Sacred Triduum: March 2010 Archives
My friend George asked me the other day about the tradition of covering the statues, images and crucifixes (sacred images) -but not the Stations of the Cross--before Holy Week. He told me that the nuns told him that the Church covered sacred items because Christ went into hiding before his arrest. Well, that's true but incomplete. The tradition of veiling finds its source in John 8:46-59 where the Jews attempt to stone Jesus because of his claims of being the Son of God, but he hides from view. As point of comparison, you will notice in Mark's gospel our focus is on the Lord's crucifixion because it is there that we learn the true identity of Jesus as being man and divine. The covering of sacred images, therefore, is to illustrate the increasing tension we find ourselves in the Liturgy as we move toward of the Lord's own Paschal Mystery. The veiling actually reinforces the verifiable fact of the Incarnation.
Sacred images reveal for us the Divine Reality, not fiction. The Church does not "use" sacred images as one uses newspaper to start a fire. Sacred image are central to her life, a part of her faith and were defended by the Church in a struggle against the iconoclast heresy in 843. It is our belief that sacred images serve as an intermediary between human and divine reality: we venerate -not worship--a stature, a crucifix, an icon with the expectation that our prayers rise to the sacred person depicted. Sacred images teach the faith. Some might say they are a theology in color. Saint Basil the Great tells us that icons are the books of the illiterate. "We comprehend through our physical ears, spiritual words. Contemplation with our physical eyes likewise leads to spiritual contemplation." It is here that we learn and express our faith.
The covering of images in the Church and in the home is a gesture of our Lenten sacrifice, a deprivation of some sort, an engagement in the fact of the Lord's self-giving through a "liturgical dying" as we move toward the sacred Triduum. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, a simple purple veil is placed over the sacred images before First Vespers of Palm Sunday and remain in place until the Gloria of the Easter Vigil but in the Extraordinary Form it is done before First Vespers of the 5th Sunday of Lent.
Dom Prosper Gueranger notes in his multivolume work, The Liturgical Year, which comments on the Ancient Usage of the Roman Mass, "...that, in those years when the feast of our Lady's Annunciation falls in Passion-week, the statue of Mary, the Mother of God, remains veiled, even on that very day when the Archangel greets her as being full of grace, and blessed among women." So, depending on what form of the Mass you are following, images of the Blessed Virgin may or may not be veiled this week.