Why Millennial Catholics are re-adopting the traditional chapel veil

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A young Catholic woman from Las Vegas regularly shares images of herself wearing flawless makeup and lacy chapel veils on Instagram. Photo: Courtesy of Caramia Caballero

When former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Leah Darrow first met young women from her Catholic community putting lace veils on their heads as they entered church, she was a little weird. Returning to faith after a mystical experience at a magazine photoshoot convinced her to give up modeling, Darrow was serious about Catholicism – but was wary of a practice she considered at better outdated.

“I was like, ‘Is someone forcing you to do this? What is this?’” Darrow said over the phone.

Since the practice of women covering their heads in Catholic worship spaces was the norm, but was largely abandoned in the 1960s, Darrow was unsure of what women covering their heads might mean in the 2010s. But the fact that the veiled peers in question were “normal girls with whom you could have a glass of wine, but also very loyal” made Darrow think.

“There was something appealing to me about the life they lived and the way they prayed,” Darrow says. After doing more research into the history and meaning of the veil in Catholic tradition, Darrow decided to try it for herself. “I’m definitely a girly girl, so wearing a cute veil looked pretty fun,” she laughs.

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Although Darrow did not start wearing a veil to Mass every week, she has gained a new appreciation for the practice and now regularly wears a head covering during her visits to Rome, where she leads pilgrimages at least once. times a year. Her travels as a Catholic lecturer and book author convinced Darrow that veils are experiencing a renaissance among Catholic women, especially young Americans.

“There is a new uprising in the Church of Millennials who actually want a more traditional view of their faith,” she said. This creates a stark contrast to Protestant mega-churches which leverage streetwear and celebrity relationships to stay relevant.

Samantha Skinner, a high school science teacher in North Dakota, is a Catholic millennial interested in a return to tradition. Raised vaguely Protestant but not a church devotee until she converted to Catholicism in college, Skinner began wearing a veil to mass every week even before she had completed the necessary classes to formalize his conversion. A conversation with a friend who worked in a “holy bookstore” convinced Skinner to try the practice for herself.

“It kind of resonated with me,” she said over the phone. For Skinner, the allure of the veil was initially emotional: it made her feel humiliated and respectful, like removing a hat during the national anthem or at a funeral, and made her more able to focus on prayer.

Other young Catholics, like Forest Hempen, 24, from Ohio, chose to adopt the veil after digging into the theological ramifications of the tradition. An aspiring theological lecturer who lectures on chastity to teenagers and works for a Catholic nonprofit organization in Cincinnati, Hempen fell in love with the veil while studying the theology of the body as articulated by her “holy crush.” Pope John Paul II. For Hempen, chapel veils represent a whole range of things: a way of imitating the Virgin Mary wearing the veil, an experience of “authentic femininity” that distinguishes women as especially blessed life carriers and a reminder that she and all members of the church are to see each other as brides in a symbolic marriage to Jesus, whom the Bible sometimes describes as a bridegroom.

Hempen also echoes Skinner and Darrow’s words about the connection that sails have with both beauty and humility. While she acknowledges the apparent contradiction when she asserts that the same garment can both raise and lower simultaneously, she considers the tension between the two to be worth living.

“It’s ironic; the best things in life are,” Hempen said on a phone call. “It can only be perfectly balanced if you’re there for the right reasons and have a relationship with God. Otherwise, it turns into a ‘look how flashy I am, or look like I am holy.”

Hempen, Skinner, and Darrow all got to know the veil by seeing it practiced or hearing about it from friends. Their introduction through word of mouth appears to be fairly typical, as the world of Catholic headscarves has yet to generate the level of online community and press that other religious fashion groups like Muslims wearing the hijab or the Jews observing the “tzniuts” have.

Some Catholics in large coastal cities like New York City, where churches tend to be more liberal in both their theology and politics, might never even see the veil that is becoming more and more common in the Midwest. Grace Carney, a public school women’s clothing designer who grew up in the Catholic Church in Minnesota and now attends Queen of All Saints in Fort Greene, confirms the idea that the practice varies by region.

“I haven’t seen any [veils] here in New York, really, “she says via text. But in the church she grew up in, Carney notes,” there was always a group of homeschooled kids and they wore them. “

To prove that the sailboat community is growing and active outside of cities like New York, there is no need to look any further than Veils by Lily. The family-owned retailer founded by Lily Wilson in 2010 has more than 17,000 likes on Facebook and an engaged customer base who not only buy products, but also regularly share the retailer’s posts and send photos and thank-you letters. Since its founding, Veils by Lily has grown from a home schooling project for a mother to a full time job for the founder and 11 employees. Soon Wilson will be opening a brick-and-mortar retail space, which she says will be the first store in America to focus on chapel veils.

Wilson’s vision for Veils by Lily was sparked by his own difficulty in finding sails that weren’t “bad”.

“My mission was to get more women to wear these veils, and I think the way to do that is to make them really beautiful,” Wilson said over the phone. “It is not about veils. It is about God. The veil is a small tool that we can use to open our hearts more to God.”

In addition to having veils made by his in-house team and importing a selection of styles from Europe, Wilson also uses Veils by Lily to provide education on the use, purpose and theological significance of veils via the blog of brand and social media. She believes part of the reason Millennial Catholics are more open to the veil is because they operate without the baggage of older generations who associated the veil with gender inequality.

“It’s not about submission to men,” she said. “It’s about loving submission to God.”

While convincing more Catholic women that wearing the veil is a spiritual boon has clear financial benefits for Wilson and her business, she is quick to say that it was never about money.

“We started this because we felt it was something that would bring back respect for the Eucharist,” she said. “We never had sales targets and I don’t think we ever will. Our business is built on the trust that if God really wants us to do this, He will make it possible. don’t want us to do that, we don’t mind shutting down. “

It doesn’t look like this is something Wilson will have to worry about anytime soon. While the veil is not becoming the norm for Catholic women across the country as it was in the 1950s, it is certainly gaining a level of critical mass. And if the reasoning behind the practice is articulated in a winning fashion, it is unlikely to arouse fierce anger from those who do not undertake it themselves.

“After all,” says Darrow, “there is something beautiful about the way this fashion piece speaks to the faith and the prayer life.”

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