Mantilla Monday…

… I think mantillas are lovely and the women who wear them even more so. Yet I do not wear one. This past weekend I gave away the one remaining mantilla I owned because I knew I’d never wear it. Well, the mantilla was white after all and after having a child and going through a divorce I felt silly sitting in church with that virginal white lace gleaming off the top my head. White… who are we kidding here?

The other mantilla I owned was a very lovely black one that blended perfectly into my hair color so you really couldn’t tell I even had it on. And it was made of the sheerest most delicate lace; a wisp of a thing. I was in the bathroom adjusting it before mass and looked at myself in the mirror admiring my piety. HA!

Two things immediately struck me. I wondered what the point was of “covering” my hair with such a transparent thing and the other was I really lacked the pious aura needed to pull off the look. I removed the mantilla and simply left it on the bathroom counter.

A month or so later I gave it another try but instead I used a scarf. Unfortunately my attempts failed yet again. You simply can not do “Catholic piety and modesty” in a flashy Hermes scarf.

Image: Attending a Mass at a church in Cana, Israel; November 1, 2006 – All Saints Day. Photographed by Alexandra Boulat.

At my old parish women rarely covered their heads for mass; however, at my new parish it’s a 50/50 split. Even at the vigil masses, which slackers like myself typically prefer, the women still wear them. Being in the majority you’d think I would be able to find the courage to try wearing one again. I’d certainly be less conspicuous. Yet I still do not.

Why? Because mantillas make me uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable to wear in that they outwardly imply an inner piety I feel I’m lacking. Quite simply, I feel silly in them.

I know. I know. Fake it till you make it; meaning to adopt the postures and practices of pious people and hope it sincerely sticks. But then I may be challenged out of complacency. Whine. Wail. Rant.

I’m thinking of making this a Lenten practice. Lent already?! Let’s just hope I can follow through with this better than I did on my dress challenge, which never made it past day 15 because I caved and wore jeans to the Panthers football game.

A for effort?

"Pithy and so, so, true. If it were possible, I'd post a million of these ..."

#whyIstayed Why Women Stay In Domestically ..."
"All the best to you, Katrina! We'll miss you. Thanks for sharing your journey with ..."

Ten Years is a Long Run…
"Bon voyage on your new endeavours. And thank you."

Ten Years is a Long Run…
"I will miss your unique, funny, honest voice. Thank you for all the years of ..."

Ten Years is a Long Run…

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Gerardi

    I would like to set all of you ladies at ease about one specific and limited point before retreating (since this discussion is clearly not my territory, I being a man).  I think that there are very few males on planet earth who 1. take much notice, or 2. give a rat’s ass that you are or are not wearing a mantilla.  If a man intensely cares about the subject one way or another, run.  He’s probably either an insufferably overly-dogmatic traditionalist, or a nancy-boy liberal whining about the Church oppressing women.  If any man has a reaction to your mantilla-wearing/non-mantilla-wearing beyond “That’s nice,” “I don’t care,” “Not a big deal,” or (optimally) “Huh?” his opinion isn’t worth hearing.  So…wear whatever you want, and don’t make your decision based on what you think men will think of you.

    Also, my girlfriend frequently wears hats at Mass.  I think she looks nice in them.

    • I don’t wear them because I don’t “look the part” if you will. It is how I inwardly feel that makes wearing one uncomfortably self conscious. I don’t care what men, or women for that matter, think. It would be no big deal since most of the women at my parish wear them. It’s just those women all look so holy and lovely, and well.. me. Eh. I know me, let’s leave it at that.

    • Karen

      Love this.  My husband is in the “whatever you want to do, dear,” category when it comes to veiling or even wearing skirts. I tried wearing all skirts, all the time, for nearly a year.  I stopped because I felt I stood out like a sore thumb in my neighborhood, which in my dictionary is the opposite of modesty.  He was supportive when I started wearing skirts and supportive when I stopped.

    • Anonymous

      I kind of get the sense you think women wear these for men at mass. Which would be weird because the practice is meant as a devotional one.

