"But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head-it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.
"For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels....If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God." (1 Corinthians 11:3-10,16)
In obedience to Sacred Scripture, many Catholic women wear some kind of veil or headcovering
. Some wear a headcovering only at Mass. Others feel called to wear a headcovering at other times during the day, as well as at Mass. Many non-Catholic Christian women also wear a headcovering. These women are following the call of the Holy Spirit. Society discourages women from wearing a headcovering and from doing anything else which shows submissiveness and obedience. Yet these women have found the light of truth in the midst of dark times.
Catholic men must not wear any kind of headcovering at Mass, or other liturgical services, or at prayer. Also, Catholic men should exercise their proper roles as leaders in the Church, the family, and society, by developing a proper understanding of this teaching and by conveying that teaching to their wives and children, and to their fellow Catholics. If a man has authority and leadership over a group (such as the pastor of a parish, or the lay-leader of a prayer group), he should teach, encourage, and even require the women in that group to wear a headcovering on their hearts and on their heads. A Catholic man should require his wife to wear a headcovering at Mass and at prayer.
From Calvin's Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.(1 Cor 11:3-5)
4. Every man praying Here there are two propositions. The first relates to the man, the other to the woman He says that the man commits an offense against Christ his head, if he prays or prophesies with his head covered. Why so? Because he is subject to Christ, with this understanding, that he is to hold the first place in the government of the house - for the father of the family is like a king in his own house. Hence the glory of God shines forth in him, in consequence of the authority with which he is invested. If he covers his head, he lets himself down from that preeminence which God had assigned to him, so as to be in subjection. Thus the honor of Christ is infringed upon. For example, If the person whom the prince has appointed as his lieutenant, does not know how to maintain his proper station, and instead of this, exposes his dignity to contempt on the part of persons in the lowest station, does he not bring dishonor upon his prince? In like manner, if the man does not keep his own station - if he is not subject to Christ in such a way as to preside over his own family with authority, he obscures, to that extent, the glory of Christ, which shines forth in the well regulated order of marriage. The covering, as we shall see ere long, is an emblem of authority intermediate and interposed.
Prophesying I take here to mean - declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers, (as afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14,) as praying means preparing a form of prayer, and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people - which is the part of the public teacher, for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public. Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this - that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is decorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.
5. Every woman praying or prophesying Here we have the second proposition - that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonor their head For as the man honors his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection - involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Timothy 2:12.)
It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1 Corinthians 14. In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty - not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.
Calvin's understanding of this passage is essentially correct. Although he does give less emphasis to the importance of this symbol (headcovering) compared to some devout Catholics.
Men should not wear a headcovering at Mass and at prayer, as a symbol of their leadership role. And women should wear a headcovering (or veil) as a symbol of their different role in the Church, the family, and society. The relation between men and women in the family, the Church, and society, is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Thus men leave their heads uncovered to represent Christ, and women cover their heads to represent the bride of Christ, that is, the Church. The Virgin Mary represents the Church. Therefore, a veiled woman also represents the Virgin Mary.
Cardinals in the Catholic Church wear a type of headcovering to show their submissiveness and obedience to the Pope. This is an exception to the rule that men must not wear a headcovering.
The moral law requires all women to wear the veil on their hearts.
A woman should not wear the veil on her head, until she is wearing it first on her heart.
A woman who wears the veil on her heart accepts the place that God gives to women in the Church, the family, and society.
Women who wear the veil on their hearts are imitating the Virgin Mary in her humility, submissiveness, and obedience to Christ. Wives also wear a headcovering to show their submissiveness to their husband and to God's plan for men and women in the family and in the Church.
The veil should cover her head, but not her face. It is first and foremost symbolic of humility, submissiveness and obedience.
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Here are some links to sites about women wearing a headcovering. On many of these sites, these women explain their own experiences and their understanding of the theological reasons for wearing a headcovering.