Written by Timothy Williams at Protestant Pulpit
Originally published as, “The Law of Head-Covering Abrogated by Romanism?”
[Once again, Dr. Williams has published a well-informed, well documented account of one aspect, a historical aspect, on the doctrine of “Head-Covering.” My feeling is that this doctrine deserves much more attention for people who have a desire to follow God completely and wish to obey him in all things, especially when it is prescribed in scripture. My interest in this post and the reason why I am republishing it is because of the historical aspects contained. My only disagreement with him is in the “abrogation” description as an accurate reflection of Rome’s intention. In watching the modern trends of the church’s ecclesiology, my feeling is that they would be in a “panic” to abrogate anything. The thought being, that if they start abrogating doctrine here and there (tacit admissions that they were wrong, doctrinally), where would it end… acknowledgement of a Calvinistic view of grace? Or, perhaps the acceptance of homosexuality? Influential German Bishops are already trying to change the church’s stance on the doctrine of sex and matrimony. But on the other hand, I can see why Rome would want to de-emphasize head-covering; it has to seem somewhat hypocritical for the priests to try to enforce head covering on women (very un-seeker friendly) who are already very restive, especially when you are trying to play-down seemingly rampant homosexual pedophiles in the clergy. With that said, I have to thank Dr. Williams for his continuing contributions to this subject and for his article. –MWP]
I write as a Protestant, who not only opposes Romanism but upholds that which she abominates –the Gospel. Notwithstanding this, I find that the supposed change in their Canon of Law over head-covering to be interesting. The 1917 Code of Canon Law required women to wear head coverings in church, especially at Mass: abrogated
§2. Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord (canon 1262, 1917 Code of Canon Law).
There is no canon in the 1983 Code that parallels this older requirement. In fact, some feel that the 1983 Code expressly abrogates (i.e., abolishes, annuls) the 1917 Code (cf. canon 6, Code of Canon Law ), indicating that women are no longer required to wear head coverings in church or at Mass.
However, this is certainly a misreading of the canon 6, as Thetimann notes (See the extensive article with interesting comments at:
This is certainly the correct view, seeing that after the new liturgy was introduced, there was a statement on this:
It is likely for this reason that Pope Benedict XVI was easily able to declare that the ancient form of the Roman Rite, qua custom, has never been abrogated. Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Const. Missale Romanum, AAS 61 (1969). pp. 217-226; Pope Benedict XVI, Litt. Apost.Summorum Pontificum, Art. 1 (b). . . .
One last point: an additional argument of authority can be raised. According to UPI, and the Atlanta Journal, on June 21, 1969 – after the new Roman Missal had been promulgated by Pope Paul VI – then Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, the prelate appointed by the Pope to draft the rubrics of the new Missal, issued a statement to the Press specifying that at no time had the requirement of head-covering been abrogated:“[T]he rule has not been changed.”
Prior to Vatican II, women within Romanism –a well as other denominations — wore a head-covering in church. It was a practice that was widespread, though not universal, before the Council. This can easily be discerned by pictures and even testimony by those living. From Rome’s Law, it would seem that this is still in force, though it is largely ignored by many.
Now, my interest in this is threefold. First, it is interesting to see how the sexual revolution has impacted Christendom–using this term broadly as it concerns Romanism. Second, it is interesting to see the Romanists use the statements of Paul to show that this is the proper way of worship. Third, it is interesting that the Papal ‘church’ recognizes that this is the immemorial and ancient custom:
To begin, in I Cor. XI, 5, St. Paul declares: “[E]very woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven.” As it is not known when St. Paul confirmed the Jewish and Roman practice of women wearing a head covering when praying, it qualifies as a true immemorial custom, because the exact date upon which it became binding upon women in the Church is beyond the memory of anyone. As St. Paul declares that his teaching is not his own, the custom could even have been confirmed by Christ the Lord Himself. Cf. 1 Cor. XIV, 37.
St. John Chrysostom (cf. Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXVI), St. Ambrose (cf.Concerning Virgins, Book III), St. Augustine (cf. On Holy Virginity, n. 34; Epistola ad Possidium, n. CCXLV), and St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. II-IIae, q.169, a. 2, corp.; Super I Cor., cap.11, vers. 3), are all noteworthy for their elaborate treatments of the custom.
In A.D. 743, Pope St. Zachary I (A.D. 741-752) held a synod in Rome, whose Canon 3 reprises the teaching of St. Paul: “[A] woman praying in church without her head covered brings shame upon her head, according to the word of the Apostle […].” Cf. Mansi XII, 382.
Gratian, the Camaldolese monk-canonist, and often called the “father” of Canon Law, references the above texts in his unofficial collection (cf. C. 3, C.XXI, q.4; c. 19, C. XXXIII, q.5).
Almost two millennia of uninterrupted observance of the immemorial custom passed until the Sacred Congregation of Rites received from the Rev. Caesar Uberti, Master of Ceremonies of the Archbishop of Ravenna, the following dubium: “Whether women assisting at sacred functions […] are obliged to cover the head?”
On July 7, 1876, the Congregation replied: “Affirmative.” Cf. Ravannaten., July 7,1876, n. 3402, in Decreta Authentica Congregationis Sacrorum Rituum ex actis eiusdem collecta ejusque auctoritate promulgate, Romae (1898-1926), Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Prop. Fide, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis.
To be certain, inasmuch as this decision –comprehensive, formally particular, and equivalently universal in nature – was issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the department of the Holy See possessing the jurisdiction to rule on matters touching upon the Sacraments, it constitutes, without doubt, a liturgical law. Cf. L. Choupin,Valeur des Decisions Doctrinales et Disciplinaires du Saint-Siège, (Beauchesne: Paris, 1913), pp. 96-103.
At this point in time, in 1876, de minimis, we have two existing laws mandating the wearing of head-covering by women when they attend sacred functions in a church. The first is an unwritten law,the immemorial custom, dating from the time of the Apostles. The second is a written law, a decree of the Holy See, requiring the same as the custom.
As a Protestant, I confess boldly William Chillingworth’s famous statement, “The Bible alone is the religion of Protestants.” Tradition is not the cornerstone upon which we build our faith nor guide our practice. So, I place Paul’s statements as the basis of my belief. What I see, however, is that the long history and tenacity of the Romanist practice reveals that the custom immemorial is a capstone of the argument, lending support, revealing a common interpretation, and acting as a prop to it.