Go to any Roman Catholic, Anglo Catholic or Orthodox Mass today and the chances are you will see very few women wearing any kind of head covering, let alone the mantilla or chapel veil. It would seem this ancient and reverent custom is now so counter-cultural and viewed by some as discriminatory, that it has fallen well and truly off the sacramental radar.
Over the centuries women have worn mantillas when going to Mass, when in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and when meeting his Holiness, the Pope. Wearing a mantilla or chapel veil has been a common practice amongst faithful women across the churches, with this custom most commonly practiced in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Traditonally married women or widows wore black veils, while white veils were worn by young girls or unmarried women.
The practice of women covering their heads when in the presence of God has been well documented since the time of the early Christians. For centuries women followed this custom as a sign of humility and reverence but often also to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is always portrayed with a veil and is the archetype of purity and humility. Historically, a woman’s long hair was considered to be a thing of beauty and so by covering her head, the woman was seen to be covering her own beauty, so that the true glory may be given to God instead.
Women were also viewed as being a life-giving vessel with Our Blessed Lady being the most precious vessel of all, the one in which Jesus Christ was carried. In the same way, the chalice holding the blood of Christ, the very essence of Life, is veiled until the Preparation of the Gifts, and the tabernacle veiled between Masses. Unfortunately with the decline in religious teaching of any kind, understanding of this symbolism is completely lost on most people.
Before Vatican 11 women in the Catholic church were required to veil when attending Mass as a symbol of their modesty and humility before God. Latterly, the practice of veiling has declined as has wearing a hat or even a scarf. It would seem in the 21st century that head wear of any description has finally been thrown out as ‘old hat,’ and as it no longer forms part of canon law, is not really encouraged. Consequently as the practice of veiling has become redundant, most people have little understanding of it and therefore no interest.
Ask your average church-goer why women used to wear mantillas and you will generally be met with blank faces. It is also likely that people (more so perhaps in the Protestant churches) would not even know what a mantilla or chapel veil was, let alone what one looked like. Of those that do, some may view it as a discriminatory practice left over from the ancient church as a symbol of woman’s subservience to male ‘headship’. The progressive, modernist agenda has so muddied and influenced Christian practices that I would guess liberal christian women today would regard this practice as ‘repressive’ and a throw-back to misogynistic practices.
In St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11:1-16) he declares that we must cover our heads because it is Sacred Tradition commanded by our Lord himself and entrusted to Paul. Sadly with the pressure of modern society and its secular values, many people have dropped what was once a beautiful and reverent custom and as many churches too have yielded to modern thinking, there is no longer a requirement to wear any type of head covering.
Yet I would say to those who still think that the veil is an outdated custom, remember that: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today, yes, and forever” (Heb. 13:8) Showing reverence and humility in the presence of God is not a practice applicable only to a particular period in time. It is for eternity, because He is the Alpha and the Omega – infinite.
So why do I veil? Well certainly not to make any kind of fashion statement as veiling today is probably considered completely ‘uncool’. I veil because I am in the presence of Almighty God, my Creator, my source of Life and my soul’s delight. I veil as an external manifestation of my belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist and I wish to show love, reverence and humility in his Holy presence. I veil because like the Angels I feel I should cover myself in the presence of the Holy One. I veil because I love Our Lord. I veil simply because I feel it matters.
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