The Chapel Veil
The Tradition and Purpose of the Catholic Mantilla
“Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.”
Chapel Veils – An Ancient Tradition
Since the earliest days of the Church, wearing a chapel veil has been a practice among all faithful women. Paul addressed veiling in his first letter to the Corinthians and Church fathers that came after him defended the tradition. Yet chapel veils are more than mere head coverings for women, and should be worn with intention, not only as a routine.
Chapel veils – lace veils, commonly black or white, which can vary in size and shape – are worn by women when entering a church, or anytime in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Traditionally, married and widowed women wear black veils, while young girls and unmarried women wear white or off-white veils. However, the color choices are not a hard and fast rule.
A chapel veil is also commonly called a mantilla; however, the word mantilla can refer to more than just chapel veils. 'Mantilla' simply means “a lightweight lace or silk scarf worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb, by women in Spain and Latin America,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. The word is based on 'manta,' which means cape. In Spain and Latin America, the mantilla is worn as a fashion item to important events, both religious and secular. In the 17th and 18th centuries mantillas were worn almost anywhere. For this reason, the term ‘Catholic mantilla’ is also often used, emphasizing that the mantilla is worn for going to Catholic Mass.
Theology of the Chapel Veil
Even before the second half of the 20th century, which is when chapel veils sharply dropped in popularity, many women wore chapel veils simply because it was tradition, without understanding why it was tradition. However, traditions are not formed arbitrarily.
First, for a woman to veil herself when attending Mass or participating in Eucharistic Adoration is an act of modesty. In doing so she shows that she understands the role of woman in God’s plan. Covering her hair does not mean a woman is ashamed of her feminine beauty, but that she is covering her physical glory so that God may be glorified instead. She shows her reverence for and surrender to God’s will by doing so. It is also a way of imitating Mary, our role model for chastity and purity.
Furthermore, it is a testament to the role of woman as a life-bearing vessel. The chalice which holds the Blood is veiled until the offertory, and the tabernacle veiled between Masses. The chalice and the tabernacle hold the Eucharist, they contain Life itself. Similarly, woman was created with the privilege of bearing human life.
The Mantilla or Chapel Veil in Modern Times
The chapel veil or mantilla is not used as often today as in the past, aside from at Tridentine Masses. The Second Vatican Council is seen as the time when chapel veils fell out of use. However, Vatican II did not remove or alter the requirement of women wearing veils to Mass. Rather, the practice had been dwindling prior to Vatican II, likely caused by a combination of influence from modern feminist groups which sought to devalue the tradition, and women not understanding why they wore the veils in the first place. An answer given to a reporter outside the Vatican was misinterpreted when Annibale Bugnini said that veils were not being discussed. The press took this to mean that chapel veils were no longer to be worn and the idea spread. In the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law, the subject of wearing veils was completely left out. In recent years, however, many women have sought to return to the practice of wearing a chapel veil or mantilla. It remains an outward sign of modesty, reverence, and a willingness to accept God’s will.
To view our selection of chapel veils, click here.