Tuesday, February 4, 2014

To Veil, or not to Veil: *IS* That the Question?

Well, for starters, no, it isn't. "Veil" is the wrong word altogether, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm referring to the traditional Catholic discipline where women assist at/participate in Mass with their heads "covered", to use the words of the old Canon. You see, the old Canon Law 1262§2 stated that women "shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed", but there was never a specification as to what that cover could be. So, the more appropriate question would be: "to cover, or not to cover?". But to answer my own question, again, no it's not the question. I think a better question would be, "why DON'T you cover?" or "why DO you?". But, since "veil" has a nicer ring to it and it's a familiar term to many, I went ahead and used "veil" in my questions.

A little background before going further: In 1983, the Church released a new Code of Canon Law (LINK) which abrogated (abolished) the 1917 Canon. It states,

"Can. 6 §1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:
1/ the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;
".

While researching the topic, I found some sites that tried to argue that the requirement for a woman to cover her head is still in effect.  It is not, and I addressed this issue HERE and provided the pertinent source material.

Moving along then, this brings me to the first of two questions:

"Why DON'T you veil?"

I did a great deal of reading and the main answer seems to be along the lines of 'because the Church does not require it', which is exactly right. The Church does not require it. Other reasons were more personal, 'I don't feel more holy or humble when I cover, so I don't feel the need to do it', or 'it never occurred to me that I should consider it', and so forth. Other women put it like this [*See note at bottom]:

I think there's a bit of romanticism surrounding the practice of "veiling" that was never there when head coverings were required. We didn't wear veils, except small round "chapel veils" kept in a purse or pocket for quick visits into church; hats, berets, scarves, etc., were the norm. The only women I ever saw in mantillas or longer veils were elderly Italian ladies.
Women are, of course, perfectly free to cover their heads if they choose. However, I figure that if God created me with hair, He isn't offended by seeing it
. - 'Dixieagle' - CAF

I do not veil unless I'm at a church where it is the custom, such as in Rome or at an FSSP parish. Being sixty, I remember when covering was mandatory, so there is no great mystery about it to me. IMHO, women (and men) should partake in whichever customs they feel bring them to a closer relationship with our Lord. I have noticed several older women who cover, but they cover with hats. To each their own. If the Church were to revert to the old rubrics concerning covering, I would always make sure I had a chapel veil or one of my hand knitted beanies in the car along with my rosary. - 'kozlosap', CAF

These statements stand on their own. Faithful Catholic women, in full obedience to Christ's Church, are absolutely within their rights to choose not to take on extra disciplines not required by the Church. They are fully within the bounds of their well-informed consciences in not doing something they feel no need to do when it's not asked of them. Nothing more really needs to be said there.

But I have wondered: if it's not required, and it doesn't make a woman "more holy", then WHY do it? What's the point? I have witnessed women being frowned upon for wearing a veil, even scowled at. I have heard them being accused of "dress[ing] like Muslims" and dressing for "witchcraft". I have been told by some that they were accused of being "holier-than-thou" and they should stop trying to "draw attention to [themselves]". One woman was literally accused of "child abuse" for evoking the anger of a person who was driven to outright madness at the sight of her in a veil. So why do it? Why put yourself in a position where you could be ridiculed, mocked, hated and abused for something you are not required to do?

"Why DO you veil?"

Well, for this question I decided to ask the women who do it. Here is what they said:

Why do I wear a Veil? I wear a veil because I know deep down, it is right; I know it is pleasing to God. I started out resisting for reasons that were rather vain, and I knew those weren’t good reasons. I asked myself these questions:
Do I believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist?
Is it really “My Lord and My God” before me?
If my Lord and God was in front of me, would I want to cover myself and drop to my knees out of adoration?
I answered “Yes” to all of these. So, how then can I NOT humble myself, cover my head, and attend Mass with a veil? I wear a veil out of reverence and love for my God, humility, respect and for those reasons given to us by God through His word in 1 Corinthians 11. And now, I couldn’t step into a church without covering my head, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. :)
 - M.M., Texas

I have always veiled out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. - 'Tawny', New York

