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Christian headcovering

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The Christian headcovering is a veiling worn by various Christian women from a variety of traditions. Some cover only in church or while praying; others cover their heads all the time. They refer to 1 Corinthians 11, or to custom, as the basis for their practice. Many contemporary Christians, however, see no need for this practice.


1 Corinthians 11:4-16 contains the only reference in the New Testament, while Genesis 20:16 and Genesis 24:65 contains the only reference in the Old Testament to a headcovering for women and to an absence of a headcovering for men. Various early Church Fathers, such as Hermas[1], Clement of Alexandria[2], Jerome[3], Augustine of Hippo[4] and Tertullian[5] also mentioned women's headcoverings. Early Christian art shows women wearing headcoverings.[6]

Both at that time and through the ensuing centuries, women usually wore a headcovering in public, as they still do in some Middle Eastern countries. During those centuries, women definitely wore the head coverings during the church service, especially when praying or prophesying (1Corinthians 11:5). However, during the twentieth century, the practice of headcovering gradually disappeared from many churches, which dropped their requirement that women cover their heads during worship services. At different points in history, the style of the covering varied.[7]


The requirement that women cover their heads in church was introduced as a universal law for the Latin Rite of the Church for the first time in 1917 with canon 1262 [8] of its first Code of Canon Law. It was not addressed in the 1983 revision of the Code, which declared the 1917 Code abrogated.[9] According to the new Code, former law only has interpretive weight in norms that are repeated in the 1983 Code; all other norms are simply abrogated. There is no provision made for norms that are not repeated in the 1983 Code.[10] Some have argued that it is still obligatory, advancing several grounds for their opinion, including the claim that headcovering for women is a centennial and immemorial custom (cf. canon 5 of the Code of Canon Law)[11][12] It was never universally obligatory for members of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

In countries where women no longer as a matter of course wear hats when going outdoors, most Catholic women do not wear headcoverings in church, but many Traditionalist Catholic women do.[13] The forms range from a mantilla to a hat or a simple headscarf.

Plain Catholics,[14] those who live a plain life in rural areas, have a different custom: the women wear a prayer kapp or a prayer veil full time, including Mass. The men wear a hat outdoors but never indoors. Plain Catholics are in communion with and remain faithful to the Roman Catholic Church.

For men, the 1917 Code of Canon Law prescribed that they should uncover their heads unless approved customs of peoples were against it. In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church it is obligatory for bishops to wear the zucchetto headcovering during certain parts of the liturgy, while use of the biretta, once obligatory for all diocesan clergy (as opposed to members of religious institutes), remains permitted for them. In all rites of the Catholic Church, bishops wear a mitre or a corresponding headcovering in church.


Among the early Protestant reformers, Martin Luther's wife, Katherine, wore a headcovering and John Knox and John Calvin both called for women to wear headcoverings.[15][16][17] Other commentators who have advocated headcovering include Matthew Henry, A. R. Fausset, A. T. Robertson, Harry A. Ironside [18], and Charles Caldwell Ryrie.[19]

Current practice


Amish women wearing coverings.

Headcovering, at least during worship services, is still promoted or required in a few denominations and among the more traditional Catholics. Among these are Catholics who live plainly known as Plain Catholics. Some Anabaptist denominations, including the Amish, some Mennonites, the Old German Baptist Brethren,[20] the Hutterites,[21] and the Apostolic Christian Church; some Pentecostal churches, such as the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith and The Pentecostal Mission; the Plymouth Brethren; and the more conservative Dutch Reformed churches. Though most Protestant denominations have no official expectation that women cover, some individuals choose to practice headcovering according to their understanding of 1 Corinthians 11.

Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches

Some Eastern Catholic and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches require women to cover their heads while in church, while others do not. In some cases, the choice may be individual, or vary within a country or jurisdiction; for example, most Orthodox women in Greece will not wear a head covering in church, but a widow might. In a country like the United States, Eastern Orthodox women in more mainstream jurisdictions will generally not wear a head covering, but those from highly conservative sects may.

The male clergy of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches often have long hair and untrimmed beards if they are monastics, but married clergy often have standard haircuts. Eastern Orthodox clergy of all levels have hats, sometimes with veils in the case of monastics or celibates, that are donned and removed at certain points in the services. However, in U.S. churches they are less commonly worn.


Those who practice headcovering call attention to St. Paul's appeal to universal principles in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, arguing that since the passage mentions “every man” and “every woman,” as well as the universal order of creation, this passage must apply to all Christians in all ages and of all cultures. Also, some Christians wear head coverings because Sarah (Abraham's wife) Genesis 20:16 and Rebekah (Isaac's wife) Genesis 24:65 wore head coverings.[22] They hold that the Bible is not merely referring to hair, long hair, or submission, but rather a literal cloth headcovering. They support this understanding from the original Greek, which uses two different words: one meaning covering, referring to the woman's head, i.e., her husband, and the other meaning veiling, referring to a literal cloth covering. 1 Corinthians 11:6 is also cited to refute the notion that the headcovering intended by Paul is merely long hair, ("For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.") because it would be akin to saying "If a woman has short hair, let her hair be cut short."[23]


Some Christians interpret the passage as a cultural mandate that was only for the first-century Corinthian church. Therefore, they say, women no longer need to cover their heads. Other Christians believe that long hair is intended to be the headcovering (see 1 Corinthians 11:14-15).[24] Still others believe that a woman’s husband is her covering. Yet another view, propagated by feminist theologian Katharine Bushnell, holds that 1 Corinthians 11 itself even teaches that women should not cover their heads at all.[25]

See also


  1. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume Two, Book One, Part Four, Chapter Two
  2. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume Two, Book Five, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11
  3. Schaff, Philip (1994). Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1565631161. 
  4. On the Trinity, Book 12, Chapter 7
  5. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume Four, Book One, Part Three—On the Veiling of Virgins
  6. Let Her Be Veiled, pp. 51-58. Tom Shank, ed. (Eureka, MT: Torch Publications, 1988)
  9. Canon 6 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law
  10. Canon 6, section 2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law
  12. Still Binding? The Veiling of Women and Meatless Fridays
  13. The practice is not universal even among Traditionalists: as can be seen in this video, not all the women attending Mass in the church of St Nicholas de Chardonnet in Paris, which is run by the Society of St. Pius X, wear a head covering, even those singing in the choir.
  15. John Knox, "The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women", Works of John Knox, David Laing, ed. (Edinburgh: Printed for the Bannatyne Club), IV:377
  16. Seth Skolnitsky, trans., Men, Women and Order in the Church: Three Sermons by John Calvin (Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1992), pp. 12,13.
  17. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (and related passages)
  18. Epistle to the Corinthians, H. A. Ironside, 1938, pp. 323-340
  19. Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, 1976, comments on I Corinthians 11:1-16, p.1741
  20. Thompson, Charles (2006). The Old German Baptist Brethren: Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge. University of Illinois Press. p. 33. ISBN 0252073436. 
  21. Hostetler, John (1997). Hutterite Society. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 105. ISBN 0801856396. 
  22. Page 8 under the title "Progressive Biblical testimony of covering
  23. McGrath, William (1991). Christian Woman's Veiling: A Biblical and Historical Review. Amish Mennonite Publications. p. 12. 
  24. Headcoverings and Modern Women
  25. Bushnell, Katharine (1921). God's Word to Women. Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality. ISBN 0-9743031-0-0. 

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