Let Her Be Covered
God is a God of order. The sun, moon, and stars move in perfect, predictable patterns. Plants and animals grow and reproduce according to the plan of the Master Designer. The human body is a marvelous display of how God places every member to function in harmony with the others.
God also planned for order in the human family. I Corinthians 11:3 says, “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.” Disorder and frustration will always result when man tries to improve on God's order.
I Corinthians 11 teaches the order of headship. It also commands us to symbolize this divine order by keeping man's head uncovered and by veiling woman's head, within the Mass setting. It is a mark of submission to God's order when we humbly obey Him, although we may not fully understand why.
“the head of Christ is God.” (I Corinthians 11:3)
To better understand the relationship between man and woman, consider the relation between God and Christ.
“Christ and God are equal in substance but different in relationship, and the same applies to man and woman. But between God and Christ the Son on the one hand and man [and woman] on the other, there is a vast difference of substance as well as of relationship." -St. John Chrysostom
Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 26.3
God the Father and God the Son are of the same exact nature, but their relationship is different. God the Father is the head of Christ because He (Christ) was eternally begotten of Him (The Father). This does not mean that God the Father is higher than God the Son, but it means that the Father is the source or fountainhead of the Trinity.
Our Lord Christ is the head of the man because he was created by Him. The man is the head of the woman simply because she was brought forth from Adam's side.
Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one. ”-one in thought, work, and purpose.
“Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works.” (John 14:10). Jesus is the vessel through whom the Father works. Because He is submissive to the father, we get a beautiful glimpse of the cooperation and partnership in the Godhead.
Jesus further said, “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me...I do always the things that please him.” (John 6:38; 8:29). “for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) we plainly see the father's leadership. There is oneness and a working together, but a mutual agreement that the Father will lead. Christ is under God's authority, doing His father's will.
One who is under authority submits to the will of the leader. Unity in thought, purpose, and work is achieved only as one leads out and the other submits to his leading. Together, as one, they work in cooperation, doing what is now the will of both. That is not conflict; it is the God designed way to relate.
If there needs to be order in the Godhead, how much more so in our relations on earth. God, in His wisdom, knew that one would need to lead and the other submit, to work in cooperation. Any deviation from that will not work. Man has tried to improve on God's order, but the result has been catastrophic.
The head of every man is Christ (I Corinthians 11:3)
“And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:11)
“And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy”
Christ is Lord, He is the Head of the body-the Church which consists of Himself of men and women.
The head of the woman is the man (I Corinthians 11:3)
“For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.” (I Corinthians 11:8-9) God created woman from man and for man.
Even as the church is subject to Christ, so must the wife be subject to her husband. Her submission brings honor and glory to her husband, even as the church brings honor and glory to Christ.
(Ephesians 5:22-24) “Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things.” The divine order of headship does not only apply to the home. In I Corinthians 11, the focus is on man and woman, not husband and wife. God's plan is for woman to be under the authority of man in the church, home, and society.
This is an order of headship, not of importance- of government, not superiority. God's order is for the smooth function of the human race. Paul does not suggest that women are inferior; he simply teaches the order of government. Just as there is order in the Godhead, so there is order in the human family.
Man and woman complement each other. (I Corinthians 11:11-12) “neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God.” Woman is of the man, but man is also by the woman. Without man, woman would not be, but without woman, man would not be either. Neither is inferior. They are both equally important in their roles.
Man and woman are equal in salvation. Woman's salvation does not depend on man. “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) God's grace and mercy are equally accessible by both, but God's grace and mercy does not do away with the order headship. When a woman becomes a child of God, she will earnestly seek to fine her place in God's order. A woman's salvation does depend on her obedience to the divine order of headship.
To put this in perspective, the order is God- Christ-man-woman. God the father is the head. Christ is under the father's headship and is submitted to His will. Man is under Christ. As man finds his place under Christ, he submits to God through Christ. Woman is under man. A woman in her place submits to man-Christ-God. Woman, by submitting to God, submits to all three. God's order of headship is very beautiful when it is properly understood and practiced.
Woman – covered, with long hair.
“But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. For if a woman be not covered, let her be shorn. But if it be a shame to a woman to be shorn or made bald, let her cover her head.” (I Corinthians 11:5-6)
Here the reverse is true. When a woman prays or prophesies with an uncovered head, she dishonours her head. What head? Man – Christ- God.
Eastern women have a long standing tradition of wearing a veiling. Both men and women wore tunics and cloaks, but the veiling was the distinctive female apparel. All women except those in a low condition of life, such as prostitutes and slaves, wore veils.
