Some Catholics may ask, “What happened to all the statues? Why are they veiled?”. It is customary for many churches to veil statues and sacred images starting the Vespers of the Fifth Sunday of Lent (also known as the First Passion Sunday which starts a time period called Passiontide). But why this practice some may ask?
The Roman Missal states in the rubric of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, “The practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from this Sunday 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 rubric however may vary from region to region. The episcopal conference may or have decided on the observance of this practice. Therefore, this practice is not mandatory. However, the Roman Missal rubric for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday) states that after the Reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, ” At an appropriate time, the altar is stripped and, if possible, the crosses are removed from the church. It is expedient that any crosses which remain in the church be veiled.” (EM, 40) Based on that rubric of Holy Thursday, it is high encouraged that the crosses be veiled in preparation of the Good Friday Liturgy’s where the cross(es) are uncovered during the Veneration of the Cross.
In about the 9th century, a large cloth covered the sanctuary called the hungertuch (hunger cloth) which was left hung from the start of Lent till the the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the moment, “while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two,” (Lk 24:45) was read. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Passion was read all throughout Holy Week (except for Holy Monday and Holy Thursday), unlike today where the Passion is read only on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The tradition of veiling statues may have originated from there. However, the statues are only veiled during Passiontide and not to be done from the start of Lent (see Jimmy Akin’s 6 Liturgical No-No’s During Lent)
The statues are usually covered in a purple cloth. Purple is the colour used throughout the penitential season of Lent. It is a reminder of penance and sacrifice during the season of Lent. The veiling of statues help the congregation focus more on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus while reflecting on doing acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Statues other than the crucifix are not unveiled until the Easter Vigil. Some churches choose to unveil it before the Easter Vigil. Some unveil them at the Gloria of Easter Vigil.
The act of veiling statues is more flexible today than it was before the Second Vatican Council. As mentioned above, the episcopal conference may decide otherwise. The goal however is to have the faithful actively take part in the celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The veiling of statues would bear no meaning if the faithful do not walk with Jesus through His death and resurrection. It is an outward sign, an outward reminder of the Penitential Season, a reminder to live like Jesus and carry our cross.
During this Passiontide, let us try our best to walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary so to share the glory of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.