To veil or not to veil…that is the Lenten question.
This Sunday (Mar. 6) is the Fourth Sunday in Lent (in Lent and not of Lent, as the Sunday in Lent do not count as one of the 40 days).
The fourth Sunday is sometimes called Mid-Lent, marking the midpoint of this
Most Roman Catholic churches and many Anglo-Catholic
Episcopal churches use rose colored vestments and paraments on this Sunday, a
lightened hue of the penitential Lenten purple. Mid-Lent is a slight “lifting
of the veil” as it were prior to the continuation of the season that ends with
the sorrowful events of Holy Week.
This Sunday is also called Refreshment Sunday, the Sunday
when the Lenten fast was lifted or relaxed. Both Lent and Advent have their
Refreshment Sundays when rose vestments may be used.
The Lenten Refreshment Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday from the Latin laetare or “rejoice,” which is from the
opening phrase of the Introit of the
Latin mass, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her” (Isaiah 66:10).
The corresponding Advent Refreshment Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin gaudete or “rejoice,” which is the opening
Introit phrase for the Fourth Sunday
of Advent, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians
While some contemporary liturgists say that veiling the
crosses in the church is passé or unnecessary, our parish custom is to veil the
altar crosses, the processional crosses, and other crosses displayed through
the hallways. I believe this tradition to be a beautiful, respectful one,
keeping in mind the passion of our Lord, the Lenten fast, and the preparation
for Holy Week.
I see the veiled cross not as separating us from God but as
a reminder of what is to come. Through the veils you can still see the outline
of a cross; with our brass crosses, you can still see through the weave of the
fabric that something beautiful and resplendent is there.
The veils might also represent our own sins that shroud or
cloud the glory of the cross, sin of our own doing that separates us from God.
When the resurrection comes, the veils are removed and replaced with live
Easter lilies. Death is triumphed, and sin is no more.
The Living Church, one
of the major Episcopal publications in this country, featured a wonderful
article (by Christopher Yoder, linked here) about the practice of veiling crosses. This article traces some history
of the practice and suggests numerous other reasons and meanings for the
veiling of crosses.
When you see our veiled crosses both at the altar and in
procession, remember what is beneath the veils and anticipate the new day that
is to come. This is the story of the Good News upon which we may all depend.