The mantilla is a lace veil women have worn over their heads while worshipping God since the time of the New Testament Church. One reason I came to the Catholic Church is so that I can wear it. Period. Full stop. I am not afraid or ashamed to say this was on a running list of why I came to the Catholic Church.
We heirs of St. Augustine, we who gave in to our flesh, we who bought the culture’s enticements and are even now reaping the consequences of our sins and weaknesses, for us the time of noncommittal evasion is over. My days of skirting this issue are over.
We communicate not only in word but also in dress and deed. In our time, this is especially the case. We have undergone what Neil Postman calls the “vast and trembling shift from the magic of writing to the magic of electronics,” and have transitioned from a “word-centered to an image-centered” culture.
The wearing of a mantilla is a visual expression of distinction between men and women.
Is the wearing of a mantilla necessary for salvation? The Church has said no, it is not necessary. This is something we get to do, not something we have to do. It is a sign and symbol which points to the reality breathed out with “male and female he created them.” The covering and uncovering of the head both communicate: The uncovered head says, “this is a man.” The covered head says, “this is a woman.” Both harmoniously come to worship together the true and living God.
The Apostle gives an argument for why men ought to worship with head uncovered while women are to worship with heads covered that rattles our modern egalitarian sensibilitieswe suffer not hierarchical language. But if we are willing to listen, we find in his counsel freedom from the constricting ideology of sameness. There really is such a thing as a male identity, and there really is such a thing as female identity. Moreover, these identities have intrinsic differencesbeautiful differencesfor woman is not man, nor is man woman. Woman is the embodiment of the feminine, and man is the embodiment of the masculine. Ruminating on this issue in Perelandra, C. S. Lewis writes:
Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? . . . Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created being. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female.
There is an ontological complementarity of man and woman. In one form or another, many great figures have said this before me and I stand in their shadow; figures like St. Edith Stein, St. John Paul II, Sr. Prudence Allen, and others. In Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, while discussing Genesis 2:23, St. John Paul II states that, “masculinity and femininity [are] two reciprocally completing ways of ‘being a body’ and at the same time of being human . . . two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body. Years later in Evangelium Vitae he calls for a new feminism:
In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination,” in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.
The mantilla is a sign of complementarity within the new feminism, one which seeks to live out true femininity by rejecting the temptation to ape men in all areas of life. What area of life can be more foundational to rebuilding culture than the mass? And the most beautiful symbol of this complementarity on display during the mass is the mantilla.
I defy the sexual revolution and its destructive consequences. I fight it with every weapon it is righteous and Christ-honoring to use. I fight it with my mantilla.