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Covering Images and Crucifixes in the Church

March 24, 2024

Professor Marvel

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN! This is one of my favorite lines from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Anyone who spends time in my presence on a semi-regular basis has heard me use this line. It is one of my favorites and as we know, this doesn’t have much bearing on the world at large. Now that the random, semi-useful knowledge has been offered, we move on to the subject for today: The veiling of crucifixes, statues and images on the 5th Sunday of Lent – traditionally known as Passion Sunday and the beginning of Passiontide.

The reason for veiling of the crucifixes, images and statues is not so that we pretend they are not there or not pay attention to them; it has a connection to history and the liturgy. The history of veiling goes back many centuries and there are more than a few theories as to where and when it came into being and we will look at the main ones.

One theory is that it began in Germany in or around the 9th century and was called a “hunger cloth”, which covered the entire altar area with only a small opening in the middle. It was hung during the entire Lenten season and was connected with the ritual of expelling public penitents from the church until Easter and was removed on Wednesday of Holy Week when the gospel was read. The gospel was the passion according to St. John and at the words “the veil of the temple was rent in two” the veil was removed. The statues or images were not veiled.

Another theory is that it is Gallican in origin dating to before the 7th century and was not connected with public penance - but with Lent - and statues, crucifixes and images were covered.

In the 17th century Bishops’ Ceremonial the practice of veiling crucifixes, statues and images is listed as something done during Lent.

Now the next theory (to which I subscribe – .02 cents please) is that the practice of veiling the crucifixes, statues and images dates back to before the 5th century and was begun in the papal chapel in the Vatican. The veiling took place on the 5 th Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday) and occurred during the liturgy when the deacon of Mass chanted the concluding words of Passion Sunday’s gospel from John 8:59 “Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple”. This Gospel was removed from use during Lent in the new form of the Mass; however the traditional form of the Mass has still kept it on the 5th Sunday of Lent. After the second Vatican Council there was an attempt to downplay the passion centered spirituality and there were those who attempted to even push a ban on veiling, which thankfully did not happen, but this is why it is not done in some places. After a closer look we see how the veiling is intimately connected with the liturgy itself in a very visible and physical way. On a theological level it is joined to the understanding of the Passion and the fact that our Lord sacrificed Himself on a cross for our salvation and the fruit of the sacrifice was and is the impetus and source of eternal life for the saints, the Church and hopefully ourselves; the fact that He was rejected by His own and His Divinity was and is still denied by so many. And during Passiontide we are called to reflect more deeply on the physical and spiritual journey of our Savior during those last weeks that concluded with a crucifixion and resurrection. The fruit which makes sinners saints and the dead live.

God love you, Fr. Anthony

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