Friday, January 25, 2008

To Veil or Not To Veil

On the exer board, a discussion was started about head coverings. A couple women reacted with a kind of instinctive cringe which I think is common today. I don't blame them, and I do understand the reaction, but I think it is one that is because of the time we live in, and I think it is one that comes from a place of misunderstanding and reactionism based in the feminism of our day.

I think true feminism is a good thing, and I'm so thankful for all the good stuff that women have fought for...but I think in many ways the movement has made women uncomfortable with expressing what have traditionally been very feminine attributes at all.

It seems some sections of feminism strove to be man-like. Since men were in charge, many traditionally feminine characteristics were things to be avoided if women wanted to be equals with men. In the process they, certainly inadvertantly, ended up actually furthering the idea that femininity itself is inherently "less than". In my opinion, because of this error many ended up sacrificing true femininity rather than encouraging people to respect true femininity. The result is, many women now cringe at the sight of thoroughly feminine characteristics...including modesty, purity, humility, etc. (All of the things so thoroughly embodied in Our Lady.)

And so we're leftover with knee-jerk reactions to feminine signs of humility and submission (even to God), because we were supposed to get rid of all that, because obviously no woman would ever want to be those things, it was assumed that she was always forced to be those things. I think that's where they went wrong in their assumptions.

Now, it goes without saying, a woman should never be oppressed or forced to do something she is not willing to do simply because she is a woman. But that shouldn't mean that women (or men, of course, but there doesn't seem to be a problem there) can't choose to perform acts of humility or submission willingly, especially before God.

According to the Christian tradition, humility and mutual submission (from both men AND women) is a good thing.

He who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

I think we're so used to crying "OPPRESSION!!" at any sight of women showing some kind of external sign of humility (because of the assumption that it was always by force and never by choice) that we're starting to oppress them ourselves in the opposite manner...they are no longer even allowed to show any kind of external sign of traditionally feminine humility or submission before God for fear of being told they are not "progressive" enough, and they're insulting all those who broke free from their bonds by returning to them.

But I thought true progress meant allowing people the choice. And yet, I find it interesting that those who are the loudest to run to the battle cry of "choice" often seem to actually be trying to push one particular choice above all others.

Some claim that veiling is just an oppressive rule required by men and promoted by men, but personally, most of the people I've talked to who support someone wearing it (should they want to) have been women who felt called to wear one as a sign of devotion. It was humbling for them, because in this day a lot of people tend to look down on them for wearing it, and they're doing it despite that (and the women I know are not doing it as a "holier than thou" thing, although I certainly know those types exist.)

Some say, well it's not necessary so what's the point, other than some kind of forced submission?

In my opinion, It is an expression of faith in and reverence for the Euacharist. There are many things we do that aren't, strictly speaking, "necessary." In the Catholic faith, we believe in an incarnational faith...which means, spiritual things are expressed through physical things. That doesn't mean they have to be, but it means they often are, and this is good and fine. (As opposed to gnostics who thought matter was bad, etc.)

Likewise, our actions and such tend to affect our inward thoughts...not only does blessing myself with holy water upon entering the Church express respect for the Eucharist, it also helps me call to mind my baptism and entrance into the Church, and to remind me physically that I'm entering a holy place. It works both ways, it is both a physical expression of a spiritual reality, and a physical reminder of the spiritual reality.

Such can be the case for some using a head covering too...for some, it is a physical reminder that they are entering a holy place. And there is nothing wrong with that, is there? To assume someone is being "holier than thou" or has been brainwashed into oppression just because of a veil on the head is, to use the favorite accusation of our modern day, judgemental. It isn't right to judge anyone's intentions when we don't know them, charity necessitates that we avoid assuming the worst about people and their intentions.

To be clear, I'm not trying to insist that everyone should be wearing a veil, I don't wear one myself! But I do think it's just as unfair to insist that everyone should as it is to insist that everyone shouldn't (because it's archaic/because it's seen as holier-than-thou/because it's just symbolic and isn't necessary/fill in the blank). I think the gut reactions instilled in most modern women is a sad testament to the errors made by some of the early feminists in denouncing femininity itself.

I'm simply asking for the freedom to let those who want to wear one to do so without reproach or ugly looks or uncharitable thoughts, and for those who don't want to wear one to do so without reproach or ugly looks or uncharitable thoughts. When we get to a place where people can respect others' choices and avoid uncharitable thoughts about them, then we'll be making true progress. Until then, we're just trading one form of oppression for another.


La gallina said...