      • Courtneyweg

        Babs, this is probably because a super common — in fact the most, common, in my own experience — reason given by traditional-types for women veiling is not that it is a devotional practice, but that its necessary or highly advisable because of modesty. Supposedly it is immodest to have your hair uncovered like (in most parishes) every other women, but modest to lay a thin scrap of see-through lace over the top of your head (and stick out in the crowd). And as is true of most discussions about modesty, the conversation is aimed towards what a hypothetical man will be aroused or “distracted” by. I can understand what the (male) commenter says above:  hair is or can be pretty, and thus distracting. But that’s interesting, because the point of modesty is *not* to be un-pretty or unattractive. The point of modesty is to not make sexual attractiveness the obvious or central point about your appearance. If you happen to be pretty because you’re a woman and you have a feminine appearance, that has nothing to do with modesty. And, for me, the total absurdity of the mantilla debate (as framed by the modesty-enforcers) is that **mantillas do not cover your hair**. If anything, they frame it and call attention to it — and that’s besides the whole aspect of your drawing attention to your extra-special piety.

        I hope I don’t sound too harsh, because I personally know some women who are the only women who do it in their parish, and who do it for the right reasons, and I very much respect that. And I would not want to make them feel more self-conscious. But I was first introduced to mantillas (I’m a convert) by a very opinionated, rather proud and scrupulously “devout” female friend who claimed it was more modest and that it made her feel more womanly; she had endless opinions about how women should always be trumping up their appearance because it was their duty. (I sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m actually not; that’s just her personality). So I admit I have always been seriously turned off by mantillas because of that. Also I just think mantillas look silly.

        I am all for scarves, though! And I can very much see why veiling is a rich symbol (although a very gendered symbol that it would take getting used to), and why one would veil before the sacrament. I don’t personally think I could ever veil until at least half of the women in the parish were also veiling. I just can’t manage that lack of self-consciousness about my appearance, at least not in this decade (I’m 23). I find it hard enough to kneel during or after communion, when in my diocese (argggggggh) we stand. I can try to become comfortable with acting like “the pious one” in my parish, but when it interferes with my humility and my prayer there is simply no point.

        • St. Hippolytus agrees! “Moreover, let all the women have their heads veiled with a scarf but not with a veil of linen only, for that is not a sufficient covering.”  
          I have always felt this way about chapel caps…and am beginning to rethink my lace mantillas for this reason as well.  In many countries outside the West, scarves have always been the traditional headcovering. And, come to think of it, I’ve never seen Our Lady appear with a veil that wasn’t solid (not that I’ve seen her myself ;oP).

        • Anonymous

          Perhaps my mis conception of the purpose of coverings is due to the fact that I thought modesty had to with not being overtly distinct on purpose, and currently it is more distinct to wear a covering than not. I suppose I should read more on the subject to be better informed of their purpose!

  • Karen

    Ah, you have hit the nail on the head. I’ve been pondering head covering (or “veiling” as I suppose all the cool kids are calling it).  I attended a Tridentine Mass a long time ago, at my sister in law’s parish, and there pretty much all the young women and young mothers are veiled. Interestingly, most of the older ladies are not. And this is a church that ONLY does the Latin Mass.  Anyhoo, there was a box of chapel veils you could borrow from, if you felt naked. I thought about it but then didn’t.  I couldn’t put my finger on WHY I was resisting, until I read this.  Exactly so. 

    There is something about the chapel veil which, of me, smacks of the cup that Jesus speaks of when he talks about the Pharisees, caring about the outside of the cup but not the inside. It’s not always what we wear that makes us holy or pleasing to God.  When I take my kids to church, sometimes they’re wearing sweatpants (oh, all right, MOST of the time, but they’re the cuffless ones, that look almost like regular pants!), and rarely a collared shirt. I let them choose their outfit, as long as they are not wearing shorts or tank tops, and have clean hair, faces and hands, I call it good.  They sit nicely in church and are attentive, and are learning their prayers, and that’s my main focus.

    Now, there are ladies who feel wearing the veil helps them focus on Christ and the Mass, and I think that’s wonderful. For ME, it would be a distraction. 

  • tj.nelson

    Why not just wear a ‘Fascinater’ Princess?  What?

  • Anonymous

    I think they are lovely too, but I think I would like to wear one when I can really “veil myself” in the Holy Mass. At this time with children various ages and at various stages of needing me during the mass, I would find it annoying and distracting.

    As for the “fake it til your make it” stuff, I guess it’s a matter of if you feel wearing one would eventually increase your communion with the Lord during mass or not. If you do, well, then tough it out. If not, why bother?

  • Lydia

    How about taking the focus off yourself and placing it on God? That is, stop thinking about how it makes you feel, and instead do it because God might find it pleasing. It took me a while to get used to it but now I don’t even think about it; it just comes naturally.

