To Veil or Not To Veil

Why young women are "lacing up" at Mass


The topic of women covering their heads (or not covering their heads) at Mass has made a big splash among twentysomething and thirtysomething Catholic bloggers across continents and cultures.

I have to admit that this practice has a certain appeal to me as well. Why are Catholic women bringing back this practice?

Here are some good reasons:

  1. It’s countercultural.

    Let’s face it, we live in a culture with profoundly warped ideas of female empowerment. Modern American culture would have us believe that a powerful woman is one who uses her sexuality in an exhibitionistic, amoral fashion. Her power is in her ability to incite lust — to exploit her own sexuality and the sexuality of others. The Catholic tradition says that women have dignity as persons created in the divine image. Women. Have. Dignity. Choosing to wear a chapel veil or mantilla at Mass is one way young Catholic women are pushing back against a culture which seeks to objectify them. They’re redefining beauty. They’re thinking about empowerment in a more holistic way.

  2. It’s distinctly feminine.

    Young Catholic women are rejecting prominent cultural norms suggesting that to be an intelligent, empowered woman means to be like a man. This theme, which I found etched across the blogosphere, reminds me of an interaction I had while at seminary. A professor told me that while my sermon writing was strong, I looked and sounded too much like a “girly-girl” to be an effective leader. She suggested I trade my skirt for a pantsuit, lose my earrings, and try to speak with a deeper, lower, “more authoritative” voice. Young Catholic women are discovering that empowerment and femininity are not mutually exclusive. Wearing the mantilla reminds women that God is uniquely reflected in the feminine person.

  3. It’s an expression of reverence.

    Being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament — either at Mass or Adoration — is a time unlike any other time in our week. We (both women and men) are still called to discern how we can approach the Blessed Sacrament with special humility and reverence (be it wearing a veil, changing out of our gym clothes before coming to Mass, making the sign of the cross whenever we pass a church, etc.). Wearing a chapel veil reminds the wearer that she is in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes we lose sight of this truth, but it’s kind of, I don’t know … MIND BLOWING.

  4. It’s an act of humility.

    God made women beautiful. Fact. When we cover our beauty before the Blessed Sacrament we are humbling ourselves before the Author of all beauty.

Here are some reasons that, well, stink:

  1. It’s a symbol of subordination.

    Some women cover their hair at Mass because they take it as a symbol of their subordination to men. This idea is ludicrous. Throughout Judeo-Christian tradition, the act of veiling something was to denote its sacredness: the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept … all veiled. Catholicism celebrates the sacredness of the female person.

  2. It’s a way to appear holier than thou.

    Some women wear a chapel veil in order to feel holier than women who don’t. Jesus had a lot to say about people who judge others and who make a big display of being religious so others will think them pious. Enough said.

  3. It’s an expression of anxiety about and control of female sexuality. 

    If the mere sight of your free and uncovered locks makes male parishioners beside themselves with indignation, well, the problem is theirs. Female sexuality is beautiful, God-created, and reflective of God’s love. It is not something to be controlled, suppressed, or possessed. Also — and this is of ultimate importance — Catholic women do not cover their heads at Mass for men. They cover them for God.

To veil or not to veil (that is the question)

This is a decision that the Church has left to the prayerful discretion of her daughters. Period. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t do it. Don’t feel obligated to do it. If you find it meaningful and empowering, well, then go ahead, girl. Rock that mantilla. Make sure you understand why you’re doing it. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Check out Laura McAlister’s hilarious “50 Simple Steps to Wearing a Chapel Veil or Mantilla.” If you’re looking for some practical advice, this is helpful. Also, you don’t have to wear a mantilla — a beret, shawl or any other hat will do. “Girly-girl” that I am, I go lace all the way.

Do you cover your head at Mass? Why or why not?