Sunday, May 27, 2007

Head coverings for women...

Photo, President and Mrs. Kennedy leavng Mass in Newport, RI.

The cover up

Obviously this dressing up for Church thing has really grabbed my attention. (And here I'm the one who used to make fun of women who wear chapel veils - so I'm just as bad as everyone else.)

Anyway, quite by accident, while looking for funny nun pictures, I came across this interesting piece regarding the history of women's head coverings. (It is neither scholarly nor exhaustive, yet remains interesting nonetheless.) Have a read, ladies:

A short history

"But then I read the writings of the early Christians. And then I understood why Mennonite and Amish women wear prayer veils or head coverings. I realized that it was in obedience to 1 Corinthians 11:5, which says, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” The early Christian women veiled their heads not only in church, but also anytime they were in public.

From my later study of church history, I discovered that Christian women continued to maintain this practice through the all centuries up to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During the nineteenth century, many Christians in the United States and western Europe began arguing that long hair constituted the only covering women needed. Others said that women only needed to wear a covering when in church. The middle class and wealthy women switched from veils and caps to ornate bonnets—if they wore a covering at all. Bonnets became more a matter of fashion than of modesty or obedience to 1 Corinthians 11.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the ornate bonnets of the nineteenth century had given way to ladies’ hats. Until the mid-century, women in Europe and America typically wore a hat or scarf in public, but they were simply following tradition and fashion—without realizing that there was originally a spiritual reason behind the practice. Similarly, until about 1960, western women wore hats when in church. But the meaning behind the hat was lost.

Today, Christian women in eastern churches still cover their heads in church. Some of them cover their heads all of the time. In the west, some Plymouth Brethren women still wear the prayer veil in church, as do many black women. But usually these sisters do not wear a head covering at other times." -Source: "Headcoverings Through the Centuries"

Now isn't that just special? (Yes, I know, the scriptural passage is why Caholic women covered their heads in Church. But once again, did you know that Jackie Kennedy is the one who popularized the mantilla in the U.S.? Until then, most women wore hats or scarves - or that doilie thingie.)

And another thing

Strangely enough, Fr. Edward MacNamarra recently (5/22/07) responded to a question concerning the scriptural injunction for women's heads to be covered, he had this to say:

"During St. Paul's time it was considered modest for a woman to cover her head, and he was underscoring this point for their presence in the liturgical assembly.

This custom was considered normative and was enshrined in Canon 1262.2 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law alongside the recommendation that men and women be separated in Church and that men go bareheaded. This canon was dropped from the new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, but the practice had already begun to fall into disuse from about the beginning of the 1970s.

Even though no longer legally binding, the custom is still widely practiced in some countries, especially in Asia. It has been generally abandoned in most Western countries even though women, unlike men, may still wear hats and veils to Mass if they choose. Sociological factors might also have been involved. The greater emphasis on the equality of man and woman tended to downplay elements that stressed their differences.

Likewise, for the first time in centuries, not donning a hat outdoors, especially for men, ceased being considered as bad manners, whereas up to a few years beforehand it was deemed unseemly to go around hatless. This general dropping of head covering by both sexes may also have influenced the disappearance of the religious custom." - Zenit - May 22, 2007

Finally, one more, "Did you know?" Yeah, so did you know that Hassidic Jewish women must always have their head covered as well? But they wear wigs - which is technically a head covering. :)

Maria Elena Vidal, at "Tea At Trianon" has a beautiful post on this subject, concerning the mystical significance of head coverings for women.


  1. Thanks, Terry. That is interesting about Mrs Kennedy. In our family the mantillas come from my Spanish grandmother because everyone wore them in the Philippines.

  2. Jeron7:53 AM

    When I was in grade school, the only time I saw a woman wearing a mantilla at Church was the one person in our parish who believed that the Blessed Mother was appearing to a woman in Bayside, New York. This lady sat in the front pew holding a pillar candle & wearing her mantilla. I thought she was kind of a freak, but part of me also admired her for the courage it took to be different. Over next few years I learned about the historical fact of mantillas, chapel veils, whatever you want to call them & I think they're kind of cool now. 'Course I don't have to wear one, either. I wish men still wore hats. I love hats for both sexes.

  3. Very educational post.


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