Covering of Crosses and Images in Lent
ROME, 8 MARCH 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Why are crosses and images covered during the last weeks of Lent? — D.K., Oakland, California
A: First of all, I would first like to recommend Monsignor Peter Elliott’s excellent guide “Celebrations of the Liturgical Year” published by Ignatius Press in 2002. It is a very useful resource for all those involved in the practical aspects of liturgical planning.
The duration of such veiling varies from place to place. The custom in many places is to veil from before first vespers or the vigil Mass of the Fifth Sunday of Lent while others limit this veiling from after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
In some places images and statues are actually removed from the church and not simply veiled, especially after Holy Thursday.
Crosses are unveiled after the Good Friday ceremonies. All other images are unveiled shortly before the Mass of the Easter Vigil.
Neither the Stations of the Cross nor stained glass windows are ever veiled.
The bishops’ conference may decide if the veiling during this period should be obligatory within its territory.
The veils are usually made of lightweight purple cloth without any decoration.
The custom of veiling the images during the last two weeks of Lent hails from the former liturgical calendar in which the Passion was read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (hence called “Passion Sunday”) as well as on Palm Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, and Good Friday.
For this reason the period following the Fifth Sunday of Lent was called Passiontide. A remnant of this custom is the obligatory use of the first Preface of the Lord’s Passion during the Fifth Week of Lent.
As Monsignor Elliott remarks, “The custom of veiling crosses and images … has much to commend it in terms of religious psychology, because it helps us to concentrate on the great essentials of Christ’s work of Redemption.”
Although this is true, the historical origin of this practice lies elsewhere. It probably derives from a custom, noted in Germany from the ninth century, of extending a large cloth before the altar from the beginning of Lent.
This cloth, called the “Hungertuch” (hunger cloth), hid the altar entirely from the faithful during Lent and was not removed until during the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the words “the veil of the temple was rent in two.”
Some authors say there was a practical reason for this practice insofar as the often-illiterate faithful needed a way to know it was Lent.
Others, however, maintain that it was a remnant of the ancient practice of public penance in which the penitents were ritually expelled from the church at the beginning of Lent.
After the ritual of public penance fell into disuse — but the entire congregation symbolically entered the order of penitents by receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday — it was no longer possible to expel them from the church. Rather, the altar or “Holy of Holies” was shielded from view until they were reconciled to God at Easter.
For analogous motives, later on in the Middle Ages, the images of crosses and saints were also covered from the start of Lent.
The rule of limiting this veiling to Passiontide came later and does not appear until the publication of the Bishops’ Ceremonial of the 17th century.
After the Second Vatican Council there were moves to abolish all veiling of images, but the practice survived, although in a mitigated form.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it offers 25 things Christ revealed to us about God the Father. But please remember that the Trinity is One, so these roles overlap.
1. God is the provider of all:
Matthew 5:45: … He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
2. He sees all things and rewards goodness:
Matthew 6:4: … your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
3. He’s fully aware of our needs:
Matthew 6:8: … your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
4. He’s better than human fathers at giving His children good gifts:
Matthew 7:11: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Also Luke 11:13
5. His Spirit speaks through us when we are persecuted:
Matthew 10:19-20: When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
6. He knows all the details of our lives:
Matthew 10:29-31: What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
7. He reveals truth to us:
Matthew 16:17: Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
8. Guardian angels report to the Father:
Matthew 18:10: See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
9. He answers our prayers:
Matthew 18:19: if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
10. The Father decides who will have places of honor with Christ:
Matthew 20:23: Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
11. When we forgive others, He forgives us:
Mark 11:25: when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
12. The Father decides the timing of events:
Mark 13:32: But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
13. He reveals things to people who have child-like faith and conceals things from the proud:
Luke 10:21: At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
14. We cannot know the Father except through Jesus:
Luke 10:22: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
See also John 1:18
15. He seeks true worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth:
John 4:23: true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
16. The Father is always at His work:
John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
17. The Father and Son are One:
John 5:19: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
See also John 12:50 and John 14
19. We come to Jesus through the Father:
John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
20. He honors those who serve Christ:
John 12:26: Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
21. When Christ came to earth and temporarily gave up His full rights as God (Philippians 2:5-11), the Father was greater than Christ:
John 14:28: “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
22. The Father required the death of Christ for our sake, and Christ obeyed out of love for the Father:
John 14:30-31: “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, 31 but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.
23.The Father answers requests in Christ’s Name (i.e. in and through Christ, according to His will):
John 15:16: …whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
See also John 16:23
To get a balanced view of this passage, please read “Ask & Receive”
24. The Father loves those who love Christ:
John 16:27: the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
25. We tell small children who accept Christ that they “have Jesus in their hearts,” but we actually have the entire Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit (John 14:15-17):
John 17:21: Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Sometimes I’m surprised to hear people’s descriptions of Jesus because they make Him sound like a guy whose only purpose is to make us feel good about ourselves with no concern for how we live our lives (2 Corinthians 11:4).
But the real Jesus doesn’t see it that way at all:
“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:23-24
“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” John 8:51
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
Let’s reject false views of Jesus.
Every year people die from snake bites, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, and dog attacks.
Why do these random deaths happen? Are they a punishment?
Jesus says no.
When asked about those who died in a political massacre and a tower accident, Jesus said the victims were no worse sinners than others who didn’t die.
Instead, He told his listeners to think about something more important than physical death. He warned them to repent and save themselves from spiritual death (Luke 13:1-5).
Random deaths occur daily, and we won’t understand the reasons. But we do understand the reasons for spiritual death.
So next time we see a tragic news story or hear of a friend’s untimely death, let’s pray for our friends and family who don’t know Jesus.