It took me over twenty years to see a woman veil her head during Mass. Though initially confused, I thought it was a most beautiful way to worship. I did some light research and discussed with Liam my desire to begin such a practice. He encouraged it straight away, but I read somewhere in my research that the true veil needed to be over my heart before I placed one over my head. I began veiling about three months after my prayer and research began. I have not once regretted or felt vain about my decision because of what it has done for my prayer life and my marriage. Let me explain.
I originally found veiling so attractive because it gave me a tangible way to seek the Holy Spirit before Mass. I also found my eyes going toward pictures or statues of Mary, who is always depicted as a veiled woman. This may sound silly, but I so want to be like her and veiling brought us a little (lot) closer together—but I’ll touch on that later. Maybe it was the east coast, or simply the churches I have attended, but the lack of reverence and modesty during Mass is truly disturbing. I am embarrassed to say that there was a time I contributed it to that, whether it was wearing jeans and a ratty tee shirt or a halter-top sun dress. I will quickly add here that of course, Christ accepts us just as we are—but I dare say he expects us to know better through the wisdom of our elders and honestly just plain ole common sense. Before I began veiling, I started exclusively wearing skirts or dresses to church. The reason? I had short hair for a really long time and I wanted a way to look more feminine for Mass. I wanted my femininity to be noticed because it is an essential part of my being—I am NOT the same as my husband and that is something to be celebrated.
This dates all the way back to the beginning of the Church when women were (and still should be) viewed as symbolic to the Bride of Christ. If you visit some traditional churches, you will noticed that the Tabernacle is veiled as a reminder that even the Church herself submits to God’s holy and perfect will. The alter is almost always veiled. Women have the unique opportunity to tangibly show solidarity with Mother Church and who doesn’t need a reminder that we all need to submit to God’s will? Paul talks about veiling in 1 Corinthians 11:3-13 where he also explains why men aren’t asked to veil as women are. Many people mistake these verses and assume it is yet another passage about women submitting to their husbands (not that that would be a bad thing) but it is simply Paul revealing again (he does this in Ephesians 5) the symmetry of a marriage to that of the Church and Christ Himself.
Our grandmothers probably remember a time when veiling was the norm yet many of them, as well as our mothers do not veil. Why? Contrary to popular opinion, Vatican II was not the reason for this cultural shift; in fact, there are articles stating specifically that the rule on veiling did not change. However, Canon Law from the early 80’s (still in use today) does not contain a requirement that women cover their heads—in the Ordinary Order of the Mass. There is still an expectation that women who attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form do, indeed cover their heads. Various letters on the subject from clergy over the years appear to be the reason why the majority of women stopped veiling during Mass. Let me quickly digress and remind you that various letters from clergy also left a generation confused into thinking that artificial birth control was okay with the Church thus leading to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. Anyways, neither my mom nor my grandmother remembers an exact time where they veiled or didn’t veil simply stating that the practice just died out. But alas, a practice that was once treasured now is usually scoffed at as “holier than thou”.
Let me be the first to tell you this is not the case! Coming from someone who proudly veils her head, I am still angry road-ragey Catholic mom! I promise I am working on that daily, but wearing a veil to Mass or to visit the Blessed Sacrament does not make me holier than you. What it does, however, is give me an advantage. The advantage is simply an additional examen of my heart before I come as close as I can to Jesus on this earth. It reminds me to take pride in my vocation as a wife and a mother. It shows my devotion to—not perfection in—virtue, it focuses my eyes, and stills my soul.
So before you roll your eyes or ask a veiled woman if she’s in a cult (true story), let me suggest a few minutes of prayer for the veiling of your own heart and true renewing of your mind.