Have you ever seen a woman veiled at church before? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably only seen this a few times, if at all. It seems a rarity in the United States these days unless you’re Jewish or attending traditional Latin Catholic masses.
My journey to veiling was a lengthy one and it was full of questions.
If nobody does it anymore, it must not be important, right?
How come a ton of other countries still veil at Mass and we don’t?
How does veiling work?
Do the different colors mean something?
What if people stare? What if people think it’s weird?
Does the Church expect me to veil?
As I hap-hazardly searched for answers, my heart was half-in and half-out. Whenever I traveled anywhere for about three years I’d take my veil and wear it to any Mass I went to. After all, nobody in those places knew me. But, I’d come home and go back to my regular parish and keep the veil tucked in my purse.
My interior dialogue would get the best of me: “People here know you. You’ve been coming here for a year. You can’t just one day start wearing your veil in here! People will stare. Nobody else here does it. It doesn’t matter that much…does it?”
Yet, as I slowly learned more I was forced to ask myself “If you think veiling is important enough to do it at churches you travel to, what makes your home church different? Isn’t Jesus still in this church too?”
I couldn’t ignore the answer to that question: He was there too.
I continued to learn and the more I learned, the more I realized veiling was a responsibility I wanted to take upon myself. And, not only that, but it was going to be good for me.
My decision to begin veiling full-time is one I am well pleased with. I hope I can use the rest of this post to shed some light on a few points about veiling: 1) What the Church says 2) My personal experience with veiling and 2) How-to tips for beginners.
1) What the Church says about veiling
As of 1983, the Church no longer required women to wear head coverings to Mass. Since then, this requirement is no longer found in Church Canon. What exactly does this mean for us?
Well, when something is a requirement in Church Canon then it essentially means that it can be enforced and that one can be punished for disobeying. So now women are not able to be punished for not fulfilling this requirement.
Yet, head coverings are certainly not discouraged. Those who understand the meaning behind veiling and who approach it with the right intention often find veiling to be a fulfilling experience that enhances their faith and participation in the Mass (and what lovely gal doesn’t desire that?)
We are no longer required to kneel to receive communion or to receive communion on the tongue. But I think we can all agree that those actions show a deeper reverence for God than our normal shuffle through communion line. The Church certainly doesn’t discourage those practices and if we are honest with ourselves then I think we’d all agree that those practices are good for us and for the Church as a whole.
So, no, we are not required to veil. But consider this: You are in a lunch room. There is a plate of celery sticks in front of you that you’re required to eat. Then, a cafeteria employee sees you and offers you a steak for free because he wants to enhance your lunch experience. He wants you to be as full as possible.
So it is with veiling. We are required to go to Mass. But the Church offers us the gift of being able to veil so that we can enhance our (and others’) faith and become as full as possible on good things of the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I really like steak.
Perhaps the most common defense of veiling comes from scripture itself. 1 Corinthians 11:4-10 says,
“Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.”
It was common even in the earliest days of the Church for women to cover their heads. It was seen then, and now, as an act of modesty. It is a sign that a woman understands her role as a woman in God’s plan.
Many mistakenly view veiling as an oppression to women, when in reality is a rather dignified practice. God made women so beautiful (in His image) that she must cover her physical glory so that God may be glorified instead. We veil as to give more attention and glory to God during the Mass. This is a noble and worthwhile offering.
I believe for these reasons, and for several others, that this is why many women have returned to the practice of veiling in recent years. Veiling remains, yesterday and today, an outward sign of reverence and modesty.
2) My personal experience with veiling
Veiling, though awkward and difficult initially for me, came with many rewards. At first it was just knowing that I was receiving a gift from the Church and that always makes Jesus happy. All in all, that could have been enough to make it worth veiling the rest of my life (which I will).
However, many other joys came from it.
First, I noticed a deepened sense of humility in my life. Perhaps something about having your head covered in the presence of God reminds you that you truly ARE in the presence of God. That alone makes you more humble.
