Monday, March 19, 2012

Why I Wear a Catholic Chapel Veil / Christian Headcovering in Church

I had felt called to cover, and toyed a bit with doing it, when some years ago, at the Easter Vigil, the deacon began to sing the Exsultet (the Easter proclamation hymn which announces the dignity and meaning of the resurrection).  I was, as I am every year, overcome by the sacredness and lyrical beauty of this ancient hymn, and by the fact that I was standing in consecrated space sharing the experience of women across centuries who, too, had stood in sacred space listening to the evocative rhythms and poignant lyrics of this very song.  Struck by the holiness of the experience, and intensely aware that I was standing in the very presence of our Lord, angels, and the faithful across time and space in the Communion of Saints, I covered my head with the scarf that I had around my neck.  I have never gone back.

We dress well for events that we value.  Being well dressed shows respect for the event, our fellow attendees, and ourselves.  Church is no different, except that in church we are going to meet God.  This is especially true if we adhere to a faith that holds that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament.  The way that we are dressed impacts our perspective and behavior.  Many women, myself included, find that this is true of veiling, as well.

Part of showing respect for our fellow attendees is embracing modesty in worship so that we support the men in attendance by refraining from throwing distractions in their way.  Our brothers in Christ are bombarded on an unrelenting basis with sexual images, not just in the media, but on the bodies of women all around them in daily life.  We ought really to give them a break, at least in church.

There is also the headcovering passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  (It is quoted at the bottom of this post.)  I have read all of the arguments against a scriptural mandate for covering.  I do not extend any obligation to cover to other Christian women.  However, Christian women, worldwide, covered their heads at prayer from the beginnings of Christianity all the way until the advent of Feminism in the 1960s.  If nearly 2000 years worth of Christians, across times, cultures, Church affiliation, and geographic boundaries, interpreted this passage to extend beyond the limited culture of Corinth, that is good enough for me.  I think I’ll go with nearly 2000 years of Christian practice over 40 years of Feminism.  I also believe that the writings of the Church Fathers clarify that it was the practice  in the early church to cover.

I find that people who do not know me, but see me veiled, assume that my husband is aggressive and controlling.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  My choice to veil is my own.  He supports that choice, but had nothing to do with its initiation.  I do, however, respect and value my husband’s role as a leader, protector, and provider in our family, and my veiling is also a nod to that respect.  I do not believe that covering subjugates a woman.  I believe that covering elicits, even demands, respect for the sacredness of womanhood.  In a culture that devalues women by exposing them, veiling restores a level of respect for her honor.

I have read plenty of reactions from women regarding others who cover, some of which suggest the the woman who veils considers herself more “holy” or spiritual than the one who does not.  Covering is about me and God, not about me and the woman in the next pew.  If anything, veiling can be very humbling.  It’s not easy being counter cultural…or wondering what others are thinking about the practice.

I’m sure that there are women who believe that covering is essential to salvation, but I personally have never met or communicated with one.  For most women, covering is something that one feels called to do, not required to do.

Veiling has blessed my walk with Christ in many ways. It has kept me focused on the point of church attendance, increased my respect for my husband, increased my humility, deepened my prayer life, taught me that my relationship to my creator is more important to me than the opinions of other people, and enabled me to give a gift of worship to God.

I don't share these things because I expect that others should adopt my practices.  I share them only because I have been asked.  Whatever your approach to drawing close to our Lord, I pray that you will be blessed by it.

A marvelous pictorial history of Christian head covering throughout the centuries can be found here.

(If you are a woman who covers, or who is considering covering, don't forget to enter this month's giveaway, which features of headcovering from the veil shop!)

Pax Christi,

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved.  If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.  For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.  For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.  In the Lord, however,  woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace  to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For long hair is given to her as a covering.  If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have  no other practice-nor do the churches of God.
~1 Cor. 11: 2-16

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  1. The picture of this lady in black looks very inspiring. She looks like an angel. I am a traditional catholic and for a moment I thought I had come across a traditional catholic website but I was wrong. I hope holy mother the church returns to her glorious roots. Holy saints of God ora pro nobis

    1. We regret that you are dissapointed in the specific nature of our Christian orientation. While we have a deep and abiding love for the historic church and her ancient rites, calendar, and traditions, and, recognize the critical importance of authenticity and singular truth, we welcome here persons from the many and varied neighborhoods of Christianity. In welcoming them, we bid respect to their traditions and practices. While acknowledging the differences among traditions, and refusing to undermine the signficance of those differences, we seek to rejoice in the common ground that is Jesus Christ and him crucified.
      Pax Christi dear sibling in Christ,

  2. Michelle I'm also a devout Catholic and appreciate your loving response to the other commenter. Love St Paul or Apostle Paul to you! 1 tim 2:14 i studied until I could see the love and it opened me to every word of his. He wasn't saying women are easily deceived, but then men that know what to do will sin for a we have a responsibility to show them that we want them to follow God, and everything we do for them like veiling, will reassure him that we will follow him if he follows God. Love relationships! If you are ever interested, a man named Christopher West speaks about the Theology of the Body on youtube, talks on how God made us male and female. It's from a Catholic, but the talks are for all Christians and he gets invited to all denominations bc it's just so true!