ASK FATHER: Chapel veil at school Masses

From a readerette:

I’m a sophomore in high school, and this past summer I was inspired to wear a veil. I recently obtained one and I suppose I’ll wear it at school Masses now. The thing is, I go to a Catholic school, but no one there really believes in Catholicism and most people there are just there because their parents are rich. Also, my friend recently started wearing a veil, a small black one that isn’t very noticeable, and one of the teachers of whom I have a deathly fear was glaring at her! I’m terrified to wear my veil, which is long and white and very noticeable, because of what both my classmates and my teachers will say and think of me. How should I gather my courage for the school Masses to come? What should I do?

First, I commend your desire to wear a chapel veil.   This is a custom that ought to be revived.

High school is tricky business with plenty of land mines.   You are old enough to want to make autonomous choices, but you are not yet wholly autonomous.

You should discuss this with your parents and make sure that they will back your choice.

That said, stick with your friend.  Sit by her during Mass if you are free to sit where you want.

I don’t know enough about your exact circumstances to make a call on this, but, if your veil is “very noticeable” I’d think three times about it.  You might be accused of only wanting to draw attention to yourself.  You might find several more girls who would like to use the veil and then you can all give support to your friend together.  Also, perhaps you (and they) might find veils similar to your friend’s veil, a bit more discreet.

This is important: you must be very well versed in explaining why you want to use the chapel veil.  It isn’t a fashion accessory.  Be sure that it isn’t “about you”.

Prayerful best wishes for this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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23 Responses to ASK FATHER: Chapel veil at school Masses

  1. Vy says:

    Thank you for the post, Father!
    I’ve often wondered the same thing when I choose to kneel from the end of the Sanctus to the end of the Great Amen. Although there’s enough room for mostly everyone to kneel during then, no one does. I’m a part of the choir, and we are on the stage which makes it hard to kneel without drawing attention to myself.
    This advice was very helpful! :)

  2. Peggy R says:

    Good advice. I am at a sappy NO parish and wear a small round black chapel cap. They are $5 or less and subtle. Also in winter, you can keep your hat on. A nice tasteful thing, not a novelty or trendy hat. I have a nice black beret I keep on during mass in winter.

  3. benedetta says:

    If this correspondent makes the decision to wear her veil at school Masses, after checking with her parents and thinking it through for herself, I would add also that she should go out of her way to be as friendly and respectful to the scary glaring teacher, and, as a general matter, wear her veil and wear a smile towards her peers who may deeply misunderstand through little real fault or choice of their own, given the environment she describes which is all too familiar. And I agree that she should expect to be required to give a defense…to give a reason… and to witness to her faith and the choices she makes because of it more generally.

    It’s very sad that it has to be thought through carefully but sometimes people can become emboldened to persecute, even, or especially, a young person who is innocent and good. Even if she and her parents decide that she won’t veil for school Masses regularly at this time, or postpone the decision for another time in high school down the line, or until college, I think the sort of exercise of a young faithful Catholic considering out her witness, her reasons, and the variety of ramifications, and how and when to proceed, a very important area for all young Catholics in our times. I will pray that she and our faithful young Catholics receive encouragement and support to help them be mature witnesses to the Gospel.

  4. Here are the reasons I give for why I wear a chapel veil. Keep in mind that I am 45 and have worked for years in a very rough-and-tumble profession, and a high school sophomore might not get away with articulating all these reasons. Still, some of them at least may help.

    Why I wear a chapel veil:

    1. To show respect for Our Lord, truly present in the Eucharist.
    2. Because it’s traditional.
    3. Because it’s feminine.
    4. Because it’s pretty.
    5. Because liberals and feminists hate it.

  5. Luke W says:

    What a holy desire: To wear a chapel veil. My advice, if indeed your parents support this holy desire, is to consider the saying of St. John of the Cross, “Wisdom enters through love, silence, and mortification. It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others” (109). His advice clearly pertains to your classmates and teacher (unless the teacher addresses you directly). And the advice can be well understood in the light of another Jaunist saying, “Live as though only God and yourself were in this world, so that your heart may not be detained by anything human.” So you will want to focus on being meek toward those who do not initially understand the meaning of the chapel veil. Take great care in this, spiritually, because St. John of the Cross makes plain that being suspicious of the thoughts of others causes us to lose purity of heart. May God be with you as you consider these things.

  6. Jarrod says:

    My nine-year-old daughter took up the devotion of covering her head in Church, so we got her a nice mantilla. She recently started at a Catholic school with uniforms and weekly Masses. But no veils are allowed. (It’s a good school, apart from that.) So she uses one of those hair retention accessories that looks like a thin horseshoe (maybe a woman can help out with a name) as a token head covering in such times, just as she uses a hat when that is more seasonally appropriate. The former might be a bit juvenile for a high school student, but I imagine there are other such ways to cover your head without drawing a lot of attention to yourself.

