Today, the fifth Sunday in Lent, traditionally called Passion Sunday, you may notice purple cloths draped over the crucifixes, statues, and saint images. In some churches, these items may be removed from the sanctuary altogether. The custom of these veils, much like the silence of the "alleluias" during Lent, accentuates the penitential character of this season. This tradition can be used as a learning tool for children. As a child, during Lent I would see the crosses covered and always wondered why, but too afraid to ask an adult. Explain this custom to your children and encourage your family to engage in Lenten practices.|
This old custom of veiling religious images is a way of focusing on the penitential aspect of this liturgical season. Often it is referred to as a "fast for the eyes". It reminds us in a visual way that our faith in all its glory is made possible only through the work of Christ in his suffering and death on the cross. When we cover or remove these holy and sacred images that we are so accustomed to, we are starkly confronted and reminded in a poignant way of all that Christ has won for us.
Some authors have stated that the veil resembles the "shroud of sin," it's deception and shame, much like the fig leaves of Adam and Eve who feared standing naked before their Creator. We have a tendency to cover our sin or at least make it more acceptable and presentable.
We veil the cross resembling this, since it is precisely the Cross that reminds us of the penalty of sin. We are uncomfortable with the truth of our depravity. The veil silently, yet powerfully declares "that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19). Yet one cross will be unveiled on Good Friday, reminding us that we cannot hide from the penalty of sin, but also that the instrument of death becomes for us our source of life.
The tradition of veiling religious images is often practiced during the last two weeks before Easter, starting on Passion Sunday (now called the fifth Sunday in Lent) and ending on Good Friday. This time period is known on the old liturgical calendar as Passiontide. Even though this period is no longer officially called by this name, the tradition is still practiced in many places.
Then, as in a dramatic unveiling, the holy images are again revealed for the Easter Vigil to mark the end of the penitential season. The joy of the Easter season and the hope of the Resurrection then comes to the forefront.
Temporarily veiling the crosses and religious images in the penitential colour of Lent is a beautiful custom that helps us to reflect on the deeper theological meaning of the liturgical season.
Rev'd. Fr. Colin Humes