Recently, via my "Catholic Q&A" column in the Church bulletin, I provided such an explanation. I am particularly indebted to the following articles:
- Adoro te Devote: "To Veil or Not to Veil"
- Ward Wide Web: "What the veil?"
- fish eaters: Veiling
- Tea at Trianon: The Veil: A Mystical Symbol
Now, on to the Q&A:
Why do some women wear a veil at Mass?
It has been a long-standing custom in the Church for a woman to wear a veil at Mass or in the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Although it seems to have gone out of fashion nowadays, there is certainly nothing that prevents a woman from continuing this practice, and it is a commendable one for many reasons.
For one, Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:2-16 that when a woman veils herself at Mass, she is acknowledging the headship of Christ and the authority of her husband (or father, if she is single) who is called to represent the headship of Christ in her life. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23).
Paul also says that a woman’s long hair is “her pride,” or her glory (1 Cor 11:15), and rightly so. Women should celebrate all that makes them distinctly feminine, and often times, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman’s hair! But, in the Mass, where we are called to humbly present ourselves before the Almighty God, we must, as St. John the Baptist says, “decrease so that he may increase” (Jn 3:30). So, a woman veils herself so that all glory will be given to God and not to herself.
Thirdly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, vessels of life are often veiled. In the Old Testament, the “Holy of Holies” – the place where the life of God in the Ark of the Covenant resided – was separated from the rest of the Temple by a veil. In Mass, the chalice that holds the Blood of Christ is veiled until the Offertory. In between Masses, the ciborium that contains the Body of Christ is veiled inside the tabernacle. These are, as Jesus himself tells us, the sources of our spiritual life (cf. Jn 6:53). Finally, Mary, who consented to bring the life of Christ to the world, is almost always pictured with a veil on her head.
Like Mary, women have been given the sacred privilege of being co-creators with God by bringing new life into the world. As such, they often veil themselves in Mass, as a way of promoting due reverence for their unique, God-given purpose as vessels of life. Wearing a veil is also a way of imitating Mary, who is the pre-eminent role model for all women.
Finally, you have to admit: nothing remedies a “bad-hair-day” like a veil!
Peace of Christ to you,
Director of Religious Education