Have you seen a woman wear a chapel veil to Mass, and wondered why? In some parishes it is a common practice for women to veil, and in others it is unheard of. A young woman emailed Go Ask Your Father with her questions about why Cahtolic women wear chapel veils and the symbolism behind them.
“It has to do with an understanding of the nuptial meaning of the body and the symbolism that’s involved. Now, no woman is required to wear a chapel veil but it still can be and was worn for the better part of our 2000 year history as a Church,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland.
Msgr. Swetland quoted Veils by Lily, a chapel veil retailer, saying, “The veil is meant to be an external sign of a woman’s interior desire to humble herself before God, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. As women, we are symbols of the Church – the Bride of Christ – and the veil is meant to be a visible reminder of the perfect submission of the Church to the loving rule of Christ.”
“In a particular way, there is this nuptial meaning that is seen in … the relationship between Christ, who is symbolized in the scriptures often as the bridegroom, and the Church, which is symbolized as a bride. So the chapel veil for women was a sign of that nuptial relationship as they wore the veil in Mass as they were preparing to receive their bridegroom, Christ.”
If women covered their heads in the presence of God in his church, why wouldn’t men? “In this symbolism of the nuptial meaning, we see that the husband, the male, represents Christ in a way and the relationship between Christ and His Church is so intimate and real that it is consummated in the one flesh unity of the Eucharist. And so that’s why men don’t wear veils, although men do have to work in their spiritual life at developing the virtues associated with receptivity when it comes to receiving Christ in the Eucharist as well. Saint John of the Cross is very good on this, as is Saint Teresa of Avila, talking about this nuptial understanding of our intimacy with God. And … most advanced spiritualties eventually find that the best way of talking about their intimacy with God is in nuptial language,” said Msgr. Swetland.
Many saints have spoken about their relationship with Christ in terms of the intimacy found in a marriage of man and wife. “We have this symbolism of the nuptial meaning of our bodies and what they mean in reference to the relationship of Christ and his Church. And that’s where the external signs like the chapel veil came from. Still worthy to be worn if a woman chooses, but it is no longer required of women in the Novus Ordo Latin Rite. Now for those who go to the Extraordinary form, the norm there is that many, many women if not all women do wear the chapel veil at the Extraordinary form but it is not required under our current liturgical discipline.”
The chapel veil is a personal devotion and Catholic women who choose to wear one have various reasons for doing so. Some find that is helps them to center their heart on Christ and focus on the beauty of the Mass; some appreciate the practice of humility to cover one’s head; some women choose to veil as a reminder of their role as a symbol of the Bride of Christ – his Church.
If you are considering the practice of veiling, pray about it and ask God what he desires of you on your spiritual journey. You could also reach out to those you know who wear chapel veils, and ask them why it is important to them.