Friday, September 10, 2010

To Mantilla or Not?

A Young Beauty Wearing a Red Veil by Gustave Doyen.

I have been pondering whether or not "to mantilla" for several years. I've had mixed feelings.

It's not required of Catholic women, anymore, but nor is it prohibited. Within the last few months it's come more frequently into my mind. As necklines get lower and hemlines get higher, why not, in this crazy mixed-up culture, imitate the Blessed Mother by showing a little more femininity and more reverence for the Eucharist? To dress in a way that demonstrates our belief in the sacred; in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ?

Well, because of the labels and stereotypes, mostly. There is a stigma attached to mantillas. In many minds (sometimes, sadly, even my own), they instantly conjure up the label "ultra conservative," a "we reject everything after Vatican 2" image, and the zenith of pejoratives, "holier than thou."

(As an aside, I take "ultra conservative" as a compliment if it means totally and completely faithful to all of the teachings of Holy Mother Church. I take issue when "ultra conservative" means "holier than the Church.")

I have feared wearing a mantilla because I didn't want to project the "holier than thou" image. I didn't want to be judged and labeled.

Why is it that a simple head covering on a praying woman can bring out such violent reactions? And since when do I allow strangers' opinions to paralyze my actions and dictate my decisions?

I homeschool, which could project a "more dedicated to education than thou" image. I don't eat the majority of processed foods: "healthier than thou." I don't hide the fact that my husband and I are in love: "happier than thou." And on, and on, and on.

Do I really think I'm more dedicated to education, healthier, or happier than everyone else? Not by a long shot! I'm just trying to eke out a happy, healthy, holy life for my family. If it won't endanger your soul or another's, I couldn't care beans about whether you eat a pop tart or send Archibald to Vista Public High.

I would suspect that most so-called "--ier than thou" projections don't exist in a person's actions, anyway, but solely in the minds of the jealous or guilty. We only think someone is trying to one-up us if we feel like our own actions are somehow lacking. Rather than place the onus on ourselves to confront our decisions, we trivialize or demonize another for trying to show us up.

What pride.

Seeing a woman in a mantilla only seems to cross my radar and trigger a conscience twinge when I'm wearing flip-flops to Mass. And that says a lot.

So what'll it be? I'm not strong enough, yet, to don a mantilla at a Sunday "guitar Mass." But I do think I've been convicted, and will start imitating Our Lady's piety and worship by wearing a mantilla to Adoration.

If you don't join me, you're a dirty rotten sinner!

Just kidding.

El Rosario by Jose Gallegos Y Arnosa
As a timely event, they're actually having a mantilla giveaway over at "Will You Mantilla With Me?"

And if you are considering donning a veil, two sites that have lovely mantillas are Veils by Lily and Garlands of Grace.

AND FYI: City Wife, Country Life is on Facebook now!


Anonymous said...

I have struggled with this too over the years and have felt the call to cover again. I did it for awhile but was in a parish where more ladies did cover, so it was easier.

The Sojourner said...

I've been wearing a mantilla (from Garlands of Grace, actually) since February, after having it on my heart for about two years. (Me: "But I'll look WEIRD! and people will stare at me!" God: "Okay, you don't have to wear it." A few months later the nudge would come again.)

The way it worked for me was this: I enjoy occasionally attending the Extraordinary Form, and didn't feel comfortable doing so bareheaded (though I did, more than a few times).'s the same Jesus at a Novus Ordo Mass. So I decided to cover my head anytime I was in the presence of the Eucharist.

The only time I have consciously chosen not to was at my uncle's very liberal parish. I wore a lacy white headband instead. :) (Please note that subtle subversion is probably not the right reason to wear a headband.)

I have a bunch of other thoughts on the topic; I really ought to write a post on my own blog about this.

~Megan (of Servant fame)

Laura Delgado said...

You have captured my feelings on this subject perfectly. It is the desire not to be seen as holier-than-thou that stops me, but I feel so called to wear a mantilla. I almost envy my nine year-old daughter. She receives Communion on her knees, and no one thinks that she holier-than-thou. They just think she's beautiful. Oh, to be young and not weird! Thanks for this post.

Jen and Eric said...