The mark of a prostitute was that she did not wear a veil-in order to show off her hair and attract men. With her hairdo, she advertised that she was an immoral, available woman. [ Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times-Chicago:Moody Press, 1987 pg 20]
Paul's use of the two words shorn and in some translations shaven makes an appeal to the standards of his day to teach the shame of being uncovered. Shorn means “to shave with a razor”, which was how an immoral woman was punished in Paul's day. [Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Peabody Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994 pg 142]
Eastern or Western, immoral or not, most woman can readily identify with the feeling of shame and utter disgrace of having her hair shaved off with a razor. Paul says that a woman who uncovers her head is as shameful as being shaven. When a woman displays her hair, it dishonors her head – man – Christ – God.
In our day, the shame of having short hair has been lost. However, in this context, to cut the hair, identified one as immoral, which was punished by shaving the head. So when Paul says, “If the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn,” he was not suggesting that either option was acceptable. He equated the shame of cut hair and the resulting punishment of being shaven, with an uncovered head.
The question being considered here was not whether to cut the hair. That was a shame; Christian women had no desire to cut their hair. The question in focus was whether to veil it. Because of their natural shame of a shaved head, we understand that an uncovered head is as shameful as being shaven.
A woman who cuts her hair dishonors her head. Therefore, “let her cover her head” (vs 6).
"The woman is the glory of the man." (I Corinthians 11:7). As woman submits to man, she glorifies him. God created woman to help man fulfill God's purposes for him on earth. She enriches man with the womanly qualities his life needs. A woman's relationship with man should honor and praise him. As she takes her place in God's order with humility, meekness, chastity, modesty, and purity, she brings glory to man.
The woman is also the glory of God when she is the glory of the man. She testifies of her submission to God's order by veiling her hair. Her veiled head is a practical reminder that she is under the authority of man, whose unveiled head testifies of his honor and submission to God. A woman in her place will receive great honor and blessing.
This chapter of the bible does not portray woman's place as degraded or inferior. A woman filling her God-given role will be esteemed and honored. To disobey God's order and to strive for the position God has assigned to man is dishonoring to God and woman. God's way is best and will return abundant blessing.
Is the hair a covering?
"But if a woman has long hair and nourish it, is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering." (I Corinthians 11:15). Yes, the hair is a covering. But it is not the covering referred to in verses 4-7, where the Greek words are verbs that mean "to cover." In verse 15 we have a different word, a noun. The covering in verses 4-7 is something to be put on; the covering in verse 15 is something that is on.
Consider that if the hair is the covering, then a man would need to shave his head to be uncovered. Also we would find an impossibility in verse 6: "If the woman be not covered [her hair removed], let her be shorn." how can she cut her hair if it has already been removed? Clearly, it is speaking of a covering to cover the hair.
Why is the hair called a covering?
It is a covering! It is a covering of glory. A woman's hair is a glory that covers her head and hangs as a veil of beauty. Many women today go to great efforts to dress their hair and make it attractive to draw attention to themselves.
Man is made in the image and glory of God. Woman is the glory of man. A woman's glory is her hair. Women is to cover her glory to give all glory to God. Man, woman's head, is visible; therefore she dishonors man as her head when she uncovers her head. To uncover her head is a display of human glory in competition with the glory that belongs to God.
This is not the only place in the Scriptures that gives the principle of covering a glory that competes with God's glory. Heavenly beings cover themselves with wings (Ezekiel 1:11; Isaiah 6:2). It seems they covered their glory to give all glory to God. When Satan exalted himself to be as the Most High, he revealed his glory in competition with God's glory. He was cast down (Isaiah 14:12-15). Likewise, woman must cover her glory so that she does not compete with God's glory by dishonoring man as her appointed head.
"Power over her head"
"Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels." (I Corinthians 11:10). a Veiled woman has power on her head. Power means "privilege, freedom, delegated influence, and authority." of which a woman out of her place knows nothing. There is a blessing and reward in being where God wants us.
The angels are observing and noting those who are veiled and are thereby showing submission to the authority of man. The angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the saints. They grant protection and bear witness to God of those who are submitted to His order of headship.
When should a woman wear the veiling?
The veiling symbolizes submission to Divine order. The scriptures tell us that it must be worn when praying or prophesying (I Corinthians 11:5)
The Fathers of the Church:
St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom spoke the most prolifically and the most forcefully of all the Fathers on the subject of the veil. Both in regard to the importance he attached to it and to the stringency of his regulations, St. John was by far the most adamant in insisting on the veil for women. He unequivocally states that “being uncovered is always a reproach” for women, thus taking an even stricter position than our reading of I Corinthians led us to believe the Apostle assumed.
