Communion . . . With My Eyes Open

communion

The pews emptied and the parishioners filed towards Our Lady’s altar and the communion rail in front of it. Meanwhile, I bent over my book of Communion preparation prayers one last time before standing.

Once again, I was gathering all my efforts to recollect myself in silence; to draw a veil between myself and the world, to meditate on the profound gift of the Eucharist, and to internalize the moment just before I would be receiving my Lord in Communion. It’s never exactly an easy task with me and my wandering mind. That particular morning, I was a little tired, rather achy, slightly hungry, and altogether in a mental fog. (What? You’re telling me this is my normal state of existence? Oh . . .) I’d brought my usual week’s worth of failures with me and left them at the Confiteor but had been struggling all during Mass with a feeling of helplessness in really growing in virtue. It just seemed that no matter how reverently I tried to approach Communion, how deeply and intimately I wanted to commune with Christ in His Real Presence, it would never fail that I would leave Mass and proceed on with my week, and routinely forget I’d received the Eucharistic strength to fight my inner battles.

Of course, I’m not ever going to be worthy; I’m not ever going to make “the perfect preparation” or bring a perfect heart to the Communion rail. But that particular morning, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that my efforts to make the moments just before and during my Communion as profound and “interior” as possible were crumbling in on themselves. After all, I’m human.

I’ve always known that communing with Our Lord in the Eucharist is a deeply intimate event, even if it’s just by definition (after all, an “impersonal communion” would just be odd!). How could it be anything else? Every single time I receive Holy Communion, God Incarnate descends onto my tongue, hidden by the accidents of the Host, and He fills my being with His Presence, His graces, His merits, depending on the receptivity and disposition of my soul. Recently I was blessed to attend a wonderful talk by a Catholic wife and mother, and in her presentation she stressed the importance of authentically dying to ourselves and making ourselves a shell, or an empty glove, that God can literally fill, to where it is His presence that others encounter in our lives. And isn’t this, really, is one of the main points of receiving the Eucharist; that, in the words of St. Paul, it is no longer I, but Christ living in me?

So yes, I’ve always known and believed that receiving the Eucharist is a deeply intimate moment. It’s one that should be supremely sacred to me and filled with all the reverence and adoration for God that I can stir up in my heart.Yet even as I contemplated all these things from my pew during Mass; even as I began closing my eyes in a tired effort to recollect myself and focus solely on the miraculous nature of the upcoming moment of Communion . . . a new thought struck me–and I realized I had only been seeing half the picture.

Open your eyes, it said.

So I opened my eyes.

Immediately I saw my family; my friends; Catholics of different ages, personalities and stories, all humbly and quietly filing towards Holy Communion with their Lord. I saw the curious toddler, the expecting mother, the hardworking father, the young girl hidden under a mantilla, the solemn young man in a tie.

In that moment, the thought continued in my heart: Your Communion is for them, too.

I was instantly reminded of the chilly morning I drove my brother to his Confirmation retreat. As a chaperone, I was able to attend the retreat and absorb the talks, and one line in particular from the visiting priest struck me especially deeply. As he challenged the Confirmandi to attend Mass each Sunday, and expressed the reasons for doing so, he surprised me. I was expecting reasons such as sanctifying grace, growth in holiness, etc. but he chose to highlight something different. “By attending Mass,” he said, “you are witnessing to your Catholic brethren.” He spoke of how our physical presence at the Mass witnessed to the mystical reality of our being, in all truth, the Body of Christ; a reality that isn’t just a nice phrase or a holy thought, but a mystery and a truth. Our spiritual lives, he said, aren’t simply about “a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus” as we are used to hearing from Protestant Christians. On earth, we are members of the Church Militant and mystically united to the Church Triumphant and Church Suffering. We are immersed in a spiritual reality that is far more enormous than ourselves. In that sense, Catholicism is certainly not a “personal” faith. No man is an island, whether at work, in the domestic church–or in the Communion line.

As Catholics, we know that we are bound together in the economy of grace and in spiritual warfare; we know that every good deed we perform, or sin we commit, isn’t merely “personal,” and that to say it “doesn’t hurt anyone but ourselves” is foolish. Because we are members of the same mystical Body, our every good action and our every sin affects, in some way, the remainder of the Body, the Church–for good or for ill.

