Veiling of Crosses

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgical Year

We’re getting down to that time of year when the crosses in many parishes will be veiled, so it’s nice that the current edition of the BCL [Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy] Newsletter has a brief Q & A on the law regarding the veiling of crosses in the United States.

Here ’tis:

1. Does the new Missale Romanum allow for the veiling of statues and crosses?
The Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, provides a rubric at the beginning of the texts for the Fifth Sunday of
Lent, which allows that: “the practice of covering crosses and images in the Church from the Fifth Sunday of Lent
is permitted, according to the judgment of the Conferences of Bishops. Crosses remain veiled until the end of the
celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday; images remain veiled until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.”


2. Have the Bishops of the Unites States expressed the judgment on this practice?

Yes. On June 14, 2001, the Latin Church members of the USCCB approved an adaptation to number 318 of the
General Instruction of the Roman Missal which would allow for the veiling of crosses and images in this manner.
On April 17, 2002, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments wrote to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, USCCB President (Prot. no. 1381/01/L), noting
that this matter belonged more properly to the rubrics of the Fifth Sunday of Lent. While the decision of the
USCCB will be included with this rubric when the Roman Missal is eventually published, the veiling of crosses
and images may now take place at the discretion of the local pastor.


3. When may crosses and images be veiled?

Crosses and images may be veiled on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Crosses are unveiled following the Good Friday
Liturgy, while images are unveiled before the beginning of the Easter Vigil.


3. Is the veiling of crosses and statues required?

No. The veiling is offered as an option, at the discretion of the local pastor.


3. What is the reason for the veiling of crosses and images?

The veiling of crosses and images is a sort of “fasting” from sacred depictions which represent the paschal glory
of our salvation. Just as the Lenten fast concludes with the Paschal feast, so too, our fasting from the cross
culminates in an adoration of the holy wood on which the sacrifice of Calvary was offered for our sins. Likewise,
a fasting from the glorious images of the mysteries of faith and the saints in glory, culminates on the Easter night
with a renewed appreciation of the glorious victory won by Christ, risen from the tomb to win for us eternal life.


4. Why are crosses unveiled after the Good Friday Liturgy?

An important part of the Good Friday Liturgy is the veneration of the cross, which may include its unveiling.
Once the cross to be venerated has been unveiled, it seems logical that all crosses would remain unveiled for the
veneration of the faithful.


5. What do the veils look like?

While liturgical law does not prescribe the form or color of such veils, they have traditionally been made of
simple, lightweight purple cloth, without ornament.


6. Is it permissible to veil the crosses after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday?

Yes. The concluding rubrics which follow the text for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (no. 41) indicate that “at an
opportune time the altar is stripped and, if it is possible, crosses are removed from the church. It is fitting that
crosses which remain in the Church be veiled.”

Why there are three different Question #3s in the list, I couldn’t tell ya, but the data’s good.

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{ 14 comments }

Louise April 3, 2006 at 12:15 pm

So…we are “fasting” from looking at a crucifix during Holy Week…?
(did I miss something?)

Old Zhou April 3, 2006 at 12:45 pm

From Zenit, 8 March 2005,
archived at EWTN.
http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur72.htm

The custom of veiling the images during the last two weeks of Lent hails from the former liturgical calendar in which the Passion was read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (hence called “Passion Sunday”) as well as on Palm Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, and Good Friday.
For this reason the period following the Fifth Sunday of Lent was called Passiontide. A remnant of this custom is the obligatory use of the first Preface of the Lord’s Passion during the Fifth Week of Lent.
As Monsignor Elliott remarks, “The custom of veiling crosses and images … has much to commend it in terms of religious psychology, because it helps us to concentrate on the great essentials of Christ’s work of Redemption.”
Although this is true, the historical origin of this practice lies elsewhere. It probably derives from a custom, noted in Germany from the ninth century, of extending a large cloth before the altar from the beginning of Lent.
This cloth, called the “Hungertuch” (hunger cloth), hid the altar entirely from the faithful during Lent and was not removed until during the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the words “the veil of the temple was rent in two.”
Some authors say there was a practical reason for this practice insofar as the often-illiterate faithful needed a way to know it was Lent.
Others, however, maintain that it was a remnant of the ancient practice of public penance in which the penitents were ritually expelled from the church at the beginning of Lent.
After the ritual of public penance fell into disuse — but the entire congregation symbolically entered the order of penitents by receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday — it was no longer possible to expel them from the church. Rather, the altar or “Holy of Holies” was shielded from view until they were reconciled to God at Easter.
For analogous motives, later on in the Middle Ages, the images of crosses and saints were also covered from the start of Lent.
The rule of limiting this veiling to Passiontide came later and does not appear until the publication of the Bishops’ Ceremonial of the 17th century.
After the Second Vatican Council there were moves to abolish all veiling of images, but the practice survived, although in a mitigated form.
—-

