Friday, September 19, 2014
Veiling in Church
Mantilla Manifesto
On any given Sunday at Our Lady of Suburbia, one is likely to see women and girls dressed in halter-necks, strapless dresses, skinny jeans, and mini-skirts. Depending on the weather, one might also find flip-flops or Ugg boots. In our parish, the extraordinary ministers sometimes choose to hand out communion in their sneakers and matching velour tracksuits. One might even see the occasional fanny-pack.

At the same time, every once in a while, one is likely to see a woman in the congregation with a veiled head. It might be a silk scarf. More often than not it’s a beautiful lace mantilla—black if she’s married and ivory if she’s single.
Wearing a mantilla to Mass is an oddity to us now, but for nearly 2,000 years all Catholic women veiled their heads in church as a sign of devotion and respect. In the West, this practice was largely abandoned only in the 1960s. While other nations (Korea and the Philippines, for example) have continued this tradition, we’ve swapped the mantilla for the proverbial fanny-pack.

Fortunately, however, the mantilla is making a comeback. Increasing numbers of young Catholic women (myself included) are choosing to ditch the skinny jeans and veil at Mass.

Dressing well for Mass is an external manifestation of the belief that what we are doing is important: It says that we care. It shows the respect we have for the other members of our parish. More importantly, however, it is also a sign of our respect for God in the Blessed Sacrament.

The same reasoning applies to the mantilla.

It isn’t mandatory for us to veil at Mass. But we can if we want to. This applies to the ordinary form Mass as much as it does to the extraordinary form. And if we truly believe that Christ is actually present before us in the Eucharist, then why wouldn’t we?

External acts can orient as well as express our inner thoughts and disposition. This is why our Mass (in both forms) is so rich in ritual and posture. These externals help keep our minds where they should be—on the Mass and on Our Lord in the Eucharist. This includes veiling.

Ask yourself, why it is that brides still wear veils on their wedding day? One reason is that the veil indicates the solemnity of the occasion. It is a reminder that—for her—this day is unlike any other. It is also a physical sign of the gift of self that she intends to make through the Sacrament of Marriage. Both of these reasons (whether conscious or not) transform the bride’s veiling from being purely about the aesthetics into something else. Although she is the center of attention, her choice of garment, color, and veil sends a message to those around her: “When you look at me and see my veil, remember that I am here to participate in something greater and bigger than myself.”

Some women choose to wear a mantilla in church for the same reasons. The mantilla is a reminder that this place and moment in time is unlike any other and should be observed as such. It is also a sign of the spiritual gift of self that the woman intends to make to Our Lord during the Mass and as she prays before the tabernacle.

Others veil in imitation of the Blessed Virgin. They seek to follow her example of humility, modesty, and purity—as well as the Jewish custom of covering one’s head—when they are near our Lord in the Tabernacle.

Others still choose to veil because they want to conform to St. Paul’s words in Corinthians when he instructs women to cover their heads when praying:

. . . for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered shows disrespect for her head; it is exactly the same as if she had her hair shaved off. Indeed, if a woman does go without a veil, she should have her hair cut off too; but if it is a shameful thing for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, then she should wear a veil. (1 Corinthians 11: 5-6).


I veil at Mass because it matters to me that I am before God. I veil as an external manifestation of my belief that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. I veil because it helps me to be more reverent. I veil as an act of humility before God. I veil because I believe. I veil because I care.

Rachael Patterson an Australian-born attorney. She studied at Princeton, Oxford, and Columbia law school and clerked at the High Court of Australia. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Photo Courtesy JM Yuste.

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