On any given Sunday at any Catholic church in the US, UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, one is likely to see women and girls dressed in halter-necks, strapless dresses, shorts, super-tight jeans, and mini-skirts. Depending on the weather, one might also find flip-flops or ugg boots. In our parish, the extraordinary ministers sometimes choose to hand out communion in their sneakers, velour tracksuits and the occasional fanny-pack.
What does this say about the church? What does this say about our faith?
The reason we no longer dress well for mass is the same reason that 90% of US Catholics don’t bother to show up for mass at all: it just isn’t that important to us anymore.
Making an effort for love of God
Dressing well for mass is an external manifestation of the belief that what we are doing is important: its says that we care. It is representative of the respect we have for the other members of our parish. More importantly, however, it is also a sign of our respect for God in the Blessed Sacrament.
The same reasoning applies to the mantilla. It isn’t mandatory for us to veil. But we can if we want to. This applies to the novus ordo as much as it does to the extraordinary form. And if we truly believe that Christ is actually present before us in the Eucharist, then why wouldn’t we?
The importance of external acts of faith
External acts can orient as well as express our inner thoughts and disposition. This is why our mass (in both forms) is so rich in ritual and posture. These “externals” help keep our minds where they should be - on the mass and on Our Lord in the Eucharist. Veiling can do the same.
Ask yourself, why it is that brides still wear veils on their wedding day? One reason is that the veil indicates the solemnity of the occasion. It is a reminder that - for her - this day is unlike any other. It is also a physical sign of the gift of self that she intends to make through the Sacrament of Marriage. Both of these reasons (whether conscious or not) transform the bride’s veiling from being purely about the aesthetics into something else. Although she is the center of attention, her choice of garment, color and veil sends a message to those around her: “when you look at me and see my veil, remember that I am here to participate in something greater and bigger than myself.”
Some women choose to veil in church for the same reasons. The veil is a reminder that this place and moment in time is unlike any other and should be observed as such. It is also a sign of the spiritual gift of self that the woman intends to make to Our Lord during the mass and as she prays before the tabernacle.
In imitation of Mary
Other women choose to veil in imitation of the Blessed Virgin. They seek to follow her example of humility, modesty and purity - as well as the Jewish custom of covering one’s head - when they are near our Lord in the Tabernacle.
Why do I veil?
I veil because it matters to me that I am before God. I veil as an external manifestation of my belief that Christ is really present in the Eucharist. I veil because it helps me to be more reverent. I veil as an act of humility before God. I veil because I believe. I veil because I care.