Covering my head at church

October 8, 2007 | 34 comments

When I first believed that God might exist and Christianity might be true and started visiting churches in seriousness, one odd little thing was my reaction to the appearance of the congregations. I’m not sure what I expected, but I was always surprised at how casually people dressed to go to church. In particular, something about the women’s appearance seemed amiss, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was when I noticed an elderly lady at the back of a church one day who had her hair pulled back and her head covered with a black lace scarf that I realized what it was: it seemed to me that women should cover their heads in church. I didn’t really care or think it was wrong that most didn’t. But it just seemed, well, strange.

As an agnostic with no background in religion, I didn’t have any kind of theological defense for my feelings. I didn’t know what the Bible said about it, I didn’t know what the Magisterium of the Catholic Church said about it. It just felt like a good thing to do. I had only recently come to seriously consider the daunting prospect that the Creator of the known universe might actually exist and that we might be able to have some kind of contact with him by going to Sunday services, so going to church struck me as this amazing, kind of intimidating event. The idea of covering my head appealed to me as a symbol of humility, modesty, and as a way to embrace traditional femininity. It seemed like a little sacrifice I could make to show this God that I was really making an effort to respect him after my many years of disrespect; it also seemed like it would serve as a much-needed reminder to myself to approach the house of God with my pride in check.

As I got more used to going to church and slowly became a Christian, I decided to forget about the whole covering my head thing. No other women did it, and countless people whose opinions I greatly respected assured me that this is not something that’s required of women, and that God surely doesn’t care. This sounded right (and still does).

The problem is, I haven’t been able to get the issue out of my mind. I think about it a lot. In almost two years now of regularly going to church, I have never become completely comfortable with having my head uncovered. I don’t exactly “want” to cover my head…but not doing so just doesn’t feel right.

I’d been “prayerfully thinking” about this for months, trying to figure out whether the issue was nagging at me because God was trying to tell me something or whether it was just some personality quirk on my part. I made it known that I was more than willing to do this, but that I’d need a little nudging from God.

And then, a few months later, my mom came over one day and handed me a plastic ziplock bag and said, “Here are a couple of my old chapel veils, if you have any use for them.” They were her chapel veils from back when she went to Catholic school. Not being the clue-getting type, I promptly put them on a shelf in my closet and forgot about them.

Then, last week at the Red Mass, my husband chose a seat that had us sitting right behind a young lady wearing a chapel veil. After the Mass I struck up a conversation with her and she really encouraged me to consider wearing one. At the end of the evening as we were exchanging contact info, she reached into her purse and gave me a chapel veil as a gift.

So…the notion that I should cover my head at church has been nagging at me so much that I started praying about it, asking God what he wants me to do, and then two separate people give me head coverings — completely unprompted — within a few weeks of each other. Hmm.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m not trying to say here that I think that all women should do this — Christianity seems to be doing just fine with 99.9% of women going to church with their heads uncovered. But for whatever reason I feel prodded that it’s something I should be doing.

Maybe this is part of God’s plan to show the world his robust sense of humor. Because the notion of me wearing something that is often associated with extreme piety is hilarious. I can just picture some of my lovely fellow parishioners having a conversation like this as we’re all getting settled into the pews before Mass:

“Did I just hear someone say a really inappropriate word?”

“Yes, I believe it was the lady over there.”

“Which one?”

“The tall redhead in the chapel veil who didn’t genuflect before dragging her screaming toddler out of the pews. I believe she’s the one who I saw just moving her lips last Sunday when she forgot the words to the Nicene Creed.”

It was in thinking about this that I realized that the main reason I don’t just go ahead and wear a scarf or a veil is (as usual): pride. I am so obviously not a holy person that I feel like it would look completely ridiculous for me to be the only woman in the congregation with her head covered; that people would think that I was some self-righteous snob; and that my actions at Mass might be watched a little more closely since I’d appear to be holding myself out as some kind of devout church-lady.

Who knows, maybe that’s the whole point of this situation. Maybe it’s not so much that God cares about me covering me head per se as it is that he’s testing me to see if I’m really willing to humble myself to obey what I believe is his will. Or maybe this is just all in my head and I have some weird hangup about having my head uncovered in church.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my little dilemma in case others find it interesting (or, more likely, amusing). I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet but I will keep you posted. 🙂


  1. Tony

    I used to sing in the choir with a young lady who wore a mantilla. She was 16 years old, and had two small daughters, the three year old wore a smaller version of mom’s veil, and the one year old didn’t wear one at all.

