Dear Sister Sunday: To Veil, or Not to Veil?

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veiling at Mass

Dear Sister Sunday,

I’d love to hear your perspective on veiling. This has become a bit of an issue within our rural parish, with increasing numbers of women wearing a chapel veil at Mass. I struggle with the practice. On one hand, I appreciate that it helps women to feel more reverent during Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. And yet, I struggle with the veil because it is only for women.

If men and women both had to cover their heads, I would understand the appeal. But, in a church that already limits women’s teaching and leadership, it’s hard for me to accept that women need to look a certain way during the liturgy in order to be reverent.

What’s more, the women who veil tend to have traditional roles at home, and, I sometimes feel, look down on women who work outside of the home. I’m pediatrician married to a stay at home dad, and I struggle with elements of Catholic culture that seem to frown upon my family’s arrangement. Even if my husband and I wanted to change our arrangement, my medical school loans are such that we couldn’t afford to pay them unless I’m working.

Within the realm of parish life, I worry that the veil creates an ‘us and them’ mentality. There seems to be a sense that “if you really loved Jesus and took the Mass seriously, you would also veil.” That there are two classes of Christians.

One person on parish council (and several who are married to those on parish council) wear veils, and the woman in charge of religious education is also strongly contemplating this. Among those who veil, I don’t think they realize that it makes others feel less-than. Our priest is pretty traditional, and he seems to love that people are veiling. They don’t realize how this pressure pushes away young people. (I’ve heard several teens say that they refuse to go to church if they feel there is pressure to veil.)

Do you have any experience with this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


girl altar servers

Dear Bare,

Women who wear the veil treasure it as a sign of humility before and obedience under God. (It’s curious, isn’t it, that men who wish to demonstrate humility before and obedience under God, take off their hats upon entering a church and go bareheaded?)

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.

All of us must cherish and practice these virtues. But you don’t need a veil, or a bare head, to practice humility and obedience. You need a humble and faithful heart.

Wearing the veil is choice Catholic women are free to make, but it is not a requirement under current canon law. It’s important for us to understand and make these distinctions. Many lay Catholics wear scapulars, for instance, but no lay Catholic is required by canon law to do so.

Here’s the only question I would ask: Does this voluntary practice draw me closer to Christ and his Body or not?

If women in your parish are making you feel uncomfortable as a non-veil wearer, simply refer the next person who raises the issue to canon law. And I would remind all of us of the wise and pertinent exhortation attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo: In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.

Hoping to see your pretty head at a Mass near me,

Sister Sunday

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