Tuesday, February 27, 2024

An Explanation of Some Lenten Practices


Covered Statues for Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Depending on your parish, diocese, country or liturgical rite, there may be certain customs during Lent that do not occur universally. Certainly the blessing and distribution of ashes is universal in the Catholic Church, but what about the covering of statues/crucifixes or the removal of holy water in some parishes?

Catholic author Philip Kosloski gives one helpful explanation regarding the veiling of statues:

It seems strange that during the most sacred time of year we cover everything that is beautiful in our churches, even the crucifix. Shouldn't we be looking at the painful scene at Calvary while we listen to the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday? While it may appear counterintuitive to veil statues and images during the final weeks of Lent, the Church recommends this practice to heighten our senses and build within us a longing for Easter Sunday . . . . 

The rubrics can guide us. In the Roman Missal we find the instruction, "In the Dioceses of the United States, the practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from [the fifth] Sunday [of Lent] may be observed. Crosses remain covered until the end of the Celebration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil." This is the current practice of the Church, but veiling from the Fifth Sunday of Lent onward is miniscule compared to what was once practiced. For example, in Germany there was a tradition to veil the altar from view throughout all of Lent . . . . 

The unveiling before the Easter Vigil is a great reminder of our own life on earth.  We live in a "veiled" world, in exile from our true home. But why go through such lengths to cover up images that are designed to raise our hearts and minds toward heaven? 

First of all, we use veils to alert us of the special time that we are in.  When we walk into church and notice everything is covered, we immediately know that something is different. These last two weeks of Lent are meant to be a time of immediate preparation for the Sacred Triduum and these veils are a forceful reminder to get ready. 

Secondly, the veils focus our attention on the words being said at Mass. When we listen to the Passion narrative, our senses are allowed to focus on the striking words from the Gospel and truly enter into the scene. 

Third, the Church uses veils to produce a heightened sense of anticipation for Easter Sunday. This is further actualized when you attend daily Mass and see the veils each day. You don't want them to be there because they are hiding some very beautiful images. And therein lies the whole point: the veils are not meant to be there forever. The images need to be unveiled; it is unnatural for them to be covered. The unveiling before the Easter Vigil is a great reminder of our own life on earth. We live in a "veiled" world, in exile from our true home. It is only through our own death that the veil is lifted and we are finally able to see the beauty of everything in our lives. 

In our parish the statues and crucifixes were covered at the beginning of Lent (rather than the 5th Sunday) for merely practical purposes. When the purple (violet) background drapes were put up in the main church sanctuary for Lent, the statues and crucifix were also covered. Actually, I should have waited a while longer.  Mea culpa.

Regarding those parishes (not ours) that remove holy water from the fonts during Lent, I refer you to the following response from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (2004): 

This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being 'praeter legem' is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The 'fast' and 'abstinence' which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church.

The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday). 

I realize that customs sometimes vary in different parishes, so I have tried to explain the reasons why I am incorporating or not incorporating certain practices for Lent in St. Thomas More Parish.

 Fr. Ed Namiotka


An Empty Holy Water Font

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