So aren’t these truths directly applicable to our reception of Holy Communion, where we receive Christ into the shells of our bodies and seek to conform ourselves totally to Him? Isn’t the Communion rail where we should come in order to benefit not only ourselves in an intimate encounter with Christ, but also–just as importantly–the members of Church Militant by receiving Christ into our bodies, so as to become more like Him, so as to present to God all the merits we can for the sake of our fighting brethren?

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a little exaggerated . . . I don’t plan on approaching Communion wide-eyed and staring at those I pass by until I make them squirm! What I seek to do is be mindful of the whole purpose of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. While it’s essential for me to receive the Holy Eucharist with the intention of having an intimate encounter with God, of growing in holiness and conforming myself to Christ–I also receive the Eucharist for the sake of every member of the Body of Christ. I receive my Lord in Communion so as to become more like Him, not merely for my own sake, but for the sake of every Catholic in the nave–every Catholic in the diocese–every Catholic in the Church. I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in Communion so that I can be equipped by Him to strengthen my brothers and sisters in our spiritual warfare, in the ways He is calling me to do. This largely depends, of course, on my interior holiness, and in the example I give through my day-to-day life in my domestic church; in the little things and the small victories; but I’m not an island, and my Communions are surely no exception.

I’ll always strive for recollection, reverence and intimacy in every single Communion I’m privileged to receive for the rest of my life. My best efforts at this are far less than Christ deserves. But in all my efforts at recollection, I won’t ever forget that my Communion is meant to have exterior as well as interior fruit, for others as well as myself; that I am a small part of a grander scheme; and that my very act of receiving the Holy Eucharist is intended to have a ripple effect of grace and good for every Catholic throughout the world, and not just remain with me.

Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God.

-St. Gianna Molla

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Every Day Begin the Task Anew

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In the domestic church, prayers are sometimes said over a messy kitchen table, accompanied with crumpled tissues, coughs, and giggles brought on by medicine-induced hysteria. Sometimes they’re said in bed, with everyone piled together while one sister mischievously tickles another’s ribs, and another is ready to explode because her  brother won’t stop wiggling his feet or tapping his fingers.

Sometimes they’re said in the car, where regular cheerful comments such as, “I can’t hear you!” or “Can you slow down and pray reverently?” or “Do we have to pray all these long prayers today?” or “We won’t have time to listen to music!” punctuate a not-quite-impeccably-serene atmosphere.

Sometimes they’re offered quickly, before the phone rings for the fifth time in two minutes and the day’s schedule is derailed any more than it already is. Sometimes they’re said when everyone is grumpy, tired, or angry. Sometimes they’re said in tears. Sometimes they’re abbreviated to the bare necessities . . . and sometimes they’re forgotten or overrun.

At the end of each of these scenarios, the family is left with two options: to surrender to a resigned sort of despair, or conversely, to grasp the worn but firm resolve that We’ll try again tomorrow.

In the domestic church, quiet moments have to be snatched out of the chaos of the day, when everything seems to be running empty on grace. Someone stops at the holy water font; it’s empty, of course, and so she hunts down the bottle (which is under the couch), pours in the sacramental stream, and blesses herself before moving on to pick up eighty-seven pairs of shoes out of the floor. Someone slows down before the image of the Sacred Heart and asks tiredly for peace before moving on to referee the latest argument. Someone prays a Hail Mary while folding the kids’ underwear. Someone starts humming a hymn while the supper boils over and a child runs indoors, wailing over injustices committed in the backyard. (Have you ever heard of pretending to be a saint? Well, some days, this is how the domestic church survives.)

The family rosary can be an exhausting venture, feeling as though it demands more stamina than it provides grace. The weekly journey to Mass is often all that can be managed, although we feel ourselves craving more grace. The struggle for holiness and peace in the family is, most days, just that: a struggle, a wade through the mud, where you manage one step after a gargantuan effort, and then are sucked down a little further by the quicksand. Over and over again, the process of holiness (and it is a process!) is repeated, to the extent that progress can be very difficult to perceive. But if the family ends their day, no matter what kind of day it was, with the whisper, We’ll try again tomorrow–then they have not lost courage.

