Monday, December 29, 2008

Wearing a Veil for Our Eucharistic Lord

My fiancée wears a veil. I have always highly regarded her decision to do that. Depending on where we go to church, there may be other women wearing one too, or she'll be the only one. While this latter scenario may make her a little uncomfortable, it is also an excellent opportunity to witness to people and invariably someone will ask her or me why she's wearing it, which gives us the chance to explain the rich meaning behind a woman veiling herself for Mass.

Recently, via my "Catholic Q&A" column in the Church bulletin, I provided such an explanation. I am particularly indebted to the following articles:
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,
Nicholas Hardesty
Director of Religious Education


  1. How do you answer those who say to veil is to be separating yourself from the rest of the community, and thereby doing private prayer in the midst of public worship (Mass)?

  2. There is nothing wrong w/ private devotions during the Mass as long as these devotions properly orient a person within the Mass, and do not distract the person from what is taking place there.

    For example, the sign of the Cross is a sort of private devotion. Nothing says you have to make the sign of the Cross after you receive Communion, but everyone does it -- and that's ok, because the sign of the Cross reminds us of the Sacrifice that is made present to us in the Mass and in our reception of the Eucharist. However, saying the rosary during Mass is generally discouraged b/c, in order to focus on the mysteries and prayers of the rosary, a person has to disengage from the celebration of the Mass.

    Where does veil come in to play here? I think it is, like the sign of the Cross, a private devotion that, far from causing someone to be distracted or disengaged from the Mass, actually strengthens the proper orientation of a person in Mass -- that is, the orientation of creature humbly standing before the Almighty God, raising up to Him her sacrifice of praise so that it may be joined w/ the perfect sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of her soul.

    I think the "why?" for wearing the veil (which I addressed in this post) provides the validation for it's presence within our public worship. It helps a woman to align herself with and attune her mind to what our public worship is all about.


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