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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Do They Do That?: The Veiling of Crosses and Images in Lent

Jonathunder, GFDL-1.2
According to the Roman and Sarum rites,  crosses, images, and statues are veiled during Lent.

Why do we do this?

Liturgical Christians are a sensual bunch; we meet God, and worship him, in sights, sounds, smells, and touches.
They don't call it "smells and bells" for nothing.

The accouterments of traditional worship hold deep spiritual significance for worshipers.  This is not because the objects themselves hold any solitary value, power, or significance, but, because they serve as earthly representations of spiritual realities.

As such, crosses and images in churches have deeply moving and comforting significance.

Bene16, GFDL-1.2
The Church has, in her wisdom, found that people appreciate things more when we have been without them for awhile. 

Feasts are more meaningful after a period of fasting.  The "A" word has more punch after it has been missing from the liturgy for awhile.

Crosses and holy images are like that.  They tend to become invisible after awhile don't they? After all, the crosses are there week after week.  They have a tendency to they become so familiar that blend in to their surroundings.

But, the cross is something extraordinary!  What our Lord has done for us is beyond words. (That, is, by the way, one of the reasons that images can carry such meaning.  Some things are beyond words.)  So...a "fast of the eyes" to accompany the Lenten season of fasting is not such a bad idea.

The veiling of crosses and images is a wonderfully effective way of facilitating a dramatic effect when the Resurrection is reenacted at the Easter vigil.

The unveiling of crosses and images is one of the liturgical elements that marks the transition from Lent to the glories of Easter.  In our liturgical drama, the unveiling of crosses accompanies the moment of the unveiling of the greatest truth of all time: that our Lord has conquered death.


In the Roman rite, veiling beings on the fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday in traditional "old rite" practice).  In Anglican use, crosses and images are veiled, (generally these days in purple in the U.S.), beginning Ash Wednesday.  In the Sarum (Old English) rite, crosses, images, and the entire altar are veiled in "Lenten white" which is the color of unbleached natural linen. 

Some lovely pictures of Sarum rite Lenten array are here at Once I Was a Clever Boy. If you are so inclined, you will find the accompanying discussion immensely informative, as well.

A lovely photo of, and reflection upon, Lenten veiling is here at Fr. Ray Blake's Blog.

Linked with:

Playdates with God @ The Wellspring, and Saints and Scripture SundayLenten Linkup @ Catholic Icing

You'll find their buttons on the Blog Hops page.

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