[The following post is in honor of Pope Saint Pius X, whose memorial is today, and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we honor tomorrow.]
Ever since I rediscovered the Extraordinary Form of Mass for myself, being Roman Catholic has never been the same. In fact, three big markers pop out of my timeline of Catholic living: when I encountered the Theology of the Body, when I met Mary, and when I discovered the Tridentine Mass.
Over the past few years of attending Tridentine Masses whenever I could (each time a wonderful treat!), one of the things most noticeably distinct to me are the number of women — young and old — who don the chapel veil (aka: mantilla). I always felt different at Mass and worship in the presence of these women in veils, but I didn’t know why (or how so) until this past weekend in the most unlikely of places…
I was at the Midwest’s annual weekend training camp for leadership in the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement of America. Just before our opening Mass in an open field, in the humble shade of a tree and under the gaze of the morning sun, one of my dear friends beside me pulled out a white lace veil and draped it over her hair. It was out of the corner of my eye, but I saw everything in slow motion. I could not believe what I was seeing, and how it lifted my heart. Instantly, I felt a rush of reverence: if she could humble herself so much before Jesus… then how much more should I long to join her in worshiping Him! Her simple gesture to honor Christ floored me, and inspired me to show at least as much reverence.
And then, I found out she was not the only one. Throughout the Masses we shared at camp, I saw another young woman under a veil. As she approached Jesus in the Eucharist, as she knelt before our King and received His Communion, I found myself no longer able to stand before the Lord. The simple and passing beauty of the scene between the King and His daughter made me feel unworthy of beholding it so. I turned my eyes down… I wanted to crawl to Communion because my soul could sense the holiness present. My humble little heart could not handle the beauty.
I know not why it was this setting, this weekend, this event that helped me see how women in veils could help males like me worship, but I praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of this experience, for the gorgeous gift of these women. Thank you. And to further the glory of God, I asked these women to personally share with you their beautiful story…
I’m an all-in-kind-of girl, and as of that, I’ve come to realize that my inability to commit partially is both a blessing and a curse. In any case, it is most definitely the reason why I usually find myself, either, fatally wrong or unshakably confident.
My decision whether to veil or not to veil was no exception. Unbeknownst to me, my discernment process started a few years ago as casual curiosity and admiration. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards it, other than, “Wow, that’s beautiful and holy looking……. I probably shouldn’t wear it.”
But then, through my encounter with the Theology of the Body and the Blessed Sacrament, my understanding for the Church, worship and the nature of God developed — and I wanted to participate in my faith more fully.
It started with my decision to dress more modestly — by replacing my skimpy bikinis with one piece bathing suits. I avoided controversial situations, like getting drunk while bar hopping in leotards — or just getting drunk, period. (I’m not really sure why I ever thought that it was appropriate to wear leotards as a complete outfit). But bit by bit… all these little changes restored my self image as a child of God. It helped me see myself how my Creator intended me to be. I became more aware of how I needed to represent myself as part of Christ’s body, so much so that I became uncomfortable when I misrepresented myself — and thus misrepresented Christ.
But the holy smack didn’t happen until a few months ago, when I was listening to Tim Staples, an apologist, talk about how Catholics are missing the point of Mass. It’s not just about us ‘getting fed’ but instead the Mass/Sabbath is a day, set aside to give God the praise and worship that is just. It’s the time to fall to our knees to ask for forgiveness, grace and mercy. It’s the time to glorify Him and hail Jesus to be our true Savior.
Worship is not a matter of my feelings, it is our response to faith.
Furthermore, when I reflected on Scripture, and saw how Jesus references the Church as His bride. The pieces started to fall in place and I understood more clearly, what my Living God was doing. Day-in-and-day-out, upon that altar, He was keeping His Word. He was coming to us, as a MAN. He was offering Himself — completely and fully to us. He was re-establishing a covenant.
Jesus was all in.This brought me to my knees — literally. I not only genuflected before the Eucharist, I went down on both knees. I am a mortal human that has been chosen to be a temple of God…! I was in the presence of a king. I was receiving Christ! And I wanted to do what was just and deserving of that honor.I begin to prepare for Mass differently. I hung onto every word of the liturgy. I humbly, surrendered and re-committed my life to Jesus, each and every time I received Him.I am a woman, claimed by Christ, Himself.So, what about the veil? Well, there’s no high theology here. It just made sense and was fitting. I want to submit myself before the Lord. I want to embrace my role as a woman in the Church. The veil represents something that had changed WITHIN me. It is an outward sign of a commitment made in the depths of my heart and soul. So with unshakable confidence — I wear it…’Cause I’m an all-in-kind-of girl.
The beauty of the mantilla never struck me until reading Crystalina Evert’s blog on the Chastity Project; before, it had just been some weird headdress that old women and younger, presumptuous girls wore to Mass to show off their holiness. Little did I know that those women didn’t wear those veils because they thought they were holy – it was because they needed to be holier.
Before Vatican II, women were required to wear a chapel veil to Mass in order to show reverence to the Lord on His day, as well showing the world that they, as women, were sacred enough to veil and be protected from the world around them. The sacred should be veiled, as the Eucharist is protected in the monstrance, the tabernacle, and under the veil during Mass. After Vatican II, the requirement of wearing the mantilla was taken out of Canon Law, and feminists in the 60’s denounced wearing it because they believed that it was a symbol of slavery to men and to the church, and so the beautiful tradition of the mantilla faded away.
When I read Crystalina’s thoughts on the mantilla, the idea of wearing one intrigued me, but I brushed it off because I didn’t want people looking at me funny or thinking I was getting above myself. But the image of the veil kept popping into my head, incessantly and constantly. I decided to pray about it and leave it up to God to show me what I should do, because if I was going to go all out Mary-style, I needed to know exactly why I would. In the meantime I did some research on it. I found that several First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, all wore veils upon meeting Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. If powerful women felt the need to veil themselves in the presence of the Holy See, why shouldn’t we veil ourselves in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Not only does the veil show that women are sacred, it also helps you grow into your sacredness. The wearing of the mantilla promotes the growth of virtues such as chastity, purity, humility, and modesty, all of which are exemplified in the Virgin Mary, who is always depicted wearing a veil.The more I read, the more I felt that God was calling me to be more like our Mother, and to emulate her in everything that I do. Like Crystalina, I loved the idea of being covered by the Holy Trinity and being protected by it. My boyfriend bought me a white mantilla, which is the traditional color for unmarried women, made of Spanish lace as an homage to my patron saint, Teresa of Avila. Wearing the mantilla makes me feel like I am alone with Christ during Mass; everyone else melts away, and it’s just me and my maker. I feel more alert, more open, more joyful, and even excited when I get the chance to put it on. I feel even more excited when people ask me about it, because it gives me a chance to share my love for the Holy Family and Holy Trinity. I love the feel of the lace on my hair, like the caress of a parent’s hand on their child’s head. I love the way the veil frames my line of vision when I look at the Eucharist. And I love being able to grow closer to my heavenly Father and my Blessed Mother.
“And this is why the female body should be veiled because everything which is sacred calls for veiling. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he veiled his face. Why did he veil his face? Because he had spoken to God and at that very moment there was a sacredness that called for veiling… Veiling indicates sacredness and it is a special privilege of the woman that she enters church veiled.” –Dr. Alice von Hildebrand
More thoughts on the mantilla from around the Catholic blogosphere:
2) Notes from Beneath the Veil
3)And here’s a video on the veil!