told that she is no longer required to do so.  Really??  I mean, shouldn’t we, as members of The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church be more concerned about how we live and show the Truth to those outside the walls of our parish, rather than pick petty fights about a Mantilla?? But I digress. 
As for the abrogation of Canon Law, I just wonder, when did we, as humanity, decide that God needed to be updated for modern sensibilities.  Even in the Canon Law.  I find it highly laughable that we, as humanity, feel the need to ‘modernize’ what we say in order for others to understand.  God is Eternal and we are temporal.  Trying to put God into a temporal box so we are comfortable is not picking up our cross.  Rather, it is sanding it down to a toothpick that we can carry it in our pocket and not be forced to answer the hard question.

Annette Egan July 18, 2012 at 7:48 am

Where there is LOVE, the Cross is no longer heavy, the yoke becomes easy and the burden light!  I am all for love of neighbor, but my love for God comes first, as it should.

Nick L July 18, 2012 at 8:03 am

 @Annette Egan You are correct that the Cross is lighter.  However, when we use LOVE as the prism (that is human love, not AGAPE) our tendency as humans is to make everything ok.  In other words, if it is okay for you, that is okay for me.  The LOVE of God is sacrifice.  It was Christ, who in LOVE, died for us.  It is God, who in His infinite wisdom and LOVE created us.  It is the Holy Spirit that reveals God’s Love to us, and shows us how to appropriately act.  There are some hard and fast Truths that God has given us to follow.  We must not shrink from that by saying that Love is what God is.  God is also fully Just and fully Merciful.  However, if I say that I have love, but do not act as such, I am a liar.  
As for loving our neighbor, we must love all because each is created in His image, as you and I are.  By showing His love and mercy, we are acting as Christ commanded us.  Thanks for the comment!!  I love the discussion.  Like iron sharpens iron.

Jimmy July 18, 2012 at 8:17 am

The CDF released a statement about veils being usless DURING the time the cannon law was in effect?  6 years before the 1983 law.  How does that work?  The CDF statement not being binding compared to a law that is.  Help me out on this one.
God Bless,

Maggie C July 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

 I am an older Catholic and remember having a kleenex bobby pinned to my head by the sisters when I was preparing for first communion!  However I still wear a chapel veil and I do so out of respect for and love of Jesus.  

texdrh76 July 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

This is one of the more absurd discussions I’ve heard. If a woman wants to wear one, go for it – but even saying the phrase ‘under the pain of sin’ if women do not wear one is ridiculous. This is a non-issue. I suppose if I should jump back in a time machine and go to Mass pre-1962 I would be obligated then, but the discussion now should be mute no matter what Mass we go to. Try blogging about something more important and get one of your women friends to write on this topic. Ridiculous.

poverello July 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

It’s NOT absurd, Tex.  Jimmy gets asked the question, so he responds.  If you have an issue with the issue, ignore it.  But don’t declare it “absurd.”  My wife is moved to wear a veil at our Ordinary Form Mass; says it helps her tune out distractions and directs her mind and heart toward the Altar.  It’s completely up to her, but I love seeing her veiled.  How, sir, is any of this absurd?

julibabe83 July 18, 2012 at 9:57 am

If you look at the Virgin Mary, she always wears a veil. She is in the constant company of Christ, and yet still chooses to wear a veil and dress modestly. If you are ever in doubt, do as the Mother of Christ did, and still does. God never changes, but man does because of sin. St. Paul does say for women to cover their heads, and I do believe he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Church believed him for almost 1,700 years after Christ. If we were supposed to have them uncovered while praying, I’m sure he would have said that. Instead of thinking a woman who covers her head is trying to be “holier than thou”, how about thinking that maybe they are trying to imitate Mary. We need to imitiate our Holy Mother more, instead of trying to compete with men and dressing like them. Lastly, anyone who sees the Pope, customarily wears a veil. Women wear veils at their weddings. So, yes I will don my veil at every Mass for my Holy Spouse and it signifies that I am his servant and every part of me that is covered and reserved for Him. Just food for thought from a 28 year old veil wearer, who finally came back to the Church.

