Veiling for Passion Time

This year we veiled the crucifix and statues for V Lent at Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary:

Photo: Chase Becker

The USCCB Committee on Liturgy (as it was then called) said in 2006 that veiling is permitted but not mandatory.

I like veiling. It makes me more aware of what is veiled, and then even more aware of it when it’s later unveiled.

What do you think?



  1. Veiling the images and crosses can indeed be very powerful. What I can’t get my ahead around is the veiling of the processional cross.

    If you’re going to carry it aloft and walk behind it, then don’t veil it; and if you’re going to veil it then don’t carry it aloft and walk behind it!

  2. Wholeheartedly agree. The parish to which I have belonged for twenty years veiled the crucifixes and images this year for the first time!

  3. Yes, I would agree with Fr. Anthony. I was not exposed to this practice until this year. The Seminary where I now work has the images veiled. I found that I was drawn to mediate on “absence” – therefore I anticipate a powerful “presence” once unveiled.

  4. I have fond memories of veiling during Passiontide from the late 1960s, and would welcome its return.

  5. I have not-so-fond memories of veiling. I was a young child in the 60’s and found the veiled statues to be scary and fearful. To this day, I have an involuntary flash of dread when I see them, including the pictures you have posted here.

  6. Veiling for the two weeks of “Passion Time” always seemed arbitrary to me, and more so once Passiontide was removed from the Roman calendar.

    Anyone in favor of veiling throughout the entire season of Lent? That would make more sense, IMO.

    1. The parish I attended about 20 years ago in Chicago always veiled the statues at Ash Wednesday. Also, in one of Merton’s diaries ( I think he was still in simple vows ), he mentions helping veil the statues before the first Sunday of Lent. Veiling is also a good symbol for sin: separation from God/neighbor.

    2. @Fr. Ron Krisman (#7): Anyone in favor of veiling throughout the entire season of Lent? That would make more sense, IMO.

      That’s something I wouldn’t be in favour of. There is a certain progressive nature to Lent; the season gradually becomes more intense over the weeks (with Laetare Sunday acting as a sort of half-time break!), culminating in Holy Week, so that we are prepared for the Triduum. The veiling of images in what used to be Passiontide – particularly following on from Laetare Sunday – acts as a visual clue for us, that Triduum is close at hand. I think veiling for the whole of Lent would detract somewhat from this. We “lose” the Gloria, floral altar decorations and instrumental music at the beginning of Lent; to lose statues and images as well might be symbolic overkill.

      Perhaps it is different here in England, or perhaps I am just not very well travelled, but I have never been in a Catholic church that has not had veiled images over Passiontide. I am sad to hear that some parishes do not do this, but happy that some are rediscovering some of the spiritual benefits the practice can have.

      I appreciate that, with the post-conciliar liturgical reform, some of the rationale for the veiling has been lost (particularly with the changes in the lections for the fifth Sunday in Lent), but I think it is something that ought still to be practised. Personally, I think it is one of those changes that, along with (e.g.) the supression of Septuagesima, could have done with a lot more consideration than the Consilium seemed to give it.

  7. I like the practice of veiling. It’s fitting. It is a kind of sensory “withdrawal”, and what is death if not the self’s abandonment by the senses?

    It also resonates with the Winter/ Spring undertones of the paschal mystery.

  8. It would be interesting to know more about the history of this practice. From what I have gleaned over the years, it has varied from time to time and place to place, and may be related to the practice (medieval? in England?) of drawing a veil right across the sanctuary during Lent… but I would be interested to know whether anyone can point me to a scholarly article on the subject.

    By the way, we do veil our cross and statue from Lent V here in Dominican College, but from what I’ve seen it is no longer common in Papua New Guinea to do so. I can’t find anyone who knows of any decision by the bishops on it one way or another.

    1. @Martin Wallace OP – comment #10:
      I know veiling the altar from the Preface throughout parts of the canon of the Mass was common up to the time of the Council of Trent. However, like the rood screen, it gradually died out during the 17th century.

  9. We have veiled our images and crucifix since I came here 4 years ago. And it occurred long before that.

    We did have a bride that wanted us to hold off for her wedding, but we worked it out. And many of our Hispanics wonder about it but don’t ask (as perhaps many Anglos do, too). I mention it in my homilies.

    I’ll continue it as I am able, wherever I might be stationed.

  10. Veiling is one of the most potent forms of penitence, self denial, and fasting of the senses. At Walsingham, according to Anglican custom, all statues, pictures, the rood scene, even the statuary figures on the reredos (even the needlepoint kneelers at the altar rail!) are veiled in purple from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, at which time the veils are changed to red. Then, for Good Friday, they are changed to black. The effect is profound. I am rather sure that the other parishes of the Ordinariate follow the same, or a very similar, regimen. All veils are then ceremoniously removed at the Easter Vigil. Less heard about is the old English pre-Reformation Lenten Array. This consisted of veils of unbleached linen which covered all statuary. The Lenten Array was often decorated with a few very simple red crosses, nothing more. Some Anglican churches continue to use the Lenten Array. I rather wish that we did at Walsingham. I have never heard of a church not veiling during Lent. Experiencing it all my life when I was an Episcopalian, I naturally assumed that ALL Catholics did likewise!

