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To Wear or Not Wear: Church Veils and Mantillas

Don't Forget Your MantillaIf you do an internet search for “church veil” or “mantilla”, you’ll come across many websites dedicated to wearing a piece of lace covering on your head during Holy Mass. You’ll also find many blog posts and articles that ask the question: should I or shouldn’t I wear a mantilla?

The reasons for veiling are numerous: humility, reverence, modesty, bringing back tradition to Holy Mass. The reasons against veiling are just as strong: subjugation of women, false humility, holier-than-thou, taking the Church back to pre-Vatican II days.

There was a time in the Catholic Church when women were required to veil at Mass. The 1917 Code of Canon Law mandated it. Canon 1262 states: “2. Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.”

But then, changes occurred. The document, Inter Insignoires, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1970s stated that mantillas were no longer mandatory since wearing them was not a matter of faith: “It must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor. 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.”

Even Cardinal Burke, who is the head of the Holy See’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, addressed the question. He wrote a letter regarding veiling which is available on the EWTN web site. In part, he wrote: “The wearing of a chapel veil for women is not required when women assist at the Holy Mass according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is, however, the expectation that women who assist at the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form cover their heads, as was the practice at the time that the 1962 Missale Romanum was in force. It is not, however, a sin to participate in the Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form without a veil.”

The 1983 Code of Canon Law which is in effect today doesn’t mention church veils. Its absence from the Canon means it has been abrogated.

While veiling is no longer required, it’s still an option that some women choose, including me. In deciding whether or not to veil for Mass, the more I read about it, the more I wanted to veil. I liked the idea of wearing a lovely piece of lace on my head. I thought the practice of veiling was pretty, not in a vain way, but in the same way that I would dress as attractively as possible if I were going to a special event. And what could be more special than Mass? The intention of veiling to show reverence appealed to me.

Like many women, I worried that I would look strange and out of place. I didn’t want people to think I was holier-than-thou. And the stares! Oh, how I feared the potential stares of my fellow parishioners. Then I realized that none of my fears and concerns mattered. What was important were my reasons for veiling. If my rationale was genuine, then what did it matter what anyone thought? So, I brushed aside my misgivings and bought a pretty black lace triangular mantilla.

I wore it for the first time to Saturday morning Mass. A few people gave me a puzzled look but I ignored them. The next day at Sunday Mass three women asked me why I was wearing a veil. I explained that wearing one was my personal expression of reverence at Holy Mass. My answer seemed acceptable to them.

It has been one year since I started wearing a mantilla and it has become a natural part of my Sunday Mass attendance. Since I’ve started the practice, I’ve noticed that there are a few more women at my church who are veiling. Recently I’ve been wearing a veil when I visit our Lord at Eucharistic Adoration. When I attend Latin Mass each month, I wear an even prettier mantilla made of triangular black lace trimmed with delicate, shimmery silver lace on all sides. My ornate church veil is more suited to the Latin Mass where many women wear elegant veils.

Wearing a veil does not make us more devout, reverent or humble than the woman who doesn’t wear a veil. From personal experience, what it will do is enhance our experience of worship at Holy Mass and be a beautiful external reminder of our littleness before the Blessed Sacrament. Wearing a veil helps me to envision that when I receive Jesus in Holy Communion, my head covering forms a cocoon that helps to mentally block out the sounds around me so that I can concentrate on praying to Jesus who is now physically inside me. And veiling makes me more mindful of how appropriately dressed I am for Mass.

Whether or not to wear a veil is a personal choice. Before committing, we ought to spend time in prayer and discernment so that we honestly examine our hearts for the reasons we want to veil. Likewise, once we start veiling, regularly re-examining our reasons will keep us humble, honest and at peace with our decision.

If you have been thinking about veiling, I urge you to try it. Like me, you may find that your initial fears were unfounded and what matters is that a beautiful piece of lace, worn with the proper intentions, enhances your participation at Holy Mass.


Terry McDermott blogs at http://8kidsandabusiness.wordpress.com.  She has been married for 27 years to a man of great integrity and is the proud, tired mom of 6 young men and 2 beautiful young women, ages 24 – 10. She enjoys being her parish’s First Communion catechist. She is a Registered Nurse and a nurse-entrepreneur owner of a nursing foot care business.  St. Joseph, St. Therese, St. Gianna, St. Monica and St. Camillus de Lellis are her go-to saints, along with Our Blessed Mother. She tries to live a life centered on the Gospel through prayer and service. In all things, she strives to be grateful to God and reminds herself daily that “everything is grace” (St.Therese).


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  • noel fitzpatrick

    Terry,

    I have been reading your excellent blog and hope you are having a great vacation in Newfoundland.

    Thanks for an interesting article. I think there is a phrase “other times, other customs” indicating that customs differ in different times, cultures and places. I cannot find the original, if anyone here can please let me know.

    St Paul wrote, but it is not valid for our times:

    For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is
    disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should
    wear a veil (NRSV, 1 Cor 11:6).

  • michelekc

    I am going to my first TLM tomorrow and am so excited. I even bought a mantilla this afternoon. Timely article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • CG

    I have been thinking about wearing a veil, scarf, mantilla, or hat to Mass myself. Thanks for the article! 🙂

  • Allison Grace

    Articles about veling are popping up all over my computer … I think I’m being whispered to. Thank you for your lovely, kind, spiritual words.

  • cheryl dickow

    What a great post! Thank you for sharing your journey.
    My own has been similar.
    The sacredness of wearing a mantilla has so affected me that when one of my books was redesigned for the Year of Faith, we made sure the woman on the cover had on a mantilla!
    It is a deeply personal choice but one that has given me a great sense of the sacred. Under the mantilla is just God and me….I no longer consider the stares or wonder what others are thinking. I just enter into Mass in a whole new way.
    And for me this has been something completely unexpected, the way it pulls me so deep into my time at Mass.

  • St_Donatus

    As a man, I find the mantilla a beautiful thing, and when I see a woman wearing a mantilla it seems to help me feel a sense of holiness. It is kind of like when you see folks show their faith by their actions. What is the point of bowing to the tabernacle, or jenuflecting at your pew. It is to show reverence and love for our creator and savior. It also seems to add something inside. Yes, people can lie to others through their outward appearance, but somehow for me, the act of showing reverence helps me connect with God better. I thank you and other women who wear the mantilla for the benefit it gives me. (One side note, why is it men still can’t wear hats in Church, if these are only customs?)

  • Lora

    I love wearing a veil at Mass and Adoration. It has been a sweet and loving experience for me. I am not bothered by funny looks either because everyone around me is used to seeing me this way or because I don’t notice the funny looks any more. Either way, I am assured that there are supernatural graces and blessings involved that are beyond my control or understanding. Praises be to Jesus!