DLK July 18, 2012 at 12:06 pm

 @julibabe83 Does this mean my husband should dress like Jesus? For your logic to make any sense, if I am to dress like Mary he should  dress like Jesus.  Please also note that what Jesus wore would probably be called a dress today, but he probably didn’t think of himself as competing against the women of his  time.  I love to wear skirts and do wear them always to church, but I have seen this argument before and it really is an illogical argument. 

julibabe83 July 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm

 @DLK I’m sorry you took that you misunderstood the point I was trying to make. The point being made is that the veil was a sign of obedience that was practiced for thousands of years by women, yes at many times unwillingly. So no, your husband does not have to dress like Jesus, in order to be modest. The point comes down to women covering their heads in the presence of our Lord. For the past century women have pushed and tried for every reason to wear less, tighter, and more see through. If you look at the time when women stopped wearing veils, it was when Vatican II came out, years before the cardinals ever issued any statements saying otherwise. It may help to ask yourself WHY women wore the veil for so many years and why they then CHOSE NOT to wear it. Your note does seem to have a negative feel to it especially when you use the logic that if you are to dress as Mary, he should dress as Jesus. Really??? You should dress modestly regardless of what your husband does or chooses to do as far as attire.  It seems that you look at covering up as some kind of bondage. As stated before, God never changes, man changes. What Jesus and Mary wore exemplified modesty, but the veil in particular symbolized obedience, chastity, and purity. It is also a sign of submission, and a form of humiliation in acknowledging that we are not the focus, but ALL attention should be focused on God. So I’m sure as a practicing Catholic you can relate to at least one of those, if not all of those reasons and see the meaning behind it. Again, prayer and discernment would be my advice. Perhaps prayer to St. Paul and the Blessed Virgin? May God be with you and may the mantle of our Holy Mother protect you.

DLK July 20, 2012 at 8:06 am

 @julibabe83 No, I did not miss the point.  I was merely pointing out the phrase” dressing like Mary”  is an illogical and poor argument and will probably not convince very many people. You need to think of a better points for your argument.  You seem to have articulated your points better in your reply to me.  I also must tell you, you are reading a lot into my note that wasn’t there.  I  do not have a negative feeling about submission, being humble before God, or veils.  In fact, I have no problem wearing a veil and do so if I attend an EF mass. Our pastor has complimented my daughter on the way she dresses for church, and we carry that over in our everyday life.  Don’t be so defensive, I’m actually on your side. 

julibabe83 July 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

@DL I never said “dress like Mary” , but rather imitate her, nor did I say or implied you had a problem with submission, humility, etc. Please re-read for clarification. What I will point out is that your rebuttal is illogical. What is wrong with how they dressed anyways? Shorter hems did not start coming around until right before the 20s. Fashion designers were the ones who pushed for them, and women, due to their vanity allowed it. Mary already said in 1917 that certain fashions would be introduced that would offend God. Why is it so hard for people to understand that maybe the raising of the hemline was just the beginning? If Mary is the ideal model of who we aere to be like in order to be pleasing to God, why have her hemlines stayed to the floor? Why has she never ceased to wear a veil? God is present at the Extroidinary Form and ordinary form of the Mass, so a veil should be worn anytime you are in the presence of the Lord period. Simply because a pastor tells you a compliment on how you dress does not mean it is pleasing in the eyes of God. So yes the argument, though unpopular, to imitate our Virgin Immaculate Mother is logcal in the sense that she was, is, and always will be what we should be. The fact that we can’t imagine ourselves wearing that clothing in todays society, or that our knee or tea-length skirts are good enough still represents an ideaology that has absolutely no foundation on God, but pride. If we truly understood how glorious our Creator made us, our bodies would be covered like Mary’s. Her will and God’s will were one. So if by her will she chose to wear a veil and down-to-the-floor gowns, it is because it is God’s will.

DLK July 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm

 @julibabe83  @DL   I suppose your comment ” you seem to look at covering up as some kind of bondage” is not reading a lot more in my comment then then there was. You go on to lecture about submission and humility. There is nothing wrong with what Mary wore, but I doubt you are wearing a tent dress, sash, and mantle to Mass.  That is my point. You seem to be against even knee length skirts because Mary didn’t wear those.  Don’t you think this is a bit extreme? I don’t understand how a modest knee length skirt can be an act of pride.   My point about my daughter is that she strives to dress modestly and our pastor has noticed. It is a shame you can’t even give her credit for that, because she doesn’t fit your extreme rules for modesty.   I have only tried to get you to clarify your argument. If your going to put your arguments out there be prepared to have them critiqued.  I am fully in support of you wearing a veil. I do disagree that women who don’t want to wear a veil and are modestly dressed in regards to necklines, tightness of clothing, and hemline, are some how inappropriately dressed because they “are not covered like Mary”  I am going to leave it at this because it seems our main disagreement is on what is modest, and that would be a whole different thread. 

