At the end of an eight day silent retreat, a women asked me how I felt about chapel veils. As a man who had been totally raised in a post Vatican II church, the idea had never really crossed my mind. I wondered if the questioner was trying to reconcile my secular conservatism with fervent faith and presumed that my worship instincts would automatically tilt towards the tradition. I answered that my parish in Georgetown was so Vatican II that mantillas at mass were (almost) inconceivable.
Viscerally, I presumed that the church veil was a Pauline prescription for Christians and was heightened to a hallowed out custom in the Tridentine Mass. Historically, my instincts were not far off. Per the 1917 Code, Canon 1262 mandates: “Men, in a church or outside of a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the mores of the people determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.”
Yet in Inter Insignoires, the 1976 Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith examination of the role of women in modern society and the church, stated that wearing church veils were no longer mandatory as it was not a matter of faith. The requirement about mantillas was left out of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, hence the requirement was officially abrogated. Even Cardinal Burke, considered to be a Church Conservative who headed the Apostolic Signatura (the Holy See’s High Court) confirmed that the Novos Ordo Mass does not require chapel veils but recognized the customer expectation for the Extraordinary Form (the 1962 Missale Romanum or the “Tridentine Mass”) is for women to be veiled but it was not a sin to participate without one
While wearing a church veil many no longer be mandatory for mass some women have chosen to veil themselves.
A sophomore at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia shared a thoughtful video apologetic with Fr. John Zuhlsdorf of “What the Prayer Really Say” on why she has felt called by the Lord to wear a chapel veil.
It should be noted that a couple of the women interviewing in the video were influenced by close contact with Orthodox Jewish communities.
I was impressed how these women appreciated the chapel veil as putting them into a mindset of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. One of the women equated her veil as being in a tent with God. The choice of these women was not driven by thoughtless tradition or being holier then thou but a real reverence drawing them closer to God.
My discomfort with the chapel veil stems from poor Catechesis immediately after Vatican II. But even when chapel veils were common in the 1950s, the neo-scholastic Baltimore Catechist approach inculcated the duty without necessary explaining the reasons.
While I have had some contact with Orthodox Jewish communities, my cultural experience with veiling is more colored by Salafists who go to extreme lengths to veil a woman’s beauty, but seeming to misogynostically treat them as second class persons.
As I mulled over mantillas at Mass, I was reminded of other things which are veiled in God's House. There is the tabernacle, the chalice, and the ciboria. Brides are veiled at their weddings. Caskets are veiled at a funeral. Hermaneutically, even the Real Presence of Christ is veiled in the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Veiling can be understood as not hiding things but as representing an aura of sanctity.
While veiling is a moot point for me, I discerned that it's fine if women find that as a mantillas as a way to focus their spirituality and if it helps draw them closer to God. That being said, the externality of a chapel veil is no substitute for preparing one’s heart for communion within the sacred liturgy.
In Modern Manners– An Etiquette Guide for Rude People (1983), P.J. O’Rourke sardonically stated: “Good manners can replace religious beliefs. In the Episcopal Church they already have. Etiquette (and quiet, well cut clothing) is devoutly worshipped by Episcopalians.” Of course, that satirical stinger is exaggerated for effect, but I would want believers in "The Way" to live their lives by Joel 3:16 “Rend your hearts not your garments and return to the Lord..”
What is the sensus fidei?
h/t: Catholic Insight