My darling husband wrote a Question & Answer column for our church bulletin a while back on the wearing of veils during Mass. He did such a good job explaining it, I don't feel like I could improve upon it, but I will add my own thoughts after.
It has been a long-standing custom in the Church for a woman to wear a veil at Mass or in the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Although it seems to have gone out of fashion nowadays, there is certainly nothing that prevents a woman from continuing this practice, and it is a commendable one for many reasons.Honestly, the last reason is probably one of the best reasons to wear a veil. Sometimes I just don't feel like fixing my hair on Sunday morning, and I think to myself, "It doesn't matter anyway, because I'm gonna put a veil over it!" and cheerfully go about the rest of my morning.
For one, Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:2-16 that when a woman veils herself at Mass, she is acknowledging the headship of Christ and the authority of her husband (or father, if she is single) who is called to represent the headship of Christ in her life. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23).
Paul also says that a woman’s long hair is “her pride,” or her glory (1 Cor 11:15), and rightly so. Women should celebrate all that makes them distinctly feminine, and often times, there is nothing more beautiful than a woman’s hair! But, in the Mass, where we are called to humbly present ourselves before the Almighty God, we must, as St. John the Baptist says, “decrease so that he may increase” (Jn 3:30). So, a woman veils herself so that all glory will be given to God and not to herself.
Thirdly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, vessels of life are often veiled. In the Old Testament, the “Holy of Holies” – the place where the life of God in the Ark of the Covenant resided – was separated from the rest of the Temple by a veil. In Mass, the chalice that holds the Blood of Christ is veiled until the Offertory. In between Masses, the ciborium that contains the Body of Christ is veiled inside the tabernacle. These are, as Jesus himself tells us, the sources of our spiritual life (cf. Jn 6:53). Finally, Mary, who consented to bring the life of Christ to the world, is almost always pictured with a veil on her head.
Like Mary, women have been given the sacred privilege of being co-creators with God by bringing new life into the world. As such, they often veil themselves in Mass, as a way of promoting due reverence for their unique, God-given purpose as vessels of life. Wearing a veil is also a way of imitating Mary, who is the pre-eminent role model for all women.
Finally, you have to admit: nothing remedies a “bad-hair-day” like a veil!
The original reason I started wearing my veil was because I wanted to show reverence to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I know it sounds misogynistic for a woman to veil herself in acknowledgment of a man's headship (horror!), but it isn't so. If you read all of Ephesians 5, you will find that both the husband and the wife are subject to each other, in different ways that mimic the relationship between Christ and the Church. "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). The wife is subject to the husband in obedience, yes, but the husband must be subject to the wife in love as well, and be willing to give up his life for her. Inequality is not the aim, but rather complementarity...we are equal but different, and as such have different roles to perform.
Secondly, I love my hair. Yes, I said it. It can be a source of vanity for me, and I have often thought about how devastated I would be if I were to ever lose it. When people compliment me on my hair, I have often thought to myself, "I KNOW, right?" So the second reason to wear a veil definitely applies to me. That is my confession for the day.
The third reason to wear a veil made me chuckle a little to myself. Recently, at my goddaughter's baptism, one of my uncle's family members approached me and asked if my veil signified that I was "with child." It was asked so earnestly and with such a fascination at the possibility of there existing such a custom that I can't help but smile when I think of it. Of course if such were the case, my single sister wearing one would be more than a little scandalous. But I digress.
I'm not saying that every woman should wear a veil just because I wear one. It should be a personal decision, and some people just don't feel comfortable wearing one. That's ok. It's not required. It isn't the only way to cover your head either. The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales said it well when they wrote:
Why should a woman wear a head covering or veil in church? Not to be praised, not to go along, not for tradition’s sake, not to stand out in the crowd, not because you say or I say or anybody says...But because she loves our Eucharistic Lord Jesus.Amen, sister!