I tried to leave this loooong comment, but then accidentally erased it. I'll try again:)

THANK YOU for your post on wearing the veil!!!! This will be a bit lengthy, but I have to tell of my experience with this.

I am a new Catholic (2 years this coming Easter.) I was somewhat of a reluctant convert. I felt that my children needed to receive some religious/ moral instruction and my cradle-Catholic husband would only go to the Catholic Church. That was okay with me because I didn't have any other church in mind. I also decided to have my children baptized into the Church. (The oldest was seven, 3 years ago.)

I didn't understand anything about the Catholic Church. But I slowly began to be very moved by my experience at Mass. There was something about Communion that I just loved, and I wanted to be a part of that. I also felt like I wanted to be unified in the faith with my husband and children.

So I converted. I still didn't really understand it all, or even agree with Catholic theology (which I did not know or understand.) But I loved the Eucharist and I felt that it was time for me to show my love and respect for God after many years of ignoring Him.

The Sunday before Lent '07 as I waited in line to receive Communion I looked up at the crucifix and asked Jesus what I could do to thank him for his love and sacrifice. I suddenly saw two women in my mind wearing veils: a woman from my parish who wore a veil, and my mother who used to wear a veil to light the candle during our Passover seders growing up. I felt like this was God telling me that this was an outward sign I could use to show my reverence and devotion to Him.

I was shocked by this. I knew very little about the veil, expect that ladies used to wear them and a few older ladies still did. I decided to do some research on-line about it so that I wouldn't commit some huge faux pas, like veils were only for widows or something like that.

I was still a wishy-washy Catholic. I loved the Eucharist, but didn't "get" much else about the Catholic Church and Her teachings. So my on-line research began. I found tons of information about Church history. I found conversion stories that were just amazing. I discovered the Saints, the rosary, and beautiful prayers. I found fun blogs. And I just absolutely fell in love with this ancient Church founded by Our Lord! (I had no idea Christianity had a 2,000 year old traceable history.)

I discovered Catholic art and tradition, and I was really blown away. Lent '07 became a very special time of becoming closer to Jesus as I suffered (slightly, compared to Him) along with Him.

I ordered a veil, but I was nervous when it arrived. That meant I would have to actually wear it in public. I am a bit shy. I don't like attention or feeling like a spectacle.

I was also extremely worried about appearing holier than thou. And I was very familiar with the feminist arguments. I would not wear a veil when I got married because it was a sign of submission to my husband! (I thought I was too liberated for that.) But I just couldn't get this idea of the veil out of my mind. I had to wear it.

Holy Thursday was my first time to wear the veil. Mass was packed, mostly with tourists from Monterrey, Mexico. (I live on the coast of Texas near the border.) I was nervous, and I got stares. Lots of them. Mostly from teenage girls from Monterrey. (They had probably never seen anyone wear a veil except their grand- or great grandmothers.)

I found that the stares really helped me keep my focus on prayer. Instead of staring back, I would focus on the Mass or close my eyes and say a prayer. And I absolutely loved it, despite the stares. I felt like a was sitting inside this special sacred space. Wearing the veil really changed my experience with Mass.

It's like how you said that crossing yourself with Holy Water upon entering church reminds you that you are entering holy ground. I feel that with the veil (and the Holy Water.)

I also felt excited at being able to help keep alive an ancient beautiful tradition in the modern (and too plain) Church. I love the knowing smiles I get from the little old ladies who still wear a veil. Now I always wear the veil when I enter a Church. It just feels so right.

Last week as I stood in line waiting to receive Communion, I was the fourth woman in a row wearing a veil! That was very cool.

Your blog was one that I found during my search last year. Your conversion story and thoughts on church art, history and tradition had a big influence on me!

Thanks for the post, and SORRY for the long comment.

Stephanie said...

What a lovely story, thanks so much for sharing! :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow...I'm also a convert to the Catholic faith. Received ionto full communion on Christ the King Sunday in 2003.
I love the Tridentine mass although we usually attend the Novus Ordo. I asked my husband for a veil and he gave it to me for my birthday. I haven't summoned the courage to wear it yet though.

Sarah said...

Great post Stephanie (and great comments!) - I have considered veiling, but haven't done so. . . anyway, I found your blog recently and had bookmarked it but hadn't had a chance to read it until today, and I look forward to coming back!

Have a great week!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. :-)

La gallina said...

Hi. Have you seen this mantilla tee-shirt design from It's really cute.

Stephanie said...

Lol, I hadn't seen that, it is cute. :-D