Every so often an article or two appears in the Catholic blog world about “veiling” at Mass, or in layman’s terms, women wearing head coverings (for the most part mantillas/chapel veils). It’s probably just a sign of the blogs I’m attracted to, but the articles I’ve read are almost always about women adopting this practice and then promoting it, rather than ones declaiming it as oppressive and archaic (which, since it’s not required, wouldn’t really make sense as an ‘issue’).
I am one of the women who has decided to adopt a head covering at Mass. And, like many other modern-day Catholic woman who have made this change, it came with some soul searching and trepidation. Chapel veils weren’t quite an anomaly with me – my dad’s parents went to a Brethren Church where all the women wore hats or chapel veils, so it wasn’t a completely new concept. It was always associated with the very literal scripture interpretations that many people see as Brethren legalism, but this old-school Mennonite modesty just seemed quaint and sweet and very much belonging to my Grandparents and nothing to do with me.
It wasn’t until I read a book in which, and I summarise as I can’t remember the book, an atheist points out to a Catholic protagonist that if Catholics really believed Christ was present in the flesh, he assumed they would act quite differently than they do at Mass. There would be less chatter and mindless following of the liturgy, and more reverence & awe since God is physically present. This struck me quite deeply, because if you look around at Mass it’s usually pretty clear that a lot of us are distracted and not too focused on the miracle happening in front of us. I’m not trying to suggest that we don’t believe that Christ is present, but we don’t really own it.
If I want to live like I believe Christ is physically present at Mass, how should that alter my behavior? The words that came to my mind were “sacred space” and “holy ground”. This got me thinking about all the references in the Bible to physical reactions to sacred spaces. When Moses sees the burning bush he removes his sandals because he is on holy ground. That is the reaction I felt I should be having when I receive the Eucharist, but shuffling forward in the communion line wasn’t really giving a visible indicator that I acknowledged I was in the presence of the Holy. The more I thought about it the more I remembered scenes from Bible stories in which the person encountering God covers, or uncovers, their head or feet.
I decided to start playing around with the idea of head coverings. I wasn’t ready to take the plunge, but I usually tried to ensure that I wore something nicer in my hair when I went to church. It felt like my own little way of acknowledging that I was on holy ground. And around me, in the blogs that I follow or on news sites that I read, other women were talking about adopting head coverings. It seemed that there was a quiet revolution going on. I shared my thoughts with David, and he & Walter decided to give me a chapel veil for Christmas. I was thrilled with their choice. It was good to know that David supported me in this, and I knew that once the money had been spent I’d feel compelled to wear the veil even if my shyness made me want to keep sitting on the fence.
I’ve been wearing a chapel veil to Mass fairly regularly now since January. When I’m going to a church with people who knew me pre-head-covering, I tend to feel awkward about the change in my appearance. And as so many other women have said, the worry is always that people will think we’re doing this to show our piety or because we’ve suddenly become weirdly conservative. It’s hard standing out. But this is just a reaction of me to myself – chances are that the people in the surrounding pews aren’t staring at me and thinking I’m a throwback freak of nature to the 1950s. In some ways it’s made me friendlier to other people in the congregation – instead of withdrawing into myself I try to smile more and be more approachable so that I don’t seem like some holier-than-thou parishioner.
I find that once I get over my discomfort of sticking out, I prefer to wear my chapel veil. Again, as so many others have said, it creates a special space. When I pin my veil on it is a physical reminder to myself that I am setting aside this time and this space for God. It is my way of acknowledging to Him that I know this place is sacred and that I honour it. It gives a new intimacy to our relationship – I feel that I have set myself aside for Him for the Mass. Yes, my children can be distracting. Yes, my thoughts can be distracting. But, perhaps because I’ve already done something to alter my normal state of being, somehow they seem less distracting than before.
|an awkward veil selfie. Note: David points out that I'm probably the only Catholic woman to sport a mantilla and a nose ring!|