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As a relative newcomer to the Church, I usually like to stay away from those lively, in-house hot buttons. I feel like a newly adopted kid giving her new family relationship advice – what do I know about it, anyway? I haven’t been part of the conversation that started so many years ago. Even for subjects that I do know some things about – like say feminism – the whole conversation has been reframed in a new and completely different context, and I just need to sit and listen for a while before I say a word.
I keep coming back to this one.
You see, as a Protestant, I practiced veiling – only, we called it “covering.”
Same difference. Here’s a shot of my girls and I outside our old Presbyterian church (before we got banned – but that’s a different topic).
We adopted this practice because of Sola Scriptura. Our personal interpretation of the Bible (informed by a variety of Bible teachers) was that women should veil in worship, and so we did. At times, a couple of other women in the congregation covered as well, but it was a minority position and tended to cause some in-house tension. At the end of my time there, I was the only woman who practiced it – along with being part of the only family who didn’t sing the hymns. Every Sunday felt like my own personal protest, staged against my brothers and sisters whom I dearly loved and desired unity with. But I could not deny what I saw in the Bible. Ultimately this path led to our complete breakage from our church home of 14 years.
By the time we later washed up on the shores of the Catholic Church, I was exhausted and heartbroken from the conflicts we had been through. Week after week, I still faced the choice: continue to veil? Or set it aside?
Well, when I learned that the official position of the Church on veiling is that it is no longer Canon Law, and is an optional practice (want more meat? Try this one), I decided to lay my veil aside, for one reason only.
I don’t veil because 99% of the ladies in my parish also don’t veil. I’ve done my time as a Protestant; I protested until it broke my heart, for the sake of my interpretation of the Bible. That’s the fate of a Protestant who takes Sola Scriptura completely seriously. But I hung all that up when I chose to submit to the inspired guidance of the Magisterium of the Church.
The Priceless Unity of the Church
For those ladies that do veil, I have nothing but respect. It’s a beautiful, reverent devotion, and it is affirmed as valid by the Church. My heart warms to see the ladies who do it. We all come from different places, and are blessed by different devotions. I am often encouraged to see the same attitude from the veiling folks:
“Whether you join us in the devotion of wearing a chapel veil or not, we are your sisters. Let us truly be in communion. Let us pray for one another.” – Birgit Jones
But I am saddened and troubled when I occasionally encounter the attitude that it is irreverent not to veil – in Facebook threads, usually.
One thing I love about the Church is that she permits so many varied expressions of true spirituality without division. We have many different vocations, devotions, practices that are approved, and we have to accept one another under the shelter of Rome. Differences exactly like the question of veiling routinely sunder the Protestant world – yet Catholics hold together, because we all agree that the Church, not us, decides who is Biblical and reverent, and who isn’t.
The unity of faith and practice that the Catholic Church has is a priceless treasure. For a former Presbyterian, used to the endless shattering of denominations, it is simply a miracle. It IS a miracle, friends – the only reason we can all hold together is through the inspiration of the Spirit to the Magisterium of the Church.
So, for me, with my background and experiences, to veil in a parish setting where nearly no one else does disrupts my sense of finally belonging to a community with whom I have no quarrel. To lay it aside was an act of trust in the Church – a setting aside of my Sola Scriptura conviction in favor of submitting to the Church’s conclusion on the subject. I would don my veil again in a heartbeat if the Church asked me to, but until then, I go bareheaded in trust that this, too, is reverent.
Do you veil at Mass? Why or why not? Grab some coffee, let’s chat!