julibabe83 July 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm

 @DLK Again, if you read my very first comment, it was about wearing a veil just as Mary does. when you said that the argument to do as Mary did is illogical, I went on to clarify what my FIRST comment of wearing a veil meant. Every comment after has been one to answer your misinterpretations of my comments. The fact that you refer to Our Mother’s garments as a “tent dress”  is rather disrespectful. She exemplified perfect modesty and chastity, something we women have to battle with, sometimes until we die. I don’t know if my dresses/attire would be called tents but I do wear skirts down to the floor with my sleeves past my elbow. I’m not sure how or why the significance of what I wear is important either in regards to your last post. Again, as I have said, women need to honestly look at why we wore the veil for over 1,900 years, and then decided not to or that our Lord doesn’t require it anymore. The reason I brought up modest attire is because you brought up the attire of what our Lord wore in your first response, which clearly had nothing to do with what a veil symbolized. Exodus 28:42 clarifies the pants for men, in case your wondering.  You then go on to chide me for not giving your daughter “credit” for striving to dress modestly and about knee length skirts being immodest. I’m not trying to patronize anyone. If your daughter is striving for modesty, that is a good thing. I’m getting the interpretation that you’re seeing the fact that if she wears skirts to the knee as being “modest”. I’m not criticizing, but merely trying to remind people that what we feel really needs to be judged on God’s standards, not on our own. St. Padre Pio had a sign outside his confessional that informed women to have their skirts at least 8 inches below the knees. So yes, I am going to say that a skirt that goes to the knees is immodest and I guess I am just as “extreme” as St. Padre Pio. In the book of Isaiah7:2-3 it clearly talks about bare legs and shoulders. Pope Pius the XI, Pope Pius the XII, Cardinal Siri, St. Frances de Sales, and many other bishops and saints have issued encyclicals, letters, etc on the topic of modesty and veils that have taught me a lot. The whole intention of clothing from the beginning of time was intended to conceal. Our fashions aim to expose rather than to conceal. With that in mind rewind back to the 1920s when hemlines rose, ask yourself was the raising of the hemlines meant to expose or to conceal? If you look back to the 60s when women stopped wearing their veils to Church, ask yourself was it meant to expose or to conceal? As Mary stated in 1919, (correction from 1917), that the Church has no fashions, and that God is always the same. If God never changes, and that is coming from the Mother of God, then hemlines should have never rose in the first place. Necklines should have never lowered, and veils should have never been removed because the original attire worn by our Mother Mary, and for over 1,900 years exemplified the idea that clothes were meant to conceal not to reveal. In conclusion, if you ask me if a knee length dress is appropriate or not wearing a veil is a matter of whether you feel it in your heart or not, I would have to say look to the saints and what tradition was for almost 1,900 years, and again at Mother Mary. Simply because one doesn’t “feel” anything, is not a justification.

Rocco Vicenti July 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm

 @DLK You could not wear a dress and get into many churches in the Vatican unless the dresses reach your ankles. You would have to wear pants!

DLK July 20, 2012 at 8:15 am

 @Rocco Vicenti Yes, some  dresses and skirts can be totally immodest.  For your info ours are all knee length or lower and that was good enough to get us  in the Vatican when we were there in 2000. Floor length wasn’t necessary. :)

pete mc n July 18, 2012 at 11:25 am

Just because pious Jews and Muslims wear head coverings is not the point. If it feels good do it. Otherwise there is no more need to wear a head covering than there is to pull out a pair of white gloves, the simple fact you are going to Mass is more important than what you wear.  

TheresaEH July 18, 2012 at 11:37 am

I will a agree to wear a hat, but I will not wear a doily or a lace table cloth on my head thankyou!

WSquared July 19, 2012 at 5:06 am

Theresa, whatever head-covering you wish to wear or not wear is fine, but it is rude of you to refer to a chapel veil as a “doily” or a “lace table cloth.”  What’s your problem, anyway?