Paul Goings April 3, 2006 at 1:12 pm

The custom of veiling the images during the last two weeks of Lent hails from the former liturgical calendar in which the Passion was read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent (hence called “Passion Sunday”) as well as on Palm Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, and Good Friday.
Although not the only error in this article, this seems the most serious. Does the author mean to imply that the pre-Conciliar missal provided that the Passion should be read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent? I assure you that it was not.

Leah April 3, 2006 at 1:43 pm

At my parish, our pastor has had the large crucifix behind the altar veiled since the beginning of Lent. And all the holy water fonts have been dry (rocks instead of water).
The parish also washes *hands* on Holy Thursday, so I know he’s not big on sticking to rubrics (my husband has talked with him about it, and he says he won’t change until the bishop makes him)…
Anyone else out there have a “different” parish? Is this, if not common, uh… not unheard of?

Tim J. April 3, 2006 at 1:44 pm

I would rather be able to view Christ on the cross to aid in my devotion during the last week of Lent, but I find the custom of veiling preferable to the new custom of replacing holy water with sand in all the fonts in the church.
I noticed with gratitude that our parish passed on that one this year. Good job.
I mean, doing without holy water doesn’t require a whole lot of discipline or self denial.

Mark April 3, 2006 at 1:47 pm

I remember the crosses being veiled as a child. Maybe the Passion was read on Both Sundays. Maybe we shouldnt have change the Calendar or the Liturgy. Since now we appear more protestant and nobody remembers. There is a lot to say about Catholic Custom and tradition before the Council came. Maybe the FSSP and SSPX are right? Were things more Catholic then than now?

Old Zhou April 3, 2006 at 1:50 pm

I recommend civil disobedience.
If your Pastor wants to put sand or rock in your holy water fonts,
making them look like ashtrays,
then add cigarette butts.

Maureen April 3, 2006 at 2:35 pm

Apparently, the Fifth Sunday of Lent was called “Passion Sunday” because that was when the two weeks of “Passiontide” began (this week and Holy Week). It was also called “the First Sunday of the Passion” and “Black Sunday”, “Hidden Sunday”, “Quiet Sunday”, “Deaf Sunday”, “Death Sunday”, etc., etc.
I think that’s cool.

Maureen April 3, 2006 at 2:37 pm

Care Sunday, Carling Sunday, Whirlin’ Sunday, Patient Sunday….

Matthew L. Martin April 3, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Leah–We’ve got the sand in the fonts and have had every statue and cross veiled since Ash Wednesday. Didn’t realize the latter was illegal.
But then, this [i]is[/i] the diocese where you once could find a billboard calling for women’s ordination about two or three miles down the road from an SSPX seminary . . . :-)

John Lilburne April 3, 2006 at 6:52 pm

The rubric from the 2002 Roman Missal, 5th Sunday of Lent: “Usus cooperiendi cruces et imagines per eccleisam ab hac dominica servari potest, de iudicio Conferentiae Episcoporum. Cruces velatae remanent usque ad expletam celebrationem Passionis Domini, feria VI Hebdomadae sanctae, imagines vero usque ad initium Vigiliae paschalis.”

Mark April 3, 2006 at 10:27 pm

Heck..we cant even agree on the Calendar!!! I got people telling me we no longer have Palm Sunday, that its now Passion Sunday. I think we have lost our Catholic Compass and map…Well it could be worse…????

Patricia Gonzalez April 5, 2006 at 12:51 pm

The statues in our church, also the crucifix on the altar, have been veiled since the beginning of Lent. (I live outside Montreal, Quebec) Does anyone else do this? I agree somewhat with Mark in regard to the naming of the Sundays. As far as I’m concerned, Passion Sunday was this Sunday past, and Sunday coming is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Maureen, did you ever hear of “Spy Wednesday”? That’s what we used to call the Weds. of Holy Week in Newfoundland, where I grew up. Nobody that I know of in Quebec has ever heard of it.

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