Why Women wear a veil?
women cover their heads in church; this reality was clearly enshrined in the old
code of canon law (Canon 1262.2). This practice follows comes to us from
biblical times. St. Paul speaking on this point out: This practice follows a
received custom practiced from very early in the Church. St. Paul, 1 Corinthians
(11:4-5), writes: "Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered,
disgraces his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head
uncovered disgraces her head." In other words, such a woman wounds her feminine
dignity when she doesn't wear a veil in the Church.
St. Paul is speaking in reference to the women's presence in the Church. In this context we can already see in the Church that often all sacred things are veiled. For example at Mass the priest is veiled with sacred vestments, the sacred Chalice is also veiled and so likewise, the veiling of women adds to their dignity, rather than taking away from it. It signifies that they sacred in the eyes of God and have a particular role in Church even if it be in a different manner from that of the role of the man.
St. Paul points out that it is in this way the women honours her head; that is both her physical head and her spiritual head, namely the authority that she has over her; either in her priest or her parents or spouse. For in the language of St. Paul the veil is a sign of her submission. St. Paul makes a clear parallel between Christ and his bride the Church. Just as Christ does not wear a veil neither does his icon, the man. The Church is subordinate to Christ, and so likewise the women by wearing the veil is her sign of submission to the order and authority that God has established over her. (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22-23).
It is however more importantly her way of giving a special honour to God; for no doubt that for a women, her hair is her glory, and so in covering her hair she hides her glory to give greater glory to God. The focus is no longer herself, but upon the divine reality before her either in the Liturgical rites or in the presence of Christ in the blessed Sacrament. In this reality she is able to offer something of herself in the liturgy and to God. This is all the more important in a time when the tendency is so much to focus upon self.
As regards the colour; Traditionally the white view was only worn by unmarried women; virgins and young girls, while black was worn by married women and widows. And also the black veil was traditional worn through out lent and particularly on Good Friday and at Funerals as a sign of morning and sorrow.
The Roman Pontifical contains the imposing ceremonial of the consecration of the veils: "Receive the sacred veil, that thou mayst be known to have despised the world, and to be truly, humbly and with all thy heart subject to Christ as His Bride; and may he defend thee from all evil, and bring thee to life eternal" (Pontificale Romanum, de benedictione).
Many of today's people may be inclined to say "well that's just Saint Paul and he's being a bit to harsh" or " he need's to get in touch with the times". However such ideas are a serious offence against God as what was true for the early Christians is also true for us in regards to things that have a spiritual advantage. This is because God is eternal; thus the truth of any matter applies always no matter what age we live in. It can be said that the veil although seen to be by many of little importance is something that the apostles, saints and Church fathers held should be maintained.
St Paul reminds us, "for I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it but I received it by revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:12), referring to the authority of his ministry, and veracity of his words.
In order to further confirm this we note that the Holy Pope Linus used to insist on the Apostle's words on this matter be observed, which required every woman to wear a veil when she entered into the church. St. Charles Borromeo was accustomed to say, "women who were not thus veiled should be refused admittance into the church". We read that according to St Clement and others such as St Alphonsus that the reason of this is because, lest the beauty of the other sex, distract the attention of the men.
The practice of women wearing head covering in church is based on Scripture and included in the traditional Code of Canon Law (It is not included in the New Code). Thus, Catholics should continue this custom according to the teaching of St Paul (I Cor. 11:4-5).
Canon 1262.2 of the 1917 Canon Law of the Church states:
"Men should be with head uncovered in church or outside of church, when they assist at the sacred rites, unless the approved customs of the people or additional particulars of the circumstances call for something else; women, however, should be with head covered and modestly dressed, particularly when they approach the Lord's table." The 1983 code did not expressly revoke head coverings, which means the head covering requirement is still in force despite the laxity of many contemporary Catholics.
The Bl. Virgin Mary, always humble, should be the example of all women. She did not wish to attract attention to herself and we can be certain that she dressed in a modest manner.
Women would do well to not only have their hair covered in church, but to approach the altar with the same inward humility, which the veils signify.
Note: the veil is still worn at the Latin mass for locations see our (Global) Latin Mass Directory.