The decision to start veiling wasn't because I wanted to look like a princess (at least not the main reason)! The main reason was to show my submission and reverence to God. So why did I want to look like a princess? Well, because....get ready for it.....I'm a woman! When you read 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, it talks about women covering their head. One verse sticks out to me when I think about our nature as women: "15 whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given [her] for a covering...".
Isn't that so true? Think about it: regardless of hair length, we want a nice cut; we fret over our hair; we have "bad hair days"; we color it, curl it, pull it back, straighten it, crimp it, love it, hate it. In other words, it's a pretty important part of who we are. When we ask what someone looks like, don't we describe them like this: "the tall blonde", "she has short red hair, about chin-length", "the brunette with the really pretty curls who sits in the third pew"?
So if I'm going to humble myself before the Lord, it makes sense to cover my hair. It's a big part of who we are, and by covering it we are showing that something (someone) is more important than we are.
We're covering to show our submission to Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist.
- Karen Z, On a Silver Hill

I don't veil as such because for me veiling includes covering the face as well. I cover all my hair though at Mass and most of the time away as well. It occurred to me after 9/11 that, if it was scandalous to Jews and Muslims that Catholic women don't cover their heads and that's an excuse to not consider Catholicism, I would cover mine. - M.W., California

This [out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament]. I also veil because I feel closer to our Lord when I veil. It is a private moment, one-on-one, that I cherish during prayer when my head is bowed under the veil. Since I began veiling there are now others in my parish that have begun to do so. But I don't always wear a veil. Sometimes I where a hat or other covering, always out of respect. - 'Hmgbrd', Virginia

I don't veil, but wear a hat to Mass. I do so because it says women should wear a head covering when praying before the Lord in [1Corinthians 11], and out of reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. - 'ChibiViolet', CAF

I started wearing a mantilla to church a few years ago. It helps me focus and remember that I am in a sacred place.- L.A.R., Michigan

Everything seems so casual and street level in the world that a veil is a way of changing oneself and reaching up and respecting God. Mass and Communion with a veil just changes my whole attitude toward the Sacrament.
Someone critiqued it and said it makes me subservient. I disagree...
- 'Auntie A', CAF

I started veiling because I felt an unexplainable pull to do so. I had seen women veiling over the last few years, and, as time passed, it struck me as more and more beautiful. After researching the traditional reasons for veiling, I felt it was something I should do whenever I am in our Lord's Eucharistic presence. After I actually began veiling, reasons to continue with the practice made themselves known. The veil blocks most of my peripheral vision, keeping my focus forward and distractions at bay. I feel more feminine. I feel more connected to female saints of the past, and to the universal Church. And it reminds me to strive for humility, which I can use more of. - B.J.M., Texas

I cover my head because sometimes I struggle with trusting and submitting to God's Will. The mantilla is a reminder to myself that I am under God's authority, and at Mass is where I need this reminder the most. I also find that the act of covering my head helps me to quiet my heart and listen with more humility than I could without it. It's like an outward sign of an inward prayer.
I see it as a devotion, like a particular form of prayer--it's not required, and it doesn't mean I'm "holier" or that my prayer life is better than anyone else's; it's just another form of devotion that is available to us.
- 'CatholicRaven', CAF

I started wearing a veil after reading something St. Padre Pio said. I also saw on "Fiddler on the Roof" where this has been the custom, apparently, for a very long time. It's only just relatively recently that it's changed. It's something extra I do for mass...We are in the presence of God. I once saw a black and white photo of a Latin mass. Women had their heads covered, knelt for communion. They had altar servers. As near as I can tell, there was clearly much more discipline and respect for God in older times when people dressed much more conservatively. I think there's a strong relationship between the way we dress and the way we act. I'd rather take this extra step, cover my head. I'm not hurting anyone. I have come to see veiling as a mark of humility, like our Blessed Mother... - 'ClearWater', Mexico