Rocco Vicenti July 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm

 @TheresaEH You could wear a babushka which is quite commonly worn by the poor.

Loyolakiper July 18, 2012 at 11:48 am

Loyolakiper July 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Universae Ecclesia article 2 states: “With this Motu Porprio, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a universal law for the Church, intended to establishnew regulations for the use of the Roman Liturgy in effect in 1962.”  I am sure that we can agree that peist are not allowed to use the books prior to this such as the 1955 Missal, but only the 1962 liturgical books?  This would even imply that we can not use the “Spellman Missal” that came out in 1965 which is basically a vernacularize ’62 translation, right?  We are allowed to use the Missal that was “in effect in 1962”.
But UE goes further to emphasize that we are to use the books as they are.  Does this not imply that we are not allowed to tamper with the books to fit the 1983 Code of Canon Law?  Article 24 states: “The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are.  All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.”
The 1983 Code is to be applied in disciplinary norms as UE is clear to point out.  Article 27, “With regard to disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the eclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.”  However, as you have pointed out, the 1917 Code 1262, sect. 2 states: “Men in a church or outside a church, while they are assiting 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” (emphasis yours).  Notice the dictate for women to have their heads covered is not nuanced as the practice for men is.  I would suggest that this is stronger than a disciplinary norm and as such is not subject to peculiar circumstances of society.  I would agree with Card. Burke on his assessment, but disagree with his conclusion because it dives into the intention of the particular individual…  I think the Cardinal is taking a pastoral decision and trying to universalize it.  “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.”
We also read in Article 28 of UE, “Furthermore, by virtue of its character of speacial law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible withthe rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.”  As Father Z points out: “Derogates means that things are partially replaced, set aside.  Insofar as the use of the 1962 books is concerned, if there is something that came into law after 1962, and if that thing or practice conflicts with what is in the 1962 books, then those post-1962 conflicting things dont apply to the use of the 1962 books.  In other words, if there is a conflict, they are excluded (original emphasis;

Maggie C July 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Why don’t we just agree that we wear the veils because we feel called by God to do so.

Jill K July 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Prof. Tim Grey, of the Augustine Institute, spoke of this issue in a class that I took from him on Pauline literature.  He says that the specific Greek to Latin translation of 1Cor 11 is in err because there is no mention of the word veil in the original Greek text.  The actual Greek text is discussing putting your hair up versus letting your hair hang loosely–as loose hair was for prostitutes.  He went on to mention that Greek statues of women always portray women with their hair up and the only statues/art with women having loose hair were of prostitute type women.  The section is about being modest versus being immodest for mass.  He also noted that the tradition (lower case t) is only observed in the Latin Rite churches and not in the eastern churches, and that the tradition took hold with the popularity of Islam. 

Loyolakiper July 19, 2012 at 6:01 am

I would say that like so many times Tim Grey is wrong in his assesment of the Greek and Latin texts concerning this particular argument.  Both texts speak of “having a power over the head, in Latin “mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos”.  The Church Fathers such as Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and the Church has always understood this to mean a veil or covering, “as a sign that she is under the power of her husband…”  His assesment that only prostitutes kept their hair down is felacious since the a few passages later assert that long hair for a woman is for her glory!  Why would prostitute be glorified by Paul and as such by God? 
This is a rediculous argument since the entire passage has been taken out of context.  We are a few verses informed of the relationship b/w God the Father and God the Son and how that is mirrored in the spousal relationship of man.  The passage has nothing to do with modesty…

canu July 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Since Canon 2262 of 1917 is no longer in force for women, does it still apply to men? Or, since 1983, have men (other than bishops) been free to wear a hat, cap, turban, or helmet at Mass?

