I belong to a Catholic forum and read a fair number of Catholic blogs. Since they’re of an orthodox bent, the topic of wearing headcoverings at Mass comes up relatively frequently. The cast of characters is always the same, though, no matter what the venue. Here are some of the most common sentiments expressed (none of these are actual direct quotes):
The head coverers
The Rad-Trad: “I am a veil-wearing warrior! If you don’t wear one, you are disrespecting Jesus. 1917 Canon law TRUMPS ALL!!”
The Rules Lawyer Who Might Also be a Conspiracy Theorist: “I wear a veil because we’re secretly still supposed to. The 1983 Code never said we should stop wearing them. [Lectures at length on what all Canon 6 may or may not cover; conversation becomes extremely technical.] Also, my veil may or may not be made out of tinfoil.”
The Researcher: “I wear a veil because of XYZ personally compelling objective reasons. Even though we are not obligated by explicit canon law to cover our heads anymore, I think every woman should prayerfully consider doing so.”
The Contemplative: “I wear a veil because of XYZ personally compelling subjective reasons. If I knew another woman were pondering whether to wear a veil, I would gently encourage her with my personal testimony.”
The Rugged Individualist: “I wear a veil because I like being counter-cultural. I would never recommend wearing a veil to another woman. That would ruin my unique position.”
The Nervous Nellie: “I do not wear a veil because of imagined negative societal pressure.” aka “I think someone might look at me funny.”
The Peer Pressure Pawn: “I do not wear a veil because of a perceived hostile environment.” aka “My church is progressive and intolerant.”
The Pragmatist: “I do not wear a veil because I do not feel personally drawn to it.”
The Avoider: “I do not wear a veil because I have never allowed myself to seriously consider it, and I’m sure not going to start now.”
The Red Herring Historian: “I do not wear a veil because it is an anachronism. Headcoverings merely mirrored the fashions of the times, and we don’t do that any more.” (There is a sister argument to this which misses the point in a different way. I will describe it later.)
The Starry-eyed Hippie: “I do not wear a veil because it’s totally against the whole spirit of Vatican II. Plus they don’t come in tie-dyed burlap.”
The Affronted Feminist: “I do not wear a veil because we are liberated women who no longer need to don any symbol of subservience. No woman should wear a veil! Down with the patriarchy! By the way, I may or may not actually be Catholic.”
This usually leads to lively debate, where almost everybody winds up defensive. The non-head-coverers tend to think the head-coverers are accusing them of being impious, and the head-coverers tend to think the non-head-coverers are accusing them of being holier-than-thou. Not to mention the ENORMOUS, tangled, tedious discussions of Canon law.
Well. Being the queen of this blog, I will tell you what I think about all this.
I wear a veil. I have worn a veil since the Sunday after my Confirmation at 16 years of age. It’s a cheap little awkwardly-shaped triangle roughly cut out of ordinary lace (you can still see the black sharpie marker lines in some places), trimmed with some more ordinary scalloped edging lace. I got it at a Catholic gift store which has now gone out of business. They had four kinds of veils: black or white triangles, and black or white round chapel veils. I wore it consistently while attending a parish stuck in the 70s and during the school Masses at my Catholic high school.
Since I have worn my veil in environments which, objectively speaking, had societal risk factors just as high or higher than those cited by other women as reasons they don’t wear a veil (they’re too scared of how other people will react), I have very little patience for those excuses. They think their parish has peer pressure? I was a TEENAGER. Surrounded by TEENAGERS. Also surrounded by flaming liberals. For example, during my senior year, I had to put my veil on at the end of the class previous to the start of Mass. That class was taught by an extremely feminist, secularized nun who referred to God using feminine pronouns, and had us all listen to the Kyrie setting incorporating and derived from a wolf howl from Missa Gaia (Earth Mass, which I read somewhere was not allowed) during class. Hmm, what was that outspoken woman going to say? To use the vernacular of the time, OMG! She said nothing! (I can’t even imagine what she must have been thinking, though. But I don’t care because it didn’t matter.)