  7. TheDude05 says:

    In one essence it is about her, and how she relates to the Mass, her faith, and the Lord. In these days and times, rather than being a long held custom, it is a personal choice to veil, and a good one at that. If it helps to disconnect you from the now as you are transported in the Mass to the infinite beauty of God, then go for it. If it hinders this because people are glaring at you, then you have a decision to make, continue to be a symbol and offer up any suffering upon the Altar, or stop so you can continue on as before. Sadly people take a veil to be a holier than thou thing which is sad, shouldn’t we all strive to be as Holy as we can be?

  8. tufty says:

    First, I’d like to say that chapel veils are not traditional head covering in the US. In the days when women were required to cover their heads, the older women usually wore some type of hat or silky scarf tied like a babushka. The younger women wore smaller hats that were mostly netting, small silky or nylon scarfs tied like a babushka, some wore beanies (grade school), or small chapel caps (high school). I honestly don’t ever remember a native born Americans ever wearing mantillas with the exception of long ones worn as a bridal veil. Covering your head is traditional, wearing veils is not. During the years when hats were required in church, hats were also a standard fashion accessory worn by all women when dressing up for any occasion, including going to the shopping district or going out to lunch. Since women no longer wear hats, church hats are very hard to find and very expensive. Someone came up with the machine sewn chapel veil and convinced a generation of women that these are “traditional.” They are not.
    Second, I’d just like to say: pick your battles.
    Don’t make an issue out of something that is just a custom. Customs change. Men are no longer wearing togas. Women no longer dress like the Virgin Mary, even the most modest ones.
    It is going to be hard gong to encourage people to go back to the fundamental traditions that have been changed. Attempting to appear as “normal” ie. non-fanatical as possible is a stronger inducement to others than trying to look “traditional.” It’s not about the uniform, it’s about the liturgy and the doctrine.

  9. Michelle F says:

    Jarrod –

    Have you tried talking to the school staff about how they go about accommodating the needs of students who have religious beliefs?

    Your daughter’s desire to wear a veil of some type during Mass is no different from a Muslim girl wanting to wear a hijab (a scarf which does not cover the face), a Jewish boy wanting to wear a yarmulke/kippah, or a Sikh boy wanting to wear a turban. If the school would accommodate the Muslim, the Jew, or the Sikh, they would have to accommodate the Catholic – especially since the Catholic veil is worn only during a religious service, and not all of the time.

    If the school is stubborn – not willing to accommodate the sincerely-held religious beliefs of its students – you can contact your bishop, or consult a lawyer.

    P.S. – The hair retention accessories that look like a thin horseshoe are simply called “headbands.” My mother made me wear one 42+ years ago, and I still can remember the little plastic teeth on the inside of it digging into my scalp. They truly are horrid little torture devices.

  10. Mr. Graves says:

    Luke (or other readers): To which of St. John’s works does “109” refer? I googled the quote and found it repeated other places without attribution. Luke’s comment really resonated, and I’d like to read SJC–which I’ve avoid heretofore because he seemed mystical and opaque. Also, is the quote about purity of heart from the same source?

    Thanks to anyone who can help.

  11. redshoes says:

    I may get bashed for this, but I will try to imitate the courage of the young lady and express my views.

    She should not follow most of this advice, pardon if I say so. She is not on a mission to convert people to the veil, she has no obligation to explain anything, she is not violating any school or social laws, she needs to first just wear it and try that, and she has a constitutional right to live her faith.

    Veiling is a private decision and a private devotion. It is not a trad-badge, statement or sign of faith. It is not commanded by the Church or by God or by the angels, as so many claim. It is an individual matter. It’s obstreperous to the girl’s choice and deepening understanding to tack more onto it. If she wishes, she can get into those issues later. First and foremost, let her be free to just experience wearing her veil!

    Veiling has become too imbued with controversy and someone so young need not be pressured to participate in the issues SURROUNDING veiling, but not really about the veil. This may be what we would do, but if she is in a high school where almost “no one believes in Catholicism” she is under enough burden just to make her own free choice. And it should be as free as deciding to wear a cross necklace, a pro-life pin, or a new red hat with a feather. Anyone can do any of these in a civilized nation in their own school or church without any necessity for further action.

    The veil speaks for itself. If people misunderstand or not is no business of the wearer’s. Making an issue is really a form of vanity. Let it go; don’t put veiling on steroids. The veil conveys modesty, let the poor girl maintain her reserve in her deportment with others. To not say a word and just unpretentiously wear the veil (as if it were your own hair) is feminine but more important, dignified.

