It’s one of those early memories. Those that remain gilded by the golden blur of nostalgia. I was a young girl, crammed into a pew with strangers. I was in a large church, lulled by a foreign language floating in the distance, and a fervent fragrance. With little understanding of the Latin mass, and the attention span of a fruit fly, it was difficult to focus on anything during mass – apart from my mother.
My mom in the 90’s was a glamour icon to me. Tall and shapely, she towered over most in her heels. Her hair was short, like a brunette Princess Diana. She wore minimal, but attractive makeup, and always had an eye for timeless fashion. Sunday mass called for formality – so my mom always wore a dress or skirt, always had her hair in place, and always wore lipstick. Lastly, to crown her ensemble, she always wore a mantilla. A beautiful black lace triangle that perfectly veiled her edgy haircut.
I will always remember her silhouette, lit by the rainbow of stained-glass windows.
Meanwhile I, little chubby impatient girl, awkwardly wore a white lace caplet upon my bushy bangs. As excited as I was to receive my caplet and don it at mass; I couldn’t help but gaze up at my mom, and feel I was a disappointing contrast. I longed for the day that I could wear a black lace mantilla. And God willing, be as lovely as my mother was.
Years later, as my husband and I struggle to corral our gaggle of children within the confines of a parish pew, I myself, veil. Well, I try to veil. It’s hard, I can’t lie, but I do try. I have a lovely short black lace mantilla, much like Mom’s, that I keep in my purse.
I came around to veiling gradually, it was something I contemplated and prayed about for months before pinning it on at mass one day a few years ago. I was worried it would look like attention-seeking, we’re already a walking circus at mass – the last thing we need is another oddity to gawk at. But after trying it, I didn’t want to go back. And I now understand why some of those die-hard, old-school Catholics veil – or still veil after decades of doing so.
For me, veiling is more than just a head covering. Once I’ve put it on, my psyche is altered. The veil becomes a cave, apart from the world. A space and shadow of sanctity that is only there for me and my prayers. The exterior noises and distractions dissolve into the distance. It’s only me, with Him. Veiling is a small gesture that is only mine, it is part of my relationship with the Lord. During this season of life, when it is so rare to find myself alone with God, that gesture becomes priceless.
That being said, for a mother-to-many like myself, it can be challenging to keep that lovely lace a-top your head – and not in a baby’s fist, used as a ninja mask, as a hammock, or who knows what else.
Here are some tips:
Place your mantilla before mass. If you can, throw yourself together at home before you even get in the car. Check your reflection to ensure that it is straight, and level. Even a car window can serve as a mirror before mass. I find that the kids are less distracted by it if it’s already on when we arrive at mass.
Use bobby pins, a lot of them. I like to have at least two to secure my mantilla to my hair. I slide them on perpendicular to the edge upon removal to keep them from getting lost when it gets tossed into my bag. If you pin it secure enough, little arms are less likely to pull it down.
Veil regularly. If it becomes a habit, eventually, children will learn that Mom always wears this to mass and it’s not a toy. At least that’s what I tell myself.
In the event that your mantilla is removed by little hands, let your kids wear it. We have almost all boys, if I put it on them, they hand it back. Even my daughter isn’t interested in wearing it, so I return it to its rightful place, and she seems to move on to other noisy occupations.
The veil is a symbol, yes. But it can also serve as a tool. Parenting during mass, in itself, is a challenge – duh. Veiling can help with that too. It’s a tangible nudge to preserve your composure and soften your temper. I always feel compelled to parent with more patience and clarity when I’m veiled. Perhaps it’s the influence of Our Lady, and the imitation of her veil, that steadies those parental frustrations. A powerful cloth indeed.
When revered as it should be, this humble mantle of lace steers a woman’s gaze to God. It shrouds her from distraction, recalls her femininity, and braces her fortitude.
Also, it’s great for bad hair days.