Story by S.L. Hansen
EXETER (SNR) – Since the fifth Sunday of Lent – also known as the beginning of Passiontide, the statues in some Catholic churches have been shrouded in violet cloth. This includes St. Stephen Parish in Exeter and St. Wenceslaus Parish in Milligan, among other churches in the Lincoln diocese.
“The Lenten veiling of the statues is an aid to our faith as we journey toward Easter,” said Father Steve Thomlison, pastor of both the Exeter and Milligan parishes. “The Church’s ancient tradition of the theology of veiling is a powerful gift to giving us a physical symbol of the mystery of our rich faith.”
During Passiontide, readings of the Mass become focused on the Passion of Christ.
It has long been a tradition to veil crosses throughout these last two weeks of Lent.
The veils are a reference to Jesus hiding from those who would have stoned Him in the Gospel of St. John (8:46-59). Some theologians, including St. Augustine, believed that Christ literally became invisible so that he could not be caught.
Images of saints, whether in the form of statues or icons, are also covered during Passiontide. The idea is that since the glory of the Lord is hidden, His faithful servants should not appear, either.
“Veiling the statutes reminds everyone that something different is going on,” Father Thomlison noted. “It alerts our senses that there is something we can’t see with the physical eye. It forces us to look and to see beyond the veil without relying on our physical eyes.”
Many years ago, the statues at St. Stephen Church in Exeter were covered during Passiontide, but the practice was dropped sometime after the mid-1980s, likely because the veils were too threadbare to cover the statues properly.
Last year, the subject of statue veiling during Lent was brought up at the Parish Council of Catholic Women meeting for both parishes. The ladies agreed to finance and sew new covers as a parish project.
Marilyn Pribyl sewed the new statue veils on for St. Wenceslaus Church, while Pat Becker did the sewing on behalf of St. Stephen Parish.
“My husband, who grew up while attending St. Stephen’s, told me that they had frames that they put in front of the statues, and then they would drape purple cloths over the frames,” Becker said.
She continued, “My son, Jeremy, who was an altar boy for Msgr. Ingenhorst up to the mid-80s, used to help with the veiling. I think it’s just wonderful that Father Thomlison is bringing them back.”
The two seamstresses worked with many yards of deep violet, satin-like fabric to sew a number of veils in varying sizes. They used a “pillowcase” design, which they feel will hang better and be far less cumbersome than a frame-and-drape solution.
As a convert, Becker said the experience of sewing the veils gave her “a deeper understanding” of the Catholic faith.
“There are so many things I still don’t know, even though I’ve been a convert for 46 years,” she revealed.
To help her, and others, understand the purpose of veiling, Father Thomlison included an informative insert in the parish bulletin. It included both Scriptural and historic references to veiling in the Catholic tradition.
Both parishes covered all images of the Lord as well as statues of saints last Sunday.
Father Thomlison said that the veils become a visual aid to help us think about our faith as we enter the final stage of Lent in preparation for Easter Sunday.
“Our Lord is veiled in His wounds on the Cross,” he said. “We are unable to see His divinity, and yet we know by faith it is present. When we see the veiled statues it reminds us that by faith, not by sight, we know something is present under the veil.”
The veils will remain in place until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. In very traditional settings, the veils are removed during the first singing of the Gloria since Lent began, although they can be removed prior to Mass, if it is more practical to do it at that time. Either way, removing the veils makes as much of a dramatic visual statement as placing the veils over the statues did on Passion Sunday.
“The Easter resurrection is the defeat of death and the ultimate tearing and destroying of the veil,” Father Thomlison said.
Last week, Mrs. Becker said she was eager to see the statue veils in place at historic Saint Stephen Church.
“Our church is a beautiful place,” she said. “It is really going to be beautiful with the veiling.”