Well, I used to and don't anymore... just because, well, I had women who would approach me and strike up conversation with the *assumption* that I was "like-minded" to them simply because of my veil. I'm sure others stayed away because they assumed I was not like-minded to them. That made me sad. The veil was like a silent "message" I was sending out to the other ladies at church: "I'm a conservative one!" I was not trying to project an "ultra-conservative" aura... but I was nevertheless.

So then I thought about why I was wearing the veil, personally. Well, it was to show respect to our Lord. But it occurred to me that veils/hats don't symbolize "respect" in our culture any more... so why do I think I'm "showing respect" by wearing one? Just because it used to be respectful once-upon-a-time? Well, so did curtsey-ing... and I'm certainly not planning to curtsey to people!

So, I took off the veil. It didn't seem to have much inherent significance & it was sending the wrong message to others in my parish. Too bad. I think the lacy veils are pretty. :)

Katherine said...

This has been haunting me a bit over the last 6-12 months. So much so that I've even bought one. My concern isn't so much the "holier than thou" as it is that I simply do not like being the center of attention. I consented to it for my wedding day but otherwise, I don't like being the center of attention and I'm afraid of the attention it might cause. I also am not completely clear on why I would wear it. I think they are beautiful and feminine and show respect, but that doesn't mean women aren't beautiful and feminine or showing respect without them. I'm still a bit fuzzy on the why. I think if God made clear to me the why, I could get past the attention bit, but I'm still not there yet.

Veronicassandra said...

I have been of the thought that the mantilla was worn to prevent other people from being distracted by a woman's beautiful hair when they should be paying attention to what is going on at Mass. I find the lacy head coverings to be more of a distraction than any head of hair in the congregation.

As a casual observer, I have noticed that the ladies I see wearing the mantilla always seem so dour! As if to smile or relax their furrowed brows would be displeasing to the Lord. Also, they don't tend to mingle with the common parishoner folk, which I don't really understand. I am open to my opinion being changed; this is based on a very small sample.

I agree with "Jen and Eric" (Jen, I assume) that a small piece of fabric worn on the head does not symbolize reverence, or anything else in my mind, so the dilemma never occurred to me.

However, if it does mean something special between you and God, and you think it would gladden his heart for you to wear it, by all means, do it! But just do it with love and don't glower :)

Jenna St. Hilaire said...

I honestly wish this was the norm, because they're so beautiful and feminine and I love the sacredness and reverence behind the idea.

I seriously went over to Veils by Lily and drooled for half an hour this evening. :)

Drawing attention to myself with one and then being too introverted to stick around after Mass and explain seems like a surefire way to perpetuate bad stereotypes, but I like your idea of wearing one during Adoration. At least you have me thinking about it!

Nadja said...

When I first started wearing a mantilla, mostly because I am in love with history and the Latin Mass, and I thought it looked lovely, I suffered the same self-consciousness I felt in making the Signum Crucis at McDonalds. Now I feel sort of naked without one, even if I'm the only one at Mass wearing one (which is sometimes the case).

One of the benefits of getting older is that I no longer give a fig about what anyone thinks of me. I am what I am in God's sight, no more, no less, and if someone reads me wrong because they think my wearing a mantilla is some sort of mission statement, that is his or her problem and not mine!

Farmer's City Wife said...

I'm so grateful this topic has sparked such a fruitful and lively discussion. I've really enjoyed reading all of your thoughts and perspectives on the subject. Thank you so much for taking the time to share!

I would like to follow up on some comments.

Jen: "...veils/hats don't symbolize "respect" in our culture any more... so why do I think I'm "showing respect" by wearing one? Just because it used to be respectful once-upon-a-time?"


Veronicassandra: "...a small piece of fabric worn on the head does not symbolize reverence, or anything else in my mind..."

I guess I kind of disagree there; or agree with qualifications. I'm starting to view it like the religious habit (for the laity). Once upon a time it was simply the "dress of peasants." It was what poor people wore and the Religious, in solidarity with the poor and as a sign of their detachment from possessions and vow of poverty, wore what the poor people wore. Well, the habit has lost that original meaning, but the rich tradition lives on and still stands for detachment from possessions, modesty, orthodoxy, reverence, and a love of the Church and t(T)radition. I think it rather telling that the orders which have abandoned the habit (because it has "lost its significance") are struggling to fill the novitiate, while orders that have retained their habits are thriving.

