|Song of the Angels|
Painted in 1881 by William Adolphe Bouguereau
Please take note of the only person in the painting who is wearing a veil.
In recent years, indeed just within the past decade, we are beginning to see a return to a very ancient and Biblical custom -- Christian head covering. In today's essay, I would like to explore this topic: what it is, what it's not, and what our attitude should be toward it.
In Christian art, Our Lady is usually depicted wearing some sort of a head covering. Usually, it's a veil of some kind. Sometimes it's a crown. Sometimes it's a crown and veil together. It's very rare to find Christian art where Our Lady is not depicted with some form of head covering. It does exist. It is out there, but it's rare. The most common vision of Our Blessed Mother is usually one with her head covered, as we see in the beautiful artistic impression above. Why is this?
|Jewish Man in Prayer|
Wearing a Tallit
Now the reason for this Jewish custom is altogether different than the Islamic custom of veiling for women. I'll not attempt to explain Islamic practice on my own since it is outside of my field of study. I will instead refer to Wikipedia...
A hijab is a veil worn by some Muslim women in the presence of anyone outside of their immediate family, which usually covers the head and chest. Some women who follow Islam choose to wear the hijab as their religion and their God tells them to. The word ḥijāb in the Quran refers not to women's clothing, but rather a spatial partition or curtain. The term can refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim women that conforms to a certain standard of modesty. Hijab can also be used to refer to the seclusion of women from men in the public sphere, or it may denote a metaphysical dimension, for example referring to "the veil which separates man or the world from God". There is an exception to the men who are related to the woman (their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, nephews, brothers and husbands). to be more specific any man that women cannot have a romantic relationship with, in this case, not wearing Hijab in front of these men are acceptable.
-- Wikipedia (emphasis mine)
In other words, the Islamic veil for women (hijab) is designed to hide a woman (obscure her head and face) from any man that could possibly have a romantic relationship with her. As you can see from this definition of Islamic practice, there is a considerable difference between the Jewish and Muslim understanding of head covering. In other words, Jews and Muslims do it for entirely different reasons. While some Jewish women may wear their head coverings continuously for modesty reasons as well, this is never required in Judaism, and it does not in any way detract from the religious reason for veiling in prayer to remind her of humility before God. The same goes for men in Judaism who also veil for the same reason. You will notice that Muslim men do not cover their heads for prayer in Islam. Some do wear a small head covering, but this is to culturally identify as Muslim and is not for the same reason Muslim women veil.
It's very important to understand the difference of reason between Jewish head covering and Muslim head covering, as this plays out radically in Western society. In the West, which is highly influenced by feminism, a woman's veil is often seen as a sign of male oppression. It should be understood that what is happening here is the visceral reaction of feminism to the influence of Islam. The two, Islam and feminism, are in perpetual conflict here, precisely because they understand each other all too well. A Western feminist should have no reasonable conflict with the head covering of Jewish women if she understands that the Jewish reason for the practice is entirely different from the Islamic reason. Sadly, ignorance is prevalent in all societies and ours is no exception. Some feminists ignorantly believe that there is no distinction in female head covering for any religion. So they condemn the practice in its entirety. This is silly and sad. It shows an incredible amount of narrow-mindedness and lack of culture. Feminists would do well to learn that their primary conflict is with Islam, not Judaism.
Into the mix comes the Christian practice of head covering. The first thing we have to remember is that Christianity grew out of Judaism, not Islam. In fact, Islam was invented in the early 7th century. (That's nearly 700 years after the birth of Christianity!) Christianity came forth from ancient Biblical Judaism, not Islam, and so like everything else in Christianity, the reasons for head covering are related to the Jewish reasons, not the Muslim reasons. This is extremely important because, without this Jewish connection, Christian head covering makes absolutely no sense at all. Likewise, Western feminists would do well to understand this. Their beef is with Islam, not Judaism, and when it comes to Christianity, many of its practices (including head covering) come from Judaism. It's a God-centred thing, not a male-oppression thing. Please, let's all try to remember that.
|Jewish Men Wearing Kippas|
|Pope and Bishops|
|A Jewish Veil|
|A Christian Veil|
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. 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. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
-- 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 RSVCE
Now it's important here that when reading this, we don't jump to Islamic conclusions. St Paul is not a Muslim. He is not oppressing women. He's a Christian, and he's a former Jewish rabbi. What Paul did was modify traditional Jewish practice to accommodate Christian theology.
