Costumes, Constraint, and Chapel Veils

Costumes, Constraint, and Chapel Veils October 31, 2013

In my high school theatre productions, our director encouraged us to start working on assembling costumes early.  Especially shoes.  Once you had something of your character’s, you could start using it to feel less like yourself, and stop doing things by rote.  If you had nothing else, he said, you could put a pebble in your shoe so you were a little less comfortable in your normal stance. I’m on a plane all day, so, since I ended up without the opportunity to dress up for Halloween, I thought I’d talk more about costuming in everyday life.

Ostensibly, Mass is marked out in the week by dressing up, and thus showing respect.  I’ve always had a bit of trouble with this.  When I lived and worked in DC, wearing my work clothes on Sunday, too, didn’t make the day feel different, it just meant I was wearing pants that didn’t easily fit my phone in my pocket.  And, with a 45 minute walk to Mass in California, I’m pretty much always wearing sneakers and jeans, and don’t carry an alternate outfit with me.  Plus, on days I get to go to Daily Mass, I’m just wearing whatever I had on already.

But I do like treating church as a place and time set apart, in the world but not of the world.  So, I’m planning to try out wearing a chapel veil at Mass for Advent.  A chapel veil is a light, lace headcovering that used to be traditional for women to wear to Mass.  Men took off their hats, and women put on their scarves and whatnot.  There are a variety of theological readings of the practice (a connection between covering the vessels that hold the transubstantiated Host and you, who are also bearing Him in you; a reminder about sinfulness (wouldn’t you quail to have God look at you directly?); or of just another layer of ritual).

It’s that last that I’m interested in.  I’d like to try having a scarf or small piece of cloth that I wear only at Mass.  Not my usual scarf (I think Slytherin stripes will come off as irreverent), but just a small piece of lace or light cloth that reminds me that there’s something different happening here.  That makes the world feel a little less familiar, so I’m less prone to default to old habits and run on autopilot.

Mind you, I could just try putting a stone in my shoe, just outside the narthex, and possibly get a lot of the same benefits.  But one of the reasons I’d like to choose the same line of demarcation between the secular and the sacred, is that it helps create a sense of community.  Wearing a chapel veil is a visible sign, in a way the shoe is not, and if people ask me why, it gives me a chance to say I’m trying to remain alive to the Mass whenever I go, but I’m not always very good at it, and to ask for help.

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