    She was the only woman in church who wore one. She also never wore pants. Only very pretty totally modest dresses.

    She did it as a way for her to show respect to God. Other people did not enter into it. She did have one man come up to her and say: “Just looking at you makes me feel more holy”.

    As long as you decide to wear the veil for the right reason, don’t worry about what other people think.

  2. Red Cardigan

    Jennifer, I posted on this topic a while back:

    I’m still hatless, for the time being. 🙂

  3. Tony

    That should read “she was 26 years old”. Sheesh, that sounded bad.

  4. Faithful Catholic


    I love your blog! It’s so wonderful that you share your thoughts as you do.

    I’m a cradle Catholic. Back in the day, if we forgot our prayer veils (that’s what we called the little circle shaped lace coverings that covered just the top of our heads, mostly worn by little girls up to teens)my mother would use a bobby pin to attach a kleenex to our heads. That’s how important it was to have your head covered!

    I can certainly identify with your struggle over the issue. I understand exactly what you mean by that little nagging voice that’s just beyond clarity and wondering if it really could be God sending you a message.

    Here’s a suggestion, wear the chapel veil and see what happens. Also, I’d like to caution you that anyone who sits through Mass making judgments about your choice to cover your head or not cover your head, or whether or not your mind wandered during the Creed, or whether or not you genuflected before dragging your toddler out of the pew, well, I think you know where I’m going with this. The point is that we’ve all been distracted at Mass by big things and little things about other people, what they wear, how they look, how they act. If we’ve got our hearts and minds where they ought to be during Mass, most of those thoughts are fleeting, and we easily get back on track. It’s not as if wearing a veil could be considered causing a near occasion of sin. Search your own heart, not everyone else’s, and if you feel you want to wear the veil, have at it. If you wear it because you feel like it demonstrates your love and respect for our Lord, wear it! The Lord knows your heart, your fellow parishioners don’t.

    May God bless and keep you. And, welcome home!

  5. WSG

    Well, it’s not required by the Church, although it’s allowed or even encouraged. However I think many women find spiritual benefits to wearing one, because it reminds them of their own holiness and humbles them before God. As for me, I find that the stupid things are impossible to keep on my head and are a huge distraction. I also have friends who find that they spend more time thinking about how pious they look in one instead of actually being pious. Anyway, why not wear one a couple times, and if you don’t like it don’t do it again. Can’t hurt.

  6. Letum

    Wearing a veil is actually required by canon law, but we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it if women don’t wear one. We mustn’t fall into legalism, but we mustn’t forget the letter of the law either. Letter and spirit must be balanced.

  7. Tienne


    I also have friends who find that they spend more time thinking about how pious they look in one instead of actually being pious.

    *raises hand* I have the feeling that would be my problem! In years past I’ve actually put off going to Ash Wednesday services until the evening because I just LOVE having people look at my forehead and smile, or ask questions, or say “You must be Catholic.” Refraining from the attention was a sacrifice I made for God.

    We do have to be sure we’re doing things for the right reasons. Very insightful. 🙂

  8. LilyBug

    Actually, Letum, the canon law you mentioned was abrogated in 1983. So, no, women are no longer required to wear head coverings, though it is a beautiful and honorable tradition.

  9. Abigail

    I have thought about this a lot. One of my Nigerian Catholic roommates in Grad School always wore a beautiful head scarf to church. It was so appealing, I wore it the Anglican church we attended together. At the time I just thought it helped me pray. I didn’t really connect it to reverence to the Eucharist.

    I happily checked out chapel veil sites on the web a few years ago. Then I got scared, because, at least on EWTN, the discussion about should you or should you not seems so heated. It’s like your making a political statement, or something.

    Just last week, I went to my first Adoration and their was a women with a veil, who looked so peaceful. So now, I think I’m going to start wearing one for adoration only. I’ll pray for the nerve to wear one in Mass eventually. (I’m still self-conscious in church and hate to stick out in any way.)

  10. Sarahndipity

    Tienne, that’s interesting – I actually feel very self-conscious with that smudge on my forehead, so I definitely prefer to go to Ash Wednesday services in the evening so that people aren’t staring at my forehead all day. For me, the sacrifice would be going in the morning and getting the attention. But it’s the same thing – pride, and caring too much what others think.

