Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Why I Wear the Chapel Veil

Me at my parish cathedral, wearing a veil by Peter's Bride

This year marks the third year of my veiling at Mass. Needless to say, the chapel veil has accompanied me through a profound and humbling faith journey. Contrary to what some might think, most people who saw me veiled did not comment, at least not explicitly. Those with good-natured curiosity did, however, ask: "Why?"

The reason behind the decision to commit myself to veiling develops along with my theological knowledge. Now I'm not going to discuss the controversies about whether the chapel veil is still required for Catholic women after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. For me, it being not required is the more reason to wear it out of love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Love is born of free will, and now many women freely choose to veil at Mass.

It was 2009 when I received an invitation from an online forum to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. The invitation explicitly informed that women should come wearing a veil. At that time I still regarded the chapel veil as only a piece of "costume" specially reserved for TLM. A sweet tradition, I thought, but old and irrelevant, and no longer suited for modern women of the 21st century.

But further adventures in the cyber world brought me to an interesting realisation: the chapel veil is making a comeback, and a lot of young ladies now happily and proudly adopt this ancient practice for themselves and their little children.

These facts piqued my interest. But even from the beginning, I realised that the decision to veil is not to be taken lightly; it is a serious devotion which needs a deliberate commitment and mature faith. Moreover, this devotion involves a visible external sign, just like a person wearing a scapular, or a friar with his habit. Something that involves an outward expression always demands both mental and physical preparations.

I needed a discernment period for more or less two years, accompanied by a few events that led me to my personal repentance, before I finally decided to veil consistently whenever I'm in front of the Angelic Bread.

The Veil of the Bride of Christ

One especially touching reflection on the practice of veiling is that the veil (especially the mantilla) makes me feel like a real bride! This is how I think about it: "If so many women are waiting impatiently for their big day when they will be veiled when approaching their husband-to-be at the altar, why do we hesitate to be veiled when receiving our Heavenly Spouse? Is not the Victim of Calvary, continually presented at every Mass, a sign of the sacred nuptial of Christ and His Church, of Christ and me? If that is so, aren't we supposed to be clothed with not only the best, but also a special attire which is a little different than that of ordinary days? How lucky are nuns who don their bridal gowns and veils every day for their whole lives!"

This reflection became the main reason of my decision to veil. Strangely though, the veil also heightens my sensitivity towards holy objects and the sacred atmosphere inside the church. I notice how my every movement of prayer and praise are now more orderly, more purposeful; even my internal disposition is more sharply directed to Him who deserves my full attention.

The humble-looking cloth is surprisingly able to be a form of discipline for my weak flesh, and to be a reminder that I am the spouse of Christ, the bride of the Lord; thus I must behave properly as a bride, not a prostitute. True, it needs sacrifice in the form of wifely submission, but what is love without sacrifice?

Body Affects Spirit, Spirit Affects Body

How curious that I slowly experienced yet another, more physical, transformation, that is, the transformation of the content of my wardrobe. Keep in mind that I had never been a big fan of skirts and "girly" stuff. I considered all things feminine as weak, soft, and impractical. My clothes consisted largely of T-shirts, a few formal shirts, and long and short pants (don't ask how short).

After some time devoting myself to the practice of veiling, I began re-evaluating my clothes and my appearance. Firstly, from the perspective of harmony, I felt that the veil was most suited when worn together with a modest dress or skirt. So I started to wear skirts exclusively to Mass. Secondly, how is it possible that a woman who veils her head does not veil her body too? And so I became more modest, not only in my fashion sense, but also in my behaviour, speech, and thoughts. It is simply the right thing to do.

The Feminine Identity

Sure one can say that veiling has made myself more feminine. In this modern age, especially in the westernised urban life, being feminine in the traditional sense is something that is becoming more and more frowned upon. I bet even the previous version of myself would mock the new me.

But when we think about it, why are women afraid of being feminine? The word "feminine" is from "female"; feminine means everything and anything related to the female sex and has attributes commonly associated with females. Being feminine actually helps confirm the identity of a woman, who is an equal of man, but still different, and one of these differences lies in a woman's special privilege to be a sacred vessel that carries new life. The tabernacle and the chalice that contain the Body and Blood of the Lord — Life itself — are likewise veiled, why aren't women? Indeed, it is inside the woman's body that the mystery of love begets life! The chapel veil underlines this reality and lifts it up into a higher and deeper theological meaning.

Perhaps, that is the reason why the practice of veiling faded with the expansion of the sexual revolution and radical feminism around 1960s; these are the movements that gave us abortion and contraception. The sexual revolution tried to tell women that they are exactly the same as men, have to be like men in all things, and that feminine things—including roles as wives and mothers—are only a hindrance to freedom and achievement. The chapel veil, with all the values of modesty and traditional order that it represents, is a hard painful slap in the face of feminism because it promotes the dignity of woman as a unique creature, exceptional in her femininity, equal to—but is not the same and will never be the same as—man.

Holier-than-thou?

Naturally, I do not regard women who veil as holier than those who do not. In fact, precisely because I'm still far from holiness, I need this devotion to help discipline my flesh and direct me to God's Presence.

I must also admit that the changes I describe above occurrs ever so subtly, and a lot of them happen inside the soul, so it is not easy for me to write it all down. You who are reading this might have difficulty imagining it, let alone believing it. So I can understand if you're still skeptical. But I can assure you, truly, that this is what happened: the chapel veil encouraged my external repentance and helped boost my understanding of the Catholic concepts of modesty, chastity, and beauty.

The chapel veil might look like another pretty piece of fabric, but believe me, as a devotion, the veil is very powerful, and with God's grace it will aid you in conforming to your Crucified Bridegroom.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent post. I admire your honesty and I can tell you have thought this thing through very thoroughly. I grew up wearing a veil because I grew up in a TLM community. A few years ago my husband and I moved to a place that does not offer a Latin Mass and so we started going to the local Catholic church where no ladies veiled their heads. I decided to do as they did. Over time, a short time, not only did the veil go, but my nice dresses and skirts went, too. Then reverence fell short and talking in church soon followed. My conscience ate at me. I didn't like what was happening to me. My husband and I decided to drive the distance and go back to a Latin Mass. Now, I wear a much longer veil that I wrap around my head and neck and dresses and skirts are for me not only the norm again in church, but I am beginning to wear them at home, too. I am feeling the need for modesty in all things.

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