At first, the congregation is "wonder-struck" as the Reverend Mr. Hooper greets them on the way to the pulpit inside the church.
In the exposition of "The Minister's Black Veil," the sexton awaits the appearance of the Reverend Hooper so that he can toll the church bell. Soon, he sees the minister appear. It is with "astonishment" that he asks, "But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?" Then, as the minister passes others in the congregation, they are amazed at the sight of his face, which is covered by a dark veil.
A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had preceded Mr. Hooper into the meetinghouse....He seemed not fully to partake of the prevailing wonder....That mysterious emblem was never once withdrawn. It shook with his measured breath...it threw its obscurity between him and the holy page....Did he seek to hide it from the dread Being whom he was addressing?
Mr. Hooper's veil generates such wonder and mystery that women of delicate natures are forced to leave the meetinghouse lest they faint. Perhaps, too, the "pale-faced" congregation is also a "fearful sight to the minister" as his veil is to them.
What frightens the congregation is, first of all, the appearance of the minister and their wonder at why Mr. Hooper wears this dark veil over his face. The sexton says that he is unable to believe that Mr. Hooper's face is really behind the black piece of crape. After the parson speaks from the pulpit about "secret sin" and "those sad mysteries" which everyone hides from even their family and friends, the congregation is unnerved and the veil begins to inspire a feeling of dread. Later, they ask if the parson has "gone mad" and why he has transformed himself into "something awful." For, people wonder if Mr. Hooper has done something himself which he wishes to hide, or if he has knowledge of their failings and wishes to hide this awareness.