For Better or Worse: Mantillas are Making a Quiet Comeback
Poised to grab the one year-old at any moment, whose favorite thing to do is pushing the power strip button while Mommy is on the computer, I had been watching the first few minutes of Auxiliary Bishop Nevares’ ordination Mass when the processional hymn was abruptly interrupted by the jarring sound of an imaginary needle being dragged across this virtual recording. I saw heads veiled in black lace!
I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Growing up in the diocese of Phoenix, I never thought I would see the day when chapel veils would resurface, especially during a liturgical procession. Not that long ago it was more common to see graceful bare feet under flowing skirts dancing up the center aisle.
Many of the women in the Nevares procession looked old enough to have known what it was like back when all Catholic females wore the mantilla. I recognized one of these ladies--a thirty year family friend--and I have never seen her head covered except when it was full of curlers. Nope, I didn’t see any curlers.
Mulieres autem, capite cooperto et modeste vestitae, maxime cum ad mensam Dominicam accedunt: “…that when women approach the table of the Lord, it is best that they do so modestly clad and with covered heads.” This is what Canon 1262 in the old 1917 Code of Canon Law says, and it was at least in theory binding until 1983.
But the 1969 newspaper clipping to the left suggests a decline in the mantilla’s popularity was already underway at that time; the custom was changing even if the law hadn’t yet (he wouldn’t have had to “insist” anything unless there had been pressure to the contrary.) The new Code of Canon Law revised in 1983 no longer has any statement about head covering in it. My mother and grandmother were both pretty conservative Catholics, but I don’t ever remember either of them wearing the lace. Not even a fancy hat on Easter.
Even though we don’t have to wear the mantilla anymore, I’ve noticed that some women want to. Depending upon which parish you are at, you may see one or several ladies graced in lace at a regular Sunday morning mass. The ladies I have seen are mostly under forty. I bet some of you reading this post are guilty of being veil-curious, and maybe even own one, buried in the back of your sock drawer.
Can it be that more women are unleashing their inner bride and donning the mantilla at mass?
After the “Extraordinary Form”—the 1962 Latin Mass, “EF” for short--started being said at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church here in Phoenix in June of 2004, some parishioners that I know of, including my family, were very curious about it. (This could be happening all over the world.) For years I resisted the mantilla even when attending the EF--maybe a hat, if anything. But eventually, about a year ago, I decided to “pin one on”—and I have not stopped wearing it since, no matter whether I’m at the old mass or the ordinary mass.
Summorum Pontificum, effective on September 14, 2007, has made the old Latin Mass more widely available to Catholics, removing the requirement of the Bishop’s explicit permission. In his statements about this document, Pope Benedict spoke about the “mutual enrichment” that he hoped would follow from a broader re-introduction of the old Mass and its culture to the mainstream of the Church’s life. The number of EF masses in this country has increased by approximately 300% in 21 years. Will the growing number of Catholic women and girls exposed to this older form of worship and the old customs around it, even occasionally, start sporting the veil at all forms of the Catholic mass in the next 20 years?