Saturday, March 20, 2010

Because of Passiontide

Guest post by Allison 
When I walked into our church one afternoon this week for choir rehearsal, I immediately noticed the purple cloths draped over the statues of Madonna and Child, St. Therese of Liseux, St. Joseph, St. Paul, and St. Anthony of Padua. Draped too, behind the ambo, was the sculpted stone depiction of the four Gospels. Thursday morning, two elderly male parishioners stood on a stepladder to cover the large crucifix above the altar in purple cloth, too.

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is it recognizes that we express our love of God and His Son, not only with our minds, but also with our bodies. These holy images, visible symbols of our belief, are covered now because we are entering the final two weeks of Lent before Easter, a time the Church once called Passiontide. The hope is that we will focus ever more intently on the Lord's Sacrifice. The crucifix will not be unveiled until Good Friday. The other holy images will be covered until Easter Vigil.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Dominican theologian, first articulated the insight that we come to knowledge through our bodies' five senses. Because we believe God became incarnate in Christ, we Catholics have a sacramental approach to creation.

What's his insight got to do with purple cloth? We Catholics, of course, don't worship the statues, the crucifixes or the stained-glass windows in our churches. But they are, as my priest puts it, “a means for us to recall visually those events of our redemption, inspiring us to cooperate with the grace of God for conversion to become God's holy people in the glory of heaven for eternity."

I've forever loved the way the Catholic Mass speaks to all my senses: the feel of Holy Water on my forehead, the fragrance of incense, the sound of chant, and the sight of stained glass-windows and statues. All this draws our attention to the Lord and His Sacrifice and reminds us that when we enter a sanctuary, we are in the presence of the Eternal God. At Mass, we taste bread and wine transformed into Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Prior to Vatican II, Passiontide marked the final two weeks before Easter and churches worldwide followed the practice of covering statues. With a 1970 revision of the liturgical calendar, Passiontide no longer existed and the veiling of statues was forbidden in the United States. Instead, Passion Sunday became the Fifth Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday became Passion (Palm) Sunday, leading off Holy Week. Not until 2002 did U.S. Bishops once again allow parishes to veil statues and crucifixes during this season.

Some are saying that Pope Benedict XVI might revive the medieval practice of requiring churches to veil all statues and crucifixes beginning on Ash Wednesday. I would welcome this change. Lent is a serious spiritual discipline. The drama of seeing familiar objects in my church home hidden from view underlines for me that this time is distinct from all others. The story of our own salvation is a drama too, isn't it? The veiling of holy images also builds anticipation for the glories of the Feast of Easter.

While learning a bit about Passiontide online, I found a beautiful meditation by Brother André Marie M.I.C.M. It made me look forward to tomorrow's Gospel reading:

“During this Passiontide, let each one of us look in the mirror of this Gospel and see if we are really hearing the word of God. Let us not ignore the rebukes our consciences give us. That’s the word of God in ourselves telling us what to do. Let us make the words of today’s Offertory our own: 'I will keep thy words.'"