Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent, and so marks the beginning of Passiontide. Traditionally, this timeframe of the last two weeks of Lent was primarily focused on the faithful’s immersion into Christ’s Passion. Gradually, this two-week observance has been largely condensed into a liturgically rich Holy Week. Prior to Vatican II and the reorganization of the Missal, the reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent (today) from John 8 ended with the words “Jesus hid himself and went out of the Temple.” As a symbol of Christ’s hiding, the crucifix, sacred art, and statuary are often veiled in Catholic churches on the Saturday before the beginning of Passiontide. There are many possible explanations of the origin of this tradition, and you can read more about the significance of this there.
Rosie (A Blog for My Mom) posted this morning on Instagram about her family’s veiling of their sacred images, and for a fraction of a second, I thought, “OH! I have to do that today!” Then, just as quickly, I remembered. Our sacred art lies securely in wrapping paper and cardboard boxes sitting in a 10×15 storage unit, waiting for our post-flood renovations to be complete.
In a sense, they’ve been “veiled” all this time, during what seems to be the longest Lent ever. In a profound way, it’s as if Lent began for our family on August 28th – the day the creek rose and inundated our home. Though we lost a moderate amount of belongings and have been displaced for over six months, we feel blessed to have a home to return to, and a storage room full of our salvaged treasures. Still, this has been a time of loss and grief and instability; a time of confusion and chaos and calamity. Intellectually, I know Christ is ever-present in the midst of the tempestuous storms we face in our lives. Is he not the One who silenced the wind and the waves when the disciples despaired and were afraid of drowning? I know He is here with us, in the muck and the mess. My heart, though, sometimes keenly feels the absence of the tangible reminders of our faith – crucifixes over every door frame, the statue of St. Therese I’ve had since I was 12, and a hand-carved Last Supper scene my brother bought for us in Peru. Today was one of those times when I longed to see those treasured symbols of our heavenly friends, and feel closer to God as I gazed at them. It seems silly, since the manifest presence of God is not confined to the images that remind us of and point us to Him. And yet, in his Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II writes:
“Believers above all have gained from [sacred art] in their experience of prayer and Christian living. Indeed for many of them, in times when few could read or write, representations of the Bible were a concrete mode of catechesis. But for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.”
Art that is good and true and beautiful can thus serve as a catalyst to lift our hearts and minds to God. Further, the Church (and her members) need art:
“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable…It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.”
No wonder I miss it so much.
We brought one crucifix to the “Adventure House,” our temporary rental home. It sits on top of the refrigerator because I’m scared to hang it up. Heavy and expensive, I worry that Command strips might not be enough to support it (nails aren’t allowed on the walls.) This week, that changes. This single crucifix will be placed on a wall here, and it will be veiled with a purple cloth.
We’ll hide Jesus – but He will still be there. He’s been there all along, really, throughout all of this crazy long Lent.
In just two weeks’ time, during the Easter Vigil Mass, He will reveal Himself fully in His Divine glory. He will end His holy game of hide and seek. And on the day I finally unwrap our precious items and place them in their proper places, it too will feel like a mini Easter.