Thursday, 22 December 2011

Modesty and mantillas

Just been reading this article on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog Standing on my head. It was written by a guest blogger, a Spanish woman named Mantilla Amontillado and she raises some interesting points on women wearing veils during Mass. I have often toyed with the idea of putting one on myself but have always managed to talk myself out of it one way or another. Ultimately I worry that I would be doing it for the wrong reasons...but the more I sit and honestly think about it the more I reckon I'm just making excuses.

I agree with her when she mentions how sad it is to look around during Mass sometimes and seeing people in clothing that really isn't appropriate; strap tops, shorts, mini skirts, hot pants (I'd like to take a second point out that it's not just women who do this) none of those things show any respect for Our Lord or the wonder and beauty and majesty of the Mass. In fact they show little to no regard for our own dignity either. And, again, I agree when she says "Sure, it is not too modest, but to tell you the truth, usually the girl who wear these clothes is not too sexy anyway. You know what I mean? So it's not only no modest, it's not nice to look at anyway." Our modern culture seems to think that for us to be attractive we have to be sexy and to fulfill this look we should wear tight or revealing clothing that "shows off our assets" so-to-speak. Except that, more often than not, the end result isn't really all that attractive. I mean when you wonder down the high street on a warm summer's day do the people who walk around in next to nothing actually look attractive to you? Do you really think that that particular individual looks good with just a bikini top and a pair of shorts on or is it trashy instead?

I don't think many would disagree with me when I say that both men and women should dress modestly in church, i.e. not wear low cut/revealing tops or shorts etc. but, out of love and respect for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, show some humility in the way we dress. After all going to Mass is not about looking "hot" to a member of the opposite sex, it is about Christ; His sacrifice for us and the redemption He has won for us. And, as mentioned in the blog post, if you dress modestly you will, most likely, behave so. And why be modest? What is the attraction there, why should we do it? The Catechism says some beautiful things on the subject. It lists modesty as one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit (1832) and reminds us that "Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity." (2521) and "Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency." (2522)

The aim of every Christian is to have the light of Christ shine in them and through them for the world to see, for them to become a saint and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, bring others to God. By dressing modestly we take the attention away from ourselves as individuals; turns our eyes away from, for example, Katherine Rickards the vegetarian DO who likes wacky glasses, retro fashion statements and singing (loudly and very out of tune) and encourages those around us to look beyond, past the exterior and see Christ working within. And at Mass it certainly a good thing if we're not constantly distracted by what this or that person is wearing, makes sure our focus remains on the sacrifice and not on our fellow worshipers.

You can certainly be modest without wearing a veil, I'm not denying that. Whenever I think about this I feel I should wear one not because it makes me "better" or "holier" than anyone else (that would defeat the object of having it anyway) but because it helps me to act with humility and draws me into a deeper union with God. Being humble is not something that has ever come naturally to me and I, personally, need those little signs and ways that encourage me to do it. Like genuflecting before I receive Holy Communion, kneeling for Communion in fact (although I seem to talk myself out of that far too often as well...), bowing during the Creed etc., these things are, for me, personal acts which I can freely choose to make to show due respect and adoration to God. They make Him the centre, not me. The argument within me often ends up with "you don't need to prove to God you are humble, if it's there in your heart then that's what matters" and there's something in that...but my desire to act in a modest and chaste and humble way comes from the heart, it is that burning love within me that makes me want to live it out in as many ways as possible. *Sigh* If I'm very honest about it the thing that eventually stops me is what other people will think. But do the opinions of others really matter if my true intention is to move closer to Christ? Nope, it's between Him and I. Hmmm... Not sure whether I'll ever work up the courage to do it, but here's a good passage from a recent article on Ignitum Today (also linked in the blog post on Standing on my head) on the virtues of wearing the veil.

"Why do it in the first place? I have heard many good opinions on the subject, and as long as their goal is to draw themselves closer to Christ, then more power to you! I veil at mass because it matters to me that I am in the presence of God. Veiling is a reminder that this place is holy and should be treated accordingly. It is still widely unacceptable for men to keep their hats on in church; and why? It is a sign of respect for them to remove them. While it is not mandatory for women to wear a head covering in church, if we believe Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist why not go this extra step in showing reverence?"


  1. Mantilla Amontillado is, of course, as you know, Fr Dwight in disguise! It's very tongue-in-cheek but, as so often, many a true word is spoken in jest!

  2. Mantillas are lovely, girly, and somehow confer instant beauty on even the plainest of wearers. I am therefore always suspicious of the motives of the women who absolutely cannot go into a church without encasing their heads in exquisite lace. So, if you feel you would like to cover your head in church, and be humble, why not wear an ordinary hat or a simple headscarf?

  3. Have courage! You'll be giving joy to Christ.

  4. The reason, and the only reason, I do not wear a veil or hat at Mass is because of comments like that from Anonymous. As a catechist, I can't have clergy, staff, and parents (and as a result: students) dismissing what I teach in class (plain old Catholic faith) on account of how I must be some vain holier-than-thou ultra-traditionalist. (I am not. I just think it is a beautiful practice. Fully aware it is not required.)

    It is a stupid problem, but a real one.

  5. This post made me think of a recent post at Bad Catholic called Reverent Rebellion. The long and short is doing reverent actions is a form of rebellion against the world (in a good way).

    As for wearing lace as opposed to a more plain material... I see nothing wrong with wearing a simple scarf. However, the reason I wear a lace veil and love seeing others do so is that wearing something special indicates something special is going on. I would not wear a lace veil anywhere else. It is something I only wear when in the presence of Our Lord (again, just my personal preference, not saying anyone else has to).

    Can people go overboard with these types of things? Of course. One needn't import a spanish lace veil for hundreds of dollars or buy and armani suit. Could some people be doing it for prideful reasons? Of course. But I think its all about intention which we cannot know unless we talk to the person.


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