The tradition of veils or other headcoverings for women in church is very old. According to Wikipedia, “Genesis 24:65, Numbers 5:18 and Isaiah 47:2 are references in the Old Testament...to a headcovering for women. Although there is no positive command for women to cover their heads in the Old Testament, there are non-canonical rabbinical writings on tzniut, meaning ‘modesty.’”
In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 11:4-16 is a lengthy (and fairly sexist) passage that says in part, “4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.” Perhaps in response to this scripture, a long line of prominent clerics from Clement of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo to Martin Luther, John Knox, and John Calvin called for women to veil themselves or wear headcoverings during worship.
The Roman Catholic Church formally required women to cover their heads in church in 1917 in its first Code of Canon law. Some other sects went even further; Anabaptist, Amish, and Mennonite women were expected to wear headcoverings at all times just in case they felt moved to pray or prophesy during the course of an ordinary day.
Later in the 20th century, the idea that women should cover their heads during worship started to lose ground. In most Western countries the original veils and shawls turned into decorative bonnets and hats and then gradually disappeared. The 1983 revision of the Catholic Code of Canon Law left out the earlier headcovering requirement, which most people interpreted as repealing it. However, many women continue to wear hats during services, for scriptural reasons, as a sign of humility, or to glorify God by looking their best in His house.
Quite a few women who don’t ordinarily wear hats to church still do so on special occasions such as Easter or Mother’s Day. We saw several lovely examples in our Sanctuary on Easter Sunday this year. Mother’s Day is May 11; if you own a nice hat you haven’t put on in a while, consider wearing it then. Why wear a hat in church? Why not!