By tradition, the sacred has always been veiled. The Holy of Holies of the Old Testament Tabernacle and the Temple was veiled because it was so sacred that it was not permitted to be seen by the average person. Even priests were only allowed very limited access behind the veil. In the Traditional Latin Mass the tabernacle, ciborium, and chalice, among other sacred objects are veiled. Many parishes still hold to the tradition of veiling statues and crucifixes during Holy Week.
Until recent times, women were veiled as well. Consecrated women who hold to traditional habits, still follow the call to veil themselves. But why?
We first have to look to the Blessed Mother. Have you ever seen her without a veil? In all of the apparitions that have been authenticated and confirmed, Mary has always appeared in a fashion that was familar to the people who saw her, but she has always had a veil no matter how she appeared to be dressed. The veil represents many things. First, it represents the place of Mary in submission to God. She is the "handmaid of the Lord," not the slave, but the handmaid, she has relinquished her whole self to service and thus is revered for her submission. Second, it represents modesty, a covering to shield that which is precious from the world. In her modesty, Mary honors God, her Creator, Savior, and Spouse. She sets herself apart from the world. Lastly, the veil represents the sacredness of her being. Mary was the first tabernacle, she held the living God within her and lent her flesh to His unborn body. Mary is sacred and blessed because of her role in salvation history and her purity throughout her life.
In the tradition of the Church, women have always been veiled as a sign of reverence. They were also veiled because they were revered. Their precious gift of being life bearers made them sacred, just as Mary is sacred. It is true that it has always been a symbol of submission and modesty, but not in a negative connotation as the modern world views these traits. Modesty and submission are virtues practiced even by Christ. He washed the feet of the disciples, submitted to the Father's Will and gave up His human life in a horrendous death. He did not walk around expected to be waited upon and receive special treatment because of who He is. Jesus was subservient to the Father and modest in all His Earthly dealings, even staying silent when falsely accused. Everyone is called to submission and modesty but women are called to a special modesty and submission because of our sacred role in the creation of life. By veiling, we are saying that we are special, not worth less, but worth MORE!
I began veiling at Church about 6 years ago, however, I was curious about veiling from the time I was a child and called to veil for many years before I was willing to offer up my pride and take up the devotion myself. It is an outward sign of a continued inward struggle to veil my life in God's honor, to veil my heart in service to Christ, veil my words in praise of God, veil my actions in glory to the Father on High. I am not there, I am not a saint, however, I am trying. My veil reminds me of the love that God holds for me, my promise to follow him and my vow to my husband in our sacramental marriage. It keeps me focused on the LORD even when there are so many distractions, including my children, and grounds me in my tiny corner of the universe as I live my heartbeat of a life.
Veiling of our heads at Mass is not the only veiling we are called to take up. As I said above, consecrated women are traditionally (and I am always so happy to see a nun in full habit) veiled. Their hair completely covered, their body in modest clothes, an outward sign of an inward and Heavenward vow. But, we all should be veiled in modesty in our dress, action, speach, and entertainment. We should all be veiled in humility, service, self-giving, and love. There are many veils that can cover our hearts and souls if we are open to letting them. None of them are automatic, they all take work and decisiveness and prayer to pursue, but all are great blessings in the end.
If you are curious about veiling, or have a testimony about it to share, please leave a comment. If you have always wondered where women get the veils or what the difference in color is, here is some additional information. Traditionally unmarried women wore white veils , while married or widowed women wore black ones. However in recent years, as the veil has returned as a private devotion, these rules have been changed. Women you feel the call to veil are permitted to wear whatever color they choose. Veils range from the elaborate to the simple and inexpensive. There are also many colors available now, and many women wear veils to coordinate with their outfits or liturgical colors. I personally wear a brown veil because I wanted a color that did not stand out as much--I am not veiling to be seen--and I just haven't wanted black.
Even if you do not feel called to veil, remember the veiling of our hearts and lives if everyone's call. God bless!
Here are some additional articles about veiling that explain the practice and theology behind it.