I grew up in a church where all the ladies wore head coverings during worship and prayer services. The idea was that a woman’s hair symbolized the glory of humanity and as a symbolic sign of respect for the preeminent glory of God in our midst, women covered their heads in church.
The reason I still wear a head covering in Mass is because it’s a tangible expression of my respect for God. Yeah, I realize it’s totally an old-school practice but since I grew up wearing a veil in church, it feels natural and normal to me.
Furthermore, wearing a veil in Mass helps me achieve a worshipful state of being. It helps me sink into that sacred space of adoration, silencing the clamor of the outside world. In fact, without my veil, I feel sorta naked–perhaps somewhat like a yogi without his/her yoga mat.
Since I believe the consecrated Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ, the very least I can do is make every effort to show respect and reverence for my Lord and my God. This is also why Catholics genuflect, bow and cross themselves at various times during Mass–as a tangible, visual sign of respect.
Wearing a head covering, then, is simply an extension of my reverence for the presence of Christ.
Wearing a veil is NOT about my relationship to human men. If there is a misunderstanding about why women wear head coverings, I think that is it.
Most people seem to assume that when a woman wears a head covering, she’s demonstrating her secondary or subordinate status to men. That’s simply not the case. Wearing a head covering has nothing to do with my position among the human race, it is simply and wholly about my position before God.
It’s probably pretty clear to everyone who reads my blog that I’m no quiet, demure woman. In my day-to-day life I’m outspoken, independent and pretty much unafraid to demand equal treatment among all my peers–male and female alike. You could definitely say I’m a feminist.
But wearing a head covering in Mass is not about my relationship to other human beings. It’s about my relationship to God.
So, for me, wearing a veil in church is about showing reverence for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and it’s also a meditative aid; an external expression of an internal state of worship.
Up until the 60′s, covering or not covering one’s head in church was universally understood and practiced. Men took their hats off in church, women kept them on or wore a veil. This wasn’t about their relationship to each other, but about their relationship to God.
Still, some might ask: “Don’t you wear a head covering just because you’re a woman?” Well, yes and no. God created me as a female human. This should not be understood in the context of my relation to human males, but it does mean I’m uniquely suited for the female human experience and I embrace the unique privilege of expressing my reverence before God in a distinctly feminine way.
Even so, I appreciate the grace Catholics have extended in not mandating or requiring women to cover their heads in church. The reality is that women have been treated as secondary citizens throughout much of human history–including inside the Church. An unfortunate consequence of this is that head coverings are often seen as a sign of female oppression.
For about seven years after leaving my childhood cult, I, too reveled in the freedom of not wearing a head covering in church.
Even though I’m back to wearing a veil in Mass, I’m glad it’s not required but viewed as a matter of personal conscience.
I do think it’s interesting that a post-Vatican II miscommunication regarding women wearing veils in church led to a wholesale abandonment of the practice in the West.
That’s a little sad, I think. Something beautiful is lost when we cast aside practices that have been with us for thousands of years–especially when those practices help us lay aside our American-ness and unite with the Church universal.
I’m usually the only woman wearing a veil in Mass. But nobody gives me the stink-eye or even notices, really. I don’t mind being the only woman wearing a veil.
I’ve always been something of a contrarian anyway.