The very first time I read 1 Corinthians 11 about a woman covering her head during church I was only 13. It astounded me, I went directly to our Church of God pastor and asked him if this meant we were supposed to wear a covering when we prayed. Catching him in the lobby – quite off his guard – he vaguely babbled a few words and said we could talk about that later. Obviously, later never came and the subject slipped into the quiet recesses of my teenage mind.
In my late 20’s I met some Mennonite women who wore a head covering at all times, some even to bed. Once again, I cracked open my bible to 1 Corinthians 11. As a protestant “bible believing” Christian I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to cover if I should cover because I wanted to obey God’s word as closely as possible. In the next few years I read every article I found regarding the covering. It was so frustrating that there were so many opinions… “yes, no, maybe, sometimes, only at this time…” I experimented with wearing it everyday. It was not only impractical but it became a joyless burden. It didn’t make sense to me why this piece of cloth could possibly be important in my relationship to the Lord. I swept the entire issue under the rug because it made me mad that I simply didn’t know how to understand it.
About a year ago all of that changed for me. After years of wrestling the claims of the Catholic church I literally woke up Catholic one morning. Almost immediately the question of head covering came right to the surface. It dawned on me the nagging question on head coverings would have a clear answer! I searched for the official code of Canon law on the matter and for the first time basked in the knowledge that this was THE answer. There is NO requirement to wear a covering. The relief I felt at being able to actually KNOW the answer because of church authority was such a burden lifted from my shoulders.
However, I also felt a joyful desire to cover my head as a “sigh” of my devotion as I realized, embraced, and felt the very real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here in the Mass I was standing with the great cloud of witnesses and holy angels! It gave me understanding of why Paul would write what he did in Corinthians. I decided to wear a chapel veil because Christ himself is there; something so beautiful that I had never experienced before as a protestant.
The beauty of the decision of the Church is that as women we are now freed from “forced” piety. We have been enabled to freely respond from our heart to Christ. We do not have to argue about whether we should or should not cover; as if we can see a women’s piety by whether she covers or not. We are free to cover as a sign of reverence yet we don’t have to skip Mass because we forgot our veil and fear correction. We don’t have to fight the two year old to keep our head veiled during service and distract everyone with the battle. (Believe me, there are enough battles to fight with a two year old during church without adding trying to keep a mantilla on your head to the shuffle.)
The real takeaway here is that we can look to the Church for the answer to our questions on scripture and come away with the right answer and this is the freedom that comes when we rest in the authority of the church!