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Catholic tradition has generally dictated that women wear a head covering - be it a veil, mantilla, etc. - while at Mass. First and foremost, the 1917 Code of Canon Law stated: "...women, however, should be with head covered and modestly dressed, ..." The abrogating 1983 code seems to have eliminated this requirement, and so many women today do not wear a veil to church anymore. However, I believe that it is still required, as 1 Cor. 11:4-6 says:

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.

In addition, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, and Nancy Reagan, all wore short veils (not only during mass times, but all throughout the Vatican) during their visit with the Pope:

obamas with the pope

That's because the State Department makes sure that all American dignitaries follow the protocols and customs of the foreign governments they visit. So, clearly there is a requirement - or at least expectation - that women wear a veil to church, as the State Department clearly advised Michelle Obama to do so, and would not have had there been no expectation. Vatican canon law also says that later Canon Law abrogates earlier Canon Law only when this is made explicit and that, in cases of doubt, the revocation of earlier law is not to be presumed; quite the opposite. Based on this, we can assume that the tradition is still alive:

Canon 20 A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law, if it expressly so states, or if it is directly contrary to that law, or if it integrally reorders the whole subject matter of the earlier law. A universal law, however, does not derogate from a particular or from a special law, unless the law expressly provides otherwise.

Canon 21 In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed; rather, later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them.

I remember my mother wearing a veil when she took our family to church in the 1970's, but all of our family stopped going after I entered high school when my father lost his job. I never wore a veil to church. So now, in the present, I am married and I currently have two daughters, one is high school age and the other one is a toddler. I would like to have them wear veils at some point, as I remember my mother wearing one and I believe that it is my duty to pass this custom onto my children, especially since I never wore one when I was young. However, I am wondering if it is appropriate. The Bible and Christian traditional only requires that a "woman" wear a veil. So at what point does a girl become "woman" enough where wearing a veil would be appropriate, and what type of veil should be worn?

I've looked this question up online, and answers vary. Some parents have their daughters wear a chapel veil or bonnet as soon as they can hold their heads up while wearing one (around two or three maybe). Other families believe after First Communion, some say puberty, others say age eighteen (the age of majority in the Catholic Church), and yet others say marriage. Some say no veil at all, which I don't support. Many others that I have asked personally say that it shouldn't be done because it is no longer required. But, what do tradition, Catholic teaching, and the Bible say about this? What is a good age to begin my children with a veil?

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If you care what a 3rd century sometime Catholic sometime Montanist theologian thought on the subject, or just for amusing reading: –  david brainerd May 9 '14 at 8:03
Okay, thank you. –  Stephanie Daigle May 9 '14 at 9:39
You may want to mention the denomination as well. –  The Freemason May 9 '14 at 16:40
@StephanieDaigle. The age has to be according to what Paul meant. That is a 'woman', and that would have been about age twelve in his time. However, Paul says it was a custom or tradition for a specific group that he admits cannot be extrapolated to everyone. It was not a law so I am not sure your argument holds or your question really has a formal answer. It is a lovely custom/tradition and everyone, even the Protestants, are free to follow it or not. –  gideon marx May 10 '14 at 9:46
Hi, I am asking at what age would be a good age to begin... could you move your thoughts into an answer? –  Stephanie Daigle May 10 '14 at 9:55

3 Answers 3

Since there is a lot of leeway in regards to head covering for females in church, this is a question in which your intuition as a mother whose interest in raising her girls in the faith will have the most weight. Here is a well thought out article on the subject.

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Thanks for sharing! –  Stephanie Daigle May 24 '14 at 2:22
This is little more than a link. Can you add details to summarize the article? –  Bear in a Studebaker Mar 15 at 21:04

When it used to be common practice to wear veils, girls wore veils to their first communion. I don't recall if they wore veils any younger than that. These days you're free to do as you please, so there is no "right" answer sanctioned by the church any more, if there ever was. You may be able to find a traditionalist Catholic group practicing the old rites who you can ask for a more definitive answer relative to the old practice.

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You quote 1 Corintians 11 in your question. Is the author of the passage you cite not also the author of the letter to the church at Ephesus, in which he counsels "Slaves be obedient to your masters"? And does he not, in 1 Cor. 1:2 explicitly identifies the intended audience as

To the Church of God which is at Corinth...

Further, do you give the same credibility to what Paul writes in 1 Cor. 7:29-31, for those who had wives (and presumably husbands) to live as they had none, for them not to mourn, not to rejoice, and to deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it? If you don't feel the need to adhere to these teachings of Paul, why, then, do you feel the need to comply with 11:4-6?

I note that one of the reasons that Paul gives in that passage for a woman to cover her head when she prays is that not covering her head is the same as having her head shaved, and that it is shameful for a woman to have her head shaved. So do you think, then, that when my mother chose to shave her head when her hair was falling out during her fight against breast cancer, and when the other women in like circumstances who chose to be hairless, that there was something of which they should have been ashamed? I can't speak for all of them, but neither my mother, nor the hairless women I met in the oncology clinic felt shame! Hairlessness was not a sign of dishonor, but a badge of grace, faith, and courage, and an outward and visible sign of their will to fight against and mock the power of the Evil one. I will say, too, that the women I met who chose to wear wigs did so more out of vanity about their outward appearance, and not to avoid shame.

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Is this a Catholic perspective? If so, can you demonstrate that? –  Bear in a Studebaker Mar 15 at 21:05
And what, may I ask, is a "Catholic perspective"? If by that you mean an official teaching of the church, then I would say "no". If you mean a perspective held by many people who identify as Catholic, then I would say "yes". –  brasshat Mar 16 at 5:07
Can you demonstrate that via quotes from a commentary or other Catholic source? –  Bear in a Studebaker Mar 16 at 13:19
This answer doesn't address the question. It amounts to abuse of the questioner for her chosen practice. –  King David Mar 17 at 7:17

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