Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Veiling of Images

For centuries, it has been the practice in the Catholic Church to cover images in the fortnight before Easter. Here is the main sanctuary, with the processional cross and High Altar cross veiled in purple.

This derives from the ancient custom - still practised in many countries - of removing or veiling images in times of death and great mourning. In rural Ireland it was the custom to mark a death by turning pictures towards the wall. In many cultures, women veil themsleves at funerals, as a mark of mourning.

By covering images, we emphasise the solemnity and sadness of this time, when we prepare for the Passion and death of Jesus. Images speak of beauty, of celebration and consolation; but now there is a disruption of the familiar landscape, familiar objects are removed from view, all is stark and desolate.

This sombre mood will reach its climax in the night of Jesus' arrest, Maundy Thursday, when the altar itself will be stripped and laid bare, as he was stripped before the soldiers. atttttttttttttttt
So the mood now is solemn, earnest - as we wait in anticipation of the colour, light and celebration of the Resurrection.


Anonymous said...

In our parish (Michigan, US), we cover all statues on the Fifth Sunday of Lent...but in defiance of the liturgical office of the archdiocese. As you stated, so doing emphasizes the "solemnity and sadness of this time". Good liturgy is good drama. We Catholics worship with all of our senses and we pray using our bodies.

For this reason, I was pleased to read about "The veiling of images".

S.R. Fraczek said...

Do all churches adopt this 'two weeks' rule? Some only seem to veil images in Holy Week, others do it for longer.

In the Anglican communion, some more catholic parishes veil them from the start of Lent - I visited Southwell Minster in the second week, and the crucifix on the altar was covered with sackcloth.

Mark Langham said...

The 'two week' rule is a relic of the days when the fifth Sunday of Lent was known as 'Passion Sunday', and was the time when the images were veiled.

In the Sarum Rite (the rite used in most of medieval England) altars were covered from the beginning of Lent in 'Lenten Array' - unbleached cloth. This survives in many Anglican parishes. Westminster Abbey, just up the road from here, has a cloth stretched right across the sanctuary, veiling the reredos.

Anonymous said...

I have been to the cathedral and I have seen the statues that have been covered. How many statues in total are covered? Also who is the lucky person who gets to cover them?

Mark Langham said...

We cover everything we can (sometimes with varying degrees of success!), which makes about twenty statues in the Cathedral, crypt, sacristy and Clergy House. We have not found a way of veiling mosaic images. Tbe work is done by the sub-administrator and sacristans, with help form the maintenance department - quite an operation!

Anonymous said...

I note that at today's Chrism mass the High Altar cross was veiled in white, yet was not veiled in red on Palm Sunday or in white on the Solemnity of the Annunication. What is the rationale for the use of white at the Chrism Mass?