In the Christian understanding of marriage, the man represents Christ (who is God), and the woman represents the Church who is the tabernacle of God. In Jewish and Christian practice, tabernacles are always veiled as a sign of holiness, not because of what they are, but because of what they bear within. In Judaism, a tabernacle carries the Torah scrolls, the holiest writings of the Jewish people. In Christianity, the tabernacle carries the consecrated hosts of holy communion. Both are veiled because they contain what is holy. Likewise, the Church contains Christ in its people, therefore it too is holy. So a Christian woman, representing the Church, is veiled as a twofold sign, (1) showing her symbolic representation of the Church which is made holy, and (2) demonstrating her submission to the restored order of God while in his presence. Thus when Christian women pray (which is to come into the presence of God) they will veil their heads for these reasons. Men cannot veil their heads because, in the Christian understanding of marriage, they represent Christ (who is God). It's all about imagery and symbolism, and it's based on deep theological understandings, taking a Jewish custom and modifying it based on what Jesus Christ (the Jewish Messiah) has done.
St Paul addresses the issue of authority quite a bit in this passage which, in our feminist-influenced society, makes it sound a lot like he's taking the Islamic approach of oppressing women under male dominance. But we must remember, this was written nearly 700 years before the invention of Islam, and it was written by a former Jewish rabbi. St Paul is not using a male-dominance approach here. Rather, he's using a Jewish-Messianic approach. The Jewish Messiah has come. The Jewish Messiah has revealed himself as God and Man. The Jewish Messiah has created a community which he has sanctified and made holy through a marriage-like relationship. This is where St Paul was going with this. The Messiah (Christ) marries his bride, and his bride is the Church, and as the Church receives her divine husband, he makes her holy. The Church is holy because of what she bears inside of her -- the Messiah (or Christ). So it is understandable why normal marriages within Christianity would begin to take on a religious significance.
St Paul writes: "I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband..." He's setting up the marriage analogy here. "Headship" is a sign of authority. This is why a husband is usually called the "head of household." That title is not usually used for a woman unless the woman is single with children. Here is Paul's marriage analogy, the man (husband) represents Christ and the woman (wife) represents the Church. More than that, however, Paul is setting up a double-meaning, going back to the Jewish concept of authority. In the natural order, set up by God in the Garden of Eden, the man (Adam) was to have authority over his wife (Eve). This doesn't mean that he dominates her like a dictator. That's not what the Jewish concept of authority means. Anyone who has seen the matriarchal way of many Jewish households should know this. Rather, the Jewish concept of authority means that one has responsibility for taking care of another, and for leading that person into right conduct. Think of it like how a parent has authority over his/her children. It doesn't mean parents dominate them. (Some do, but that is a form of abuse.) It means rather that they have responsibility for their care and for leading them to right conduct. The object of any good parent is to care for a child and lead him/her into responsible adulthood. That's the Jewish concept of authority, and it is handed down to Christianity in the same way. This is what St Paul (the former Jewish Rabbi) is saying here. Men are the heads of their households because they represent Christ -- Christ who died for his Church. So likewise, according to Paul in another passage, men should show the same love for their wives, by dying to themselves in order to meet their wives' needs. The original meaning of the word "husband" or "husbandry" means to care for, nurture and cultivate.
