I got an email recently, the lady writing asked, “Can you point me towards a good reference for why women are no longer required to wear a head covering during mass?”
I thought I’d take the email I sent her and turn it into a blog. So, Here’s my answer.
Throughout history it has been common for women to wear head-coverings. This is something which has precedent in St. Paul’s epistles (See 1 Corinthians 11:2-16).
1917 Code of Canon Law
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.
Gradually this is something which fell into disuse.
In the 1970’s there was a judgment issued by the CDF in a document known as Inter Insigniores which 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.
1983 Code of Canon Law
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 re-issue it doesn’t mean that it’s not still in effect, right?” Actually, no.
In canon 6 of the current code it 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.
Not Obligatory, Still Allowed
While it is not obligatory for women to wear hats or mantillas (head-coverings doesn’t refer exclusively or even primarily to mantillas), I—for what it’s worth—think they’re a beautiful and elegant way to show reverence for Christ.
If you’re a woman contemplating wearing one, go ahead and give it a try! If someone tells you it’s weird or says something silly like, “look at you trying to be holier than thou,” remind them of our Lord’s words in Luke 6:37.
Conversely, if someone judges you for not wearing one, remind them of the same verse. 🙂
To learn more about the Mantilla, check out the site Will You Mantilla With Me. Also, here’s a great video on the veil: