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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Curtain Up

I'm not sure how I managed to eat something that made me sick during days of fasting, but I did.  The Poor Souls in Purgatory greatly benefited from my bout with food poisoning, not only from my own suffering, but also that of poor Sister St. Aloysius, who had two invalids in her care.  Although, between fasting and my lack of ability to eat, she had a easy time in the kitchen at least.  However, when they say, "God never closes a door without opening a window" I don't think this is what they mean. At all.


So here I am with a PILE of questions from readers. As I am a bit light headed, we'll just chase some grounders.  Unfortunately, then we descend into the meat and potatoes of Holy Week, so we'll go dark until Easter.  Feel free to keep the questions coming, though. I'll catch up while biting the ears off a chocolate rabbit and feasting on my favorite treat, deviled eggs.  Ironic name.


My question is, why do we cover the statues this last week before Easter? (It used to be two weeks and I remember the ushers going along with long poles and removing them.) I should have had sense enough when a child asked me Monday to look it up before another one asked on Tuesday.


The easy answer is that we do that do turn our focus to the Passion of Jesus.


Which, frankly doesn't make sense to me altogether, since the whole reason for having statues is to help us keep our focus on Jesus, by remembering people who did that and examining how they did it and drawing strength from them.


Perhaps we are finally more closely aligned with the thinking of our separated brethren. During Holy Week, it's all about Jesus, period.


There's more to it than that, however.  For one thing, it's up to the local Bishops as to what gets covered and when. There are different traditions and practices in different places. Some churches actually remove all the statues. Some cover them for the whole of Lent, some just for Holy Week. Some leave the statues alone and only cover the crucifixes.  This is the most common practice, as the crucifix is then slowly revealed during the Good Friday service. Which doesn't make much sense if it wasn't covered in the first place.


Also, the origin of this tradition is in--well, not debate exactly.  There is just more than one explanation and I'm not sure any one is definitive.


Remember that at one time in the history of the church we didn't have confessionals and penitents couldn't even enter the Church building?  No?  Here you go.  Later, the entire congregation became penitents on Ash Wednesday, so everyone was cut off' from the altar during Lent and the whole altar was covered with a giant purple drape that was ripped open on Good Friday, just like in the Gospel when the Temple veil was ripped.


Having a giant purple curtain cutting us off from "God" is, symbolically speaking,  the essence of Lent. Our sins keep us from God, this is our focus.  This tradition changed to covering the statues and the crucifixes.


However, I did hear another explanation for the covering of the crucifix, which I'm sure has some validity. In the very early Church, crucifixes were ornate, jewel encrusted things.  It made sense to cover them during Lent, and the tradition of covering them stayed after crucifixes became more plain and ever more graphic.


I think seeing the practice in this historic context gives us a better sense of what we mean by "focusing on the Passion of Christ".  It would seem that looking at a crucifix would be the very best way to focus on the Passion of Christ, don't you think? Unless you fully take into account why Christ had to have a Passion, our sins, which cut us off from God, although He is there always, behind the curtain of our sins.

15 comments:

CT said...

I really liked this post of yours, Sister. I was wondering why (if previous Priests did) it is not done anymore in our town.

Anonymous said...

I do hope you feel better soon, Sister. By the way, I had the question about military saints' names. Well, my son finally decided on St. Zachary for his confirmation name. I think he just liked the way it sounded, and thinks he'll be the only one with that name. I looked him up, and he's an 8th century Pope. Seems to have been a peacemaker. Go figure!

BHG said...

Another suggestion--this is the week when the traditional scripture reading (in the old days....) refers to Christ hiding himself in the crowd to escape; the next week are the Passion readings. Perhaps the "hiding" of Christ referred to in the reading also gave rise to the custom of hiding the images to prepare for the coming days. Just a thought.

Maureen said...

I attend a tradtional Latin Mass and I love all the ancient customs and ceremonies; I was a child before Vatican 2,and in those days everything was draped in purple, except the stations of the Cross. Purple is the colour of mourning, and it is so dramatic when the lights go on and the statues are unveiled during the Easter ceremonies. Weather permitting, we have the Paschal fire on the green adjoining the church, the full ancient Easter ceremonies have been restored.
Easter is my favourite celebration, the highlight of my year.
If I remember correctly, this is the second bout with a tummy bug you have had in recent times; I remember advising "white food" for a bit, maybe you have some sort of nasty recurring virus?

Maria said...

I don't have anything to add about where the tradition may have come from, but I can say from my experience that having them be covered during holy week draws my attention to them more than otherwise. We're so used to seeing them throughout the year, but when they're covered, that draws our attention because there's a change.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely blog - thank you for enriching our knowledge of our catholic tradition. A request more than a question: apparently there is no patron saint for autistic children. If you are going to the blogger's picnic/conference at the vatican, please speak to the powers that be to allocate a saint to our wonderful children. And (perhaps of equal importance), a saint for those who take care of autistic children and adults - the educators, the doctors, mums and dads and sibling - there is a LOOOONG list and we all need help at times.

Anonymous said...

@ Maureen...Do fire, lights, and undraping statues happen on Easter Sunday morning or Holy Saturday evening at your parish? The Easter Vigil IS ancient but was reinstated because of Vatican II. I also was a child before Vatican II, but I recall the only Holy Saturday activitiy being decorating the church for Easter Sunday. Please correct me if I am wrong! What you mentioned seems to be a mix of Pre- and Post-Vatican II experiences. In whatever way any of us welcomed in Easter 2011, let us sing joyous ALLELUIAs for 50 days!

SrMeribeth said...

@ anonymous...I don't know if there is an official patron for autistic children, but my patron, St. Joseph Cupertino, may fill the bill. He is patron of people with learning difficulties. If you read his story or get the movie, "The Reluctant Saint" with Maximilian Schell (ignatius press), you may see in him some autistic characteristics. Prayers for you and your child.

Anonymous said...

I always thought the patron saint of epilepsy was St. Vitus.

Maureen said...

Aonymous - I have just seen your question - it all happens at the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday Evening. Lighting the Fire and carving the Paschal candle with Alpha and Omega takes place outside. Following this, there is a procession into the darkened church behind the celebrant who carries the candle, and a deacon who carries the draped crucifix. Three times the priest pauses, genuflects and intones "Lumen Christi"; each time this happens , a bit of the Cross is unveiled, and the people light their own candles from the flame which burns on the large Paschal candle. I remember these ceremonies well before Vatican 2, but never experienced them being carried out after that, until fairly recently. The full liturgy runs for well in excess of 3 hours.
I was born in 1948, so I was a young teenager at the time of the council.

Anonymous said...

@ Maureen...I was born in 1947 and and don't recall any of what you wrote. (I was in an ethnic parish so maybe that has something to do with it.) Thanks for the description. It appears that Vatican II didn't change the Easter Vigil that much. Seems as if the practice of uncovering of the Cross was moved to Good Friday as we do presently. I recall going to Easter Vigil in 1965 and experiencing all the rest of what you described. It has pretty much stayed the same but now Baptisms are also a part of the Liturgy.

katney said...

Maureen, I think you are mixing some of the rites of Good Friday with the Easter Vigil on Holly Saturday. The cross is revealed on Good Friday for veneration.

The new fire and the paschal candle are part of the Easter Vigil, along with as many as seven readings from the Old Testament that summarize key events of Salvation History, and the bells ringing through the singing of the Gloria.

Sister did a post on the patron for autistic children a few months ago. YoI think it was about September or October.

katney said...

It was St. Joseph of Cupertino that Sister suggested for autism. The psot was August 19 last year. And you can find it here

SrMeribeth said...

@katney-Thanks for directing me to the askSMM blog post of August 19. Sister Mary Martha did a stellar job retelling the life of my "dear friend" St. Joseph of Cupertino. He is patron of people who take tests, slow learners, unwanted children, aviators and astronauts. Quite an array of topics! I don't see why we can not add autism to this list.

Colleen said...

I really don't like when they cover up the crucifixes and other statues and pictures during lent. It is counter-intuitive to me. Jesus told St. Faustina how much good it does her soul to meditate on his Passion, to pray the stations of the cross, and then when you go to a church with purple cloths over everything your left with the limited powers of what may be an unartistic mind. I need the helps. I think this is why the movie the Passion of the Christ had a more profound effect on me than many, many Good Friday services.