Adele July 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I wear a mantilla…to any Holy Mass I go to…it is the same sacrifice…so if you are going to wear to one, you need to wear to all. 
My blog is called: The Communion Veil…

Chris July 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I came into the Catholic Church this past Easter. The best decision I’ve ever made! It has brought me true joy & peace. I continue to hunger & thirst to learn all I can. As I’ve attended different parishes and even a Latin Mass once I’ve seen women, & even young girls  wearing Mantillas/head coverings. I think it is a beautiful thing to see. To me it represents modesty, humility,  & most of all respect for our Lord. I have decided to get a Mantilla. I plan on wearing it to Eucharistic Adoration and when I attend Latin Masses. I have to admit I probably won’t be wearing it at my home Parish as it is a fairly  contemporary parish.   For me the ‘externals’ help me with my ‘internals’!

yan July 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm

4 questions.
1] whence this judgment:
‘But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value,’
when St. Paul in the Bible says that women should cover their heads ‘BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS’ [verse 10]?  Did the CDF get any new revelation that the angels are now cool with women not covering their heads?  Did they learn this from the revelations of Fatima or what????  Come on.
2] If you think it is so beautiful for women to cover their heads, aren’t you supporting St Paul’s argument that not only he, but nature teaches that women should do this?  ‘Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? [verse 13]’  If nature teaches it, how can the requirement ‘no longer have normative value’?
3] What does the CDF do with this argument from tradition: ‘But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God’ [verse 16]?
4] Is it ever possible, from a theological standpoint, for canon law to contradict the Catholic faith?  Is it incoherent ecclesiologically to say: ‘the Bible is right; canon law in this instance is wrong’?

K Lackey July 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I am a christian, although not Catholic, so I have no informed opinion on the necessity for women to wear a veil in Mass.  However, I do appreciate that so many of you are considering this carefully and truly seeking to do what honors God.  My only observation is that the opinions in various church decisions do not effect whether this action is truly “required.”  If God ever required that women’s heads be covered, it is still required.  If not, it is still not.  Our opinions may change with the centuries, not His.  However, even if not required, a sincere symbol of devotion is never out of place.  God bless.

cindyannstewart July 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Are we as Catholics only to do what is explicitly prescribed (ie. assisting only at Mass on Sunday’s and Holy Days, annual confession)? Many choose to go to Daily Mass and confession frequently, are they “holier than thou”? I had a Catholic tell me once not to go to confession more frequently because we didn’t have to. To listen to that advice would not have been good for my soul. Shouldn’t we all be encouraging each other to have a closer walk with the Lord? It boggles my mind that anyone would have negative comments about veiling. It says a lot more about the characters of the women who feel the need to inform veiled women that it’s not necessary or say an unkind word to them. Let veiled women be, we are a big family and there is room for all of us to have our own devotions.

rebeccafromtexas July 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I cover my head any time I am before the Blessed Sacrament as an expression of my submission to Christ. I am surprised by how controversial this is, especially since I have received many positive comments from others about it.  I wish there was as much writing from clergy and discussion among the laity regarding appropriate dress for mass as there is for veiling; I notice that no one pays any attention to the loss of the old cannon law requirement for dressing modestly, and I consider this a much more fundamental issue and infinitely more distracting.  I guess it’s just not as controversial to expose butt cracks and cleavage before our Blessed Lord, during the holiest moment of the Eucharist.  People dress better to go to the movies, where they sit in the dark and can’t be seen.

K C Thomas July 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I feel St Paul”idea may be “modesty”  of women.. Present day immodesty has gone too far and no right thinking man or woman can tolerate it.  Such people who wear immodest dress  also can argue  why Church intrudes into their personal styles. Islam has gone to the farthest end to prescribe full covering.
May be it was prescribed by Paul not to get sexually attractive by the coiffur styles
My daughters have always been telling that head covering is not a rule  and so there should not be any compulsion.  The head covering for eastern Rite women  has been the tradition  that is followed even now. 

Cindy July 19, 2012 at 3:01 am

I personally wear a veil at Mass. I think many people make assumptions about why women do this and judge them on their assumptions. It is different for every woman. I primarily wear a veil because it is a reminder to myself that during the time of Mass I am setting myself apart from worldly occupations for Christ. That is, I am stepping outside ordinary occupations, socializing, etc. to focus on one thing: the Mass. The veil also helps my eyes focus forward to the altar rather than looking around at my neighbor. It is a spiritual aid to myself, and is not any kind of “statement” or “symbol” to anyone else whatsoever. I do not wear a hat because hats are worn in secular situations and I prefer something that is worn for this purpose alone.That is my whole point: the veil is a reminder to ME– not to anyone else– of where I am and what I am doing. I do not feel superior or righteous in wearing it.In fact, I think people do not realize that women who choose to wear veils receive far more judgment, hostility, and misunderstanding than women who do not wear veils. We are constantly placed on the defensive for a number of reasons. We must constantly explain our use of the veil in a Church where veils are no longer required. We are assumed to be radical Traditionalists who judge and condemn women who do not wear veils. Assumptions are made about why we wear veils, and then we are criticized based on those assumptions. All women who wear veils, given that they are NOT required, wear them for very unique and personal reasons that may be very different from what you think.

