In Your Easter Bonnet

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Yesterday at Easter Sunday Mass, I saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time: Easter bonnets! As a female growing up Catholic in the 60s, I was well aware of the requirement that all girls and women cover their heads when entering the church. We girls wore small circlets of lace called chapel veils while some women wore long, flowing mantillas, a Spanish veil. In a pinch, my sisters were known to bobby pin a piece of Kleenex to the tops of their heads!

But at Easter, we got a brand new hat to wear with the pastel Easter dress my mother had sewn each of us girls. I loved my “Easter bonnets” and, remembering them from my own childhood, bought them for my own daughters when they were little. But over the years, wearing hats to Mass has become uncommon. The Catholic stricture for women to cover their heads was removed in 1983. No doubt the chapel veil and mantilla manufacturers cried.

So I was delighted yesterday to see several young girls sporting wide-brimmed white straw hats to complement their Easter dresses. But the piece de resistance was the mother of two bonneted girls, who walked into church sporting a large pink confection that would be perfect for Ascot or the Kentucky Derby. They sat in a pew next to us, and I dubbed them the best dressed family at Easter Sunday Mass.

I realize that hat wearing is still common at some other Christian churches. And Orthodox Jewish women wear hats to synagogue. But for the most part, decorative, fanciful hats for women are a thing of the past. I can’t say I’m all that sorry. I don’t look good in hats and wear them primarily for warmth in winter – or occasionally to shield my face on a hot summer day.

But I do kind of miss the grandeur of the annual Easter bonnet. After all, it inspired a song by the great Irving Berlin. Maybe the bonneted ladies at Mass are starting a trend. Maybe next year I’ll brave it and wear a fanciful hat myself.

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2 thoughts on “In Your Easter Bonnet

  1. Joe Konz

    Hi, Mary. I stopped at your sentence in this post that contains the 1983 date for when the church ceased requiring women to wear head coverings inside a church. I distinctly remember attending Mass at the Newman Centers on campus while in college (the early 1970s) and don’t recall females wearing head coverings at those services. I reached out to a female college acquaintance on the off-chance I was mistaken, but she confirmed my recollection. She said she never wore head coverings at Mass in college.

    I found an article online at Catholic Answers ( https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/what-happened-to-head-coverings-at-mass ) that mentions how in the 1970s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a judgment that because chapel veils were not a matter of faith, it was no longer mandatory for women to wear them. I can presume pastors (or the church media) disseminated that decision widely enough at the time, which would explain my experience (and recollection) from college years. I don’t know for sure that explains it, though.

    Later on in the same article cited above, the writer mentions that in 1983, the church tidied up Canon Law by not “re-issuing” the no-head covering requirement, thereby bringing it in line with actual observance, the one begun 10+ years previously.

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    • Thanks for the clarification, Joe. I guess I didn’t do my research well enough! I have noticed a comeback in certain parishes of women wearing veils over their heads at Mass. To each her own, but I’m glad not to have to wear a head covering at Mass nowadays.

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