    I think it’s important to question – really question – why some things make us feel uncomfortable. The point of wearing a mantilla is not to make us look pious, it is to show respect to God and his holy temple. If we were given the opportunity to meet some earthly monarch or important head of state, would we not make sure our clothes and behaviour were appropriate to the situation? Why should it be any different to going to church? If we worry that wearing a mantilla projects a certain image about ourselves, then so be it – we should not worry about what others think of us. Each person is entitled to their own judgment, but it should not influence how we behave or what we wear.

    If wearing a mantilla reminds us that we are deeply sinful and not worthy to stand before God, then good, it has performed an important role.

    The phenomenon of women uncovering their hair, and wearing pants, is a modern one and reflects the increasing degradation of contemporary culture. 

    I too have a problem with mantillas that are so sheer you can barely see them. But there are thicker mantillas that do a good job of covering the hair. Or there’s the snood…

    •  It has to do with obedience, modesty, and humility, none of which come naturally to me. ”

      Not to me either… probably why I feel silly in the thing. I think you nailed it.  

      • Oops, this was in reply to Tcn.  But I liked your comment too, Lydia. It’s late I should back away from the laptop now. 

      • Dan

        I have been told by my wife and other women that wearing a headcovering at Mass helps with precisely those virtues.
        It helps many women increase in obedience humility and modesty.

    • Lydiamcgrew

       By the way, this is the first time I’ve ever seen another commentator on here named “Lydia,” and since I don’t comment often anyway, I just wanted to clarify that the above commentator is a different person who happens to have the same name. (I’m the Protestant one with the last name “McGrew.”)

  • Tcn

    Just my two cents, but wearing a veil has nothing to do with how I feel. It has to do with obedience, modesty, and humility, none of which come naturally to me. After the first month or so, I quit caring what anyone else thought of me, or expected of me. The opinions of others matter only inasmuch as I don’t give scandal, and a veil hardly does that. My veil is a physical reminder that: 1. I am obedient to the Word of God, inasmuch as Paul said I should wear one, 2. I must remember modesty at all times, “because of the angels” if not for my fellow man, and 3. it ain’t about me, it’s about Him. Other women may have other reasons, but those are mine. I do believe I have made some progress in those three areas, spiritually, and I believe the veil has been the means to make that progress.

  • I agree with you on mantillas, particularly about the fact that they’re so sheer, so why bother? I don’t veil currently, but have started attending an EF Mass every once in a while. If I make it a regular occurrence, I will consider it more strongly. That being said, if I do decide to veil, I’m very pro-scarf, a la Eastern Orthodox. Suits me more:

  • Catholic Bibliophagist

    As someone who was around pre-Vatican II (albeit as a grade schooler) I would say that the reason for wearing something on your head in church was not modesty (despite what some bloggers today say), but out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the same the reason why men *didn’t* wear hats in church. 

    Cannonically, women are not currently required to wear hats in church, so I don’t think we should beat ourselves up over whether we do or don’t. I think it’s a lovely custom, so I do wear a mantilla these days. Especially since I can do so in my current parish without anyone thinking that I’m making a political statement.

    — C.B,

  • As Catholic Bibliophagist put it, I wear a mantilla because of respect for the Blessed Sacrament (which was it’s original use in the Catholic church.)
    I’ll also wear it even if I’m the only one in a congregation, because it really makes people stop and think… “WHY is she wearing that thing?!” and yeah, they might get a little mad but it really isn’t about them. And I do karate. Mantillas also have a practical use in that they act basically like blinkers. I can’t see what’s going on in my periphals, or beside me… great! I can focus on the altar more. I would encourage every girl to wear one but if she does not feel like she’s being called to do that (after prayer and discernment), as long as she remembers the most important thing she could wear is modest clothing, then she’s not sinning or something scandalous. Btw, may I just say, I’m loving the charity all the comments have expressed so far. There’s no one slamming mantilla wearers or non-wearers. *happy sigh!* 😀

  • Seraphic

    A lot of Protestant ladies still cover their heads in church. (Increasingly I find it amusing to what lengths Catholics will go to emulate “Protestants”, when various groups of Protestants have a HUGE respect for the clerical state, communion, etc.) My strict Presbyterian friend always wears a hat to church. St Paul said women should cover their heads in church, and so my converted-from-Protestantism mother kept on wearing hats to church for decades and made all her daughters do so too.  Later I discovered we were called “the Hat family” by one of the families who sat behind us. Anyway, until I got my lovely black-and-gold-lace-bought-in-Barcelona-made-in-China mantilla, I usually just wore a beret to Mass. I like mantillas because I think of them as liturgical dress for women,  and when I one on, I feel an additional prompt that I am in a sacred space now. 

