The Art of the Chapel Veil or Mantilla

Photo: OC-Travel
The laity, by virtue of their baptism, participate actively in the liturgical rites of the Church, even from the pew. In imitation of the Blessed Mother, Catholic women have covered their heads in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament from time immemorial.  This has been and remains a universal custom (and eschatological sign) in both East and West, dating from the paleo-Christian era.

Let me be clear: all Catholic women who wear a veil do so by a privilege which custom has sanctioned and the Church tacitly approves.   

This includes brides, nuns, dames of orders under the protection of the Holy See, girls on their First Holy Communion day and all other females on all occasions of the liturgical year.

The wearing of the veil has its roots in our Hebrew origins.  In the Christian tradition it has many noteworthy purposes, including the spiritual goal of asceticism (coming from the ancient Greek word ask─ôsis, which means "training" or "exercise," a practice to attain a higher spirituality).

I purchased this veil for my daughter last year while visiting Lourdes for seven Euro.  In fact, twice in the same year I found myself in Lourdes as a pilgrim, and so the second time I picked up a few more for friends and family.

The Council of Trent makes clear that externals are crucial to the liturgical experience.  It states: "Whereas such is the nature of man that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of diving things" (Cf. Session xxii, chapter v, my own translation).

These things include mystic ceremonies, the hushed voice of the celebrant, music, incense, lights, vestments and many other things of this kind, including veils.  The point is that all of these visuals highlight the majesty of so great a mystery -- they are visible signs of religion that excite piety and contemplation.   

There is more need for these "extras" today than ever.  The veil helps to make known the treasures of Catholicism within the context of a Western culture that is in the process of rejecting it and the Faith responsible for its greatness.

The veil is a tried and tested tradition of the Church that offers an antidote to the universal phenomenon of accelerating secularism that is particularly hostile to the Church, family and womanhood.

Due to various cultural forces at work during the decade of the 1960s, the veil was discarded by populist fashion trends.  This brings to mind a quote from Russell Kirk, "In a revolutionary epoch, sometimes men taste every novelty, sicken of them all, and return to the ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered." 

For more information on the veil, see here.

As a side note, the veil has great theological significance.  It is not just for modesty or humility.  The veil sends a clear and defiant counter-cultural message, saying, "I will serve" in a culture that says, "I will not serve."  This is not always vocalized because of obvious pushback from our postmodern culture, a society heavily wounded by the "woke" radical feminist agenda of the sixties cultural revolution and beyond.  Radical feminism is a political ideology that has morphed through the decades and influenced the Church through society, causing untold harm.  

The theology of the veil is such that a veil is more than just beautiful, it is a visual sermon and as such a norm of the Church through the centuries.  It is because woman is a living icon of the Church, the act of putting on the veil is symbolic of the spousal relationship between Christ and His Church, the Bridegroom and the Bride.  A veil is a reminder that the bride is under the submission and protection of the loving care of her husband, the bridegroom.  So, too, when women veil in church, the veil is a reminder of the perfect submission of the Church to her bridegroom, Christ.  The veil is a public proclamation that Catholic women belong to God, that they love Him and that they are ready to obey him.  This is exactly why nuns veil, because they are the brides of Christ and they belong to the Bridegroom.     

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