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Old School Mantilla-style

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2

I was a bit of a rebel growing up. I spent most of my time in church daydreaming or staring at the stained glass windows...wondering how much time had passed by. I had everything figured out and sectioned off into pieces. I knew we had a LONG way to go when we started with the "Glory to God in the highest" song. Each reading signaled one step closer to the end of mass. Depending on the padre who celebrated mass, I knew just how long each sermon would be...and could, give or take 5 minutes or so, predict when mass would be over. People filing in line to receive the bread and wine = almost done. Padre doing the announcements = so unbearably close to finish....closing song, bend knee, quick sign of the cross, walk to car, and NO MORE CHURCH FOR A WEEK! Woohoo!

Flashback to demonstrate how much of a terrible mass brat I used to be and how my mom took care of it:

I can still remember one time when I put my head down as the padre blessed the bread, in an attempt to look like I was solemnly praying. I was blowing chewing gum bubbles the whole time. I was so sure of myself that I had everyone fooled. However, my bubble was burst...literally burst. My mom, without saying a word, popped one of the huge bubbles I was blowing. The mortification of my mom's silent censure sobered me up rather nicely...and I never blew bubbles during mass ever again. She never said a word about it...but the fact that she knew and the disappointment that radiated from her was enough for me.

Considering this story as well as other instances of terribly behavior during mass when I was younger, I still wonder how in the world I ever became so.... old school....when it comes to Catholicism.

Old school? How can a 25 year old liberal university-attending PhD student be old school?

Before you lose your mind contemplating the impossibility of this all... I am, indeed, old school because...
1. I am currently discerning about joining the Secular Franciscans. (No way!)
2. I pray the rosary (scripturally) just about every day. (Only grannies do this!)
3. One of the first things I did as a college student was get confirmed... (Geeks don't party anyway.)
4. I am considering.....wearing a mantilla aka chapel veil to mass. (SAY WHAT?!?!)

Of all these, I consider number 4 to be the scariest....because very few women do this these days. It's probably considered a sign of oppression by some. A relic from long-forgotten Pre-Vatican II days by others. Or something you expect an old granny to wear if she happens to be an old country Nona, Velhinha, or Abuelita....someone who is clearly unaware that traditions like this have no place in America and serve only to embarass their Americanized grandchildren.

I asked my dad about mantillas tonight at dinner. He's pushing 70 and remembers those days well. I could see that he was a little proud about it because next thing I know he goes to the living room and brings back a photograph of my grandparents on their wedding day. There was my grandmother (from my mom's side), wearing her mantilla along with all the other women in her family. I had seen this photograph so many times before...and NEVER noticed. I just figured that they tended to dress uber-conservative in those days. He then told us about how women used to wear them and my younger sister (and fellow Old School Catholic) piped up about a woman she always sees in mass. She goes to a Catholic university (Seton Hall) and keeps seeing a young woman wearing a chapel veil whenever she attends Eucharistic adoration. This brave soul must have left an impression on my sister because soon the two of us were high-fiving across the table and talking excitedly about how awesome it would be to wear one.

Awesome because, at least in my mind, it takes humility, modesty, and love of Christ to the next level. Wearing a mantilla is a beautiful way to acknowledge the presence of Christ as well as all saints and angels attending mass with us. Two thousand years ago, women used to wear a lot more clothes to mass than they wear now.  I know a lot has changed in two millennia...but Christ is still with us and his presence commands respect as well as humility. His presence is in the Eucharist. His presence is the reason we kneel at mass. His presence is the reason we even attend mass. I'm not judging what other women wear to mass...and I am pretty sure it is unimportant to some degree. (Please check out what C.S. Lewis has written about our ideas of modesty regarding clothing or lack thereof in different cultures...I believe I read it in 'Mere Christianity' a while back.)

However, I am beginning to take a more serious look at what I wear to mass. I don't want to do it to simply play "who's more pious" at mass...because, let's face it, the old lady who goes to mass every day of the week will always win. I don't want to dress to impress any other parishioner....because chances are, I will keep wearing some form of black t-shirt and pants to mass even if they won't match with the mantilla.

I simply want to be more respectful of Christ's presence and dress a little bit closer to the way I would have dressed had I been present at the Sermon on the Mount. His own mother even wore a veil. Look at any holy card of our Blessed Mother and, chances are, you will see a modest woman wearing a veil or covering of some sort...Look at Our Lady of Guadalupe....painted as a beautiful, veiled woman, even though the people she sought to convert (indigenous Mexicans) didn't really wear veils. Veil at Fatima, veil at Lourdes, etc. etc. etc. Christ's own mother, the most revered of all women...wears a veil even now when they are not in fashion by our standards. So what about us? Why don't we wear them?

Hmm....well, I guess you could argue that we still do in a way....

Think about it...if you go to any wedding...chances are the blushing bride will end up wearing a veil (that she paid a small fortune for). Go to a communion and you see a bunch of girls in veils too. Why do they get to wear veils? Why should it be any more ridiculous or unnecessary for a simple churchgoer to wear a veil on a typical Sunday when brides get to wear them all the time? Christ is just as present on any given Sunday as he is during weddings and communions.

According to my dad, mantillas are still easily found in Portugal and he (kind of proudly) offered to get one for my sister and me. We both, almost simultaneously, asked for black ones. Perhaps we may even just start a trend  when we start rocking out with our chapel veils. One can only hope.

On a similar note:
Yeah, people may want to give me the whole "oppression of women" garbage if I decide to start wearing a mantilla. However, I can think of quite a few "feminist" things that are far more oppressive and damaging to my idea of female independence than wearing a mantilla. I will, however, revisit these in the future considering how much I can go on and on about what society perceives as "oppression" and what it means to be a liberated woman.

Pax Vobiscum


  1. Hi, Barbara. I met your blog through BadCatholic and I really like it. Especially since I'm Brazilian, so all the portuguese/catholic cultural aspects are very similar, promessas and all that jazz. You should one day, given the oportunity to visit Rio, go to the shrine of Our Lady of Penha. Some pilgrims climb the 365 steps till the shrine on their knees (others take the lift...)
    Anyway, I just wanted to say olá and mention that, although its way cooler, the black mantilla is for married women, at least here in Brazil. Single women wear white, usually, or any other color.

  2. Olá right back at you! I have a few family links to Brazil and truly appreciate just how similar our cultures are...but so unique at the same time.

    You bring up an interesting point...the use of the mantilla in different cultures. I'm very glad to see there's someone here who is more familiar with mantillas than I am. It seems like my grandmothers and their families stuck with black...perhaps the color distinctions vary in different cultures....I will certainly investigate this well as Our Lady of Penha!

    Thank you for comment and info!

  3. Is it bad that I think women look really pretty in mantillas? Maybe pretty isn't the right word, 'mysterious' more like. Anyways I think girls should totally do it, if only to inspire guys to greater respect for them.

  4. Not bad at all. In fact, I wish more men would appreciate women for something like virtue, elegance, and intelligence rather than all things sex-related.

    If only we could return to the days when women were the epitome of discretion and mystery...

  5. I finally went for it! Thanks everyone for the support!

  6. I'm glad you're doing this. I'm also a Ph.D. candidate, I pray the Rosary, AND I also wear a mantilla to every Mass (Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin Mass).

    So *HIGH FIVE!*

    As for the feminists, who the heck are they, and what authority do they have, to tell US about what's "oppressive" (I love it when anybody at all first tells us Catholics that we're too smart to listen to the Pope, and yet way too dumb to not listen to anyone but them)? I thought feminism was about... "choice."