    I find it comforting that Christian men and women can assert their dignity-in-difference as men and women in the moment before worship. Men take off their hats, and women can pin on a mantilla. It’s definitely not about “looking” holy.  

    Meanwhile, in the TLM at my home town, it is the custom for all women, widows, matrons and virgins to wear black mantillas on Good Friday and white mantillas on Easter. It’s interesting how these customs and fashions just spring up!

  • Nice post.  I think  you could try “undercover covering” by just wearing a simple hat, a tam, an anything that covers and doesn’t look like it is done out of piety.  Then what’s going on is between you and God.  It’s personal and private.  Really like your blog

  • Cathy

    Well, I’m in the dreaded (?) Boston Archdicese and never see them, not even in the most traditional parishes.  I’m middle-aged (48) and wouldn’t consider it.  In this milieu it seems like an affecttion–a way of putting on piety that I do not actually have.  If I lived in Manila, or a country where it was common then it would be part of what I do when preparing for church.  But otherwise it feels like playing dress-up and I’m not fooling anyone.

    • Cathy

      Affectation! Dang.

  • Calah Alexander

    That’s so weird. I wrote about the exact same thing yesterday and didn’t realize that you did too until one of my commenters pointed it out. But she was right…your commenters haven’t exactly been as kind as mine were. Crimeney. My post basically drew the exact same conclusion and not one person said, “How about you stop thinking about yourself?”

    Isn’t that what a blog is for? Thinking about yourself? And your relationship to things? And also, wearing the veil is NOT a requirement, it is a matter of personal discretion. So, well, that would make it something you choose to do based on how you feel about it. Anyway. Good post. I can’t believe you even tried the dress challenge. I have so much respect for you for that. I always try to put on a dress or skirt and then change when I happen to notice that the wind is blowing. It’s so not worth the possible wardrobe malfunction.

  • I think  “I’m not holy enough” (as well as “what will others think?”) is a sneaky trick of the devil to keep us from doing things that are clearly pleasing to the Lord.  I struggled with this for a long time before it became obvious that wrangling my ego into obedience was the only option.  
    The same argument could be used to stop us from genuflecting, receiving on the tongue, kneeling to pray after Mass…none of these things are “canonically required”, yet we do them to give honor to our God & show that we know our proper place in the order He created…as creature.  
    This is particularly true of veiling (& the reason the angels are offended when we don’t), because in His presence we are to acknowledge that He put men in authority over us & that we’re ok with that (the same reasoning applies to why women can’t be ordained…Jesus came as a *man*).  Refusing to veil is actually a rather bold feminist statement (“see, I can stand in the presence of God with my head bare, just like you Mister”), which is why the NOW gals promoted ‘veil burnings’ in the 60’s.

  • Dan

    Headcoverings, other than being scriptural and called for by St Paul for all women to wear, whilst at prayer in Church are among other great reasons to wear them
    They also do help men in not being distracted by the beauty in women and it helps them focus more on the Sacrifice.
    Believe it or not many men have told me this and it is very true for me.
    This helps men alot.

    • I’m not so vain to think I need to cover myself lest poor men be distracted by my beauty. I do own a mirror. 😛 

      • Dan

        I have spoken to men and I can speak for myself when I say that womens hair is a distraction for us at Mass.
        You have nice hair and I think you are pretty, and I would be distracted by it.
        That is mostly my fault/problem, but it does help when ladies hair is covered at least somewhat.
        Just my two pennies.

        • Anonymous

          What if I’m just a beautiful woman no matter what? Do men really have no ability to appreciate beauty without being so captivated by it that they can’t return to the mass? I’m not being critical, but I am shocked if this is the case.

  • Barb

    I cannot understand how anyone can think that showing the hair on one’s head is immodest!  Those unfortunate Muslim women are stuck covering up all the time…to keep the sex crazed men from drooling all over them.  Men have hair on their heads too, and nobody is accusing them of being immodest.  Heck, they wear their hair short, even shave their heads, exposing lots of skin!  Maybe that’s immodest.

  • Katy

    A few years ago, I decided to wear a veil for lent – quite a humbling but wonderful experience!  Go for it!!  Maybe I’ll join you (as I have gotten out of the habit lately).

  • David Meyer

    This is why they need to be mandatory. If they were mandatory, you would not feel strange wearing one.

  • I lector in my Mantilla! 

    (Take *THAT* Spirit of Vatican II!!)