And do you know what? This is the mission of the domestic church. Each Catholic family living under the Kingship of Christ has the goal, the ideal of perfection ahead of them left to attain: more prayer, deeper peace, greater unity with Christ, truer charity and more determined efforts to embrace the practices and traditions of our Faith as a family.The family knows they must fortify their domestic church and become what they ought to be. And, cooperating with the grace of God and being unafraid to engage in the fight against the world and against concupiscence, every family can draw closer to attaining these things. But at the same time, all we can ever do is battle through the day as best as we can, and at the end of it, resolve to do better tomorrow.

Once, St. Faustina Kowalska wrote in her Diary of how she determined one morning to battle against a particular weakness of hers as strenuously as she could. Yet at the end of the day, she realized she had succumbed to that weakness twice or thrice as often as normal. Our Lord spoke to her in the midst of her discouragement and told her she failed because she had been trusting in her own strength, instead of relying on His. This is directly applicable to our daily lives in our domestic churches. Resolve is essential, but so is surrender. Each member of the family must humbly acknowledge his own weaknesses and frailties, and surrender the good and the bad about him into the Father’s hands, in order to let God do the heavy lifting in the domestic church. Only through a wholesome combination of striving and surrender can the domestic church begin thrive.

And it can start right now, in your own home. With a tiny prayer, a simple gesture of love, a small inward act of surrender, even a horrible day can take on a glimmer of hope. Take me, Lord Jesus, and make my heart like unto Thine. Let your small acts of striving and surrender carry the day in your domestic church. When night falls, lay each one, along with all the failures, at the feet of Christ–and firmly resolve to try again tomorrow. This is the path to grace. This is the path to holiness.

This, after all, is all we are asked to do.

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.

-St. Francis de Sales

The Humble Work in the Domestic Church

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So, I’ve had a cold for the past week; and the week before that was really inhumanly busy. This equated to: little to no true housework on my part for two weeks. Of course, dishes were done and laundry didn’t reach a complete standstill. And of course, my family members did their share of cleaning. Nevertheless, this morning at 5:55 am, I woke up with my hairs on end. I showered, dressed, went downstairs, set the latest dryer load on to fluff, went and knelt before the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, offered my morning prayers, signed myself, and muttered like a battle-hardened corporal, “Time for cleaning.”

In the space of a couple hours I cleaned and vacuumed the slightly disheveled living room, cleaned the kitchen (still decorated from my brother’s 13th birthday), overhauled that catch-all dump heap known as the “sidebar,” put on three different loads of laundry, deep-cleaned the upstairs bathroom, and did numberless now-forgotten touches here and there that made things look, overall, more presentable. I eventually sank down with satisfaction and a cup of iced tea, feeling thoroughly clean.

I’d cleaned the house; but I was the one who felt clean.

Yesterday, I went to Confession before Mass. I try to go every week, but let’s just say I felt the need for a clean slate a bit more deeply than usual. Of course, when one is sick and busy, one can’t expect to stay on top of things, and resting certainly doesn’t equate with laziness . . . But I knew myself, and knew there were still things, despite my cold, that I could have contributed to, especially around the home, but simply hadn’t due to laziness, lack of motivation, interest in the 132nd cute Instagram picture of the day . . . et cetera. While this may or may not be so bad, it had certainly spilled over into my prayer life as well, to where I was neglecting things I normally wouldn’t neglect . . . and that’s definitely not a good thing.

All in all, I was in possession of the nagging and unhappy feeling that I’d fallen into a general slump.

So, accordingly, I brought all these tangled shreds of laziness, self-interestedness, neglect, and spiritual idleness or whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it into the tiny Confessional with me, and whatever sins were in them were mercifully forgiven. I left feeling determined to regain a sense of discipline in my daily life, and to stop indulging myself so much, for God’s sake and for mine. Or, in other words, to put first things first.

Time for cleaning.

For better or worse, I’ve (over time) become a woman who is, in a lot of ways, keenly sensitive to order. I relish when things are clean around me. Clean. A sparkling chrome sink (with no dishes), a mopped kitchen floor, a stack of expertly folded towels, a humming and orderly laundry room, a vacuumed carpet . . . these domestic elements are an emotional Hershey’s bar to me, particularly when I’ve helped bring them to their current state.