    Maybe it’s not so much that God cares about me covering me head per se as it is that he’s testing me to see if I’m really willing to humble myself to obey what I believe is his will.

    I think that might be it. I’ve never worn a chapel veil, but it sounds like God might be nudging you to give it a try.

  11. Ouiz

    I’ve blogged about this before, but I’ll summarize as quickly as I can.

    It always bothered me (even when I was attending a Protestant church) that no one could give me a decent explanation as to why women shouldn’t cover any more, when St. Paul clearly tells women they should.

    When I came back to the Catholic Church, that nagging feeling just wouldn’t go away. Plus, I was having difficulty with not “feeling” any emotions when I went to Mass… so, I decided to bite the bullet and cover my head. I chickened out and went the hat route instead (even though I think mantillas are prettier). I chose to do it to honor the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

    It ties in with the whole modesty thing as well. You really can’t wear a mantilla, or a nice hat, and then grunge out or wear something indecent to Mass. It just doesn’t work.

    I waffled over this whole thing for awhile, until I realized that, truly, this isn’t a big deal. If the Lord DID call me to do this, it’s such a small request that doesn’t really hurt me. If He didn’t, well… a little hat hair never hurt anyone either. I win either way!

    I am encouraged from reading your posting because now I’m thinking, “hmmm. Maybe He really DID call me to cover! Cool!”

  12. elena maria vidal

    Hi, Jen. If it helps your devotion in Church, then wear a hat or veil. If it does not help your devotion, then don’t wear one. These things are not meant to be a torment to the soul. Be at peace, knowing that you are prayerfully trying to discern the Will of God.

    But realize that wearing a head-covering is based on Scripture and Tradition. It was mandated by the Apostles and by Pope St Linus and was in the Code of Canon Law until 1981. If you wish to cover your head, be at peace knowing you are participating in an ancient tradition that supersedes the fad of the moment.

    And remember,dear, it is not about your holiness, it is about showing reverence for the holiness of God. It does represent, however, your sacred role of woman and bride, as a symbol of Christ’s Bride, His Church.

    I have worn a veil for about twenty years; it is second nature and is a visible reminder to me that I am on holy ground when I enter a Catholic church. What we wear can influence how we behave and how we think, for it reflects an interior attitude.

    But if it makes you uncomfortable and self-conscious, so that you are tense in God’s house, then don’t worry with it. At least not for now….

  13. Amy Caroline

    Oh man, you could have been writing my very thoughts. I have been going back and forth on this issue for so long, I can’t even remember where it began. I wore a veil twice to mass, and I did like it. I felt like people were looking at me at first, but I eventually tried to get over it. I stopped wearing the veil because, like you, I became worried. What if I did something wrong? Would people not look at me as though I should do everything right because I wore the veil? And wait… do I wear the veil to confession too? When do you not wear the veil, when do you? It all became so overwhelming!! I longed to have a mentor to tell me all the dos and don’ts, but was too afraid to find one. I knew one lovely lady at church who wore one and she gave me a wonderful pamphlet. That is what got me wearing it in the first place. She also told me to offer up any discomfort I felt for a special intention. She said it worked for her and now she always wears the veil.
    So like you, I have longed to wear it. I have worn it a few times, but then worried again and stopped.

  14. LilyBug

    Well if the canon law was never abrogated, then why aren’t all women wearing head coverings as opposed to a few. It seems the Church has sided with “no coverings” on this one.

  15. Catholic Mom

    I posted on my own similar sentiments here. The reason to wear a head covering is to increase my own reverential posture in Mass and bring myself closer to holiness. If it does the opposite, it is an empty gesture. I attend daily Mass at a parish different from the one I usually attend on Sundays. I wear a veil there because I am usually going alone. I also wear a veil when I go to Eucharistic adoration. When I attend Mass with my family or when I am going to run into lots of folks I know who will raise a questioning eyebrow about my new practice, I opt out of wearing the veil since it seems more of a distraction than a support for my prayer life. This is a compromise that works right now. Maybe I will eventually be comfortable always wearing a veil. Isn’t it funny that so many of us long to wear the veil but hang back out of fear.

    Canon lawyer Ed Peters wrote about the canon law aspects of this topic here.

  16. LilyBug

    Thank you, Catholic Mom, for the Ed Peters reference. I confirmed my previous point – veils are no longer required. But I would like to reiterate that the wearing of the veil is a beautiful and reverential gesture for the woman who chooses to do it. I don’t think I would feel comfortable doing it because I’m not big on outward/public signs of reverence. However, now that I think of it, it seems everything is an outward/public sign of something. Hmmm…darn…now I have to do some more thinking on this.

