Hidden away from sight: Using Lenten veils
Last part of Lent can be time for veiled statues and crosses
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Time to go deeper. Some of us may not realize it, but there are two levels to our immersion into Lent.
The first level, which started on Ash Wednesday, took us to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 2. On that Sunday, also called Laetare Sunday, we saw rose-colored vestments. Laetare is a Latin word meaning "to rejoice." Liturgically, the joy expressed is that of the salvation which was gained by the Lord's suffering, death and victory over death.
L e n t
Now, after Laetare Sunday, we have moved deeper into the more solemn level of Lent. The focus of our readings now turns toward the coming Passion of Jesus, and we will hear about the death of Lazarus and of Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem - and of his final exit, to Golgotha.
Before 1970, the Fifth Sunday of Lent was called Passion Sunday - the beginning of Passiontide - with Palm Sunday following a week later. Today, the two are combined, one flowing immediately into the other; so the sixth Sunday of Lent is called Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion.
Marking this change in the focus - or intensity - of Lent's inexorable movement toward the Passion has sometimes been emphasized by veiling statues and crosses. Catholics raised before Vatican II may remember that veiling statues was tied to a verse in John's Gospel immediately following Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After speaking of his coming Passion, "Jesus left and hid from them." (Jesus autem abscondebat se. Jn 12:36).
Just as Jesus hid from public view before his Passion, so the crosses and statues in church were hidden during Passiontide. (The Stations of the Cross remained unveiled, since they portrayed that Passion.)
For a time, starting in 1969 when the liturgical rites were revised, veiling of statues ended with the New Order of the Mass (1970). Veils were never officially suppressed, but they were discouraged, "except in regions where the Episcopal conferences judge it profitable to maintain this custom" (Commentary on the General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 1969).
In other words, the Vatican left it to the bishops of each country to decide about the use of veils. Our national Conference of Bishops did not vote, one way or another, on covering images, so veiling ceased in this country. Individual parishes were not permitted to reinstate the practice on their own.
That changed again in November 2001, when the U.S. bishops did vote about the issue and said that parishes were allowed to cover crosses and statues if they wished. Rome approved that vote and it went into effect in April, 2002. However, parishes are not required to use veils; they remain optional.
So that is why you may have been seeing purple veils over statues this week. If a parish also chooses to veil its crosses, those veils must be removed for Good Friday services, since the focus on that day is upon the Cross of Christ.
Any other veils over statues can remain there until after Good Friday - as we ourselves remain in watchful prayer - until just before the Easter Vigil.
(Sources: Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts; The Catholic Encyclopedia; New Dictionary of the Liturgy; The Catholic Liturgical Library at www.catholicliturgy.com and the diocesan worship department)
FOUNDATIONS OF FAITH IS EDITED BY PAT KASTEN; FR. DAVE PLEIER, PASTOR OF ST. BERNARD & ST. PHILIP PARISHES, GREEN BAY, IS THEOLOGICAL ADVISOR.