Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mantilla: The Veil of the Bride of Christ — A New Book on the Practice of Veiling

Mantilla: The Veil of the Bride of Christ. By Anna Elissa. Malang, Indonesia: Penerbit Dioma, 2016. 150 pp. $10.15 at

One of the privileges of writing for NLM is that one tends to receive a disproportionate number of good new books in the mail, from authors who wish their work to become better known, or publishers who are seeking reviews. Of course, there's a drawback: I've got eight books on my desk that I'm supposed to review, and classes are starting up again at Wyoming Catholic College!

The book we'll be looking at today is called Mantilla: The Veil of the Bride of Christ, by Anna Elissa. (The book is available in paperback at the above link, as well as in Kindle format from all Amazon sites.)

Ms. Elissa is an articulate, spirited writer who not only does justice to her subject, but brings to it a truly refreshing breadth of perspective and a "poetry of the everyday" that helps her to see the beauty of symbols in the Christian life. Considering that her topic is, at least for some people, enough to cause fits of apoplexy, this book is about the most serene and positive exposition I could imagine. Whether you are already convinced that veiling is a good practice or are curious to find out what stands behind it and its reappearance (clergy, take note!), I cannot too highly recommend this attractive and informative book. I would particularly recommend it as a book to hand out to women who are discovering traditional Catholicism for the first time and need a reliable, balanced, and appreciative treatment of this subject.

It is especially to Ms. Elissa's credit that she does not resort to platitudes or generalizations, much less appeals to nostalgia or mere cultural norms, but rests her argument on Scripture (both Testaments), Church Fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, and papal, liturgical, and canon law texts. Not surprisingly, the author, who is so sensitive to the language of signs, took pains to make the book itself beautiful: each chapter is prefaced by a monochrome reproduction of a famous painting featuring a woman in a veil. I was particularly struck by the third chapter, where Ms. Elissa shows her theological strength by offering a series of arguments of fittingness on behalf of the veil, and the fourth, where she responds to a battery of common objections (in fact, I have never heard any objection she does not raise and convincingly answer here).

One thing I was not expecting at all from such a book is the level of practical detail to which the author descends. Even if the theoretical part is more important, Ms. Elissa takes time, in chapter 5, to write about rules and practical tips for wearing the mantilla. In chapter 6, she explains how "the mantilla is not enough" by speaking to other aspects of one's personal appearance and actions: what one should wear; prayer before and after Mass; genuflecting and making the sign of the cross deliberately; keeping custody of the eyes; folding one's hands; kneeling for holy communion; and so forth. She reminds me, in this section, of Romano Guardini's little masterpiece Sacred Signs.

Her chapter 7 brings together many testimonials from women about their experience of adopting and wearing the veil, and from men, too, about why they value the practice. The book concludes with a guest chapter by Cornelius Pulung, and a detailed bibliography. I ought to mention that the book features a Foreword by His Excellency Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Indonesia.

Ms. Elissa sent a letter to me, which I would like to quote here (having her permission to do so):
This is such exciting times to be young people in the Church! We are at the closing of an era and the beginning of a new one, and I’m sure everybody can see it or feel it just by watching the news. Change brings about many unprecedented things; some are terrifying but others are definitely full of hope. In the life of the Church, I believe one of these is the recovery of Church traditions. Traditional Catholicism is being rediscovered and lived once again, by youngsters no less! This wave is everywhere in the world, including in my country Indonesia.
       The Church in Indonesia is herself relatively young. This makes the resurgence of tradition is even more interesting: by many, if not most, Indonesian Catholics, ancient Church traditions are seen as almost wholly new! Recently we see elements of traditional Catholicism are making a comeback in their own ways. The chapel veil (popular now with its Spanish term “mantilla”) phenomenon is especially worthy of note because it grows almost independently from its “source”, the Traditional Latin Mass. The TLM did introduce the usage of the chapel veil, but the veil itself has found its place in the Indonesian Catholics’ hearts as a Eucharistic devotion. While people do recognize it as “traditional”, the devotional aspect makes the veil particularly appealing and less “threatening”.
       The Holy Spirit is the Theologian behind this book, so all the good things in it must be credited to Him, and all errors to me. I hope this book does justice to the great Catholic Faith, and that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If any of the NLM readers would like to contact me, they may reach me at
To God be all the glory!
Warm regards
Your sister in Christ
Anna Elissa

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