Please welcome writer and fellow Catholic convert Tyler Blanski to Carrots today! Tyler’s sharing some of the beautiful theology behind veiling. I’ve never veiled at Mass myself, but learning more about this rich tradition just might have me searching for a chapel veil. – Haley
You’ve heard it before: head coverings are not awesome, they are the sexist leftovers of a chauvinistic Church, St. Paul was blinded by his bigoted culture, yadda yadda. But here is the thing: God sanctified a womb in Nazareth. The eternal Son of God became a Son of Adam, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Eve. Mary is the sign of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and every single woman is also a sign.
Some signs are cheap and disposable, like the Banana Republic advertisements that suggest that a briefcase is power, that having a family is a threat to personhood, that you should look as thin and edible as a Slim Jim. But other signs are woven into the very fabric of the universe, inviolate and inviolable, and a woman is such a sign. The Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that a mother does not “make” a home. A mother is home. Mothers are a menace to the assembly line. They remind us that we are alive. Eve is the height of creation because she is a prophecy of the New Eve, the Mother of the Church, the Virgin Mary—and in all her statues and icons, Mary is wearing a veil.
Satan wants to strip us of our humanity, and he uses nakedness to do it. But God wants to reclaim our humanity, and he’s using clothes to do it. God was the first fashion designer. In the beginning, we were naked and not ashamed; but in this fallen world, nakedness is a twisted version of what it was meant to be. So in his mercy “God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).
Ever since the Fall, clothes have reminded us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made; and ever since the Cross, veils have reminded us that we have been re-made and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Clothing is a reminder of our dignity, our nobility. And head coverings are the supreme adornment, the finest raiment, the boldest testimony to why God made us clothes in the first place. Just read Revelation 19:7. The Church is getting ready for a wedding! Christ has adorned his Bride in beautiful raiment beyond all reckoning!
I was naked, and you clothed me
It’s a big mistake to think that the number one reason the mighty women of yore adorned their heads with lace was to prevent men from lust. Chapel veils, or mantillas (manta means “mantle” or “cloak”), are beautiful pieces of black or white lace draped over a woman’s head as a reminder to the world that God was born of a woman, that God has betrothed himself to his Church, and the Church is a sacred vessel. God can touch a woman in a way he cannot touch a man. He can fill her with life. The number one reason why head coverings are awesome is because only sacred vessels are veiled, and women are sacred.
In the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant is veiled behind the curtain because it is holy. In the New Testament, as I have illustrated before, the Virgin Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant to the umpteenth degree. Like the old golden chest, she is a sacred place where the Lord’s presence dwells intimately with his people. Except now, it’s God in the flesh. The God who is everywhere was in Mary, his divine presence radiating out from her, the Light of the World waiting to be born. And this is why Mary is always veiled.
When attending Mass or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, a woman covers her head because she is a life-bearing vessel. Think about it. The chalice is veiled until the consecration because it holds the living blood of Christ. The ciborium in the tabernacle is veiled between Masses because it holds the living Body of Christ. The monstrance is traditionally covered in a canopy during procession because it holds the living Christ. Life-bearing vessels are veiled because they are sacred. By divine decree, the source and summit of all life was once in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The incarnation, God’s great shout out to motherhood, is the climax of creation.
A woman is an eschatological sign, a reminder that God has not given up on the world, and the veil reminds us that God did not leave us naked, shivering in the garden. The veil is a celebration of the fact that the curse has been reversed. We are not our own, we are Christ’s. As his Bride, Mother Church is called to be fruitful and to multiply, preaching the Good News and baptizing, bringing Christ’s life to the world.
Crowned in glory
Christ was crowned with bloody thorns so that his Bride might be veiled in spotless white. We were naked in our sins, and he clothed us. From Genesis to Revelation, we do not deserve our Savior’s self-donation, the total, cruciform gift from our Husband and Head Jesus Christ.
When St. Paul talks about head coverings, we need to remember that his understanding of gender and clothing is culture-bound…to the culture of Christ. Everything about being a man or a woman is meant to tell the story of the wedding of Heaven and Earth, Christ and his Bride. Chapel veils help tell the story. Although veils are no longer required for women attending the Novus Ordo Mass, they are still encouraged because they are a reminder of what all of us—men and women together—are by Baptism: the Bride of the Lamb. And the “it’s not required” attitude makes it even more awesome.
What a gift! To be a tiny snapshot of Mary and the Church in the presence of the congregation, in the sacramental Presence of the God. Mantillas are a clarion reminder that gender roles in the culture of Christ are not a power trip, but a love trip. Christ’s head was crowned with thorns so that his Bride’s head might be crowned with stars.
“And the temple of God which is in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant appeared…a great sign appeared: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev. 11:19-12:1).
Tyler Blanski is praying for a holy renaissance. He is the author of When Donkeys Talk: Rediscovering the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (Zondervan, 2012) and Mud & Poetry: Love, Sex, and the Sacred (Upper Room Books, 2010).www.HolyRenaissance.com
Haley here! I’d love to hear about your experience with veiling. Please remember to be charitable (as you always are) to other commenters as veiling can be a surprisingly heated topic. Thanks!