Of course, a home is made by the family who lives in it, and I know it would take a pretty lifeless family in order for no messes to be found. So in that sense, I’m deeply grateful for messes. I’m grateful for the scattered things, the crumbs, the dishes, the laundry piles that are everywhere but in the laundry room, because I am grateful for the people who have made them . . . my family (and, let’s be honest . . . I make my share of them as well!).

But more than these, I’ve come to realize that I am grateful for the messes, mainly because they give me an immediate opportunity to do what Mother Teresa called “the humble work.”

The humble work is of tremendous spiritual benefit, especially to me. In essence, I think the humble work can be defined as: anything that requires physical labor on my part; anything that is required on a regular basis to keep the home clean, orderly and pleasant for my family; anything that has the potential to be quickly undone again; anything that doesn’t require talent, but simply work ethic; anything I can’t leave my name on; anything that anyone else can do, but that has fallen to me.

The humble work is a spiritual treasure mine. And without it . . . well, I seem to discover on a continual basis that my ability to be patient, consistently prayerful, generous, motivated, disciplined and sacrificial pretty much crumbles if I have not been regularly engaging in the humble work. The humble work is training ground for me; it isn’t special, but it has powerful potential to cultivate the most important virtues within me, if only I engage in it.

My own list of humble work, as a daughter out of school, still living in her parents’ home with her siblings, wanting to grow in domestic skills, can look like any one of these things, depending on the day or circumstance:

-Loads and loads of family laundry

-Dish washing

-Cooking

-Shower scrubbing

-Toilet cleaning

-Kitchen cleaning

-Dusting (everything from desks to ceiling fan blades)

-Tidying/organizing

-Sweeping/mopping

-Window/mirror wiping

If I feel spiritually negligent or just generally uninspiring, my recourse is often to the humble work. It’s automatic, usually born of restlessness and a lack of contentment. I can click around on the internet, or spend hours laboring over articles, but it’s only after I’ve helped to put my family’s domestic church in order through elbow grease and a dose of humility–doing something I know will have to be done again in an hour, or tomorrow, or next week–that I truly feel interiorly clean, disciplined, and invigorated to give of myself in a truly Christlike lifestyle.

In my experience, what separates the humble work from any other kind of work is that the humble work is self-effacing. (Ah, I just realized . . . that’s why it’s called the humble work . . .) I simply do it. I don’t sign my name at the end of it. It takes knowledge and repetition to do well, but not any special kind of skill (or lack of it) that proclaims, “Mary Donellan cleaned that toilet,” as opposed to “Mary Donellan wrote that article.” The humble work takes care of the bare necessities; cleanliness, hygiene, clothing, food, and basic comfort and aesthetic pleasantness. But that’s what makes it so beautiful. In the humble work, you can lose yourself, you can serve others, and you can pour yourself into doing something that is necessary and beautiful, but hidden. You can certainly take satisfaction from it, but any kind of unhealthy pride is unsustainable, because your work will be quickly undone and you will be asked to complete it all over again, simply because it needs to be done.

The humble work is a prime place to think of God. When doing menial chores, your mind and heart are left free (unlike mine as I write up this article . . .). Your flesh is employed and disciplined, and this consequently frees your soul to contemplate higher and better things. The humble work is very easily turned into prayer, joy, and interior refreshment . . . as contrasted with an hour spent on the internet. I can use time I spend doing  humble work to offer a prayer, to meditate on a spiritual truth, or simply to think about something good–and not necessarily something specifically theological, just anything good or pleasing or beautiful as St. Paul urges:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phil. 4:8

In carrying out my humble work in this way, I come away physically tired but spiritually energized and content in where God has placed me in life. I even usually come away mentally alert and emotionally happy and satisfied. The humble work is such a powerful remedy against despondency and discontent, because it shows you you are truly needed, and that the simple things bring peace.