  17. Aimee

    The catholic church never did away with women covering their hair (canon law). They never said it was ok NOT to cover your hair. After Vatican II and the change to from Latin to Norvus Ordo many women stopped covering. I myself cover my hair no matter if its the old or new mass.

  18. WSG

    LilyBug, the canon law prior to 1983 explicitly required women to cover their heads, but the 1983 code was silent on the issue and the Church has been similarly silent. There’s evidence that it’s encouraged- for instance, women are expected to cover their heads when receiving a blessing from the Pope, and many priests will require it at Tridentine Mass- but the Church has not required it since 1983.

  19. Mojo

    Saint Michael the Archangel,
    defend us in battle.
    Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
    May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
    and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
    by the Divine Power of God –
    cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
    who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

    And again, I say AMEN!

  20. Jennifer F.

    anh – because of your commenting history, I’ll delete any future comments. Also, no need to keep switching accounts. I can tell from your IP address that it’s you.

  21. Mojo

    May I please add this?

    Everyone…in case you missed it (lucky for you if you did) ‘anh’ posted something which compelled me to respond with the St. Michael prayer. As you can see, and rightfully so, Jen deleted the post by ‘anh.’

    Just wanted to clarify in case it seems I was invoking St. Michael’s protection against something Jen, or any of you, had to say! Not the case!

  22. Khadija

    very interesting thoughts everyone

    that said, as a Muslim I am so glad veiling is something we’ve preserved

    It’s nice to be around some people that recognize the spiritual benefit that veiling can have while praying

    peace everyone

  23. Ann'Re @ Home

    I just stumbled across this post on your blog and wanted to stop and encourage you. If you feel the Lord is encouraging you to cover…you will be blessed by it. There are more and more Catholic women (as well as women from other denominations) who are feeling lead to begin or get back to covering. You can also read in 1 Corinthians 11 about what Paul teaches about covering…which what the Lord used when I started covering. Wonderful blog, I look forward to reading more…God bless.

  24. Anonymous

    hey, i have been going through the same thing… but as god showed you through several instances, he has shown me through.. and especially in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is talking about this issue in a serious tone that a lady should cover her head in the church. Sometimes it is weird and not "cool" but I think I would rather obey what is in the bible than being cool.

  25. kalina

    I recently started looking into Christians wearing headcoverings, and have just begun wearing them in my personal prayer time. It feels different, but it feels right somehow…I am humbled, I am mindful of my biblical role as a woman, and I just feel beautiful and feminine before God. I thought that beginning with my own prayer time would be a good way to get started, and I think it has been. I am feeling drawn to wear a shawl to church, but no one else in my church does either. Ah well, if we decide to do it, let us go into it humbled, yet confident that what we are doing is fine and even pleasing before God.

  26. Marie

    Thank you for this respectful and level-headed post about head-covering. I am a newly converted Catholic, and I was becoming incredibly disheartened by the heated and disrespectful “discussions” I have found online. Reading this was a breath of fresh air and has encouraged me to continue prayerfully pondering whether I am called to cover my own head. God bless.

  27. Becca

    I was just researching about this on google and your blog post came up. I am not catholic, but am a part of a church that does actually believe this is right and is one of our core beliefs. I cover my head when I pray or prophesy in public as it encourages in 1 Cor 11.

    Here is a great biblical and non legalistic teaching on it. It is in auto format. Maybe it will help you?

    • Kathryn Willis

      I would like to say that I think it’s wonderful that you are wanting to wear a veil covering. It is in the bible in the new testament, first Corinthians chapter 11. Start at verse five. The Apostle Paul gave instruction that a woman ought not to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered. Every woman in my church wears the veil covering. Please go to youtube and type truelight pentecost church. Look for videos by this church under Prophet Bishop H. Walker, i will help you so much to view these videos and be a big blessing to your life. God is trying to show you the correct way.

  28. Wb

    She gives an interesting view on why she did

  29. Saif

    This proves beyond doubt why Islam and Christianity are the same. They both ask their women to cover heads and be fruitful wives. It’s only because of the ill thought feminist and liberation movements in west which has led to derogation of women and reduced respect for women. We all welcome the movement of wearing head scarves.

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