Photo credit: Arian Zwegers on Flickr / CC-BY 2.0

Back in the day, it was mandatory for women to wear a chapel veil. Today, that rule is no longer there. As a result, chapel veils are a very rare sight in ordinary parishes. 

However, sometimes you will see women veil in the Ordinary Rite (Novus Ordo Mass). I can only speak for my country, The Netherlands, the trend here is that when you see someone veil, it probably is a woman around the age of 30, who voices the more orthodox opinions. In most of the cases, she also is a convert to the Catholic faith. Most women who veil, do this after a long time of discerning privately. I used to wear a chapel veil time as well, but stopped doing so after finding out what the connotations are.

Why I chose to veil

In Catholic tradition, as well as in the Bible, people show respect for God’s divine nature by covering up. For example, when Moses sees God moving by, he covers his head. The Arc of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets, is covered. A vessel containing consecrated hosts is covered. A priest covers his hands holding the monstrance at benediction, because it contains Christ. First and foremost, wearing a veil is a way of showing your respect as a woman for Christ, especially when you are about to receive him in the Eucharist.

This brings me to the other aspect of covering up. Mary is called an ‘arc’ because she ‘contained’ Christ during her pregnancy. And like we’ve seen in the previous paragraph, Jews would cover the Arc. When I receive Holy Communion, I’m also like an arc containing something precious, Christ. So for me veiling was a natural thing, these things considered.

Note that the ‘covering your hair’ remark by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians was no reason for me to veil. God doesn’t ask women to veil. He won’t be offended when they don’t. Canon Law doesn’t say anything about veiling nor does the Bible command it. Catholics don’t do things because “the Bible says so”. In Catholic Tradition things are in the Bible because people did those things. So it’s an old tradition, nothing more. As times change, traditions do, too.

Why I choose to stop veiling

However, I stopped wearing mine. Wearing a veil is not a neutral thing anymore, sadly enough. A small group of very vocal Catholics in my country have ‘hijacked’ the practice of wearing a chapel veil in recent years. Their message basically was: “I’m a better Catholic than you are, because I know all the rules and follow them to the letter. I know everything better, even better than the local pastor.” Everybody who wasn’t following their rules were considered to be liberal ‘Cafetaria Catholics’ and should be looked down on.  Regular church-attending Catholics were bullied and given the idea they were inferior when they weren’t exactly thinking along the same lines as these people. Mass had become a battle ground; the chapel veil a weapon.

Over time I found out that these people are like the white plastered graves Jesus talks about in Scripture. At the exterior these people look like and behave like model Catholics. But when nobody is looking they drop their masks and behave like everybody else, or worse. They behave like Pharisees.

By wearing a veil in my parish, I broadcast this message to my fellow parishioners. Those who don’t know me, assume right away I am like those people (which I am not) and others are highly distracted because sitting in church with a bright white lacy thing on your head gets everybody’s attention, whether you like it or not. I don’t want to be a distraction and want to distance myself from these ‘Pharisees’.

“Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14, 5b)

The moment I discovered that I was distracting people by either being visually the only one in the congregation wearing a veil, or was evoking all kinds of negative emotions, uncovering old emotional bagage (mostly in elderly people) during Mass I decided not to wear a chapel veil anymore.

I believe that’s not worth it. If anything causes people to shift attention during Mass from Christ and the Eucharist to me in any way, I need to do something about it, regardless how I personally feel about it. St. Paul writes something about this attitude in the fourteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans. I think that is wisdom and use it as my guide in these matters.