What Happened to Head Coverings at Mass?

July 23, 2013 | 2 comments

A correspondent writes:

"Can you point me to a good reference for why women are no longer required to wear a head covering during Mass?"

Throughout history it has been common for women to wear head coverings. This is something that has precedent in St. Paul’s epistles (see 1 Cor. 11:2-16).

It was mandated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Canon 1262 states:

1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.

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.

This is something that fell gradually into disuse.

In the 1970s there was a judgment issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a document titled Inter Insigniores that basically stated that since chapel veils were not a matter of faith, it was no longer mandatory for women to wear them. In paragraph 4 it states:

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.

You can read the whole document here.

In the 1983 Code of Canon Law—the one in effect today—the canon about head veils was not re-issued. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, just because they didn’t reissue it doesn’t mean that it’s not still in effect, right?” Wrong.

Canon 6 of the current code states that all subsequent laws that are not reissued in the new code are abrogated:

Can. 61. When this Code goes into effect, the following are abrogated:

1. the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;

2. other universal or particular laws contrary to the prescriptions of this Code, unless particular laws are otherwise expressly provided for;

3. any universal or particular penal laws whatsoever issued by the Apostolic See, unless they are contained in this Code;

4. other universal disciplinary laws dealing with a matter which is regulated ex integro by this Code.

While it is not obligatory for women to wear mantillas, I personally think they’re a beautiful and elegant way to show reverence for Christ. If you’re a woman contemplating wearing one, let me encourage you to go ahead and give it a try!—just my two cents.

To learn more about the mantilla, check out the site Will You Mantilla With Me.


Matt Fradd is Australian by birth and Catholic by choice. After experiencing a profound conversion at World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, Matt committed himself to inviting others to know Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. As a missionary in Canada and Ireland, Matt proclaimed the Gospel to over ten...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  D E Cantor - Los Angeles, California

I agree with you on everything you said. I, too, think that mantillas are beautiful. I would like to add, though, that the wearing of head coverings by women comes from the Jewish tradition of women wearing them, and this custom can, therefore, serve as a wonderful way a Catholic woman can strengthen her faith in doing an act done by women in the religion that Jesus practiced, which is not at odds with the religion that Jesus began. Also, to the Church, it is a reminder of a heritage with roots that do not begin with Jesus, but go back to his ancestor, King David, and back further to Abraham.

August 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm PST
#2  Barbara Bishop - La Junta, Colorado

#3 Barbara Bishop - La Junta, Colorado
I see there are two veins of discussion on the practice of "veiling" in Church, the worldly view and the Sacred view.

The worldly view includes modernization of Church practices in attempt to make the Mass more accessible to the contemporary Catholic, i.e.: relaxing dress, behaviors, removing the Latin, turning the Altar around, female Altar servers. After all, we must balance tradition with the times we live in.

Abandoning the head covering for women was a worldly modernization brought about through, but not only by, the media and social pressure applied by the women's liberation movement.

The idea that the veil is a symbol of oppression in ingrained into the minds of many women, from religious sisters to the occasional Mass attender. The arguments on this issue are many and vigorous. I, for one am glad we are discussing the practice.

There is no denying that covering the head for women and uncovering the head for men is Sacred Scripture. The Church can change its rules but Sacred Scripture cannot be changed by anyone, it is the word of God. All Christian women, not just Catholics, are commanded to cover their heads in public prayer, while prophesying and before the Holy Eucharist, by the Word of Sacred Scripture.

The more I delve into the Sacred Scripture, the more I am compelled to obey God's word.

Modernism does not trump the Word of God.

Yes, we women have free choice by the Church and by God. The Church removed the mandate and God allows us to choose to follow The Word or not.

Just as men have free choice to wear their baseball caps or cowboy hats in church and during prayer around the graveside, still, I do not see men wearing hats in defiance or to prove that they are in control of their gender position in society.

I wear the veil to Church because God commanded, as written in the Bible, for women to cover their heads. I wear a veil, my preferred style of head-covering, because it is my cultural heritage, it is in my comfort zone, as opposed to a hat, it is beautiful and feminine and as woman, it is my role, my calling, and my heart's desire to imitate our Blessed Mother Mary as I participate in the Sacred celebration of Mass. I am honored and humbled to cover my head before God. All that God has done for me leaves me dumbstruck, the least I can do is cover my head in humility before the Altar.

April 29, 2014 at 8:00 am PST

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