Yes, I have received comments over the years. Extremely few. About 70% were variations on the theme “Oh, are you going to be a nun?” That one generally came from my dad’s Knights of Columbus friends who thought they were soooooooo witty. There’s something about jolly old men who think that the same lame joke is still funny the 900th time they tell it that makes me want to pinch their jolly old man cheeks as I roll my eyes. So, if you think that the possibility of jolly old men making jokes about being a nun is terrifying, then perhaps you shouldn’t wear a veil. On the other hand, perhaps you shouldn’t be around jolly old men either.
10% were people asking me what is was and/or why I wear it. Those generally came from young people who were far more timid about the subject than I could ever be! Their genuine curiosity was devoid of skepticism or mockery (which, by the way, is hard to find these days when it comes to questioning someone in their age group who is “different”), and I could tell they had spent some time screwing up the courage to ask me the question. I didn’t always have the best answer available, but as time went on I got better at gauging what kind of response I should give – should I quote scripture, mention the popes, wax on about my personal devotion, or gush about the practical aspects – and delivering the “spiel” more concisely and orderly. The resulting conversations were interesting and friendly, and each time the other person went away with something new and intriguing to think about. So yes, if you want to wear a veil, you might want to spend some extra time pondering why, so that you will have an answer to this question. Think of it as good practice for living out 1 Peter 3:15. By the way, I have never been asked this question by someone older than 29. So if you are deathly afraid of young people asking you simple questions, perhaps you shouldn’t wear a veil. On the other hand, it must be very difficult for you to function in society at all, poor thing.
The other 20% of comments have come from people commenting positively on my veil. Composite sketch: “Oh, what a lovely veil; where did you get it? I used to wear a veil at Thus-and-Such place/time, I wonder where it is now… I knew someone else who wore a veil from Spain/the Philippines/Portugal/Malta and I always thought it was so nice… It’s good to see you wearing that veil!” So if you actively dislike and avoid compliments, well… you’re a very dismal individual, aren’t you?
You may notice by now that the percentages add up to 100% already and I haven’t yet talked about negative reactions. Guess what? I have never had any! : D
Some readers may think, “Well gee, obviously you must have been Miss Popularity, and everyone praised everything you ever did, no matter how weird.” Let me assure you, that was far from the case. However, the fact stands that after 7 years of wearing a veil in some very inhospitable places, I have yet to receive so much as a scowl. So unless you associate with some very meanspirited, vocal people, you will probably fare just as well.
The other most common excuse is that a woman does not wear a veil because she does not want to distract other people. At first, it sounds so considerate, so thoughtful of others. In fact, it’s very self-centered. It can mean several things:
1. Other people constantly monitor my every move. My claim to fame is meticulously blending in. I enjoy being the center of attention by pretending that I am anything but.
2. By not wearing a veil, I do not call attention to myself. On the other hand, women who do wear a veil must be calling attention to themselves. How dreadfully vulgar of them. Don’t they know how wrong it is to distract other people? I’m so much better than they are.
3. Other people have no mental self-control. They just can’t help having their attention glued to someone wearing a veil. Why, wearing a veil could be considered making oneself into an occasion of sin. If I wore a veil, the whole parish would think of nothing but me for the whole Mass because I’m just that striking.
They ring so hollow. It’s so much hogwash to avoid ever seriously considering wearing a veil. I don’t expect every woman to examine the reasons to wear a veil and decide overnight to get one. I don’t expect every woman to decide to wear one at all. Sometimes a veil is just not for them. But, you see, that is an honest answer, one which reflects some actual deliberation. It says, “I know and appreciate why you cover your head, and I think it’s great that you do. But after similar consideration, I have decided that it is not for me at this time.” And you know? No one needs to elaborate more on that. The silly excuses seem to be born out of defensiveness, out of shame, out of not being comfortable with one’s non-head-covering position. If a woman feels that defensive, then perhaps she should consider that some part of her actually wants to look further into it; wants to try it out. Methinks the young lady doth protest too much!