St Paul continues: "Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head" which is to say he dishonours Christ because he is saying by his actions that the Messiah (Christ) has not come, and we are still under the old Jewish Law. This is why Jewish men pray with their heads covered. By uncovering the head during prayer, a man shows that Christ (the Messiah) has come, that he has led his people into the Kingdom, where the husband represents Christ (and must, therefore, imitate him by dying to himself), and the wife represents the Church. Because the wife represents the Church, she represents that which is made holy by Christ, and should, therefore, be veiled. For just as a woman can bring forth new life into the world, so the Church brings forth new life into society. A wife brings forth new life into the world because of the physical communion she has with her husband. So too, the Church brings forth new life into society because of the spiritual communion she has with Christ. Harkening back to communion itself, the Christian tabernacle is veiled, because it bears the presence of the Eucharistic Christ within. It is veiled not because of what it is, but because of what it contains. So likewise, the wife represents the Church, which contains Christ in a similar way to the way a mother contains her child within. So the wife must be veiled, not because of what she is, but because of what is contained in what she represents. Women bring forth new souls into the world. The Church brings forth new souls unto God. St Paul continues: "any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head" which is to say she dishonours her husband. By refusing to cover her head, she is in effect saying (by imagery): my husband is not a Godly man, he does not represent Christ in our marriage, he is not a leader, and he does not properly care for me.
Now, this may not be what she's literally saying, or thinking, but what St Paul is doing here is taking a Jewish custom and modifying it to Christian theology. Once he does that, these customs take on a much deeper religious meaning in the Christian faith. As a result, actions have consequences. Visual demonstrations mean something. Just as the man removing his hat in prayer reveals that he takes on the role of Christ in his marriage, so the woman donning a veil (or hat) or prayer reveals that her husband is fulfilling the role of Christ in her marriage. Thus Christian head covering, modified from Jewish head covering, now takes on a powerful image of Christ and his Church. Because St Paul is an apostle, his words have authority, even on this issue, which is to say that heaven itself is paying attention, hence the reason why he says "a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." If ever one wanted proof that St Paul is not approaching this matter the same way Muslims do, this is it. Christians believe that the angels are present during Christian liturgy. They watch what is going on, and they observe the way people act. Just as the failure to properly reverence the Eucharist would be a scandal to the angels present, so too it is a scandal for a Christian woman to enter a house of prayer with her head uncovered. She is effectively saying to the whole congregation that her husband is not an example of Christ, that she is independent, and doesn't need him. Likewise, she is denying her role as a representative of Christ's Holy Church. Now in our Western feminist culture, it is likely that most Christian women probably never looked at it this way. It is likely that it's never been explained to them like this. It's likely that they had no idea of the message they were visually sending by not wearing a head covering. I'm sure the angels take this into consideration. Nevertheless, they are still scandalised by it.
Paul then draws this strange analogy: "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." What could he mean by this? In a word, Paul is invoking a little old-fashioned Catholic guilt here. He's letting the women know that when they refuse to wear a head covering, according to Christian imagery, they are in effect shaming their husbands. The shame they bring on them is sort of like the shame they would bring on their husbands if they were unfaithful to them. And what did the ancient Jews do to women who were suspected of unfaithfulness but it could not be proved? They unbound (loosened) their hair so as to expose it (Numbers 5:18). However, in the Gentile customs of the Roman Empire, and Paul was writing to a Christian audience made up of both Jews and Gentiles here, it was worse. Wives suspected of adultery would have their hair completely cut off (Tacitus, Germania, 19; Aristophanes 3: 204–07; Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 64:2–3). Thus, what St Paul is saying here (using a little Catholic guilt) is that Christian women who refuse to cover their heads are saying (visually before God and the angels) that they're not really married, that they are not really under the authority of their husbands, and that their husbands are not fulfilling their roles as husbands. If that is true, and they're living with men they're not married to, that makes them fornicators and/or adulterers and might as well cut their hair according to custom. Now, St Paul is not being literal here. This is a type of hyperbole. In no way is Paul telling people to cut women's hair. He's just using hyperbole to illustrate his point and he does this sort of thing quite a bit actually. In Galatians 5:11-13 he said he wished Christians, who required circumcision, would just emasculate themselves by cutting their whole genitalia off! Again, this is hyperbole. Paul doesn't really want this. It's hyperbole. It's using absurdity to illustrate the absurd. It's just his writing style. The same goes here for cutting women's hair. He's effectively saying this. "Look, your women think they're so 'liberated' by not wearing a veil in prayer, but what they're really doing is making themselves look like adulterers. This is not only because of Christianity's Jewish heritage but also because of the theological illustration of marriage as the relationship between Christ and his Church. If your women want to look like adulterers, why don't they just cut their hair off, come to church bald, and complete the picture!" He then goes on explaining how in ancient cultures men kept their hair relatively short, usually above shoulder length, and that this was the natural way of doing things. Women, on the other hand, allowed their hair to grow long because this is what's natural for them. Again, all of this is to illustrate a point. Paul is not dictating hairstyles. He's trying to use nature to demonstrate the importance of the veil during worship. This is why he says "Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering." This doesn't mean her long hair doubles as a veil or head covering. It means her long hair serves as an illustration of nature as to why she should cover her head during prayer. Again, Paul is appealing to the natural order here.
