Catholic Covering Conundrum
Since we began attending the Tridentine Mass at our parish a year and a half ago, I have found myself in the midst of a personal struggle. I had to face my true feelings about chapel veils. My past exposure to them had left me with a mixed impression. The women who I had seen wear them were either in their 70s or above and had probably just never stopped wearing them, or they were, to be blunt, socially awkward, jean skirt and flannel wearing coeds who majored in the classics and probably spoke fluent Latin. I didn’t feel I really fit into either category.
But the women of St. Joseph’s broke my past stereotypes. There were women in their 80s down to toddlers who were veiled. I noticed even mothers of babies managed to wear them. Despite the fact that I wasn’t a veil-wearer, I was warmly welcomed by all the parishioners and never felt snubbed or judged for not conforming to the custom of the majority. Not every woman in our parish covered her head and there was no pressure of obligation or expectation that I immediately begin this practice. However, the more I witnessed it, the more attractive it became to me. Around this time, our son Joseph was born and any thought of taking up the practice of head covering was dispelled as I adjusted to caring for a newborn at Mass. I finally decided it wasn’t practical for me to wear a head covering as Joseph would constantly be pulling it off and it would become more of a distraction to me and others. Having this logical excuse, I felt the issue was settled and I stopped thinking about it.
But then God kept sending me little reminders, such as our friend Jeremy, who isn’t Catholic but comes from a traditional Christian denomination and has come to Mass with us a few times. Every time he would ask me why I wasn’t veiled. It wasn’t an accusation-he was just curious and actually really admired the practice. I always told him that with Joseph it was just too hard. As time went on I became less satisfied with this answer as day after day I sat behind women of numerous children including babies who covered their heads. One day I noticed that there were many styles of head coverings-the lace mantillas, the small, circular chapel veils, and the head scarves which wound around the shoulders. The head scarf jumped out at me as the least intrusive because when it did slip off the head, it came down to rest on the shoulders and easily could be restored to its proper position without any pinning or elaborate arm gestures. “That’s the style I would wear if I were to wear a veil” I thought to myself. (Obviously, this issue had me a little preoccupied)
Then advent rolled around and we began our spiritual preparations for Christmas. In prayer I began to ask Christ to show me something that I could do for him for his birthday which would please him. Nothing struck me immediately so I just kept it in prayer as advent continued. Then one day I was talking with one of the young ladies from our parish who I tutor and who also happens to wear the style of head scarves that I liked and I asked her where she got hers. This led to a whole discussion on the topic and I realized what was holding me back-I was afraid of what others would think. I didn’t want to start wearing one to fit in, or to appear more pious, or even to pacify Jeremy. I needed to be convicted personally. Through the witness of my student and an article which Brian had me read, I came to realize the meaningbehind it and with this understanding, I also knew what God desired of me. Now, when I go into church and cover my head, it is a reminder to me that I am in the very presence of my God and King and helps me to humble my heart and bow my head in reverence and worship. It is a physical expression of submission to my Lord. As my student had explained to me, it is an aid to worship rather than a distraction from it. Never would I have guessed what a profound impact it could make on my prayer life. This simple yet ancient custom has helped me to focus my prayerful participation in the Mass and deepen my Catholic identity. So for those of you born post Vatican II who would like to know more about veiling, I challenge you to read the link below and prayerfully consider what God desires of you.