George July 19, 2012 at 5:45 am

If it is appropriate to veil at the extraodinary form, why not at the ordinary form of the mass? Are not both forms celebrating the same mystery? Or, is the extraordinary form just a reenactment? Sort of like going to a Civil War reenactment, where everyone dresses in period costumes. The Mass is the MASS, regardless of the form. Let’s focus on what is the most important, which is the Holy Eucharist, and then act accordingly.

That Hat Lady July 19, 2012 at 6:00 am

I have been collecting and wearing beautiful hats for years. I solved this problem by wearing them to every mass I attend, no matter if it’s a funeral, a wedding, a graduation, a first Holy Communion mass, a Sunday guitar mass or the Traditional Latin Rite. The Lord is present in the Eucharist either way. For me, keeping my head covered is the standard.

Suzanne July 19, 2012 at 6:34 am

I think that it is still up to the woman.  I don’t see how celebrating the Mass in the Extraordinary Form requires turning the clock back on the Code of Canon Law.  It’s not as if Christ is less present in either form of the Mass, or that holiness is less important to those who celebrate the Ordinary Form.

Momof4forChrist July 19, 2012 at 6:56 am

Good article. Thanks for addressing this issue.   I read all of the comments thus far.  We probably are not going back far enough if we are looking at the topic being addressed only during the 20th century, I’d say.  So many comments that stir our reason, which is good!  One spoke of Mary, the Mother of God, and our Mother, too.  Thank you for your comment for we women could not find a better woman to mirror in our daily life.  I believe it is time to return to the veils I collected from my deceased Mother’s dresser…those we wore so many years ago.  My daughter and son studied at a school which clearly tell the “why” women cover/veil their heads vs. “why” the Franciscans “shaved” most of their heads during his years.  I wish I could share it here, but my time is about up.  I’ll see if I can get one or the other to comment when they return.
One final comment regarding modest dress by all, a former Pastor at a former Parish stated, “Our clothing to be worn when attending Holy Mass should be the best that we own.  If we have only 2 outfits to wear, select the one that is the better and wear it…for we are going to see the King!” 
I’m sorry, I’m A.D.D.  I also should add, let’s not belittle those who do nor those who don’t wear veils/hats.  If one does, please do not stop wearing one because someone else doesn’t approve.  We need those who are focused on the first principle…Know, Love and Serve God…reverently without reserve in His House for we are in His Holy Presence.  

JoanneSchmidt July 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

When women cover their bodies more appropriately at Mass, then the issue of covering the head might be worth discussing. As it stands now, I see no great reverence in wearing a veil while going sleeveless, wearing dresses/skirts high above the knee, lowcut blouses, etc. Seeing all that skin exposed is distracting and ugly. What happened to the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit, covered to show a sense of the sacred? 

ThinkTheologyOftheBody July 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

1 Cor 11:15 “…whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory.”
Listen up folks, I have read all 56 comments to the point.  Wow, very dis-heartening to read absolutely anything negative about women wearing chapel veils. 
Let me get right to the point here:  Women wear chapel veils, because a woman’s hair is her glory!  Got that?
Now, let’s ask why is this so, and let’s just look at basically young sixth grade girls right on up to women in their late twenties.  –No question, the glory of a woman is her hair!  And Thanks be to God for that!!!!  Since a woman’s hair, if indeed gifted with luxurious locks (granted my oldest sister always felt cheated from my other three sisters, because my oldest sister’s hair has been naturally very frizzy–since about her senior year in high school, but that could have been caused by too much Dippty-Do [ ]).
Therefore, I don’t want to read any more negative yapping about any woman (or girl 6th grade or over) wearing or not wearing a chapel veil.  If she wears it, it is because she naturally knows “why” she wears it:  To put a covering on her glory, in the Real Presence of God’s GLORY!  It is an act of humility to the Almighty Himself, and that’s final!!!!!  Got it?  If not, please, please Get It; Good!  We could all use more modesty and humility in dress in this day and age, and in our hearts and minds, including me, too, of course!
Sign me:  Think Theology of the Body

Mark30339 July 20, 2012 at 6:41 am

As I read the post and the comments, and ponder comments from Rome authorities, I can’t help wonder how much time and effort our Jesus of Nazareth would have spent on questions like this.  How about we put an equal effort in pondering the prospect of actually following him and reaching out to the outcasts around us.  God gives us these minds and hearts to begin to understand “The Way” and our egos prefer intensely tedious debate over veiling our sisters in faith.

