Reclaiming the Reverence for the Eucharist in First Corinthians
Recently I was asked by Lily Wilson, the founder of the Veils by Lily store, what the Holy Spirit might be saying regarding the growing movement of women choosing to wear a veil at Mass. After pondering this for a few moments, I saw a connection between this phenomenon and the Eucharistic Revival initiative from the U.S. bishops.
I started veiling for worship while I was still a “separated” (non-Catholic) Christian because I was (and still am!) interested in obeying St. Paul’s instruction to “any woman who prays or prophesies” (1 Corinthians 11:5). I know people interpret this differently, but from early Christian writings it seems there was a universal consensus that women would wear some type of head covering *at least* for public worship (if not more often).
This reason alone would be sufficient enough reason for me to practice this — once I got over my initial fear of what others would think of me. (I admit I was irrationally frightened at first — I remember the first Sunday morning, looking at this awkward bandanna-scarf on my head in the mirror at home, and imagining myself jumping back into bed and not going to worship at all! That’s when I knew this fear was from the devil, and I marched forward with my veiling agenda to spite him.)
Note: Although I use the term “veil,” I am referring to any type of Christian women’s head covering appropriate for the solemnity of liturgy. The mantilla or chapel veil that is growing in popularity today in the U.S. is one recognizably Christian head covering associated with parts of Western Europe, but by no means is it the only option.
Many Catholic women who veil will reference their faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist as their reason for veiling. But in Scripture, St. Paul doesn’t say anything about the Eucharist when he instructs Christian women to wear a veil. Rather, he writes about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist immediately after writing about veiling. Is there a relationship here or not?
While it appears from the biblical text that St. Paul discussed the two topics separately, it’s worth noting that our Scripture reference system places his instructions on women’s veiling and his teaching on the Eucharist in the same chapter — 1 Corinthians 11. It’s also interesting that both the sections on veiling (verses 2-16) and the sober warning about receiving the body and blood of the Lord in an unworthy manner (verses 27-32) have been largely ignored in recent times. I think there might be a connection here.
Might the Holy Sprit be saying that a resurgence in women’s veiling is a component of the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival?
The religious sisters who taught in my parish school, one lady who wore a hat, and I were the only women who covered our heads in my parish (at least, at the Mass times I went to) for a long time. But after the covid shut-out, I’ve seen a resurgence in several aspects of reverence for God. I think the horrific separation from the liturgy forced on us in 2020 fired people up to get serious about showing more reverence and devotion in a variety of ways, including more frequent Mass attendance, receiving communion on the tongue, kneeling to receive communion if able, and yes, veiling for women.
I personally veil for any scheduled, public prayer time, even if the sacramental presence of the Lord is not there. I sometimes use a veil for private prayer, too. This past Lent I wore a more practical and durable type of head covering anytime in public as a sign of my readiness to pray at any time, and I have been continuing to experiment with this practice (though I confess I’ve neglected it more as the weather has gotten hotter).
When I go to Mass, I put on my chapel veil in my car, then put on a smile and greet everyone at the church door with “Happy Sunday!” I don’t bring up veiling unless someone asks, and then I simply point her cheerfully to 1 Corinthians 11.
Maybe that’s what we Catholic women need to do — use our veils as a sign to point people to 1 Corinthians 11 so they read the entire chapter and see the solemn warning about the Eucharist that is going woefully ignored. We can demonstrate how seriously we take the second half of the chapter by taking seriously the first half.
As we recover from the terrors of 2020’s liturgical deprivation and we march forward with renewed strength to advance the Eucharistic Revival, now is the time to reclaim whatever devotional practices that encourage reverence for the Lord that may have fallen by the wayside. May we never again approach our sweet God casually or flippantly, eating and drinking judgment on ourselves. Veiling for the liturgy is a unique privilege and a sacramental for women that connects us to our Christian sisters across time and sends a strong message in both the spiritual and physical realms that our sacramental union with Christ the Bridegroom is real, unequalled in sweetness and solemnity, and worth dying for.