Second, the type of veil I wear forces my face to stay on what is happening at Mass. It is difficult to look out of the corner of my eye or get distracted by others. I noticed I stay more focused during Mass when I have my head covered.
Third, I tend to fidget a lot, especially at Mass. I would tuck my hair behind my ear or brush it away from my face. Veiling keeps my hair secure in one place and I am less distracted with fixing it.
Fourth, I try to dress modestly. Occasionally a top or dress I have would become less modest if I was kneeling and/or bending over some. It’s nearly unavoidable with some tops that are otherwise modest, which is why women often stay conscious of their movements in such clothes. The type of veil I have covers that part of my body so that I don’t even have to worry about it during Mass. This is good for me and any male who might have me in their line of vision (especially the priest). So, veiling is also a service to our brothers in Christ.
Fifthly, wearing a veil makes you conscious about being presentable for church. You’ll never be tempted to stroll into Mass with athletic shorts on again. Something about a veil just screams “wear something nice that matches the nice article on your head”. When you respect God by how you dress, it directly contributes to respecting yourself and others.
3) How-to tips for beginners
I struggled with many practical questions when I first started. I didn’t know anyone else who veiled and I wasn’t sure of what to do with certain veils. Here are a few tips to get you started (I’m still learning too!)
*Veil color technically has no importance. However, many associate white veils with virginity or being unmarried/consecrated. Black veils are often associated with marriage or with being a widow. (example: in Japan black veils are usually reserved for those who are recently widowed). You can wear a veil of any color, although it is good to use colors that are not extremely eye-catching or have crazy patterns because one of our objectives is to become less distracting to those around us who are worshiping God.
*Lace veils that are used by the majority of Latin Mass goers typically don’t stay on your head without some help (hair clips, headband sewn in, etc). I started out with this type of veil and it was rather hard to keep it on my head. You can easily get this veil to stay how you want with the use of bobby pins if you’re good at that sort of thing.
*My favorite type of veil is what is called a Snood Scarf. These are essentially circular scarves that you put around your neck and pull up some of the material to cover your head. They are easy to find in stores at the mall for as cheap as $5. That means no waiting for your chapel veil to arrive in the mail or worrying about hair clips. To see what I am talking about, search “infinity scarf” on Google images.
*Chapel veils can be ordered online pretty easily. Many Jewish women cover their heads and they have websites that sell head coverings as well. It is fine for a Catholic to use these head coverings as they are identical to head coverings worn by Catholics. They are fairly inexpensive and arrive in the mail within a week typically.
*You have many options when veiling. You can wear modest hats (such as a beret), scarves, infinity scarves, snoods, chapel veils, etc.
*If you’re nervous about beginning to veil, it can be helpful to sit in the back of the church at first so that no one will be behind you. You can just get used to being in the church with your veil on. It gets easier and easier the more you do it.
*Don’t veil until you have a basic understanding of why you’re doing it because others will approach you after Mass and ask you about it. You need to have a somewhat coherent response ready for them. So don’t delay veiling by delaying learning about it. The info is out there and explaining veiling isn’t too difficult. You don’t have to be an expert, but have a few lines prepared.
*Purchase some type of carrying bag for your veil. You don’t want your veil to get dirty, especially if it is white or cream colored. A bag that fits nicely in your purse is great because sometime you don’t know when you’ll want to stop by a church (especially when travelling).
*If you find veils that are a reasonable price, purchase more than one. Leave one in your car, one in your purse, or wherever else you might have access to before going to church (that way you’ll never be without it).
Veiling is a worthwhile endeavor if it is done for the right reasons. Spend some time praying about it. If you’re a woman, take it to prayer and see where God leads you. If you decide to veil, then happy veiling! :)
If you’re a man, encourage women to think about it. And make sure to affirm and compliment women who wear veils.