I think the little doily on someone's head does have great significance and does symbolize reverence and piety. Now of course the thing itself doesn't effect what it symbolizes (no more than a scapular will save an unrepentant mortal sinner), it's not a Sacrament with ex opere operato power, and not everyone who wears the mantilla is actually reverent, pious and humble. But if worn with the spirit of humility, piety, reverence, modesty, joy, and purity, the I think it a beautiful tradition which should be maintained.

I wholeheartedly agree we shouldn't don the funeral face with the mantilla, but I think it signifies more than we give it credit for. :)

Please feel free to rebut!

Veronicassandra said...

I like the comparison to the traditional habit; it helps me to understand a bit better. When I see someone wearing it, I will think to myself, "Self, that person is wearing that mantilla as a symbol of their desire to be reverent, pious, and modest before the Lord in his house." If the outward sign helps them to make those qualities an inward reality, then that is good.

It just doesn't hold the same significance for me and I do not feel spiritually drawn to wear one. To me, wearing modest/appropriate clothing and offereing the Lord my attention and adoration "with the spirit of humility, piety, reverence, modesty, joy, and purity" serves the same purpose.

Interesting discussion! There is certainly room in our great big Church for a wide variety of traditions and devotions. We aren't all called to all of them. If the Lord draws you toward wearing the veil, by all means, follow his voice and forget about the voices from the peanut gallery! :)

Amanda said...

I love that you put this post! I grew up not knowing anything about wearing veils. When I was a young teen I went to a Latin Mass with my grandmother and was told about veils for the first time. Slowly, throughout the years since then I was drawn that way. I admit that I did have the thoughts about not wanting to stand out or seem weird, but I did think the tradition was beautiful.

When I moved to an area where I could attend the Latin Mass regularly I had my "in" - I could wear the veil when it was a comfortable environment and I didn't have to feel like the weird one. After that I realized that was probably kind of a silly thought process, and that I should be doing what I felt called to do weather it was easy or not - weather everyone else was doing it or not. Jesus is Jesus and He is present in the Holy Eucharist whether the Latin Mass or the Norus Ordo. So I started wearing it at every Mass I attended and also whenever I would be in the presence of the Holy Eucharist.

It was hard at first to be the only one in the room wearing one and to get all of the weird looks, but it has gotten easier. I agree with what you said about how I don't really "fit in" with society with a lot of my views and have overcome that (such as my views on artificial birth control, for example, and homeschooling). Heck, the priests at the Latin Mass Parish I attend wear full habit all of the time, and they are some of the absolute holiest people I know - seemingly the closest to God as well. If such manly men (and absolutely amazing priests) can wear what non-Catholic society would view as a dress and be such a good example of holiness, then I can certainly get over having people look at me like I'm a little weird in order to show more reverence to Jesus when I am in His presence.

Now I actually love wearing the veil no matter where I am attending Mass. It has helped me realized that I am not attending Mass for everyone else (or to show off what I am wearing), and it really does put things into perspective for me when I put it on. It's like a reminder of the deep holiness and tradition of what I am attending - it's something tangible I can do (the act of putting on the veil) that brings my mind to the place it needs to be. I'm not sure how other people view me (I've never had "like-minded women" approach me thinking I'm one of the super traditional), but if I am overcoming human imperfections (I have a long way to go in that area!) I really shouldn't care what other people think of me, whether it's positive or not.

I don't really know what God is calling everyone else to do about this matter. I certainly don't think that only women who wear veils to Mass are holy or reverent anymore than I think that only people who wear the scapular are going to heaven (which I, of course, don't think). This is a beautiful tradition that I believe God brought me to, and it has helped me tremendously in my spiritual life. Honestly, from what I remember about you from teaching with you, and from what the students told me you taught them (remember I had your students the year after you taught them), I really respect you and can see your faithfulness regardless of whether or not you wear a veil.

If you decide to wear one, I'll let you join my reverent women's club.... JUST KIDDING!!! ;-)

Jen and Eric said...