All in all, the humble work is yet another factor that makes the domestic church such a wealth of potential grace. Nowhere are you going to find a place more regularly demanding of the humble work than your own home. Accordingly, nowhere are you going to find more opportunities to grow in virtues than in your home; because I truly believe the humble work and virtue walk closely hand-in-hand. You can write inspiring pieces, make beautiful music, give moving speeches and be a powerful witness to others . . . but in the words of St. Stanislaus Kostka:

I find Heaven in the midst of saucepans and brooms.

So let’s not spurn the humble work. Let’s embrace it; and let’s get to cleaning both our homes and our souls.

(It seems doubly appropriate that I now have to go and put on another load of laundry . . .)

The Twenty-Three Hours

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On Election Day, there will be a ballot waiting for you. With names listed on a common sheet of paper, the ballot serves as an understated symbol of a long, long whirlwind of political dirtiness, emptiness, false promises, and meager hope. Today, the entire political theater has finally been distilled to a list of names, followed by a dry collection of ambiguous proposed amendments.

On Election Day, there will be politicians poised, breathless to discover the new extent of their power, or lack of it. On Election Day, Christ the King will be forgotten and shunned by many in favor of party, ideology, and money. There will be waiting, watching, entreating, cajoling, cheating. Others will look to Christ the King with eyes of fear or something like despair.

On Election Day, the political world will seem vast, and our part to play very small, if not yet rendered completely ineffectual. Months of campaigns will have distilled down into an anticlimax: into our relatively short drive to the nearest voting site, into our comparatively brief wait in line, into our short scribbles as we darken the ovals beside many names we do not trust so as to leave ovals blank beside the names that make our intestines cringe. No heroic music plays as we slide our ballots into the machine. We get our cheery I Voted stickers, and we walk on, wondering if we have made any difference when there is all the difference to be made.

On Election Day, babies will be aborted. Crimes will be committed; injustices will continue to unfold in the name of law; the moral atmosphere of America will continue in its rotting stagnation, even if it does pause a little to see whose hands are next destined for the reins.

On Election Day, people like us will wait tired-eyed in front of screens, hounding the statistics, dreading the outcome we fear most, hoping against hope for the one we desire. People will pray fervently, if at a loss as to what exactly should be prayed for. Many will feel as though they are faced with simply choosing the lesser evil. It can be a demoralizing, dark feeling. It can dominate the day.

And yet one fact remains that is all too easy to forget. Today, only one hour or so will belong to our vote on the election. The twenty-three other hours, meanwhile, will belong to the ordinary.

Twenty-three hours on Election Day will belong to the mundane tasks at work, on errands, and most especially inside the domestic church; feeding babies, wiping runny noses, folding piles of laundry, cleaning the toilet, cooking dinner, picking up eighty million LEGOs, reading books, praying as a family, sleeping . . . living, like any other day, in the imperfect but Divinely designed microcosm of the journey to sanctity that is the home and family.

Our vote is only a tiny part of what we can do for our country on Election Day. The vote is a rare occasion, and while it’s our duty to cast it with a well-formed conscience, the vote and the politics surrounding it also have the potential to be given more credit for power and importance than they’re due. The ordinary, meanwhile, is the easily forgettable; but within the ordinary lies the powerful promise of God’s grace; both for ourselves, and for our nation.

Today, on Election Day, let us humbly offer the drudgery, the ordinary tasks, the small acts of love and sacrifice in our domestic church, along with our vote, for the sake of our nation. Let’s not forget that our homes can change our nation for the better more than a single vote ever could.

Discovering the Beauty of Veiling at Mass

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The veil wasn’t something I exactly waltzed into (or under, rather). In fact, it took me nearly twenty years to be fully convinced of the beauty of veiling at Mass; twenty years to come to find peace and delight in bowing my head under the veil whenever in the Presence of my Eucharistic Lord.

I’ll be honest in that I started young enough in my reluctance towards it. After all, my younger sister was the one who dressed in bedsheets and serenely pretended she was a nun starting at the age of seven. On All Saints’ Day, she dressed up as St. Clare of Assisi (proudly holding a tin-foil monstrance to boot); I posed as a serenely bare-headed St. Agnes. Any more examples needed?

