Categories: Ave Maria Press998 words3.8 min readBy Published On: August 15, 2022

Why Catholic Women Veil

In Catholic tradition, the custom of veiling is an ancient practice in which a woman wears a modest head-covering – a mantilla (or laced chapel veil), scarf or hat, whenever she is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, as an exterior sign of her interior desire to humble herself before God.

In The Chapel Veil: Symbol of the Spouse of Christ, Elizabeth Black and Emily Sparks describe the metaphor of veiling:

“Woman, because she was created by being drawn from man’s side, is constantly trying to return to him. She desires the original unity of one flesh and one bone. The desire for unity between man and woman is a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the soul. As woman longs for union with man in human relationships, she is also drawn to unity with God. He calls her to become one with Him: to come under His side and become flesh of His Flesh and bone of His Bone. This occurs during reception of the Eucharist. The covering of the head with a veil symbolises the reality of woman sheltered in the side of her Source and becoming one with Him. She becomes covered and hidden in her Divine Spouse.”

Dr Alice von Hildebrand, a Catholic philosopher and theologian states that “far from indicating inferiority, the veil points to sacredness. While we do cover what is ugly or decaying, we also veil what is sacred, mysterious and sublime…Every woman carries within herself a secret most sacred, mysterious, and sublime. This secret is life. Eve means ‘the mother of the living’. In the mystery of the female body, human life finds its beginning: not in the male semen but in the fecundated egg, hidden in the cavern of the female body. There God creates a new soul which is exclusively his work, and in which neither father nor mother has a part. This creation takes place when the male seed fecundates the female egg. Thus at that very moment a closeness exists between divine action and the female body which marks the latter as sacred ground”. Therefore, veiling marks the implicit dignity of a woman, who has the potential to receive life within herself, spiritually and/or physically.  Catholic writer, Angela Rose, refers to women as “tabernacles of new life” and calls us to consider what we see veiled at Church and during the Mass: the tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, the chalice – a sacred vessel containing the blood of Christ, the paten in the subdeacon’s hands from the Offertory to the Pater Noster, the priest’s hands when he holds the monstrance during benediction, devout depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Blessed Sacrament – our Lord’s true Body and Blood veiled by the appearance of bread and wine, and His divinity veiled by His human flesh. 

Hildebrand also notes that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he veiled his face: “Why did he veil his face? Because he had spoken to God and at that very moment there was a sacredness that called for veiling. Now…feminists after Vatican II suddenly ‘discovered’ that when women go to Church veiled, it is a sign of their inferiority. The man takes off his hat and the woman puts on a veil. My goodness, how they have lost the sense of the supernatural. Veiling indicates sacredness and it is a special privilege of the woman that she enters the Church veiled”.

It is a common misconception that this sacred practice was dispensed with after the Second Vatican Council. When Msgr. Annibale Bugnini – secretary for the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship at the time – was asked if women would still be required to wear head coverings at Mass, he answered that the question was not being discussed during the Council. Secular media misinterpreted his statement to mean that women no longer had to veil at Mass. Despite Vatican officials’ attempts to retract the media’s manipulation of Msgr. Bugnini’s words, many women had stopped veiling. Radical feminist groups of the 60s and 70s had also been perpetuating the false notion that veiling and the use of nuptial imagery in female religious communities in the Church was an outdated, demeaning custom that was fundamentally oppressive. 

Not only do we veil what is sacred, but it is also an expression of our womanhood. It signifies reverence, adoration and femininity, distinguishing us as the physical and spiritual brides of Christ in Church, and more broadly, in secular society which denies Christ’s kingship and divinity, His real presence in the Holy Eucharist and the reality of the differences between men and women. The veil is thus an outward sign that proclaims Christ’s sovereignty and represents our willingness as women to obey and serve Him. It is a worthy devotion testifying our submission of love, not repression. 

Veiling does not make one holier than any other unveiled women in the Church. Pray and fast as you discern taking up this devotion. Look to our Blessed Mother. Initially, you might be concerned about what others think. We fear their judgements and being perceived as prideful or self-righteous. In bringing the question of veiling to God and to our Blessed Mother in your prayer life, ask for protection from the sin of pride. Rectify and redirect your intention with a simple prayer such as: “God, I seek to honour You in this way. Protect me from being distracted by the judgements that others around me might be making and plant in their hearts the seeds of charity and humility”. If you feel insecure or distracted, offer it up to our Lord as a small sacrifice. I pray that you will reap spiritual fruit by taking up this devotion, and that you might be constantly transformed by the spiritual graces that flow from it. 

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us as we accept the universal call to holiness and continual conversion.