  11. Both parishes I’ve been in for the past 20 years or so have covered the statues beginning the last two weeks of Lent, which can rightly be called Passiontide even today in the Ordinary Form. While the 5th Sunday of Lent has its own preface if Year A readings are used, the missal states that one of the Lenten ones should be chosen when year A isn’t read. I chose this year the 1st Passion preface as it is a lenten preface. But beginning Monday after the 5th Sunday of Lent, the Passion Preface I is mandated and Passion Preface II for Holy Week up to Holy Thursday. So Passiontide is implicit in the modern Roman Missal as well as the option of covering the statues and cross beginning the 5th Sunday of Lent.

  12. While I like the idea of veiling, my younger-me memories have more to do with humor than penance. At the minor seminary, the crucifix over the main altar was always veiled in such a way that the veil could be whisked away at the Gloria of the Vigil. More often than not, it fell off before then or got stuck halfway when a sacristan pulled on its string. Other memories abound of veils stuck on other statues as they were removed (veils, not statues) and hanging in disarray (not Lenten Array) for the rest of the Vigil. Maybe we were just clumsy!

  13. I am told by those who have experienced sexual abuse, especially at the hands of clergy, that veiled artefacts can conjure up disturbing images in the minds of the victims. I fortunately have not suffered in this way myself, but I think we can all imagine what sort of images those might be.

    Since the number of those who are known to have suffered such abuse has proliferated massively in the past decades, and since these numbers are in all probability only the tip of the iceberg, I think we need to be sensitive to the possibility that a former devotional practice could produce other very disturbing resonances in the minds of a proportion of Catholics.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #17:
      Rather than assuming one way or another, this is something that merits consultation with the parochial community (and not just a liturgical or pastoral commission), as with many things. And not with the view that an individual voice get a dispositive “vote”, but to gain the sense of the community as a whole.

  14. I have always been mystified with the idea of veiling sacred imagery, especially in light of our contemporary understanding of liturgy and the liturgical seasons. I believe images are primarily there to help foster and enable prayer. If so, then why take them away from folks during Lent? Are we ”fasting from prayer” for forty days? Is Lent supposed to make prayer more of a challenge to people? I can see toning down some of the decor during Lent (e.g., no flowers), but are sacred images primarily decoration? And why would we want to be so somber in Lent, as if the church is in some state of mourning? Lent, after all, is a “season of joy,” as described in one of our Lenten prefaces.

  15. I’m not sure I’ve ever properly understood the instinct behind the shrouding of sacred images, particularly crucifixes, during Passiontide. The veiling of crucifixes seems counterintuitive, for one thing, and a church with crosses and statues draped just looks odd. The look reminds me of a building that’s being repainted or of a house that a family has vacated for the Summer.

    It seems to me that there are better ways to create a penitential Lenten atmosphere within the church.

  16. How about those that associate the veiled images of Passiontide with an intensification of Lent? We need to be sensitive to that proporation of the congregation and the disruption that not veiling causes to them.

  17. In my small town Ontario parish, the decorating committee randomly put veils on everything the third Sunday in Lent, except for an image of Devine Mercy. That picture got taken down the following week. Maybe they ran out of purple cloth.

  18. I went through a period of wanting to go back to the veiling practice. Had to keep explaining why it was being done and noticed I could give no real reason beyond things like “it’s a custom”, or “something Catholics have done in the past”. I wonder if its not something like the preference for bells at the consecration. There’s no real purpose any longer except for liking the sound and linking it with praise or adoration. Should we do these things on a pious whim or because we like old ways of doing things? I don’t really know, but we don’t veil here.

  19. I dunno on this one.
    We don’t veil but tried it one year. I didn’t seem to mind the processional cross because you could see the shape of the cross but the statues took on a creepy sort of appearances, could make out the head and shoulders. Looked like people stuffed in purple body bags that were now standing, ethereal specters. There were many comments, not many favorable ones, and we never did it again.

    Possibly veiling only the crosses would be more appropriate?

  20. What about veiling the entire reredos or apse rather than wrapping statues? Could statues in more open areas have veiled rectangular frames?

    Has anyone tried things like this? For those who raised concerns about a creepy or disturbing appearance, would this approach reduce or avoid those concerns?