    Do not do ANYTHING other than wear the veil. Ignore the evil-eye teacher, ignore looks. Turn a deaf ear to reprimands and carry on. What I like about a veil is it focuses me straight ahead at the altar. She can use her veil to aid her prayer and concentration, this helps forget others’ whispers or glares.

    Another point to consider in “hostile” environments (which I consider this school to be), don’t give ammunition to the other side. Otherwise she will be backed into a corner with arguments and challenges. The minute you say one word in your own defense, you are in the weak position. A mean teacher or cruel student, or even an inquisitive friend, can wound with words and deeds if you open the topic. Instead ignore them all, wear it, do everything else exactly the same. When you quietly get the lay of the land, then strategize next moves. Don’t open yourself to ridicule and harassment. Veiling: just do it.

  12. redshoes says:

    P.S.
    A school, Catholic or public, that bans wearing a veil is violating the child’s constitutional rights of both free speech and freedom of religion. This should be kept in mind by parents, even if they choose to do nothing about it. I’m sure parents do not wish to bring a lawsuit or anything, although it is completely justified. However, it’s good to keep these rights in mind for when the principal or administrator or teacher wants to “talk” (ie: intimidate) with you about your child’s “disruptive” problem. Be ready with what you will say – don’t let that burden fall to the child caught unawares, who can say, “Please talk that over with my parents.”

  13. little women says:

    Wish there was a “like” button for redshoes’ comments.

  14. kittenchan says:

    I started wearing a veil to school Masses at my not very orthodox Catholic school when I was 16. If you want to do it, just do it. Whatever will happen will happen, and then you can deal with reality instead of trying to preemptively deal with all the theoretical problems brought up previously in the thread. That can get paralyzing. The class right before Mass was physics, taught by one of those polyester pant suited sisters. This one also took a certain delight in cutting down students, so that was intimidating, but she never said a word to me about it. I didn’t let the fear of what *might* happen keep me from finding out what would really happen, which was quite anticlimactic. Maybe a handful of other students asked me a few questions, but the adults left me alone. So jump in! :)

    As for veils not being traditional: Who cares? Fashions change. Right now it is fashionable to wear a veil to cover one’s head. A bit of evidence that donning one is not an attempt to “go back”, but is rather a step forward.

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Mr. Graves,

    The saying #109 of St. John of the Cross is from his work, Sayings of Light and Love. You may find a copy, here:

    https://thirdordercarmelite.wordpress.com/carmelite-feast-days/st-john-of-the-cross-priest-and-doctor/sayings-of-light-and-love-st-john-of-the-cross/

    The Chicken

  16. Jarrod says:

    Michelle-

    I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to the staff on the issue, since my work has temporarily taken me away from the school during the week. I believe it is more of a uniform question than one of targeting veiling specifically. I think the ban is on religious head coverings of any kind, so it’s not a question of discrimination. Right now, this is one fight I don’t feel the need to join, especially since my daughter’s desire can be satisfied within the bounds we’ve been given. As I see it, situations like this help reinforce to her that this is a devotion first and a style accessory second.

    Thanks for the name. My wife calls it that, too, but it just seemed like such an odd name for them (I think more of the sweatband type accessory under that name) that I figured it wouldn’t be understood. Guess I should trust her more. :)

    redshoes: The First Amendment does not apply in a private school setting, as it only restricts the actions of government organs. As such, there is no Constitutional question here. A policy that could be reasonably construed to target a protected class might be actionable in certain circumstances, but that’s simply not what we have in my case since the policy is general. Remember, equality under the law means that rich and poor alike can be prohibited from sleeping under bridges.
    The local ordinary might have something to say about it, but again, we would have to consider whether we want to risk poisoning the school’s atmosphere for our children in order to allow the pursuit of an optional devotion in the precise way we want to do it rather than in a way that the rules already allow for. Actually, we have considered it – and we don’t.

  17. Luke W says:

    Mr. Graves, The quote regarding purity of heart is also from St. John of the Cross. I would be happy to share advice on how more easily to take up his works if you want to send a note to me at whittakerluke at ymail.com. Thank you.

  18. Dutchman says:

    This to me is a bigger issue….. “The thing is, I go to a Catholic school, but no one there really believes in Catholicism and most people there are just there because their parents are rich.” As a Catholic school teacher, I can attest this is sadly common.

  19. Mr. Graves says:

    Chicken,

    Many thanks!

