Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On the Mantilla

I've been veiling my head at Mass and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament for nine months.  And it is easily my favorite of the many devotional practices I've picked up throughout the years.

I don't know when I first heard of veiling for Mass.  When I first noticed it happening was in Steubenville, early in college.  I never thought to ask those friends why they wore such a lovely lace veil over their heads; I just knew it was a tradition and it looked pretty.

When I first began to attend the traditional Latin Mass on and off, I would wear one of the proffered veils, because it was a nice tradition, and because it was customary in those circles.  Eventually I switched to the mantilla I'd bought in Spain from the creepy prayer shawl ladies (that's a story for another day!), but it's very long and ornate, and would never do for regular use.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  As I don't believe I've discussed on this blog before, my passion for the Liturgy has grown according to how much I've learned and how much I've prayed the Liturgy.  During my last two years of college, I served on our Liturgy Committee - a group of about fifteen people who planned every campus Liturgy, made sure the various ministries were well-staffed, and generally guided the liturgical spirituality of the campus (in addition, of course, to the priest).  So basically we were a strange cross-breed of sacristan + student liturgist.

They were a wonderful two years,  but Steubenville is a very strong place spiritually, and returning to the rest of the world, I was struck with two stumbling blocks upon returning to daily Mass at "normal" parishes:  1) the lack of easily-felt reverence or fervor upon the part of the priests, ministers, and congregants, and 2) the fact that I wasn't in control anymore and could do absolutely nothing to correct what I knew were liturgical abuses (albeit mild ones) happening right in front of me.

Towards the end of my tenure out there, as my heart was being drawn more and more to the traditions Mother Church has to offer, I'd had a feeling that I would probably be one of those veil-wearing women one day, but not yet - something that was underscored as a very dear friend shared with me her own "I think I need to wear a veil to Mass" process.

So, as I struggled to find a spiritual home away from the hill, I fought self-righteousness, pride, and distraction.  Lies that no one else cared about the Mass as much as I did ate away at me as I tried to keep them at bay...  Finally, a solution presented itself:  Cover my head.

But why?  Well, the theological answers were obvious and beautiful enough.  I am the bride of Christ (and, as woman, am an excellent symbol for the whole Church), and the Eucharistic Liturgy is my wedding feast and the consummation of my marriage with Christ - so I wear my wedding veil in His presence.  We Catholics (like our Jewish forefathers) have a tendency to veil what is sacred, and the Church is reminding me of my own innate sacredness here.  And besides, this is a tradition that reaches back to Pauline times!

But was that enough to justify branding myself as a traditionalist all the time?  At my home parish, where no one knew of my traditional leanings?  At the social justice parish whose youth group I'd somehow been roped into helping with?  At the charismatic-ish young adult community I belong to?  At places where no one knew me?

Obviously, the answer was yes.  The first couple months, I felt like I was walking into every church with a target on my head; it was like I was no longer just a wonderful religious young woman to these people but someone who wanted to undo all the changes to the Mass that had bolstered their spirits so.  But after smiles, compliments, new friends, and only one bad word (which was later changed to understanding and a compliment), those feelings faded and I wear my veil as a badge of honor - the great honor of being a daughter of God and a bride of Christ.

My favorite things about the veil are things I never would have imagined at first.  It's a wonderful conversation starter with people who have no background in Christianity (who are usually the only clueless ones to ask).  I am always dressed in finery for an encounter with my Lord, even if I'm just wearing jeans and a tshirt.  And I am always surrounded by beauty when I'm in His presence, no matter how awful the chapel might be.

So if you're thinking about wearing the veil:  Go for it.  If you know someone who wears the veil and you haven't talked with her about it:  Ask her (well, if she's the extroverted type who would like to tell you about it); it'll probably make her day.

And if you have any veiling stories for me, please share them.  This is a devotion I hope never to give up, and I thank all those women who have served as models for me in this.  You are daily in my prayers.


  1. I hope my baby girl wears one when she gets older. I think they're lovely.

  2. Miss Towers12:04 PM

    Nicely said Miss Claire. I have mine that I should wear more frequently. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement.

  3. I would love to wear the veil at St Joseph's, but I'm always afraid that I'll stand out like a sore thumb. Plus I grew up with my mother telling me how she didn't like to cover her head in church growing up.

    Hugs back!

  4. Dorothy, there's always Steubenville. Once you've had a chance to spread your wings a little more, it'll be easier (though still terrifying at first) to be a little bit different at home. :)


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