Why Women Veil Their Head In Church

MARCH 13TH, 2010 (IN CATHOLIC TRADITIONS) By Msgr. Anselm

The question of women veiling their heads in Church may not be as critical an issue for the Nigerian Church as it is for the Western world. For the most part, this practice is well accepted among our people and that is truly noble. It is important though that we understand and appreciate the reason behind this tradition so that we can understand more fully why we do what we do, deepen our commitment to its continuity, and hopefully bring this understanding and the richness of this practice to those who may be struggling with it.

 

The practice of Catholic women veiling themselves before entering a church dates over 2000 years. It existed as a practice of tradition way into the 1900s before the Church enshrined it as law in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1262) in order to address the growing trend at that time which encouraged women to disregard this custom. Unfortunately, when the 1917 Code of Canon Law was revised and the 1983 Code of Canon Law promulgated, the requirement that women veil their heads before entering a church was not mentioned at all.  Many took this to mean that the Church had dropped this requirement for women. But that may not be so because Canons 20-21 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law makes it clear that later Canon Law abrogates earlier Canon Law only when this is made explicit and that, in cases of doubt, the revocation of earlier law is not to be presumed.

 

While the new Code of Canon Law did not mention this practice, it did not on the other hand explicitly abrogate it and therefore did not revoke it.  Moreover, Canon 28 does indicate that unless the law makes express mention of any [custom], it does not revoke centennial or immemorial customs.  The practice of women veiling their head and men leaving their head uncovered is, without doubt, a centennial and immemorial custom.

 

But the practice of Christian veiling is a much more important issue for the practice of the faith than “just” concerns of Canon Law. What we have here is a millennia of Church Tradition that goes back from Old Testament tradition into New Testament admonitions.  In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote. ”Use your own judgment on this.  Is it fitting for a woman to pray to God uncovered?  Does not the very nature of things teach us that it is a dishonor to a man if he lets his hair grow long?  But if a woman lets her hair grow long it is her glory, because her hair was given to her for a covering” (1 Cor. 11:15-17).

 

St. Paul identifies clearly that part of a woman’s beauty is the makeup of her hair. The beauty of her hair gives her glory; it makes her beautiful in the eyes of humanity and her hair brings attention and glory to her body.  But when a woman is in Church, her whole intention should be to focus on God, not on herself. Her spiritual intent is to bring glory to God, not to herself; to be in the presence of God not in the presence of men; and to bring God, not herself, to the environment of worship. Therefore, by veiling her head in Church, a woman bears witness to her faith at different levels:

  1. She signifies that God’s glory, not hers, is her focus at worship and that she stands determined to seek that glory by denying herself of it.

  2. She bears witness to her submission to the authority of God and the recognition of God’s headship over her just as the Blessed Mary surrendered and submitted herself to the Holy Ghost (Be it done to me according to your will).

  3. She reflects unequivocally the respect she holds for the presence of the Holy Angels at the Divine Liturgy thereby reflecting the divine invisible order and making that order visible at worship.

  4. Her veiling is also an act of inviting her environment and those in it to focus on God and not on her as she encounters the divine in prayer.

  5. Veiling is a sign of modesty for the woman of honor. Nothing could be more powerful in witnessing that God is the center of our worship than taking ourselves out of it.

  6. Look at the things that are veiled in the Old Testament and in our Liturgy. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Veiled Holy of Holies. At Mass, the Chalice – the vessel that holds the Precious Blood of Christ is veiled until the Offertory. The Ciborium in the Tabernacle, the vessel that holds the Precious Body of Christ is veiled. All these vessels of life are veiled because they are holy.  Our Lady, a vessel of life per excellence is always veiled. By veiling their head in Church, women affirm themselves as vessels of life in their imitation of our Blessed Mother.

  7. By men keeping their head uncovered while women veil their head in Church, we witness our recognition of the fact that we are equal in creation but have different roles in it.

 

Therefore, it is an absolute honor for a woman to veil herself in Church. It keeps her true to Tradition, to Scripture, to her own desire to submit to God, to be a vessel of life, and to give glory to God. Many may come with deceiving arguments that this is an old tradition and not required in modern times. Remember, that the Bible tells us that the Wisdom of God is foolishness to the Greeks – that is to unbelievers. This matter is therefore not about human argument but about witnessing and testifying to the world that as a woman, God is your head; that you are submitted unto His authority; that Him, not you, is the focus of your worship; that Him, not you, gets glory by your presence in Church; and that whatever it takes to bring about the Lordship of Christ over you, you are willing to do. In all things, it is God’s Word that matters. The prophet Isaiah tells us: “If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; but if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken! (Isaiah 1:19-20).

 

 

Rev. Anselm Nwaorgu.

2 COMMENTS

Judith

3/29/2010

I have no problem in wearing a veil in church.I am a catholic but while I was growing up my mother let us attend the baptist church in our village, in this church we could not go in without out head tie. and in there we learn about why God made us and so on. I could do that again. Statement number 1 and 5 are the most important reasons.

 

Timothy Nwaorgu

7/19/2011

In the Nigerian Culture, it is perceived that a lady who covers her hair is well cultured in christianity and the norms of the church. As observed, when a lady exposes her hair in church, some members perceives it to be unholy, immoral and abominable in the sight of God. I remember a day in the church when a Lady walked in without her hair veil,some concerned people had to contribute their handkerchiefs to form a veil for her to cover her hair.
Simply put, a woman’s heart is what matters and not her physical appearance, as in the Nigerian case, Women are beginning to embrace the Western mode of worship (pentecostal) and therefore neglecting the culture of wearing veils to cover their hair in church as all depends on the cultural value of the woman.

© 2019.  ANSELM NWAORGU

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