Veils and hats may be worn by women at Catholic wedding masses.
Veils and hats may be worn by women at Catholic wedding masses.

Male and female Catholic Church parishioners are bound by rules of etiquette and Church Canon Law regarding proper dress at Church services. Most rules regarding hair covering are directed at women, however, and are rooted in scripture and the Church’s history. Rules for male parishioners also help guide hair covering selections.

Historical and Modern Etiquette for Women

From 1917 until 1983, the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law mandated that women wear veils or other head coverings. Prior to 1917, there was no such law, though wearing hats or veils was customary for women, according to Msgr. Charles Pope on the Archdiocese of Washington's website, who adds that although Church Law did not remove the hair covering mandate until 1983, many women had already chosen to forgo veils and hats at mass.

Today there are no official rules regarding women’s hair covering, and most women do not wear veils or hats to mass. Wearing such head coverings is not considered improper, but rather a choice often made by more traditional parishioners. However, when attending a Traditional Latin Mass, women often wear a veil that covers the hair, according to Msgr. Pope. This veil can be either long or short, and may cover only part of the hair.

Women and Special Masses

Women attending funeral masses may wear dark, tasteful hats.
Women attending funeral masses may wear dark, tasteful hats.

Wedding and funeral masses in the Catholic Church have different standards of etiquette for women’s hair covering than Sunday masses. At a wedding mass, only the bride should wear a veil, which usually matches the color and style of her wedding gown, and may cover all or some of the hair. Other women at the mass may go without hair covering, or wear a tasteful hat in a color or style appropriate to the rest of the outfit.

At funerals, black mourning veils may be worn by the deceased’s widow, mother and daughter(s), but these veils are not required and are not common in American churches, according to Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D. Other women at the funeral mass may wear modest, dark-colored hats.

Women’s Veils and Modesty

In the Biblical passage 1 Corinthians 11:3 through 16, St. Paul says that God’s word is that women should submit to their husbands, and that wearing a veil is intended to demonstrate that submission. However, Msgr. Charles Pope notes that many women in the modern Catholic Church do not subscribe to this teaching on marriage. The Roman Catholic theology website Catholic Planet, however, notes that to abide by scripture, it is proper to wear a veil for mass, or even at all times, as a symbol of modesty and of obedience to Jesus Christ. Etiquette for women sharing this belief is to wear a veil over the head and hair, but not the face.

Men’s Hats in the Church

Men must remove their hats before entering a Catholic Church.
Men must remove their hats before entering a Catholic Church.

While etiquette rules for women regarding hair covering can be complicated depending on the event or specific beliefs, etiquette for men is quite simple. While it is not mandated by the Church, according to the 1983 Canon Law, men are not to wear hats in church for any reason, as it is considered improper to do so whether the hat is formal or casual. This custom is based on 1 Corinthians 11:4, which states that men must not cover their heads when in prayer.