Are Veils Required?

Question:

It has been an ongoing debate in our church for a few years now whether ladies need to wear a head veil (mantilla) in church or not. We have a small group of ladies who wear head veils in church whether during Mass or just passing through.

Although they never actively pursue other ladies about wearing veils, the overall tone of conversation when asked about their veils is that it is the Church teaching since the beginning of the Catholic Church and that we, as the whole Catholic Church, have just been ignoring it, especially since the Second Vatican Council. They insist that, since the new Code of Canon Law does not address the issue, this means the old law continues to exist.

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Although I highly respect this group of ladies’ piety and the generosity of their assistance to all church events, I find it hard to believe that our merciful God would condemn anyone based on their head veils.

In the New American Bible, I read about the custom of St. Paul’s day, when women were supposed to have long hair. The commentary we found about 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 was that Paul appealed to the sense of propriety of that time. Obviously, we are interpreting this passage very differently. Would you clarify the Church teaching on women with veils in church?

 Name withheld by request

 

Answer:

Wearing veils in a church is a venerable feminine tradition from apostolic times, and your reference to St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is correct. Yet, I agree with you and do not think: “…our merciful God would condemn anyone based on their head veils.” Still, your friends raise an interesting point.

I was surprised to learn just how much has been written on this topic. Some authors still maintain that canon law requires women to wear veils in church, but that conclusion is due to a misinterpretation of Church law. Women are no longer required to wear veils in a church, but if they wish to do so, they may.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law completely replaced the 1917 Code, and in doing so transferred liturgical regulations outside the Code. This was a process that had begun earlier with Vatican II’s document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the revision of the Code of Canon Law.

For the most part, today, liturgical regulations are to be found in the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (2002) and other relevant documents coming from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. None of the documents currently in force regarding the liturgy mandate that a woman wear a veil in Church.

Finally, it may be helpful to remember that “custom is the best interpreter of laws” (Canon 27). For the past 30 years, women have customarily not worn veils in Church, and, to my knowledge, no competent ecclesiastical authority has objected to this practice. We can be confident that if the Church believed it is necessary for women to wear veils in a church, it would be stated clearly in some official document.

“Monday Morning Short Answers to Big Questions” by Rev. Francis J. Hoffman

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Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.