I really appreciate the mantilla being likened to the religious habit (and am struck by the reality that orders that got rid of the habits really *aren't* thriving! What does that say about discarding something simply because it "no longer signifies what it used to"?! Wow.) But I'm pretty much right with Veronicaassandra -- I am not able right now to make the significance my own. And while I know it's "not about me"... on the other hand, I think there is a difference between religious orders getting rid of their habits and laity getting rid of the mantilla. I'm just not sure what it is right now! Significance aside, though... I attend Mass with my 9-month old and she would never let me keep a mantilla on my head -- it would be in her mouth before we reached the pew! :)

Rachel said...

This is going to be stream of consciousness - not well developed thought. Here goes:

Interestingly enough, increased interest in wearing the Mantilla parallels a rise among Muslim women to wear the Hijab (veil or head covering). I think it might have something to do with reverence (it can, depending on the individual's interior disposition), but I think for many people wearing the mantilla or hijab also has to do with IDENTITY.

For Catholics, wearing the mantilla is a way to proclaim one's belief in the Eucharist (And I'm not saying that if you don't wear one you don't believe!). In a world that is becoming increasingly secular, wearing such a distinctive covering makes a prophetic statement: I AM A BELIEVER. In this way, it is similar to a religious habit. It sets one apart, whether that is their intention or not.

I recently had the opportunity to visit several Mosques, and was required to wear the Hijab. I have to say that something felt very different about entering a place of worship wearing a head-covering. I might even admit that I liked it.

At the same time, I'm not going to run out and buy a mantilla. Why? I don't know. Maybe I should. But at the same time, I'm also aware of the tendency it has to make others judge. So to protect them from that, I will forego wearing the Mantilla. There may be nothing wrong with eating something others consider profane, but if it is going to scandalize another, I'd rather not do it. In the same way, I think if you are in a community where wearing the mantilla is going to cause gossip or judgment, perhaps its best to not wear it.

Jen and Eric said...

Hmmm... very interesting, Rachel! I never thought of it like that before!

Unknown said...

You are hilarious :) I am a dirty rotten sinner too! I think the mantilla evokes such strong feelings in a certain group of Catholics - Catholics who are 100% faithful to the Church and who know exactly what it is but don't wear it. Most "blase" Catholics don't even know what it is. I don't wear one. My husband and I are, what I consider, blenders. We blend into any crowd and are always approachable. We can hang out with anyone and they will only know our joy. They will know I'm Catholic when I start bringing up NFP (when they ask how many children I want), when I discuss my husbands job (he is a DRE/Youth Minister), when I make my son show off how he can do the sign of the cross now, etc. But at first, we start off on the same page. I have no problem with mantillas and I think they are beautiful. It is important to make sure we are approachable to those in our parish who might feel intimidated by our dress though. What a thought-provoking post!!

Masha said...

I hope it's ok to comment on such an old article... I hadn't noticed it before.

I wear a headcovering, not a mantilla, but I always have some sort of scarf tied up and wrapped around my head. It took me a while of only covering at Byzantine Liturgy or Extrodinary Form Liturgies, but I finally made the plunge and honestly, I've had maybe a total of 2 negative comments or questions of any kind in almost ten years (now I'm feeling old..) I know most people tell me they don't feel like I'm trying to be or look uber-conservative or "holier than thou"..though as I think about it, that might have something to do with the tattoos... :) Still, if you're still on the fence, give it a try, no one cares too much if you switch back and forth either, wearing a mantilla one week and not the next.

Masha said...

Oops, missed the part where you said you'd be doing it! Enjoy. I'd love to know how it's going, and what lovely head-scarves you've discovered!

Farmer's City Wife said...

Of course it's okay to post on an old article :).

Thanks for sharing your experience, Masha! And definitely the switching back and forth has been my experience... some days I feel the need "to mantilla" (I love to make it into a verb) and some days not so much.

Farmer's City Wife said...

Loving it during adoration... still haven't braved it for Mass (don't know why!?). Since I wear it for my 11pm holy hour (for the sake of my own reverence) I haven't really bought a nice/pretty one... just a simple scarf. But if/when I make the plunge to wearing one for Mass, I'll probably try to get a pretty one :).

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