It seemed the perfectly plain and sensible thing to do in my eyes. As a young girl, I detested frills and never wore jewelry or eye-catching hair accessories. So to consider draping a piece of lace over my head during Mass? Cringe. Agony. Help. I always preferred my hair done in a simple ponytail, or, as I grew older, in a torrent of not-quite-tame curls. Obediently donning my First Communion Veil was probably as much as I could stand, and it didn’t change as I approached young womanhood. However, my sister never had a problem putting on a veil (aka a mantilla) from time to time, whenever the occasion required it. Her face would glow out from under the lace with pure, youthful piety; her little hands would fold in monastic content. She was a natural. Beside her, I felt scratchy, hot, woefully self-conscious and silly. Nope, not quite that same glow. Nope, not a natural.

As I grew older, though, doubts and self-consciousness began to slowly niggle away at my stomach any time the word “mantilla” or “veil” was spoken in my presence, or any time I caught sight of one being worn. My father would, from time to time, gently encourage me to wear one, explaining what a beautifully feminine and reverent thing it was to do. I would try to resolve to, but my fear of it would quickly take the reins and somehow I’d escape from the onerous task.

Yet it was as if the mere sight of a veil worn by women at Mass was a hurled gauntlet, a challenge that my own position of not wearing one should be addressed and explained. It was certainly never posed to me this way, and yet it always aroused a strange defensiveness in me.

That’s how I developed my Litany of the Non-Mantilla Wearer.

I’ll be a distraction.
I’ll be distracted.
I’ll make people think I’m trying to be extra holy. That wouldn’t be good.
Why is my hair more distracting than a piece of lace would be, anyway?
I cantor. I’ll be a spectacle if I wear a mantilla while I’m cantoring.
Isn’t this just something old-fashioned that I don’t have to worry about?

On and on, my list went. Only, instead of Have mercy on us, I repeated, That’s why I don’t wear one. Very inspiring indeed. No doubt that will tip the scales for my canonization.

To be clear, growing up, I wasn’t placed under continual pressure to veil my head at all. My family had, at that point, always attended the Novus Ordo Mass, where the appearance of mantillas and/or veils wasn’t very common. I wasn’t subject to zealous speeches from well-meaning traditional Catholics on the importance of girls and women veiling in the sanctuary. In fact, I really didn’t know what it meant to wear a veil at all—only that it was of old Church tradition, that devout elderly ladies sometimes do it now, and that I knew it would be acutely embarrassing for me to have to do likewise. The old cringe, agony, help routine.

Thus I arrived at the threshold of my twenties. At this point, my two younger sisters had quietly slipped into the practice of veiling their heads during every Mass and Eucharistic Adoration hour. Inwardly, I admired them. Nothing like having devout sisters. They were certainly one of a very few at our parish and weren’t afraid of being asked what they were wearing on our heads (from a distance, someone initially thought my sister had dyed her hair. That made for an interesting conversation.).

Yet I continued to recite with flushed and anxious fervency my private Litany of the Non-Mantilla Wearer. I did, after all, serve as a regular Mass cantor, and wearing a veil at the ambo surely just wouldn’t do. That’s why I don’t wear one. Amen.

But then everything changed.

My family and I began our love story with the Latin Mass (where, I reasoned with a burst of generous pragmatism, I would wear a veil since every other woman and girl would probably be doing the same), but before we began regularly attending it, one small thing happened that swept the rug out from under my feet and snatched my Non-Mantilla Wearer Litany out of my nervous hands forever.

I was on a certain Catholic Instagram account, indulging in a relaxing browse with no special object in mind, when a particular snapshot blossomed before my face. It was a selfie of a mother and daughter, both shrouded in beautiful veils. Their faces were calm and sweet under the lace. They radiated reverence and femininity.

I stared.

In retrospect, I can only attribute this moment to the mercifully stubborn, years-long working of the Holy Ghost, because within ten seconds of seeing this picture, I knew I would veil my head at Mass from then on out. Simple. Sudden. A switch being calmly and permanently flipped in my soul. It was no longer about lace; it wasn’t about itchiness or self-consciousness; it wasn’t about looking pious or making a fuss; it had nothing to do with agony and I had no need to cringe. It was simply . . . what I must do.