  20. KateD says:

    I agree just wear it. Don’t make a fuss, don’t discuss and don’t defend; just do it. Don’t worry about people who glare. The veil reminds them of the sacredness of the sanctuary and pricks their conscience. It’s not your problem; it is theirs. In charity pray for them.

    If some one demands you remove it, politely and respectfully decline, “no thank you” and return your attention to God. If they persist, humbly advise them to take it up with the pastor and then return your attention to the Mass. By the time they scare him up, Mass will be over :) If you get called to the pastors office respectfully inform him you cannot meet with him without your parents present. Then let your parents take over. It’s not easy, but this is turning the other cheek. Firmly but humbly persist.

    These parents must be proud. Fifteen is historically a good age for a young lady to start giving her fiat to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    Wearing a veil is not a matter of tradition, fashion or simply devotional, rather it is foundational. The fact that our first pope Saint Peter mandated that women cover their heads in Church and that our second pope, Saint Linus (Liber Pontificalis) reinforced it shows that it is more than “tradition”. The law predates tradition. It wasn’t simply an observed custom. Saint Paul discusses the need for women to cover their heads in 1Corinthians at atime he was ridding the foundling faith of all unnecessary traditions. He’s the last guy who would argue to continue a custom for tradition’s sake. He also states that a woman’s glory is her hair. Veiling covers our glory at the Mass so that all glory is given to God as is appropriate. This is the opposite of vanity associated with fashion and expresses humility. Regarding fashion, something that has gone on for over 1900 years indicates it has more permenancy than some flighty fashion statement. And lastly, church law has always mandated that women cover their heads, it is not an optional devotion. Though it’s not a sin to go bareheaded, it is a symptom of the epidemic of rebellion rampant in our modern Church.

    BTW I always find it ironic that the people who glare, tend to be those who have fulfilled the same obligation by chopping off their hair and donning butch hairdos. God provides…lol.

  21. Jarrod says:

    KateD: “And lastly, church law has always mandated that women cover their heads, it is not an optional devotion.”

    With respect, this is not true, and it has not been the case for the longer than the original questioner has been alive. The requirement to cover appeared in the 1917 CIC, which along with other general categories of norms was abrogated entirely in the 1983 CIC (cf Canon 6). A requirement to cover the head does not appear in the 1983 CIC, thus it is no longer mandated by Church law. As far as I can tell, that makes it precisely an optional devotion – but I am not a lawyer. Cardinal Burke himself has advised people so, see for example this letter from 2011: https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/BurkeOnVeils.jpg

    A woman should know better than a man that it’s easy to turn such a devotion into a grab for attention or a way to compete with your peers. I am absolutely not accusing anyone here, or anyone at all, of doing such a thing, only saying that it is a temptation. As a father of a young girl, it is part of my job to help form her to recognize that temptation and overcome it. Does this mean she can wear no pretty things to Mass? No, it means that from time to time I challenge her about it, like when she forgets her mantilla and I offer her a nice enough but relatively drab knit hat we happen to have in the van. (Again, she’s nine – it happens.) Maybe she doesn’t want to wear that particular thing that day and protests, so that’s when I remind her about why she veils – or in these cases, covers – in the first place.

  22. kittenchan says:

    KateD, when I brought up “fashion” I was referring to what particular object women choose to use to cover their head/hair. The admonition was to cover one’s head/hair. Over the centuries, fashion changed, and what that thing was and what it looked like took many different forms. My comment was in response to the idea that women today who wear lacy veils are somehow being inauthentic because that are not wearing hats to cover their heads/hair. I say not at all; we are moving forward to lacy veils, not back to hats.

  23. KateD says:

    Yes, the 1983 Code of Canon Law abrogated that of 1917. And canon 1262 was omitted (Who wants to have their skirt or neckline measured at the front door of the Church? Talk about keepin the sick away from the Doctor). But the ommision of a previous law does not necessarily abrogate that law, and I would argue this does not negate the centenary and immemorial requisite of modest attire and women’s head covering when in the sanctuary, particularly when one considers that until 1917, it was not a canon that enforced the practice. In the case of women’s head covering and modesty, a canon just seems to be the wrong way to deal with it. Is it necessary to reiterate, via code, what is firmly established through Scripture and thousands of years of practice?

    Regarding a fear of temptation to vanity associated with the wearing of the veil: My experience is that the two (vanity and veil) are incompatible. The veil is beautiful for observers to behold, like beautiful old churches are. They inspire us. But to the person under the veil, the effect is not the same…It has the effect of putting you in a space where it’s just God and you. And of course there’s more to it. But it’s definitely not about vanity or one upsmanship. The focus is appropriately directed at God.

    Ultimately, the decision to veil, is a free will submission of obedience, which can no more be compelled than love.