The first time I wore a head covering since the 1960’s, with the exception of my wedding day and visiting the churches in Rome, was at Mother Angelica’s Mass of the Resurrection. A month before Mother’s death, I was speaking in South Florida at one of our Women of Grace events. One of the beautiful daughters of God that came that day, the wife of Thomas K. Sullivan, Carol by name, took a seat in a pew in the back of the Church. On her head was a lace mantilla. Time and again my attention was drawn to how lovely she looked, how appropriate, and how utterly feminine in the best sense of the word.
After the event, I took this to my time of prayer and sensed there was a message for me in Carol’s unintentional witness. I knew the Holy Spirit was at work. And I made a decision that I, too, would go back to this beautiful custom.
One month later, Mother Angelica died and I was in Birmingham to celebrate her life and her legacy. A day or two prior to her funeral Mass, I went into the gift shop in Hanceville and purchased two chapel veils, one of which I wore inside the Shrine for her Mass, and I have continued to do so since, with the exception of twice when I forgot (old habits die hard!). It has been a blessing for me.
I have noticed in myself since wearing a head covering a deeper reverence before the Blessed Sacrament, a more conscious attitude of submission to God, and an interior acknowledgment of my sacred call and mission as His daughter. I have also noticed that my attire, modest to begin with, has become far less casual and more in keeping with the veil on my head. Simply stated, I am dressing up more when I attend Mass. All of which, I think, is attesting to a benefit experienced by this simple practice.
I would like to suggest one other reason for wearing a head covering. In addition to your excellent Argument for Humility, Father, it is interesting to consider that, as Gertrud von le Fort presents it in her book, “The Eternal Woman,” the veil represents something about metaphysical realities. In Sacred Scripture, that which is sacred is always covered by veils. The Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, for example, had four layers of veils. In our own Catholic churches, we see that this holy tradition has been passed down through the ages. Our Holy of Holies is the tabernacle within which resides the All Holy One, Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. The Blessed Sacrament is kept inside the tabernacle with its door locked except during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Inside the door are two veils behind which is the Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord, Who is often inside of a ciborium which itself is covered with a veil. Prior to Vatican Council II, even the exterior of the tabernacle was covered with a veil, a custom to which some churches still adhere.
Gertrud von le Fort makes the point that woman is a veiled creature, a reality her very physiology affirms. In her book “The Eternal Woman,” she contends that woman’s essential nature, her metaphysical truth if you will, is to be a “sign of the sacred.” To von le Fort, woman’s sacred sign , or symbol, attests to her capacity and tendency toward the spiritual. We have only to look at the sacred potential of her womb in which God Himself places an immortal soul into the union of sperm and egg to bring about an irrepeatable human person who will live for all eternity. As Alice von Hildebrand puts it, God touches the womb of woman.
This reality of woman’s physiology and potentiality, her “veiling,” however, has a profound spiritual relevance. It proclaims that her call, her mission, is to point man upward (and the entirety of the society of man as well), to affirm him and inspire him, to point him to that which is eternal and everlasting — to God Himself. To cover her head in the presence of God attests to her humility before Him but also to her metaphysical truth. It is, then, a type of admission of who she is before Him, and if you will, her “fiat” to be who she has been created to be. It is an act of holy surrender, like Our Lady’s, to say “yes” to God’s action in her and through her, to be a handmaid of the Lord.
In closing out this already too long comment, I want to suggest a couple of do’s and three don’ts for the ladies:
- Prayerfully consider the possibility of covering your head when going to Church. See if the Holy Spirit is prompting you. Check your motivations. If you feel called, do so. If not, no problem per the teaching of the Church. No guilt.
- If you are married, you may want to discuss this with your husband. See what he thinks. While it isn’t a radical move, it is one that may garner some questions or side-long glances. He may even have a gentleman or two approach him and ask what is up. He should know and he should be on-board.
- Select a veil that fits you well — and use something to secure it if need be. Otherwise you could be fiddling with it all through Mass — a distraction for you and everyone else around you.
- Don’t become an “elitist,” judging the moral and spiritual integrity of those who choose not to wear a veil. If you sense this happening, own up to it, go to confession, and strive to perform an act of charity for those whom you think are your spiritual inferiors ( a dreadful thought, but an all too human one). A smile, cheerful greeting, or nice comment might do well. You don’t want your act of humility to become a sin of pride.
- Don’t underestimate the power of your witness. It was Carol Sullivan’s quiet, humble witness that caused me to search deeper about how I was presenting myself to the Lord in His holy house. In living her metaphysical reality, she was an inspiration raising the hearts and minds of men (and at least one woman!) to the All Holy One. Indeed, she was a sign of the sacred.
- If you decide not to cover your head when in Church, please don’t dismiss Gertrud von le Fort’s unique philosophy about the metaphysical reality of woman. It tells you something about yourself, your feminine charism, and the authentic reality of who you are in the eyes of God.