I promptly went and ordered a veil online, and only afterwards did the investigating to confirm why it was I’d changed my mind (or, better put, finally allowed it to be changed for me). To my delight, I discovered profound and moving significance beneath the act of a Catholic woman veiling, and it filled my heart with addictive enthusiasm and rippling peace. One of my main reading sources was VeilsByLily.com, whose FAQ page proclaims:

The veil is a visual sermon, … a public proclamation before the Lord that He IS the Lord and that we love Him and that we are ready to obey him. It’s a totally counter-cultural statement proclaiming obedience in the midst of a culture that is totally permeated with this attitude of ‘I will not serve.’
The veil is a sign of the great dignity inherent to a woman, who has the potential to receive life within herself… both human life and the supernatural life of God. This is an important message the world needs to hear, now more than ever!

If only I had taken the time to wonder why the mantilla existed in the first place. If only I had opened my heart more, instead of hiding behind my preconceived notions, embarrassment and fear. If I had done so, I wouldn’t have missed out on the years I could have spent rejoicing in and benefiting from a practice that, instead of frumpy and outdated, now seemed full of spiritual beauty, reverence and import!

The practice of a Catholic woman veiling her head whenever in the presence of the Eucharist certainly doesn’t stem from “suppression of women” or “patriarchy” as  some would insist. Rather, the beautiful purpose of veiling springs from an awed recognition–both by men and women–of the woman’s own dignity, both as an individual, and as an image of Christ’s Bride, the Church.

As it has been pointed out many times by many people wiser than I, the sacred should always be veiled, whether it’s the Holy of Holies, the Tabernacle, or the human body. A woman who wears a veil in the Sanctuary rejoices at the sacredness of God’s creation that is woman; and she also represents the submissiveness of the Church to her Bridegroom—Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But above all, when she veils her head, she effaces herself and instead becomes a visible sign that the Lord of Heaven dwells Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, and that we are in the courts of the Divine King whenever we step into His sanctuary.

These discoveries left me reeling, and well as wondering why in Heaven’s name had I come up with a litany of reasons not to do this? No wonder veiling left girls and women radiant! Thus, after years of resistance, I surrendered and resolved to wear the veil. And in many ways I knew it wouldn’t be a difficult transition, now that we would be attending Latin Mass where veils were much more common. And yet (that inevitable phrase that always comes when a faulty human resolves to do something . . .) I knew that I had to veil for the truth behind veiling—I had to do it for Christ alone. And since Our Lord was certainly as fully present in the Eucharist when I attended the Novus Ordo Mass, it surely meant I should be veiling there as well as at the Latin Mass . . .  even if I was cantoring, as I was scheduled to do that very weekend (we were phasing out, as it were, from our commitments to our Novus Ordo parish, so I still had several weeks’ worth of cantoring left before we would be solely attending the Extraordinary Form).

I admit there were a few moments needed to gather my resolve that Saturday evening. I repeatedly pushed away straggling lines of the Litany of the Non-Mantilla Wearer and instead begged for grace (after asking my family to pray for me as well . . . they knew I needed it!). I pinned on my veil, and entered into the sanctuary.

I’ll be a distraction.
I’ll be distracted . . .

But even as they rumbled to life in my head, the words abruptly faded. I moved my eyes to the Tabernacle—and that was enough for me. He was enough for me; and He has been ever since.

Now, thanks be to God, it’s second nature; I honestly feel naked without the mantilla if I am in the sanctuary and in His Real Presence. In my heart, I feel convinced it is truly right and just for me to hide, to efface myself, to bow down before him under the veil, to be a small witness to His Eucharistic Majesty. Despite all my weaknesses and vanities (and there are a whole lot of those!) I know I will never walk into His Presence without it, as long as it is in my power to do so.

The mantilla has reminded my heart of Who Christ Is, and that He is worthy of my adoration, of my humbling myself even a little under the veil. It is not a matter of feminine inferiority to men, but rather of my inferiority to God; and in the light of thousands of years of holy tradition having asked Woman, with her matchless beauty, mystery and inherent sacredness, to veil before the Source of her beauty and mystery–who am I to dispute that?

After all, if He has effaced Himself under the appearance of the Host . . . then what is a small piece of lace over my hair in comparison?