Restoring Catholic Identity

The Significance of the Chapel Veil


William Rehnquist



Since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council many ancient traditions of the Catholic Church have simply vanished.  The Mantilla, or chapel veil, worn by women while visiting a church or assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, has virtually disappeared in the modern age.  However, in examining both the history and symbolism behind the chapel veil, it begs reconsideration on the part of all Catholic women who wish to uphold Mary-like modesty and true womanhood.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul demands that women’s heads be covered whenever they pray.  He commands that “in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you.”[1]  He continues to explain the hierarchy on earth: Christ being the head of man, and man being the head of woman, “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.”[2]  For this reason “ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.”[3]  A power in this case means a sign of subservience to man – a veil.

Later in his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul confirms that subservience to man is good and proper by stating that a head covering “is a glory to [woman].”[4]  Man is the head of woman just as God is the head of Christ.  There is no oppression involved in this headship, for just as it dishonors a woman to pray with her head uncovered, it also dishonors a man to cover his head.  This notion of functional headship has been rejected by many modern women who can not reconcile it with their false feminist views that man and woman are perfectly equal.  The Good Lord, himself, contradicts this erroneous belief many times in the Holy Gospel. 

Although the veil is a sign of subservience to man, many modern women ignore the feminine dignity that it also signifies.  Indeed, no religious institution in the world holds women in such high esteem as the Holy Catholic Church, for it was through a woman, Our Blessed Mother, that the gates of heaven were opened to us wretched sinners.  It is for this reason that we honor Mary as Mediatrix of all graces, as well as in special devotions such as the Holy Rosary, and even in the Canon of the Holy Mass. 

Let us further examine the use of veils in the Holy Catholic Church, and how the chapel veil relates to these uses.  A veil is always used to signify and announce the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the chapel veil is no different. 

The Tabernacle on the altar is veiled to show the True Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Though Canon Law mandates that a candle be lit whenever Our Lord abides in the tabernacle, it is actually the tabernacle veil that is the true sign of Our Lord’s presence.  This symbol dates back to the tent-like structure used by the Old Testament Jews to shelter the Arc of the Covenant.  Even before the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the tabernacle veil was used to shelter the presence of God.  Therefore, it is only proper that the practice continues to this day, and a veil shelters Our Lord Jesus Christ’s True Presence in every tabernacle in the world.[5]  Furthermore, the reserved Blessed Sacrament is kept in a veiled ciborium in the tabernacle as another symbolic shelter for the True Presence of Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

The chalice and paten are the most important of all sacred vessels used in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they hold the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Consecrated for its sacred functions in Holy Mass, they are veiled before and after their use as “tabernacles” of Our Lord.  Touched only by the hands of a priest which are also consecrated for sacred purposes, the chalice veil foreshadows the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ will soon become present in the sacred vessels that lay underneath.  Though the chalice veil is a fairly recent introduction, coming into use sometime in the early 16th century, ancient rubrics of the Holy Mass suggest that the chalice and paten were always veiled in a “sacculum” or “lintheum” – the earliest forms of the chalice veil – when brought to the altar by the priest.[6]

The Humeral Veil is another type of veil used in the sacred rites of the Catholic Church, and it also announces the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  The Humeral Veil is worn by the subdeacon during High Mass, as he holds the paten from the conclusion of the Offertory until after the Pater Noster.  It is also worn by the priest in giving Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, during processions of the Blessed Sacrament, in bringing the Holy Viaticum to the sick and dying, and in carrying the Blessed Sacrament to and from the altar on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.[7]  Thus, the Humeral Veil, as with every veil used in the Catholic Church, shows the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Perhaps the most beautiful use of the veil in the Catholic Church is the veil that adorns the head of a woman.  The 1917 Code of Canon Law mandates its use, in conjunction with modest dress, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  However, this practice developed a negative connotation during the feminist revolution during the 1960’s.  No longer was the chapel veil viewed as a sign of beauty, but as an act of repression against women. 

No rule at all about veiling was included in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, so most Catholics assumed that the rule had been abrogated.  The Church remained silent on the matter, allowing this custom to fade away, and allowing dress more appropriate to picnics and casual events to become the normative attire for Holy Mass. 

However, the 1983 Code of Canon Law itself refutes the belief that veils are no longer required.  The Code of Canon Law states that “In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed,”[8] and that a custom is only revoked by a contrary custom or law.[9]  “Unless the law makes express mention of [a contrary custom or law], it does not revoke centennial or immemorial customs.”[10]  The 1983 Code of Canon Law gives no contrary custom or law concerning the use of the chapel veil, and therefore can not revoke it.

Though the chapel veil does not directly veil the True Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is certainly connected to other uses of veils in the Catholic Church since the womb of Mary was the first tabernacle of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It was through Our Blessed Mother, a woman, that Our Lord came into the world to die for our sins.  Therefore, by veiling herself, the Catholic woman takes on a symbol of power and motherhood that is only offered to them.  The chapel veil links the Catholic woman to our Blessed Mother in a very special way, especially during Holy Communion when, like our Blessed Mother, the Catholic woman becomes a true tabernacle of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed, traditional Catholics are reminded of this reality at the conclusion of every Mass.  In the Last Gospel, we hear the words of Saint John: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”[11] (Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis).  Interestingly, the translation of this same passage from the Greek New Testament reads: “And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us” (kai o Logos sarx egeneto kai eskinosen en imin), linking the incarnation of Jesus Christ with the dwelling of Our Lord within us whenever we receive Holy Communion.

The chapel veil is not an oppression of women.  It is a privilege, an honor, and a sign of true feminine dignity and motherhood.  By wearing the chapel veil, a woman proclaims the truth of the Incarnation – that through Our Blessed Mother, Our Lord Jesus Christ took flesh and came into the world to die for our sins.  Veils are used in the Catholic Church to signify an object that contains or has contained Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the chapel veil is no different. 

To abandon such a practice is to further abandon true womanhood which is virtually nonexistent in the modern world.  Therefore, let us heed the advice of Saint Paul, and “you yourselves judge: doth it become a woman, to pray unto God uncovered?”[12]

[1] First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:2.

[2] First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:8.

[3] First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:10.

[4] First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:15.

[5] “Tabernacle.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1912. <>.

[6] “Chalice.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1912. <>.

[7] “Humeral Veil.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1912.  <>.

[8] 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 21 

[9] 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 28. 

[10]1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 28. 

[11] The Gospel According to Saint John 1:14.

[12] First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 11:13.