Lastly, St Paul concludes with this one statement: "If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God." Now, this may seem hard to believe, but some modern Christians will try to use this verse as an escape hatch. They'll say that St Paul is saying that the churches of God don't really need to do this. This is absurd! Why on earth would Paul spend 15 verses and waste a considerable amount of ink (which wasn't cheap back then) to explain something in intricate detail, only to tell them it really doesn't matter? That's just silly. What he's saying in this verse is not to be contentious about what he has just taught them. He knows some of the women there won't like it, particularly the Greek women of the congregation, who are probably accustomed to keeping their heads uncovered all the time. Try to imagine the scene, if you will. There is a new Christian church in the Greek city of Corinth. It's a mixed congregation. Some of them come from Judaism and some of them come from Greek Paganism. The Jewish women are likely keeping the custom of covering their head in prayer, and for that matter, so are some of the Jewish men. However, all the Greek men and women pray with their heads uncovered, as would be typical of Greek custom. St Paul instructed them that they've got to change the way they're doing things. From now on, all men (both Jew and Greek) will pray with their heads uncovered so as to honour Christ. Also from now on, all women (both Jew and Greek) will pray with their heads covered so as to honour their husbands. Then he tells them not to be contentious about this, and that he will require no other change of them in regards to how they dress. He's saying, don't worry, I'm not going to drop another bomb on you later. This is why he says "we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God."
So the question begs to be asked if head covering is about the Christian understanding of marriage representing the relationship between Christ and his Church, why then to single women and little girls wear veils? The answer has to do with fatherhood. A Christian father is supposed to care for and nurture his daughters. Thus they are under his authority (meaning protection and guidance). So, like the wife, they too wear a head covering, so as to honour their father.
|British Royal Family Attends|
Mass - Take Note That All the
Women Are Wearing Hats
The last thing I would like to discuss in all this is attitude, in our modern Western culture, heavily influenced by feminism, attitude is a real problem in many different ways.
First, we need to look at the context of St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. He was dealing with many different problems in that Church, but feminism wasn't one of them. In fact, feminism didn't exist at that time. In instructing the Corinthian women to cover their heads during prayer, the problem he was dealing with was Greek culture, not feminism. It simply wasn't the culture of Greek women to cover their heads in prayer or at any time. That was seen as a "Jewish thing" and the Greek women didn't think it applied to them. St Paul had to explain that the veil is not just a Jewish cultural norm, but that it also has deep theological significance to the Christian faith. Therefore, as Christians, they should cover their heads during prayer too, even if they weren't Jewish.
|Catholic Women at a|
Traditional Latin Mass
|Protestant Women at a|
Charismatic Protestant Service
The revival of the Christian veil is already taking place, particularly among young women in the Catholic Church, as well as some young women in the Orthodox and Anglican churches. It remains to be seen if this trend will migrate over to the non-liturgical Evangelical churches, but some congregations have been doing it for a while. The English custom of wearing hats has always been extremely popular in America's Black Protestant churches. The important thing to remember is the reason why we do it. It's more than just a particular church practice of one denomination or another. This is a universal Christian practice, as is evidenced by men removing their hats during prayer at sporting events while women leave them on. That is the shell of Christendom that remains in modern Western society. It's still with us, and we're all participating in it, whether we realise it or not. It's just that some Christians have become conscious of it once again, and are making a concerted effort to revive the practice. I say bully for them and good show! It's about time, and it's a practice that is sorely missed. Let's bring it back for the good of the Church, and the good of both Christian men and women everywhere.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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