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Chapel Veils – Making a Comeback?

I know there are a lot of serious issues in the Church and the world going on lately, but I’d like to get your opinion on a largely ignored or forgotten tradition of the Church (especially in America) – which I’m hoping might be growing once again.

On Sunday, I wore a chapel veil (commonly known as a mantilla) at Mass for the first time in my life. I’m sure some people are used to seeing women wearing veils at Mass, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen it at the church I’ve gone to for the past 20 years, although I saw at least two women there this summer wearing veils. In general, I’ve noticed it more and more lately, but maybe that’s just because I’m becoming more aware of it. Either way, I knew it would make me stick out, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a few years now, and on Sunday I just felt like it was time.

I had heard stories from my dad of girls in his Catholic elementary school who would be forced to wear a used paper towel from the art class if they forgot their veils for school Masses, but that is something practically foreign to today’s largely irreverent society. Stories of forced veiling aside, I’ve been thinking about wearing a veil for the past few years. I went to a Catholic university which, despite its outward perception, has its fair share of traditional Catholics who still practice a number of these older customs. This includes women who wear chapel veils at Mass and adoration. I don’t think I had ever considered it or realized women still did it until I went to college and saw that the tradition was still alive. For awhile, I just thought it was nice for them, but I didn’t see the need for me. Eventually, that started changing. I bought a veil in August, planning to wear it to a Tridentine Mass I attended. For whatever reason, I didn’t end up wearing it then, and ever since it’s been sitting in my room waiting for me to get up the courage to wear it.

I was surprised I managed to wear it on Sunday. I felt very conspicuous the whole time, and worried I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I’m sure I got a few curious looks throughout Mass, but somehow, I was less distracted wearing the veil than I probably would have been without it. I had worried I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on Mass as much as I should be, and that my thoughts would all be about what other people were thinking, worrying that I would be seen as overly pious. It was amazing what happened, though. I did feel a little odd at times, but for the most part I was more focused on the Mass than I have been in a very long time. It was really wonderful, and I felt incredibly joyful and uplifted after Mass. Consider me converted.

The more I read about it, the more overwhelming it is that I can participate in this act of reverence and humility – it’s such a beautiful thing, and gives such respect to women (despite what the culture today might believe), and the more I understand it all the less worthy I feel. It’s sad that so many seem to think that wearing a veil somehow signifies women as “lesser” or subservient. Wearing veils really highlights what it means to be a woman in the Church, to try and imitate Mary’s humble example. Although I know it’ll still take courage for a little while to wear my chapel veil, I feel blessed that I am able to be a part of this sign of reverence to God. (To learn more about why wearing the chapel veil is such a beautiful thing, visit The Catholic Knight blog’s series of posts on chapel veils.)

Do any of you ladies wear chapel veils or mantillas? Any words of wisdom for a newcomer to the tradition? And for everyone, what are your thoughts on veiling? I hope that if more people talk about it as more than an outdated practice with no place in today’s culture, more women will be encouraged to learn why this tradition was practiced for most of the history of the Church, and maybe one of these days women wearing veils will be the norm again (or maybe that’s a bit too optimistic…).

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