To Veil or Not to Veil: Statues and Crosses during Lent and Passiontide
After 1970, the practice was left up to the decision of each episcopal conference. (The bishops of each country make up that country’s episcopal conference. In the United States, our episcopal conference is called the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or USCCB.) The rubric in the 1970 missal which is in current use says that the practice “may be observed, if the episcopal conference decides.”
Since 1970 in the United States, the practice of veiling crosses and statues was not allowed since the USCCB had not voted on the issue. In their April 1995 newsletter, the United States Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy said that “[i]nvidual parishes are not free to reinstate the practice on their own.”
With the revision of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the USCCB, in 2001, approved adaptations specific for the United States. One of these adaptations included a rubric that said: “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, crosses in the church may be covered from the conclusion of the Mass for Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent until the end of the celebration of the Lord’ Passion on Good Friday. Images in the church may be covered from the conclusion of the Mass for Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.” The adaptation was later recognized by the Vatican.
This rubric, however, does not appear in the newly revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal because the Bishops determined that it was more appropriate as a rubric for the sections designated for the Easter Triduum in the upcoming revision of the Roman Missal, or Sacramentary. (If you go to the current Sacramentary and the section for the Easter Triduum, you will find several rubrics there specific to the Triduum that do not appear in the GIRM.)
Therefore, the new U.S. rubric allowing for the veiling of crosses and statues during Passiontide appears only in the as-yet unfinished English translation of the Sacramentary which is not in use anywhere in the United States.
Some will interpret this as saying that the current rubric holds—that crosses and statues are not to be veiled. This could be a valid interpretation since one cannot practically implement a rubric that has not yet been published.
Others will say that the new rubric went into effect as soon as the GIRM adaptations for the United States were promulgated in April 2002, even though it does not appear in the current ritual books. This too could be a valid legal interpretation.
However, in either case, the fact remains that the practice is not mandated by the United States Bishops, but simply allowed. It is not an obligatory practice, and parishes that choose not to veil crosses or statues during Passiontide are certainly following liturgical law.
Practically speaking, if your parish is only now deciding to veil statues and crosses, it may be better to wait to implement this practice until next Triduum when you can have better preparation for it as well as catechesis for the assembly.
Also, in either case, it is never allowed to veil crosses or statues throughout the entire season of Lent. (Nor is it allowed to empty the font of holy water during the season of Lent.) Crosses and statues may only be veiled during Passiontide—from the end of the Mass for the Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent to Good Friday (for the one main cross to be venerated) and the beginning of Easter Vigil for images.
The Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts provided by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988 states that after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, “[i]t is fitting that any crosses in the church be covered with a red or purple veil, unless they have already been veiled on the Saturday before the fifth Sunday of Lent” (57).
Note that in the rubric concerning the veiling during Passiontide, there is no mention of color of veils. If you will be veiling statues and crosses during Passiontide, make it easier for yourself and your environment team, and use shades of purple or red that would complement well with your Triduum environment.