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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From Anachronism to Cool: A Young Woman and her Chapel Veil

A guest post by Mrs Eva H. 

To say I didn't exactly picture myself wearing a mantilla at mass when I was growing up would be an understatement.  Frankly, most of the time I just sat through mass to please my mother.  And wearing a mantilla would have been the farthest thing from her mind as well, both for me and for her.  Even both of my grandmother, one Polish, one Belgian did not wear any form of head covering at mass for as long as I can remember. 

They, as well as my mother, had left such trappings behind in the sixties, and empowered womanhood had spread all around the country. As well as empty churches one generation later.  I went through the usual stages of apathy and 'know-it-better-than-this-oldfashioned-church' that many young people seem to go through.  But my mother always held on to faith with one hand and to me with the other.  And slowly faith and the meaning of mass started to sink in and it sank deep.   I started looking forward to mass.  I became a lector and an extra ordinary minister of the Eucharist.   I started teaching confirmation class.  I still had some things to work out though.  Especially towards what I thought were the churches old fashioned opinions on women. 

My 'click' of understanding actually came several years later, after university, while I was working a temporary job.  I was reading a newspaper article during lunch break about the churches discrimination of women, after the publication of a papal letter.  Something inside, a nudging from the Holy Spirit if you want, made me go and actually look up the letter and read it in it's entirety.  And what did I find?  An ode to womanhood and the female genius.  Was that discrimination?

It seems like a small thing, but it made me start to look at things in a new light.  The way things were going between men and women in the current secular world at least did not seem very attractive to me.  I was in my twenties and wanted romance and marriage, but I just could not see myself being part of the dating scene in which most young people seemed to look for a partner.   At the same time the internet made it easier to find people who had similar views.  I seemed to stumble over a lot of 'new' ideas that no one had ever mentioned to me before. 

I found women who chose a more 'traditional' lifestyle, voluntarily and joyously, across many faiths and denominations.  The first time I came across the idea of head covering was in relation to a Mennonite group of women.  Then I started to find more and more sites on it.  I was intrigued, but more like a scholar studying a strange cultural phenomenon.  I found it rather weird.  An anachronism.  But something seemed to tug at me.  I put it aside however, like the far fetched idea of maybe one day moving to another continent.  It's something you may think about or that sounds interesting, but not something you really plan on doing when you are quite happy where you are.

Over the next months and years though, I just seemed to keep stumbling over sites about head covering.  I discovered the fact that there still are people wearing mantilla's.  But still... those 'weird Catholics' did not have anything to do with me.   True I was becoming more and more pulled towards authentic Church teaching, and more and more interested in the role of the feminine genius in defining me as a woman of Christ, but... really... I was not 'one of those'.  Besides, it would look weird.  I would stand out like a sore thumb.  I just was NOT interested.  Okay, it was normal in a different culture or a different time, but in a western country it would just be a way to stand out.  

Still, the idea appealed to me on some level.  The veil reminded me of a bridal veil, the church as the bride of Christ.  Me as a representative of the Church.  The classical image of a woman praying with a mantilla started to pop up more and more in my line of sight and there was a longing in my heart to cover my head in the presence of Our Lord, a longing that I could not explain and that seemed silly to me.  After all, I had been always respectful of His presence.  Would a piece of cloth on my head really make a difference? 

Over time my admiration for the image of the veil, combined with a slow seeping in of the theological possibilities of it's meaning and a quiet, unexplainable tug that kept pulling at me brought me to a desire to wear a veil at Church. 

But as they say in a famous Dutch poem: “between dreams and deeds there are laws in the way, and practical objections”.  I do not know of a real law against wearing a veil, but I do know that had I all of a sudden turned up in one, there would be a whole host of objections.  People would stare at me.  My mother would be horrified.  Would I even have the right intentions?  Would I be able to focus on mass?

I decided to start out with what I call 'light veiling'.  For once fashion came to my assistance.  Broad headbands were 'in', and nobody thought twice about the fact that I always started to wear one for church.  I experimented.  Little bun covers.  Headbands.  A dark silk scarf tied first as a headband, than a bit wider.  I became attached to my 'invisible veil' and found that it actually affected my attitude more than I had expected.  Putting my headband, scarf or hat on made me aware that I put myself apart from everything else for mass.  For Him.  This time was not the same as time dedicated to... cooking, reading, or working.  It was something different.  And in it, I became someone different.  My attention during mass increased, not magically of course by putting on a piece of cloth, but by the fact that I took the time to put it on, the deliberate decision to put this time aside from all other times. 

I started to wear a more veil like head cover when I went to adoration before the tabernacle. Strangers who saw me didn't seem to take too much notice but I worried what the reactions would be from people who actually knew me.  I started letting a word slip here and there about the idea of head covering but to many it still had the same scary, cult like associations it had for me in the beginning.  So I didn't push the envelope.  My veil was almost a secret that surrounded me, and I saw no real reason to change that, except again for that strange longing in my heart.

And then the big move came.  Literally.  In a wonderful but not really related story I had met the man of my dreams who, surprise, surprise, lived and worked on a different continent.  After friendship and courtship we went to engagement and marriage and I moved to the United States. 

In the mean time I also had build up friendships, mostly over the internet, with other young women who, like me, had felt the tug or the nudge of the Holy Spirit towards the veil.  For most of them, like for me, it seemed to be a special and uniquely feminine devotion that they felt called to.  Like some people felt a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart, or the Divine Mercy, more and more young women that I knew felt a  conviction to a physical manifestation of their devotion to the Real Presence by wearing a hat or a veil.  I am certainly not speaking of a majority, but the interest was out there.  I discussed head covering on my blog, I mentioned it on a Catholic discussion site and shared fragments of my story and found others journeying the same road.  There is a difference though, between the internet and actually stepping out in a mantilla in the real world of the Catholic Church and that was the last step I still felt I needed to take.

When I arrived in my new parish, no one wore a veil.  One or two African American ladies consistently wore a hat, true.  But a veil was nowhere to be seen.  Still, I decided that this would be the right time for me to 'come out in the open' with my veil.  I bought a mantilla and wore it.  Most people probably thought it was custom in Belgium where I came from, or that I came from a tridentine parish.  I was welcomed and my veil was noticed but just... accepted as part of me while I came to mass, the same way as the hats of others. 

We are four years further now.. and here and there I see more veils appearing.  The internet seems to connect those young woman who feel that quiet tug towards the mantilla, and some of the older women who look back with some nostalgia at times.  More and more of us are stepping out slowly our heads covered and a smile on our lips as we honor Him in this quiet devotion.

With two children now, sometimes the mantilla makes way for a chapel cap and I am also looking into hats.  I do not want my attention to be diverted from mass by worrying whether or not something is slipping from my head.  But the intention remains.  The devotion remains.  I am now openly covering.   Just recently a teenager asked my what I was wearing on my head?  I explained in a few words and she smiled and told me she thought that was pretty cool.  I smiled back and thought yes... yes it is.


  1. What a wonderful posting, so full of sincerity and clarity. I hope it is an inspiration to others for whom this might ring true.

    Thank you

  2. What a beautiful story! I really enjoyed hearing how another person sort of metamorphosised into veiling. I've been veiling for nearly a year. It's a process that I thought that I would soon loose and grow to not enjoy, but quite the opposite. Instead I feel "naked" when I pray without one. I really dread praying privately with people because I don't normally wear one except to Mass. I think the next step is to wear something more often for those not-expected prayer times.

    For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20

    Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17