Visit Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Oshkosh this weekend and you may think we are preparing for a huge renovation. You will see all of our statues and crosses covered with purple cloth. We, like many other parishes, are following a centuries-old tradition, the optional ritual of “veiling.” The guidelines allow for the practice of covering crosses and images from the fifth Sunday of Lent. Crosses remain covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, and images until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The Stations of the Cross are not veiled. The color, while usually purple or black, is discretionary. Some parishes might choose to veil in a beige or grey so that their statues seem to fade into the interior of the church.
You may wonder why any parish would have someone scaling statues in high places, armed with yards of cloth? Consider what you do when you need to focus on an important project. You may turn off all electronics, tell family that you are not to be disturbed, withdraw to a quiet room and close the door. You want to eliminate any distractions.
Through veiling, the church is acting much in the same way. The statues that so capture our imagination are removed from our sight, so that our entire focus is centered only on Jesus’ suffering and bitter Passion. Peter Mazar in his book, “To Crown the Church Year” speaks of Lenten veiling as a symbol of exile, helping us to identify that through sin we were separated from God and cut off from the companionship of our ancestors, the saints. Others contend that veiled statues look like cocoons — very appropriate as we count down these last days of intense renewal. Still others say veiled statues remind them of someone wrapped in a death shroud. Equally engaging, as we consider our Lord wrapped in a burial shroud and laid in a tomb.
As always, catechesis is important if something as dramatic as veiling is employed. When the practice was first reintroduced to my parish it was accompanied by bulletin articles, discussions in religious education classes and mentions in a homily. I had to chuckle when one of our younger members came into church, took a look around, ran up to Fr. Jim and exclaimed, “Neat, a bat cave!” So be it, a bat cave, exiles, cocoons or burial shrouds, if your church images are veiled, may you be reminded in a particular way that the day of transformation, sacred triduum, is at hand.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.