St. John Chrysostom argues that a woman ought to “be carefully wrapped up on every side” at all times, basing his argument directly on the text of St. Paul’s Epistle. For St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul legislated continual wearing of the veil even when not at prayer. Rather than interpreting this verse – “for it is all one as if she were shaven” – as an analogy, he claims that it is an identification of the two states, saying that “if to be shaven is always dishonorable, it is also plain that being uncovered is always a reproach.”
St. Ambrose of Milan
Using very strong language St. Ambrose declared that casting off the veil is an act of lust and immodesty: “Is anything so conducive to lust as with unseemly movements thus to expose in nakedness those parts of the body which either nature has hidden or custom has veiled, to sport with the looks, to turn the neck, to loosen the hair? Fitly was the next step an offense against God. For what modesty can there be? ”
St. Augustine of Hippo
In the vast literary production of St. Augustine, I only found two places in which he mentions the veil, and both times he stressed its importance. Once, in a letter he wrote very quickly to Possidius, a fellow priest; again, in his treatise On Holy Virginity. In both instances, the great saint did not in any way mince words. In his treatise On Holy Virginity, St. Augustine was chiefly speaking on virginity and its accompanying duties. At one point, he made a general conclusion about a certain behavior regarding wearing the veil, which seems to apply to all women universally, not just to virgins.
The saint discussed the pride of some virgins who break the rules of Christian modesty for the sake of “a certain aim of pleasing, either by more elegant dress than the necessity of so great profession demands, or by remarkable manner of binding the head, whether by bosses of hair swelling forth, or by coverings so yielding, that the fine net-work below appears: unto these we must give precepts, not as yet concerning humility, but concerning chastity itself, or virgin modesty.”
St. Augustine also mentioned the veil in a letter he wrote to his brother priest, Possidius. He was discussing the general role of vanity in the choosing of women’s dress, and, as one might expect, condemning it. He did mention, however, that some people have good reason to dress more elaborately than others; in this context, the veil comes into the discussion. The Doctor of Grace told us: “Those who are of the world think how they are to please their wives, if they are men, or their husbands, if they are women, [and choose their dress accordingly]; except that women, whom the Apostle orders to cover [velare, to veil] their heads, ought not to uncover their hair, even if they are married.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas found the topic of the veil important enough to mention, however briefly. Largely, his discussion is a quotation from St. Augustine from his letter to Possidius, which I have already quoted. He then adds to St. Augustine’s comments:“In this case [of the veil], however, they may be excused [for not wearing it] from sin, if they do not do it from a certain vanity, but because of some contrary custom. Such a custom, however, is not praiseworthy.”
When St. Thomas said that a woman can uncover her head, he taught that she might be excused from sin, “a peccato excusari.” But she could not be excused from it unless she had done something that normally would be considered sinful. Therefore, uncovering the head was normally considered a sin. Why it was considered a sin? The answer is also contained in St. Thomas text: Because the woman would be acting from vanity. So, there is an objective sin in avoiding usage of the veil.
However, failure to wear the veil not because of vanity, but because of some contrary custom, “propter contrariam consuetudinem,” will excuse the woman from sin. But such a custom is, in St. Thomas’s beautifully understated style, “non sit laudabilis,” not praiseworthy.
When it comes to The Code of Canon Law, the norms are binding on all Catholics. From 1917 until now, The Code of Canon Law was in force throughout the Church. One of those regulations was on head coverings in Church, addressed to both men and women.
Men, of course, were required to appear with “a naked head,” except when “the tested customs of the people or the accompanying peculiarity of things bears otherwise.” For women, however, the regulation is considerably more stringent. There are no exceptions made for women; they simply must wear the veil.
The Code does not give reasons for its mandate; it is simply a statement of rules, not a justification of them. The laws of the Church required women to wear the veil at least in churches. The Code states clearly that women, while “in a church or while assisting with the sacred rites outside of a church” ought to appear “with the head entirely covered ... especially when they approach the Lord ’s Table.” There are no exceptions, no “unless” clauses. That was simply the law of the Church.
Lastly, I would like to give my own insignificant thoughts:
I Thessalonians 5:17 says we are to, "Pray without ceasing". Praying is expressing the need for God and supplicating Him for help in all of life. Prophesying is declaring the will and mind of God. Christian women are always to be submitted to divine order, they are always to be in an attitude of prayer, and when it comes to prophesy they should, "ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you with meekness and fear", Therefore, I believe that it would be prudent to always wear the veiling.