On December 8, Veils by Lily, my very favorite place to shop (often window shop) for veils, and the only place from which I’ve ever purchased one, is launching a global movement to rediscover reverence at Mass. I think this is brilliant. And lovely.
Basically, it’s a challenge to begin veiling at Mass if you’ve ever felt called to do so.
Because the very mention of veils seems to put some on the defensive, I would like to begin by saying I do not and, more importantly, the Church does not think you are failing to properly reverence the Eucharist by choosing not to cover your head at Mass.
I do, however, think it is a beautiful tradition. I’d like to tell you why.
I felt called to veil for years before I finally gave it a try. The calling started off as simply noticing the women who do chose to veil. I thought they were lovely, but I never thought I would veil. In fact, my mother has always been very vocally opposed to “those women” who veil at Mass. However, my passing glance eventually turned into a deeper pondering. Why would they want to veil at Mass? I came up with a few conclusions on my own and eventually did some internet research. The more I learned, the more lovely the practice became to me. I held a deep admiration and almost a slight twinge of envy for those who were daring enough to cover their heads. (Does anyone else see the irony in that?) But, for me, probably because of the commentary I heard growing up, it was going to take more than believing the tradition was lovely before I could take the plunge.
Because I have spent so much time thinking and praying about this topic, and in light of this Rediscover Reverence campaign, I’d like to share why I believe it is fitting for a woman to cover her head in the presence of the Eucharist. (Please note that I said “fitting”, not “mandated”,”required”, or “the Church is wrong and I am right”.) Admittedly, some of these reasons are more substantial than others, but these are the reasons that are the most meaningful to me.
- It is a beautiful act of humility. If a woman’s hair is the symbol of her glory (a topic which I discussed here) and Christ is fully present in the Eucharist, isn’t it fitting that I would cover my glory out of respect of the glorious presence residing in front of me? By covering my head, in the simplest terms, I am acknowledging God is God and I am not. By covering my “glory” I am demonstrating that Christ alone deserves all the glory. Moreover, I am acknowledging that any glory I possess in my nature or may attain in my life is given to me by the Glorious One who is present before me.
- It’s Biblical. Don’t skip this one! I’m not about to say what you think I’m going to say. While it is true that there is a cultural element to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11, look closer. I think as most women read, they are too busy getting offended and building a defense to catch one key phrase in verse 10. Paul doesn’t say a woman should cover her head because she is less than or because she is some kind of temptress or for any other reason people drum up. Paul says a woman should cover her head in worship because of the angels. This little phrase, to me, obliterates the cultural argument. Paul wasn’t imposing cultural standards because cultural standards are bound to time and place. Angels are not. Paul’s argument is not cultural, and therefore, it is Biblical for a woman to cover her head in worship.
- Because of the angels. What on earth does this mean? I asked one of my brilliant Bible professors, and he responded with something along the lines of, “Well, it doesn’t matter what he meant. Surely, Paul’s understanding of the angles far surpasses our own, so we should just believe him.” Not the answer I expected from my brilliant Scripture teacher. While there may be some truth in what he said, I needed more than that. And after months of having that question lingering in the back of my head, I think I may have found the answer! When Isaiah was commissioned for his prophetic service, he found himself in the presence of the angels, perhaps in heaven. (Is 6) The angels were worshiping God crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Sounds familiar, right? Sounds like Isaiah got a sneak peak of the Heavenly Liturgy we emulate with our Earthly Liturgy.) As Isaiah describes the angels, he mentions they have 6 wings: 2 to cover their faces, 2 to cover their feet, and 2 with which they fly. Did you catch that? These angels, who were created for no other purpose than to worship God, have their faces covered in his presence. Maybe this is what Paul was talking about! Maybe this is the reason he gives for women to cover their heads. BUT, even if it’s not, it still struck a powerful cord with me. (It also caused me to ponder what I consider to be acceptable footware for Mass and make some changes, especially to my summer church shoe collection)
- If it’s good enough for Mary, it’s good enough for me. Admittedly, this is one of my weaker arguments, but I still like it. Have you ever seen a picture of Mary without her head covered? I haven’t. Maybe this is just an accurate representation of what was expected of her culturally, or maybe her head is covered because she lived with the Divine Presence. Or maybe, as is often the case with our beautiful Catholic faith, the answer is both. Yes and yes. Yes, it was culturally appropriate, and yes, it was out of reverence for her Son. Maybe this isn’t true at all. However, as I purpose to model Mary in all I do, this is one area I can outwardly represent and remind myself of my inner striving. Interestingly, this is also what resonates with my 6 year old. Last week, I was not wearing my veil. Sitting in the pew before Mass, my little Jack tugged at my arm and said, “Mommy, why aren’t you wearing your veil? I really like when you wear your veil. It makes you more like Mary.”
- A veiled woman approaching Communion is a living symbol of Christ united with his Church. Marriage is often used to describe the relationship of Christ to his Church. He being the groom and she being the bride. This is seen in The Song of Songs, it is illustrated in the parables, and is made explicit by Paul in Ephesians. Over the centuries, it has been further expounded upon, most notably by Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. When a veiled woman walks down the aisle, what is the first thing you think of? A wedding. At Mass, a veiled woman walks down the aisle, approaches her groom, Jesus Christ, whom she then receives in his entirety, uniting her life completely to his. This unification is undoubtably real when anyone, male or female, receives Holy Communion, but when a veiled woman does so, the analogy is unmistakeable. The veiled woman becomes an icon of the entire Church: receptive, submissive, and obedient to Christ her Savior. (As a side note, this is also why non-Catholics and those Catholics who are not in a state of grace may not receive Holy Communion. The reception of Communion is the culmination of our earthly Christian life, much like [although not identically so! All analogies have their limits.] the marital embrace is the culmination of married life. It is a full surrender and acceptance of the other. In the case of Holy Communion, it is not possible to fully accept and surrender to one whom you do not believe in or have turned your back on in mortal sin.)
Much has been written about why women veil in the presence of the Eucharist. There is great historical information, as well beautiful spiritual insights. I learned much from what others have said, but, as I told you earlier, it took more than that for me. I needed something I could hold on to in case I ever had to defend myself. That was truly one of my worst fears and what took me so long to embrace the practice. I was so worried about what other people would think and what they might say to me. But no one has ever said anything. I’ve never received so much as a disapproving glance. I think most people either find it lovely or don’t notice. I think the ones who are opposed to veiling are actually the vast minority.
If you’re considering veiling and have stumbled upon this blog, please don’t stop reading here. There are so many pieces more beautifully written, more humble, and more insightful. I just wanted to share the big factors for me in case there’s anyone else out there than can benefit from them. Most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and he will lead you to the information that’s right for you. As I said, I really believe that veiling is the most fitting, and I believe you will probably be guided to that realization as well.
And if you’ve already come to that conclusion – what are you waiting for? Buy a veil (or make one or improvise) and get to it! I think it would be great practice with which to begin Advent (Dec. 1) or join in a week later (Dec. 8) in solidarity with Catholic women worldwide. Even if you’re one of the few who veil at your parish, it may comfort you to know that so many others out there are doing the same thing for the first time on the same day. What a gift it is to be part of a universal Church!