A reader writes:
What do you think of women wearing head coverings (or mantillas/chapel veils) at Mass, or whenever we come into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? I'm not a "traditionalist," but I am a convert, I adore the Blessed Sacrament, and I want to render the proper courtesy to our Lord.
There is a piece written on this subject available on the Web (search for A Mother's Point of View-- Modesty in Headcoverings, published in Catholic News & Commentary, 2003). I found the following passage particularly persuasive:
"At the moment of conception, when God creates a soul and it joins its body in the womb of its mother, God's creative hands work within her, and since whatever God touches becomes sacred, we veil it. and since a woman's hair is her glory (I Cor. 11:15), we veil what is her dignity. We do the same thing in our church, for the glory of the Tabernacle is veiled because of the sacredness inside..."
I like the idea of the evangelization potential here, but don't want to become a distraction. I truly just want to respect our Lord and follow His Church.
Your desire to show respect for our Lord and to follow his Church pleases God and is something he will reward.
The Church does not judge it necessary for you to wear a head covering in the presence of the Eucharist, however. This was required under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but when the 1983 Code was released, the requirement was abolished.
The Church thus does not require you to wear one.
Personally, I support the idea of women wearing head coverings in church. It is a beautiful and traditional way of expressing reverence in church, but it is not to be portrayed as something that the Church requires.
I do not find the argument about veiling what is sacred to be persuasive. By that reasoning, babies would be less sacred after they are born because they are no longer "veiled" by the womb. The reason for wombs is because of the pre-born baby's greater vulnerability, not his greater sacredness.
I also don't find the argument about the Tabernacle persuasive, for then we should prohibit Eucharistic exposition in order to signify the holiness of the Eucharist by keeping it continually "veiled" in the Tabernacle and we should never, ever have Eucharistic processions.
Sacredness does not always mean veiling. If it did then priests--as consecrated men functioning in persona Christi--might ought to say Mass wearing not just veils but burqas.
The most persuasive argument is the reference to 1 Corinthians 11 (though not specifically verse 15), where Paul does indeed endorse head coverings.
At another time we can discuss his reasoning in detail, but for now I would note that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that the passage concerns a disciplinary norm from the first century that is not binding today:
Another objection [to a male-only priesthood] 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 the head (1 Cor 11:2-6); such requirements no longer have a normative value. However, the Apostle's forbidding of women "to speak" in the assemblies (cf. 1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2: 12) is of a different nature, and exegetes define its meaning in this way: Paul in no way opposes the right, which he elsewhere recognizes as possessed by women, to prophesy in the assembly (cf. 1 Cor 11:5); the prohibition solely concerns the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly. For Saint Paul this prescription is bound up with the divine plan of creation (cf. 1 Cor 11:7; Gen 2:18-24): it would be difficult to see in it the expression of a cultural fact [Inter insignores 4].
If you wish to wear a head covering, I therefore would entirely support you, and you should not think of it as a distraction to others. It is a beautiful and traditional way to show your devotion, so by all means feel free to wear one--just be sure to recognize that the Church does not require it and that those women who choose differently in this matter are not thereby being disrespectful or less devout.