Should Women Cover Heads in Church?

While women attending traditional chapels routinely wear mantillas, hats or scarves, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do when attending a diocesan church.  Weddings are OK, since it’s quite usual to wear a hat or flower headband, but what about going to Confession in a parish church? Some women have expressed doubt about whether to wear a mantilla or other head covering because the custom has fallen into disuse in most parishes. Is it a small thing to do to keep that tradition within the Catholic community or is it to invite unnecessary division? 

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Comments invited… 

20 responses

  1. My wife always covers her head in parishes. Our Lord is present in the Tabernacle so it doesn’t matter what kind of parish it is. She also covers her head when we pray the Rosary at home too.

  2. I know of one woman who, in recent years, has started wearing a mantilla at a modern Jesuit parish (of all places!).

    But more power to her, and to the women who attend traditional churches. I think the use of mantillas / veils is extremely dignified and helps to mark-out both the great dignity of women and the difference between the sexes. So I am in favour of the practice.

    I can understand why women might think twice about wearing a veil in a modern parish, given Catholicism often provokes an ugly reaction in such environments. However, they should not shy away because of how others might react. The sight of a veil in a modern parish may well be thought provoking and may cause people to step back and consider what the practice is all about.

    The standards of dress and modesty are very low in modern parishes and anything which might combat this, or demonstrate a higher standard, is to be welcomed. In modern parishes, I have seen women wearing football shirts and even dressed as if they have come to mass straight from a nightclub.

    The men are no better, of course – I remember one man, at the Church I used to go to, wearing such low slung jeans that I had the dubious pleasure of being faced with the sight of his underpants-clad bottom throughout the mass. I was angry at the time, but in retrospect I am grateful for the fact he was actually wearing underpants!

    Ultimately, the practice of wearing a veil could never be divisive. Traditional, authentic Catholicism is never divisive. Division is always the fault of heterodox dissenters, who all feel the Church should be remade in their own image.

  3. Your comments are really, really, helpful to me.

    I stopped wearing a mantilla to a local parish when I was pointed to and laughed at by a group of women at the bottom of the Church (I was sitting around the middle). It took me a while to realise why they were looking at me and laughing, as I wasn’t expecting any reaction like that. It wasn’t my own parish so I didn’t know the people, but it was awful. I was only in to pay a visit, they were practising for a wedding, which is why the church was open and I thought I’d pop in. Since then, to be honest, I’ve not worn the mantilla except if I’m in a traditional chapel, but Petrus and Gabriel Syme have made me think again. I must take up my courage in both hands!

    • Laura,

      I am sorry to hear that, how extremely rude of those others to treat you like that. Some Christians they are! Personally I think it is admirable and heartening that some people still do things traditionally / “properly” even when at a local vernacular mass. I think such things set a good example and display ideals.

      Most likely their reaction was down to not properly understanding what your mantilla symbolised. They likely felt uncomfortable to think what their lack of mantilla may have said of their own faith and / or wrongly perceived this as an outmoded custom.

      Often people react badly to traditional Catholicism. Traditionally, it would have been protestants, but in the modern day even novus ordo Catholics can react in a similar way (and we know why).

      I remember a lady (at a modern parish) looking at me at though I had horns, when I told her I had started attending latin mass. “He’s got his back to you! He’s got his back to you! Why does he have his back to you?!” she shrieked like a protestant.

      I tried to explain that it wasn’t so much that the priest had his back to me, it was more that we were all facing the tabernacle together. I thought she would accept this reason, even if she didn’t agree with it, but it soon became apparent (though she didn’t say it) that she didn’t know what a “tabernacle” was. (I do not say this to criticise her, as I was once similar to that and came from the same ill-informed, quasi-Catholic environment).