I will be coming into the Church this Easter Vigil. Very few women at my parish wear a head covering. One of the ladies who helps out at RCIA, wears a veil at Mass. I had been intrigued for a while but never really understood it. I am drawn to traditional Catholicism but I still don't quite know what all that entails. It's a journey and I'll attend a TLM after I enter the Church. I would not be surprised if I end up preferring it. That is where I am [regarding veils/head covers].
I used to be LDS (Mormon) and I am a feminist of sorts (definitely not in the modern sense though). I used to attend the Mormon temple where women are required to wear a veil. There is even a point in the Mormon endowment ceremony where women must cover their faces. I always had serious issues with wearing the veil and covering my face and felt like it was demeaning. I came into the debate with a strong bias against wearing a veil. As I read more about the tradition of women wearing a veil, I felt more drawn to it. I have started wearing a silk scarf on my head when I pray. I do it because I feel more reverent and humble. I see it as an outward sign of my inner devotion to God.
I have not yet worn a veil to Mass. I want to, but because it is not common in my parish, I feel like it would draw attention to myself primarily because I stand every week with the other catechumens and candidates just before being dismissed to discuss the Word of God. If I didn't stand at Mass and go to dismissal, I wouldn't be so self-conscious about it. I have to get over my own fear and just do it. One of my friends in RCIA has also been thinking about it, so hopefully we can do it together.
- Tara, Texas


I wear a veil in the summer months (now that I am reluctantly back in the tundra, that means basically July) and wear a hat or scarves the other months. I started doing so about 5 years ago. I'm old enough to remember wearing a hat to church as a young girl (and in Catholic School we had the chapel caps for daily Mass during Lent), and I liked doing so, and always wondered why we stopped. (Frankly, I'm sad that the whole custom of wearing hats --save for the ubiquitous baseball cap style-- seemed to go out of fashion, for women and men). For me, it helps bring me back in a way to a time of greater innocence in my life and helps me to focus less on all the other things in life that my 'adult' self is too prone to consider, and more on the simple childlike wish to know, love, and serve the Lord with my WHOLE heart, soul, mind, and strength. Again, I say that it helped me. I felt called to it, and it enhances my spiritual relationship with God. I don't think that I stand out (even in the veil); at 57 I'm at the 'invisible' age where I don't look young enough to be in the would-be fashionista crowd, and I don't look old enough to be in the 'dowager' crowd. So really nobody notices me (I tend to wear a kind of modern plain dress, dark skirts or pants, solid color top, and I really 'blend' into a crowd) and my hair is dark and long so a black mantilla doesn't really show that much. In the winter, most of the over 40s wear hats anyway, and in the spring and summer, scarves get worn and it's easy to pull one up over the head and not stand out. So I don't have to worry that people are thinking that I am TRYING to stand out.

Even if I did stand out for wearing a hat, let's face it. In quite a few parishes, you see men who 'stand out' because they are wearing T shirts that say "F---", or they wear suits when the majority wear jeans, or jeans when the majority wear shorts, or shorts when the majority wear jeans; or women wear bright colors when the majority wear dark, or dark when the majority wear bright, or too much jewelry or makeup, or not enough jewelry or makeup, or furs in summer, or. . .I could go on and on. There is no such thing as a 'look' which EVERYBODY in the whole entire parish wears (not in the US) so there is always going to be SOMEBODY who looks a little 'different'. Provided that what they wear is not immodest, should somebody who maybe likes to wear bright floral colors have to stop wearing those colors to church because the majority of the people in the parish wear solid dark clothing and she 'stands out'? I don't think so. I really think most people are not so shallow that they go around and think either, "That woman isn't wearing anything on her head at Mass, she is obviously slack and shallow" or 'that woman is wearing a hat at Mass; she is obviously a holier-than-thou hypocrite'. I think most people don't even notice even something that is quite different (if it is modest) because they are busy paying attention to the Mass and to their own selves (or watching their family members, especially if they have young children to attend to); and if they do, I think most people tend to assume the best, not the worst. Personally, I think that if a person DOES walk into a church, and sees another person wearing something modest, but 'different' from what is 'usually' worn, and immediately thinks the person is doing so from a less-than-praiseworthy motive, that really says more about their own motives than the other person's.
- 'Tantum ergo', grandmother and caregiver to the most adorable 1 and 3 year old boys in the known universe

That last one was a better summary than I could have come up with, so I'll end it here. Christ's blessings to you all!


*Note: I received several other quotes from women who choose not to cover their heads, but lost them electronically. I did my best to paraphrase and preserve the heart of the messages. If ANYONE reading this would like to add their reasons for choosing to cover, or not to cover, you are more than welcome to reply in the combox with those reasons.

For more information on the Canonical issue, specific to head coverings, Jimmy Akin has written a balanced and well-documented and researched article HERE.

For an article from the perspective of a woman who chooses NOT to cover, but admits she could be persuaded, read Michelle Arnold's "The Veil and I".

If you are wondering what CAF means:  Catholic Answers Forum