    1. @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #25:
      Jeff – that is what we do – the huge reredo behind the altar has one huge piece of purple vesture. We have, from time to time, placed bare trees in the sanctuary (which have white flowers for Easter Vigil; and as discussed before on PTB, the use of ashes at the church entrances throughout Lent.

  21. I updated this article last year in light of the Roman Missal.

    Adolf Adam’s The Liturgical Year gives a brief description of one possible origin for this practice from the 11th century “hunger cloth,” which may have later developed into a “fast of the eyes.” In any case, it seems the practice was always during what used to be called Passiontide and not something done for all of Lent.

    I find it interesting that there are different time frames for veiling between crosses and statues. And it seems strange that if you choose to veil the cross, it would remain veiled at the start of the Triduum when the entrance antiphon begins with “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….”

    I agree with Matthew’s observation (comment #14) on the progressive nature of Lent. I seem to remember a document somewhere instructing musicians on this progressive focus of Lent that culminates with the Passion and a heightened emphasis on the sufferings of Christ closer to the end of Lent. But I can’t seem to find such an instruction among the usual suspects.

    I think if you’ve paid attention to the baptismal/penitential emphasis of Lent, matched the parish calendar and environment to the progressive nature of the season, and preached well, you wouldn’t need to add veiling statues/crosses to your practice if it’s not already part of the parish’s tradition.

  22. I wouldn’t fight for or against veiling in my parish, but in my home I certainly do veil the crucifix and find that practice meaningful — if only because one gets terribly used to things as they are, so much so that one doesn’t really “see” them anymore. Veiling and unveiling helps to see anew. And collating that with the rhythm of liturgical fasting and feasting does no harm.

  23. I am having difficulty following the veil/no veil debate because almost every parish I know in my region veils. Veiling knows no liturgical ideology where I’m from. The most progressive parishes veil and the most conservative/traditionalist parishes veil. The difference might be in the number of items veiled, but I have yet to visit a church without at least the sanctuary crucifix veiled. There may well be parishes who don’t veil in my area, but I suspect these churches are in the minority.

    When did veiling generally fall out of favor in other parts of North America? Paul Inwood’s [March 27, 2013 – 8:07 am] reason for not veiling is a very sound and compassionate pastoral decision. Are there other pastoral reasons (as opposed to aesthetic or liturgical reasons) why veiling is not a good idea for some parishes?

    I prefer veiing, but perhaps that is because the practice is pervasive in my life and taken for granted.

  24. Less heard about is the old English pre-Reformation Lenten Array. This consisted of veils of unbleached linen which covered all statuary. The Lenten Array was often decorated with a few very simple red crosses, nothing more. Some Anglican churches continue to use the Lenten Array

    Thanks MJO (#13) for reminding me of a website I had not visited in awhile.

    I like some of the Lenten Arrays because they are more like specialized art than the absence of art.:

    I particularly this way of covering the altars:

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #31:
      And, many thanks to you, JR, for supplying this wonderful mediaeval web-site. It makes me wish doubly that we (of all people) had the lenten array at our Lady of Walsingham. Too, I rather like the riddel curtains! Perhaps this conversation will bear some fruit when Lent appears next year.

  25. Then there is the use of the Lenten rood veil.

    In medieval liturgical practice the great rood above the rood screen was covered up with the other images in the church at the beginning of Lent. However, while the other veils remained until the Paschal Vigil, in the Sarum Use the rood veil was dramatically removed at the end of the procession on Palm Sunday as the priest twice sung Ave rex noster, fili david (hail our king, son of David) and the chanters took up the anthem

    This practice seems to make a lot more sense. Be sure to scroll down the page to see all the images.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #33:
      What a splendid idea, I had no idea arrays existed. Thanks Jack and MJO for sharing.
      Either Jacobean Frontals for altars or even superfrontals would be nice. I don’t know about covering everything but covering the altar would be nice. Unlike stark purple the arrays w/ lambs, crown of thorns, nails etc appear to remind us visually about the upcoming passion.

      Cavanagh Altar Bread company makes hosts stamped with a lamb or Jerusalem cross in 1 1/2 inch wheat. When I was on the liturgy committee I would suggest we order these during the seasons instead of the simple plain cross to help convey the message to the communicant of the season at hand.
      Committees by nature can be political and making such a temporary change in the type of host was always a heated battle! Don’t miss being on it.

  26. I’ve done a bt more reflecting about how we appoint our church during Lent and am seeing connections I hadn’t made with the veiling practice. We have a large cross behind and above the altar which bears the image of the Risen Christ. We remove that image during Lent and place the large processional cross with the crucified Christ directly below it throughout the season. A large purple cloth frames the cross on which we place a crown of thorns. There are purple cloths draped over the altar and at the tabernacle. Along with our Lenten musical variations (Kyrie, laudate Dominus, Agnus Dei), it all calls people to focus on our preparations to renew our baptismal promises at Easter.

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