Marble Surface

To veil or not to veil?

Six months ago, my husband and I made the momentous decision to sell what we thought would be our forever home and move to a remote town a few hours drive from our adult children, reluctant 17-year-old in tow. The previous two years had been a struggle living on the outskirts of an urban sprawl in the middle of insane lockdowns that prevented us from working, seeing our family, having a meal outside the home, and worst of all, locking us out of the Church. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave, but with no jobs, no means to pay our mortgage, and our meagre savings quickly running out, we had no choice but to put our home on the market.

We never could have known just how much this little town would bless us, and especially how much it would give us in regards to strengthening our faith, prayer life and appreciation for God and the Holy Mass. Without realising it, our new home was in the middle of the most conservative Catholic diocese in our State, and only one of a handful still offering the Traditional Latin Mass. It had been many years since I have experienced Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and at the first available opportunity I dragged my husband and my teenaged daughter to experience it.

I fell in love.

There was reverence. There was Tradition. There was incense and bells. There were servers in cassock and surplice. The celebrant presided over High Mass in persona Christi, wearing the chasuble. A cantor set our hearts soaring in praise, and greatest of all, Holy Communion was on our knees at the rail.

And the women wore veils.

Not every woman, but enough for me to feel entirely under dressed. Not only that, looking around me, the families were large and all with two parents. Fathers in ties standing tall at the end of the pews. Mothers in rich coloured veils of gold and violet cooing softly to infants, while older children carried younger siblings in their arms. White veiled young girls dressed in long line skirts stood next to brothers in suit jackets. I felt transported to another time, another place, far removed from our sleepy town in outback Australia. It was like coming home.

Occasionally, scattered throughout my lifetime, I would see a woman veiled at Mass. Usually an older woman of European descent, dressed in black with a veil to match, kneeling and praying intently, clutching rosary beads. It wasn’t something I considered or even thought about. Wasn't veiling just another bygone cultural custom lost to the modern world and its fashion? Seeing all these women humbled under veils, reverent posture with eyes lowered, I found myself wanting to know why and was it something Catholic women should do?

One day after Mass, I bravely approached a mother and her daughters to ask about their veils, which I'd noticed had been unceremoniously pushed back from their heads immediately upon exiting the church and now rested like dainty neck scarves around their chins.

“We wear mantillas as a token of modesty and purity,” the mother replied. “It covers the hair which is a women’s crown so that our beauty is not in competition with the Mass or distracting to those around us.”

Later, in a book explaining the treasure and tradition of the Latin Mass, I found this explanation:

When we think of those things which are most sacred, we find that they are often veiled in mystery: the secret vessels are kept under a veil; the tabernacle is veiled; the Ark of the Covenant is veiled. Out of respect for the dead, we cover their faces; at Life’s beginning we are hidden in our mother’s womb. Our Lady, the blessed vessel by which our Lord was made flesh and dwelt among us, is never without a veil. God created woman to fulfill the sacred mystery of bringing new life into the world. Thus we should consider it a privilege to be veiled in the Sanctuary.[1]

It should be noted that on the occasion when these same women are present at Mass in the Ordinary Form, they still veil and dress modestly. Veiling has meaning to them that goes beyond Tradition.

I am now left with a question that wrestles within my own heart each time I approach the church steps – to veil or not to veil?


[1] Bergman, L (2014) Treasure and Tradition: The Ultimate Guide to the Latin Mass, St Augustine Academy Press, USA, p. xxi

Photo credits: Girl in blue veil -; Black veiled woman by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

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