  4. Laura,

    If you put your veil back on, Our Lady will be smiling at you – with gracious affection, not the sneer you’ve so sadly experienced with people who didn’t seem to have a clue as to what behavior is appropriate for Catholics…

  5. I had a discussion recently with a fellow parishioner on the subject of veils vs. hats. The vast majority of our women wear veils, but there are a few who prefer hats. My opinion was that hats tend to have the opposite effect of veils – that is, they call attention to the wearer. Particularly the kind of outlandish hats frequently worn by one woman, complete with the occasional feather and flower sticking out of the brim – in which various birds would no doubt feel comfortable building a nest.

  6. RCA Victor,

    Your description of the parishioner’s hat – LOL!

    I prefer a mantilla (veil) myself. I don’t know why any woman would object to wearing one as they are so feminine.

  7. Helen

    Firstly, it would look so becoming over your blond hair!

    Seriously though, the reason I wear a mantilla is to emphasise the fact that I believe in the tradition of the Catholic Church, and I wish to show my obedience to it. We know that St Paul told us that women should cover their hair, mainly because men can be distracted by the beauty of a woman’s hair, and we must try not to distract or to be be distracting during Holy Mass. As women (especially young women), I think we often seriously underestimate the effect that appearance has on the male. They are much more susceptible to sexual stimuli than women, and we should do what we can to protect their vulnerability in that regard. We have our weaknesses and strengths; they have theirs.

    I attend a NO Mass once a week on a Friday, and I always wear a mantilla. Perhaps it will remind those few who attend of the beauty and reverence that the Mass they are attending has lost.

    • Therese,

      I couldn’t agree more. I really dislike seeing women and girls at a Traditional Mass not wearing something on their heads. I seldom do see it, but occasionally there is someone.

      It IS about honouring the traditions, including devotional, of the Church. It’s a signal of belief in the Real Presence, just like genuflection, IMHO.

      • Josephine,

        I really dislike seeing women and girls at a Traditional Mass not wearing something on their heads.

        Recently, I was at an SSPX mass in Germany. The mass had a very small congregation, perhaps 25 – 30 people, of whom maybe half were female, from young girls to elderly ladies.

        What struck me (as I am used to the opposite situation) is that not one of the women present wore a veil / scarf / hat.

        Did the Church ever mandate head coverings universally, or was the situation heavily influenced by local culture?

        The above is not a criticism of the Germans, (not least because I was their guest!), it was just an observation I made.

        The mass was very reverent and all the congregation contributed to singing the mass. Another minor difference I noted was that, after standing in the communion line, when they got to the front each person would genuflect before approaching the rail to kneel.

        Of course it was the “same mass” I just thought it interesting to note these minor differences from my own usual experience.

  8. I like to see men smartly dressed at mass too – “making an effort” is not limited to women.

    At least during Sunday mass anyway, on Our Lords day. I am sure that there likely has been at least one or two weekday or Saturday masses where I have worn more casual clothes, but on a Sunday it is fitting for a man to dress more smartly than usual, within his means (of course, it not a “fashion parade”).

    In a way, our standard of dress in any situation betrays how we perceive that particular environment.

    But of course, the main thing is that a person is at mass in the first place, and paying attention. I don’t want to come across as some clothes-obsessed Pharisee!

    The standard is much higher at traditional masses. At the novus ordo anything goes, I would not have been surprised to encounter someone wearing a chicken costume, or dressed as batman or something.

    Recently, I was looking at the website of my own high school. There were photos of a school pilgrimage to Italy and I was appalled to see the children photographed coming out of Churches wearing the most inappropriate clothes (denim hot pants etc).

    I could just imagine the patronising response of the teachers if anyone had complained about this, but then it struck me: if anyone came to school in denim hot pants, they would be sent home at once for being dressed inappropriately! Yet this standard is OK for the House of God. Its crazy!

  9. When I was a child all women covered their heads but I never saw a mantilla until recent years and in SSPX chapels. In my youth women wore headscarves or hats. I always associated mantillas with postulants ( trainee nuns ) or female visitors to the Vatican.

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