The veil of the chapel is back.
The practice of women covering their heads at Mass, which largely disappeared after Vatican II, has seen a resurgence among traditional-minded Catholic women, many of whom favor the Latin Mass. reversal of important doctrinal changes of Vatican II. A lot, but not all.
I am a progressive Catholic who has come to love the chapel veil as a personal devotion with deep theological and political significance. This is my story.
Veil resistance of the chapel
Like so many niche moves, I first encountered the veil on Twitter. In my opinion, the veil was rooted in the subjugation of women, as stated in Corinthians:
But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered shames his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head, for it is the same as if she had had her head shaved. 1 Corinthians chapter 11
There is a lot going on here. But one of the many benefits of being a Catholic is that we read the Bible in its historical context, and this passage was clearly intended for a specific community at a specific time. So despite my love of lace and the theater, I decided the veil couldn’t be for me.
An experience of holiness
But something kept bringing me back to images of veiled women. For a while, I convinced myself that it was purely aesthetic. Who doesn’t like a good mantilla? But the more I reasoned with myself, the more I wanted to do it. Isn’t that how all adventures with God begin?
I did some research online and of course I came across the hugely popular retailer Veils by Lily. (This is basically the brand name of the chapel veils.) On their home page was a simple statement: “The True Presence.” This is why we are sailing.
I believe in the Real Presence. If that’s all it took, then why not try it as an experiment? If God wanted me to continue, I thought, he would eventually provide answers to all my worries. He did.
Veil for humility, not modesty
When I first wore my new veil to mass, everyone looked at me. So much for the veil being a tool of modesty. I knew what people were thinking: I was reactionary, scrupulous, zealous, conceited and weird.
But there is something incredibly humiliating about looking a little silly. It was liberating, reckless, powerful and humiliating at the same time. I knew I sounded radical, but it is good to be radical when it comes to the most important singular element of the Catholic faith: the presence of God in the Eucharist. This is especially the case when only a third of Catholics believe it.
I decided to humble myself for Jesus. After all, isn’t that what the whole Church should be doing?
A crisis without God
Recently a friend told me how he left the Catholic Church, which he loved dearly, during the sexual abuse scandal of the early 2000s. He is far from alone. In the most recent scandal, 37% of Catholics considered leaving. The hierarchy has no one else to blame but themselves. They turned away from God and in so doing destroyed lives.
Even now, those in power continue to downplay and distract, leaving us lay people to ask ourselves what we can do to save the Church we love. Women, who are excluded from leadership roles, feel this frustration keenly. What power do we have to demand reforms within the Church when our voices are silenced? We don’t have much, but we have the power of symbols.
A clear call to holiness
Lily Sails explains, “The veil is meant to be a visible reminder of the Church’s perfect submission to Christ’s rule of love. “
The idea of submission is a challenge for me. But submission to Christ is different. Submission to Christ is something we should all be doing. In fact, doing so is the only possible way to save the Church. By veiling themselves at Mass, the women send a strong symbolic message: God is here in this room. It is about Jesus in the Eucharist. It is not about power, pride or authority.
I am ready to humiliate myself, even to humiliate myself, for the love of Jesus in the sacrament. I am focused on Jesus. Maybe, Father, you should be too. Maybe the whole Church should be. By wearing the chapel veil, women make a visual request for holiness.
May the Church be as holy as her laity. We challenge you to repent.
The veil of the chapel as a gender policy (It’s not what you think)
Full Disclosure: I will deviate from Church teaching on gender in this section. I am also a layman and I DO NOT SPEAK FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. I claim the primacy of the conscious. If you think I’m a heretic, don’t hesitate to yell at me in the comments. I will continue to pray about it.
Having said that, here is how I rectify the very important issue of veil and gender identity.
There is a man and a woman, and they are not the same. This must be true, because if it weren’t true, there would be no meaning behind concepts like transgender or non-binary people. Gender must exist for individuals to cross it. A binary must exist for individuals to exist outside, between, or inside of it.
I, a cisgender woman, have both a feminine body and a gender identity of women. However, my gender identity exists independent of my body. i know because when I die, I will still be a woman. When my body resurrects at the end of time, my soul will join my body. But I will always have been a woman. I cannot be anything other than who and what I am, nor anyone.
When I wear the veil, I make a statement about my essential femininity. I believe that God is calling me to bring him my gender expression in the mass. It is possible that God is calling someone who is not cisgender to bring their gender expression to Him en masse. It would be a huge risk that I have no right to advise anyone to take. All I know is this: God calls us to worship ourselves.
Freely chosen personal devotion
The veil only works if it is optional. Because it is optional, every woman has the power to decide if and when she wants to wear it. It is a form of power: the right to worship the Lord as you see fit. It is also the power to reclaim a symbol, reject connotations of the past and reinvent it in a way that makes sense to you.
The Church once told women what the veil meant. Now the women are telling the Church.
* Note: I use the pronoun He for God because the historical Jesus was a man. I realize it’s more complex than that, but I’ll leave that for another blog post.