Veiling is slowly becoming more popular among young women, yet as this old custom returns to modernity, there are many who are skeptical, and even downright appalled by the habit.
“A symbol of disgusting self-righteousness!” A woman barked at me, when I started getting more vocal about the beauty of a chapel veil. She was quickly aided by other women stating that “only the most holier-than-thou souls wear a veil” or that it’s a mark of oppression.
I have to admit, I find this remark kind of odd for a myriad of reasons. I am sure there are some old termagants who give veiling a bad association, but for the most part, when you veil you stick out like a sore thumb. Most women I’ve talked to have confessed to it being more embarrassing than a source of pride.
So, before we start trying to read souls, let’s explore the reasons for veiling.
What is the correlation between women and veils?
If we were just to muse over this concept, we’d probably think of a bride, gloriously veiled on her wedding day. The Church is the Bride of Christ. Many things within the Church are veiled as well: the altar, the tabernacle, and chalice.
Conversely, men in their masculinity possess a sort of priestly role, whereas women are linked to the maternal. This brings us back to the Church being the Bride of Christ as well as Holy Mother Church. It seems that symbolically women are tethered to this concept, but that still begs the question: why a veil?
Veiling is Actually a Popular Concept.
Veiling is connected to a Catholic understanding of femininity. Even on the most basic and anatomical level, women are veiled. To explain, a woman’s intimate organs are hidden inside of her as opposed to a man’s. In many ways, this etches the structure of the masculine and the feminine. Women have a unique emphasis on the internal, being the heart of society. Men have a special correlation with the external, being the head.
Furthermore, things that are veiled, rather than prohibited or blocked, are rife with symbolism. There is something mysterious and undeniably important about them. We veil things that are cherished.
Alice von Hildebrand eloquently affirms this belief when she says, “Not only are female organs hidden, but they are also veiled. A veil symbolizes both mystery and sacredness. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, where he had been permitted to hear God’s voice, he veiled his face as an appropriate response to his overwhelming privilege. In Catholic Churches, the tabernacle is veiled when the Divine Host is present” (The Privilege of Being a Woman, p.83).
Another Old Testament example can be found when God tells Moses to build a sanctuary. God told Moses that the veil that he shall have placed within it “shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy” (Exodus 26: 33)
Veiling is traditionally used to signify something holy and sacred; something that is supremely important.
In choosing to don the veil, women acknowledge the sacred gift of feminine mystery. For women hold the ability to be a human tabernacle or chalice, by possessing the potency to bear new life.
Alice von Hildebrand also points out that, “Every woman carries within herself a secret, something mysterious and sacred. This secret is, on a natural level, the potential of new life. . . When the female egg is fertilized God ‘touches’ the female body to create a child’s soul.”
In this light, the veil also represents the fiat, a woman’s receptive role, her ability to receive life and bear life. In doing so, it actually reveals a woman’s beauty by setting her apart as someone uniquely cherished. Remember, all the gorgeous and life-giving things in the Church are veiled, from the chalice holding the Blood of Christ, to the little girl who in some way, be it spiritual or physical, is called to mother, nurture, and sustain life.
Veiling and mystery are inseparable.
Veiling is linked uniquely to the feminine. Gertrud von le Fort writes, “To unveil the woman means to destroy her mystery.” Here, she is not talking about the chapel veil per se, but rather the maternal role of femininity.
The chapel veil is the outward reminder of a woman’s sacred calling. It is very much the opposite of an oppressed symbol. It showcases our deep love and reverence for God, highlights beauty, and reminds us of the glorious mystery of life.