The Practice of Veiling: A Study of 1Corinthians 11

My feast day is approaching! St. Veronika is my patron and when I began to study her life and the traditions surrounding her, I ran across a lot of material concerning her veil, which led to a study of this miraculous veil, which in turn led to a study of the practice of veiling, in general. This study had a profound impact on me and from that time on I began to join those who have chosen to revive the ancient tradition of wearing a head covering while in the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. When I began this practice, very few of the women in our congregation did so and it was a bit awkward at first, but not anymore. It signifies all I stand for as a woman, a mother, and a believer and it would, by far, be stranger for me NOT to cover. Many ask me exactly why I made this choice, so I've decided to explain it. It really stems from a study of the following epistle reading:

1 Corinthians 11: 1-16 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. 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.

A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given her for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.


The above scripture passage is often used to explain why some Christian women have chosen to revive the custom of covering their heads when they are before the Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Let’s take this passage and study it a bit.



Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.

Imitating Christ is of the utmost importance to a Christian. St. Paul asks us to follow his instructions in order for us to do this well. He praises those who carry out longstanding traditions. Do you know that there has existed a tradition whereby every God-fearing woman, whether Christian or Jew, including Our Lady and all the great female saints and martyrs, has covered her head when in prayer? Did you know that this is an ancient practice that pre-dates Christ and has therefore has existed for millennia? Only in the 1960’s, with the advent of the feminist movement, have women considered abandoning this practice.


But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head.

Here we see that there is a clear line of authority within the domestic church. We see this theme continually throughout the New Testament teachings. We are instructed by St. Paul that women are to submit to the authority of their husbands as if to the Lord, and husbands are to love and care for their wives as Christ loves and cares for His Body, the Church. When women wear a covering on their heads, they witness to the fact that they respect this teaching of the Church. Furthermore, we women imitate the respect that Christ showed to His Father by veiling His own divinity when he deigned to become man. In this way, we women particularly become not only imitators of Christ by veiling ourselves before Him, but also testify to the importance of understanding the wonder of Christ's own humility.


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.

Women during the time period of St. Paul who shaved their heads were those who affronted the natural order by daring to behave as men in their daily lifestyle. St. Paul says that those who dare to approach the altar uncovered identify with these women because they reject their rightful place in the order of nature as it was designed by God. This is particularly poignant today as we witness the rise of gender confusion in our society. Many women choose to veil today specifically to repair for this affront to the natural order and the profound insult to the God Who created each as he or she is intended to be.


A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man;

The creation narrative in the book of Genesis tells us that man, Adam, was created first, complete and whole and perfect. Our catechism tells us that he, as such, along with the rest of us, was created to “know God, to love Him and to serve Him in this life, so that we can be forever with Him in the next.” Woman, Eve, was then taken out of him and given her own personhood, her own soul, to be man’s helper so that only together they might be that perfect person who was created to achieve that goal. She is part of him; the part he lacks. So, when united, the two do indeed become one whole flesh, and return to the perfection of the first created man. Therefore, God ordained that woman is necessary to man’s salvation, the last created being, without whom the whole of creation would have been less than perfect. We women should know and accept that we were taken out, set apart and specifically designated for the perfection of the plan of salvation which was designed for all of us. By veiling ourselves we testify that we accept that responsibility.


for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.

This verse often confounds people. Why would the angels care to see a woman’s head covered? If we remember that when God created the angels, some of them chose to abdicate their place in heaven because they refused to serve a woman, Our Lady, who would be chosen from among mortal creatures to give birth to God. Angels cannot give birth. They have no means by which to assist God in creation…but we women do. Many have remarked that if angels were capable of jealousy, this would be the issue which would make them so. Imagine, if you will, the multitude of angels present at each and every Liturgy. Each woman is a little tabernacle, awaiting the gift of life from God! Tabernacles are veiled. By veiling ourselves, we assure the Holy Angels that we do indeed recognize our role as tabernacles of creation, and will assume the responsibility to accept all the gifts of life that God grants to us and bring them to their purpose as members of the Kingdom. Imagine how they must feel to see that mortal women take for granted the great gift that God has given to us in that we are able to co-create with Him. We must not scandalize them.


Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.

In no way does this make man inferior to woman, nor woman inferior to man. He has his place as head of the domestic Church, and we women have ours as co-creators and tabernacles of the next generation of the Catholic Church! One is not independent of the other.


Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given her for a covering?

A woman’s hair, her natural, God-given glory, is veiled before God, just as Christ’s glory was veiled when He became a mere human being at His nativity. You can see now why the enemy angels would also be enraged by this symbol! It reminds them of how Christ conquered sin and death by submitting to the authority of the Father! This is especially painful to him because it is the very issue over which he defected from the heavenly Kingdom. The enemy said he would not serve; yet Christ served. We serve. When we cover our hair we remind the enemy of his own defeat! What a mighty and brave witness we are!


But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.

The people of Corinth, who at the time were mostly Greek converts, had drifted somewhat back to their pagan roots. St. Paul’s intention in addressing them was to lovingly admonish them and set them back on a virtuous and orthodox path. Jewish women, as well as early Christian women at that time were used to veiling during prayer as is seen in early iconography and drawings found in the catacombs. The custom of women praying without covering was, and is to this day, obviously an aberration and was not, by any means, to be introduced or tolerated.


In all fairness, I must say that it is not considered sinful by the Church for a woman to continue in the practice of praying unveiled, as it has now become the norm, and those who veil are truly the minority. It is not fair to impose the practice on anyone who has not come to understand and embrace the reasons behind it. God would not approve of that, so neither do I. It is not my goal to begin a debate or any controversy on the subject, but simply to share what I have come to understand by my own prayer and meditation in the hopes of clarifying my reasons for veiling and helping anyone who may be considering it.


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