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For Better or Worse: Mantillas are Making a Quiet Comeback

Could the mantilla make a comeback among younger Catholics?

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.

1969 Press Clipping: Monsignor Maintains Mantilla Mandatory

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.

These figures show the number of Traditional Latin Masses in the United States in November of each year. Click to visit www.ecclesiadei.org.

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?

I’d say it’s a lot more likely than a renaissance in barefoot liturgical dance.

Probably Not the Liturgical Wave of the Future

17 comments | Add one of your own.

  1. Leila

    Great article! I noticed several mantillas at mass yesterday (Novus Ordo) and I love it! I myself don’t wear one, but I admire those who do!

    That last photo, of the liturgical dancers? Sort of makes me gag. Not gonna lie, I wanna shake that priest sitting there. Sorry, I am overdue for confession.

    Reply

  2. Danica Bagioli

    I am a 24 year old “cradle Catholic” and donned the veil about 2 years ago. My husband introduced me to the Latin Mass and it was strongly impressed upon me by the Holy Spirit that I needed to present myself in humility and modesty at Mass by dressing appropriately and covering my head. I followed up on these strong feelings by reading 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16 and locating literature about what the Church actually taught. My husand and I occasionally attend St Thomas the Apostle (where veiled heads abound), but we often attend the 9:15pm Mass at the Newman Center at ASU, where I am thrilled to see a few other 20-somethings enjoying this beautiful and rich tradition. Wearing the veil is not a fashion statement; you must first wear the veil on your heart by embracing modesty and prudence at Mass and in the world. Thanks for this wonderful web site and God Bless! :)

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    1. Cordelia

      Thanks for visiting Cath. Phoenix, Danica. I think that it is an interesting fact that the 1917 code of canon law doesn’t necessarily equate a covered head with “modestly clad”. However, for jewish women in the time of St. Paul covering their heads meant I’m not available–I’m married, don’t you dare make any advances on me, you slime ball! Of course, submissiveness to one’s husband–humility– is also what the veil symbolizes. I don’t know exactly how the associations of veil and marriage became extended to unmarried Catholics, too.

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      1. Mathew Bagioli

        No, the 9:15 pm is a Novus Ordo, but it is offered in the old church (St. Mary’s I believe). The church is very plain – no statues or reredos; and it frankly has a somewhat distracting crucifix depicting an androgynous, beardless Christ with what looks to be a mortarboard for a halo. But the sad encroachments of the ‘arts and environment’ committee aside, the 9:15 pm at the Newman Center is the most beautiful Novus Ordo mass I know of.

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        1. Denys

          Matt/Danica–we’d love to hear more.

          Is it the ars celebrandi? Plainchant? What makes this celebration of the mass particularly beautiful to people who are tuned in to the Church’s norms and traditions?

          (By the way, expect a significant remodeling and building project at the Newman center now that Frs. Clements and Muir are in the house. I heard from someone who has heard directly from Muir about this.)

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    1. Cordelia

      Thanks, Kristen. I like to think that the veil I wear reminds me of the eschatological aspect of the mass, i.e. refering to the vision of John in Revelation–the descent of the New Jerusalem and the Bridegroom coming dowm to meet His bride, the Church.

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    2. Cordelia

      I was reading some Alice Von Hildebrand and thought that what she says about preparing yourself for the marital act can be relevant to the spousal relationship between Xt and His Church and preparing yourself for Mass where there is going to be a “consummation,” if you will, of the bride’s commitment to the Bridegroom and vice versa: Holy Communion.

      She says to a young bride, “It’s possible that you and Michael have entered the mysterious garden of sex without haveing first donned your “nuptial garments,” that is, without being in that loving, recollected, and yet ardent attitude which is the desirable antiphon of this great experience.” (“By Love Refined”, p. 27)

      I think that the preparation of mind and heart for what is about to happen at Mass can be aided by a physical and spiritual reminder such as the wearing of a chapel veil.

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    1. Cordelia

      I love a nice hat, Cindy! The veil has a prayer shawl quality about though–you put it on when you enter church and you take it off when you leave.

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  3. Reginaldus

    This is just a question, and it betrays my ignorance…
    Was there any requirement for the color of the veils? I myself regularly participate in the EF Mass, but I don’t know much about the history of the Mass. Where I go, I usually see more women and girls with white veils than with black. Does the color matter at all? I noticed you mentioned that the veils were black (and the picture has a black veil as well).
    Obviously, I am happy to see devotion and reverence (as well as modesty), in any color!
    Thanks for the great article!

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  4. Cordelia

    I’m not sure, Reginaldus. I haven’t found any concrete evidence that suggests there is any real significance to the color you wear, as some others claim—white for virgin or black for married, unless you are visiting the pope.

    Catholic royal women are allowed the “Privilège du blanc” or “privilege of the white”. http://www.daylife.com/photo/08eMc1R7Ehg4P?q=Pope+Benedict+XVI

    All other female dignitaries are asked to wear a black mantilla. http://wapedia.mobi/en/Privil%C3%A8ge_du_blanc

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  5. Reginaldus

    Miss Cordelia, I linked to this post in an article I wrote on Angels and Mantillas. I hope that this is ok. I will certainly remove the link if you would like.
    The post is at The New Theological Movement (in your blogroll).

    Also, thanks for the helpful info on the color of the mantilla! Good call on looking into papal visit etiquette.

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    1. Cordelia

      I don’t mind at all, Reginaldus. I like your article on angels and mantillas. I think we ladies need to listen more to what scripture is trying to tell us here, and St. Thomas Aquainus, as you point out, has some real insight to offer us in our understanding of the “controversial” passages about women covering their heads.

      If we ladies can lower our feminist defenses, we might find a really beautiful meaning behind the mantilla–real equality, i.e. a oneness that is about complementarity not about identicality. You seem to argue that if we can get this point, then we can see how God wants us to relate to His Sacred Heart.

      To read the article on angels and mantillas, go to the link for The New Theological Movement in our blogroll.

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      1. Reginaldus

        Ms. Cordelia,
        Thank you again for your post on the mantilla. Indeed, I do think that a better understanding of the relation between the husband and his wife will help us to relate to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
        Christ is head of the Church in his humanity, that is in his Sacred Heart. The husband’s headship over his wife is meant to be a true Sacrament of the relation between our Lord’s Sacred Heart and the Church. As a sacrament it is not merely an “image” but actually effects the reality it signifies — the love of a husband for his bride is a true participation in the very Love which Christ has for his Church. How beautiful and great is this mystery (sacramentum)…the mystery (sacramentum) of Christ and his Church!

        Thank you for your witness as a woman in Christ!

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  6. wanda

    I think its great to see a comeback in veils. The so called feminist movement was more about equal opportunity in pay and employment and freedom to determine ones life. Wearing a veil in church does not negate that for me in any way. I think I will start designing my own.
    We are finally understanding that veiling in no way diminishes our strength or freedom as women. It raises us as we glorify God. Time to get a veil wardrobe! I am just loving this!

    Reply