Why do women wear chapel veils during the Mass? Why do women wear their hair long? Why do women wear long dresses? The answer is, we veil what is sacred.
It's more than what Saint Paul wrote in I Corinthians 11:1-16 when he stated that the "woman is the glory of man" and that "this is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels." Humanity was given the power to cooperate with God to create life, and women have the beautiful role to be the tabernacle for that new life.
The Apostle continues:
Yet neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man in the Lord. For as the woman is from the man, so also is the man through the woman, but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: does it become a woman to pray to God uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear his hair long is degrading; but for a woman to wear her hair long is a glory to her? Because her hair has been given her as a covering.
Our Lady, being full of grace, remained covered in tunics and gowns, as confirmed by her many apparitions from Pilar to Fatima. Mary's Veil, the Sancta Camisia, a faded cream-colored cloth that she wore when she gave birth to the Christ Child, currently resides in a reliquary in Chartres Cathedral in France.
As a devotion to the Blessed Mother, the veil symbolizes meekness and humility, as well as Our Lady's submission and obedience to Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
Additionally, modesty and chastity are two of the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost, as illustrated by Saint Paul's Galatians 5:22-23.
Saint Ambrose of Milan expands in Concerning Virgins, Book III, that:
“Is anything so conducive to lust as with unseemly movements thus to expose in nakedness those parts of the body which either nature has hidden or custom has veiled, to sport with the looks, to turn the neck, to loosen the hair? Fitly was the next step an offense against God. For what modesty can there be? ”
The great student of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine of Hippo expressed his thoughts on modesty in On Holy Virginity, writing that some break the rules of Christian modesty for the sake of
“a certain aim of pleasing, either by more elegant dress than the necessity of so great profession demands, or by remarkable manner of binding the head, whether by bosses of hair swelling forth, or by coverings so yielding, that the fine net-work below appears: unto these we must give precepts, not as yet concerning humility, but concerning chastity itself, or virgin modesty.”
Furthermore, "St. Augustine’s condemnation gives an indication about the prevalence of the veil [and modest clothing] in early Catholic society," as argued by Donald P. Goodman III in "St. Ambrose & St. Augustine on the Veil."
Like all ages, humanity attempts to resist God's grace and continue the negative progression of the fall. It is clear that modest customs "had not been maintained pure" and "various abuses had crept into the practice, and these abuses were prevalent enough that Saint Augustine felt the need to condemn them." Goodman states that "this indicates that the veil [and modest clothing] was an already established custom that Saint Augustine was trying to restore to its original purity, rather than a new custom that he was trying to implant in his Diocese." In conclusion, "If the veil had become established so early in the Christian era, it must have been considered of some importance by the early Christians," as worn by Our Lady and the early disciples of Christ.
In the defense of the veil and modest clothing from those who made accusations of slavery and degradation of women, Saint John Chrysostom said in Homilies on First Corinthians:
“But if any say, ‘Nay, how can this be a shame to the woman, if [by removing the veil] she mount up to the glory of the man? ’ we might make this answer: ‘She doth not mount up, but rather falls from her own proper honor.’ Since not to abide within our own limits and the law ordained of God, but to go beyond, is not an addition but a diminution. For as he that desireth other men’s goods and seizeth what is not his own, hath not gained anything more, but is diminished, having lost even that which he had (which kind of thing also happened in Paradise); so likewise the woman acquireth not the man’s dignity, but loseth even the woman’s decency which she had. And not from hence only is her shame and reproach, but also on account of her covetousness.”
As the tabernacle of life, Church Fathers wished not "to degrade the woman; they wished to raise her up from the muck of the fall and place her on the glorious throne which God has prepared for her. The veil is not woman’s yoke, but rather her crown," concludes Goodman.
We veil what is sacred:
- In Exodus, God was veiled by a cloud during the day and fire during the night.
- In Exodus, God was veiled by the Meeting Tent.
- In Exodus, the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were veiled by the Ark of the Covenant.
- The full Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, is veiled under the appearance of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.
- The Holy Eucharist is veiled by Ciborium and Tabernacle on the Altar.
- The Chalice is veiled by the Purificator, Pall, and Chalice Veil.
- The Altar is veiled by a Baldachin, to cover the place where Holy Mother Church unites with the Holy Spirit to bring God to the Church Militant.
- Marital Beds are veiled by a Baldachin, or canopy, to cover the place where husband and wife cooperate with God to create life.
- The Holy Eucharist, during public procession, is veiled by a Baldachin.
- Priests, while presiding over the Mass or Sacraments, are veiled by vestments like the Amice, Alb, Maniple, Stole, and Chasuble.
- Priests, for modesty, are veiled by the Cassock and Biretta.
- Monks and Nuns, for modesty, are veiled by Religious Habits.
- Bishops are veiled by the Mitre.
- Cardinals are veiled by the Galero.
- His Holiness is veiled by the Triregnum.
- Kings and Queens are veiled by Crowns.
- The Church Triumphant are veiled by Crowns from Heaven.
Modesty and Chastity, as Fruits of the Holy Ghost, are the opposing virtue of the capitol sin, lust. In practice and implementation in our daily lives, such acts of modesty can gain us actual grace from God. The Apostle, Saint Paul, writes in Philippians 2:13 that "for it is God who of his good pleasure works in you both the will and the performance."
To guide your actions and good works to receive Grace and blessings from the Almighty, consider embracing the Four Cardinal Virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Modesty and Chastity are gifts to the virtuous who exemplify prudence. According to the Baltimore Catechism No. III, "prudence disposes us in all circumstances to form right judgement about what we must do or not do;" furthermore, "temperance is especially necessary...in regulating the enjoyment of sex."
King Solomon expresses in Proverbs 16:16 to "get wisdom, because it is better than gold: and purchase prudence, for it is more precious than silver."
Unite your life with the Three Theological Virtues, faith, hope, and charity. Practice the Four Cardinal Virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, to be blessed with actual grace and receive the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost; charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longsuffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity.
Be virtuous and oppose all iniquity. And remember, we veil what is sacred.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.