That Hat Lady July 31, 2012 at 4:09 am

Again, I here’s another who assumes that putting on a veil and following Jesus are mutually exclusive goals. As if the energy spent on veiling or discussing the topic of veiling exhausts us to the point that we’re no longer following Jesus. Who are you to judge the degree of our loyalty to the faith? If anything, the discussion shows we are thinking of ways to increase our reverence. Perhaps you’d best bow out of this discussion and work on your own sins.

Kate July 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

I don’t know what the “expectations” are at an EF mass. I’ve seen everything. One of my favorites was the gal in her snug, mini dress, red high heels and matching RED veil. I’ve seen a lot of girls who should have used the fabric on their heads to cover cleavage.

Tammy2012 July 20, 2012 at 11:10 am

If you interested in veiling, some nice ones can be found here at  God bless.

jennelea July 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I always liked the idea of wearing a veil at Mass.  I felt it was a special  sign of respect.  I was dismayed when people stopped wearing them. Now I would not feel right about wearing them when no one else does. Some older ladies wear small hats, and that is nice, but I have a hard enough time seeing over tall men, so think large  hats would just block more views.  I do wish people would not wear jeans and strapless dresses to Mass.  I think people should be more consciences about dressing for our Lord, though I am sure our Lord is happy to accept anyone to Mass as long as their heart is to worship him, and He is the one who really knows. If we were asked to wear a veil I still have mine and would be glad to wear it.

lroy77 July 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

I’ve seen a couple of veils at mass. The only time my head is covered at mass is in the winter time when I wear a hat and scarf (does that count?).

yan July 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm

For ladies on the fence on this issue: as a man, IMO, ladies that wear a veil or whatever, are the most attractive, beautiful, and feminine.  And when the crones wear them, you feel ‘thank God; I wish more women today were real Catholics.  Girls, what are you fighting this for?  Wear it….

Homeschooling Works July 26, 2012 at 1:46 am

I agree with you Jimmy on this one. While it is not a sin not to it is sure nice and a great act of our faith to do so. When I was in Italy as a teen we were not allowed in the Church if we has bear sholders or legs and I am pretty sure most woman wore head coverings especially the older ones at mass but it was not something we had to do like keeping our shoulders and legs covered.

rc4916 July 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I think that we have far bigger things to be worrying about as a Church than whether or not women wear chapel veils either at an Ordinary or Extraordinary Form Liturgy. While it is indeed a beautiful expression of devotion, it is certainly not a central aspect of the faith. I wish that such women were more concerned about the  issues of poverty, racism, and violence (in the womb and outside of it) in our communities than whether or not people wear chapel veils. 

Maggie C July 31, 2012 at 2:54 am

Why do you assume that women who wear chapel veils care less about the social issues of our time than those who do not?  Does wearing a chapel veil somehow mark me as being less concerned about poverty, racism and violence?  I would not enter the Sanctuary without my veil because of my love for Jesus nothing more.  If you are not comfortable with me because of it that’s your problem not mine. 

Suburbanbanshee August 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Jimmy, I’ve got a couple of photo link posts showing Catholic women and girls wearing hats and other non-veil headgear before Vatican II, to show how far the stereotypes are wrong. I’ll try to find some more for you.
<A HREF=”>Pre-Vatican II Catholic women wearing hats</A>
<A HREF=””>Pre-Vatican II Catholic girls that don’t fit today’s stereotypes of the period</A>

Jimmy Akin August 1, 2012 at 2:44 pm

 @Suburbanbanshee Thanks! I appreciate it!

Gaballi August 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

We are happy to introduce <a href=””>Gaballi</a>! A faith based movement to save 30 – 70 % off your groceries. (  PRODUCTS OF USA – Locally grown ).Gaballi Dollar Store – The first online dollar store in the USA,<a href=””>Gaballi</a>

Previous post:

Next post: