This past Sunday a woman at the local Peachtree City (GA) Catholic parish, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, asked me why I wore that thing on my and then asked what the thing was when I started to put it on in the narthex of the church. First I explained to her that the triangle scarf on my head is called a mantilla but that it is also called a chapel veil but that sometimes people get confused between a chapel veil and a wedding veil. So, I just call the chapel veil a mantilla to avoid confusion. Then the woman mentioned that her sister also wears the mantilla Mass but she didn’t understand why she wears one. I told her that I wear the mantilla because I recognize the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and during the Mass. She thanked me for explaining what the mantilla was and why I wear one as she handed me the Sunday Missal.
How I came to wear the mantilla or some short of head covering is a long story but I was called to do so early on in my relationship with Christ but I was introduced to this beautiful devotion through Islam. I was absolutely taken by how so many Muslim women showed their relationship with God through wearing the hijab, also known as a head scarf. This touched me so much that when I started attending a Pentecostal church while living in Ohio that I started covering my head with a scarf during spoken prayers or when the Eucharist was celebrated. When I moved to Washington, D.C. I started attending an Episcopal church where women didn’t cover their heads unless it was with a hat. This is common in the Episcopal tradition but after a while I started covering my head in church with a scarf because I could not afford a nice hat but I kept receiving stars from congregants. So I stopped. After a while I started attending a Russian Orthodox church where women were required to cover their heads. The tradition of women covering their heads while in church is a requirement for women in the Russian Orthodox Church. Women usually wear scarves for hats but either way I was excited to have the opportunity to wear a scarf in church and have it be a normal thing that women do. After attending a Russian Orthodox church for nearly two years wearing a head scarf became a well founded habit that I wanted to continue. So after I decided to convert to Catholicism I decided that I was going to continue to cover my head while in church. With that said I bought several mantillas from Veils By Lily to wear during Mass.
There are a few reasons for why I wear a mantilla while in a church. The first reason as to why I cover while in church is that it is a symbol of my humility while in the presence of Christ. Secondly, I wear the mantilla because I recognize the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Meaning that after the Eucharist has been celebrated (the Communion) and has been placed in the tabernacle that Christ is truly present in the church. Thirdly, I believe that the wearing of the mantilla symbolizes the image that the congregation or the believers are married to the Church. Meaning that the Church (the body of believers) is and will forever be married to the the bridegroom of Christ. Because men are prohibited from covering their heads in church only women have the privilege to symbolize the eternal marriage between Christ and His Church through veiling. Fourthly, I choose to veil because women are sacred and choosing to veil signifies that we, as women, are special. The cue for this comes from the Holy Mass where all sacred things and objects are veiled like the chalice and plate the contain the elements for the Eucharist. Veiling (the use of communion linens to cover holy objects) signifies that the objects are sacred, holy, and other worldly, that our faith and life is renewed in Christ through the elements of the Eucharist. Women are sacred in that we can give birth to children and renew life into our world. Fifthly, the veil serves as a sign to show all in a church that they are in a special and holy place where the most ext ordinary act takes place, where Christ makes himself and His presence known through the Eucharist. I should warn that this responsibility should not solely fall onto the head of a women (no pun intended but my roommates would be proud of me). Instead all who partake in worship should signify the sacredness of the Holy Mass in how we dress and act during Mass and while in the sanctuary of the church.
More than anything I wear the mantilla as a devotion in the form of a prayer to Mary. I also wanted to point out that, regardless of the opinions of women who are Catholic and non-Catholic, that I do not wear the mantilla because I believe that I should submit unquestioning to a man. Unfortunately, this is what some women believe and sums up their views of women who do wear the mantilla to church. For me, the mantilla doesn’t represent male dominance and a woman’s submissiveness to her male counterparts in society, but, instead signifies the sacredness of women and the relationship between the believers (the Church) and Christ. As for those men who believe that women should wear the mantilla to signify the sacredness of the Mass, they should be looking to the reverence of those attending Mass from what they wear to how they act, both male and female.
There are many reasons why some women choose to wear a mantilla to Mass, I just thought I would share my thoughts on my decision to do so. This was also in response to explaining to a friend after attending a Latin Mass as to why some Catholic women choose to wear a mantilla outside of Latin Mass.