Each year as the season of Lent approaches, Catholic churches around the world drape purple cloth over statues, crosses and sacred images. This annual tradition stems back centuries and holds deep spiritual meaning. Covering sacred statues and crosses during Lent serves as a visual reminder of the somber, sacrificial nature of the season. Just as Christ's passion led to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Lent calls Christians to reflect inwardly and strip away distractions on their journey toward Easter. Understanding the history and significance of covered statues can enrich Catholics' experience of this penitential season.
Chapter 1: Origins and Early History
The ritual of covering statues and crosses has its origins in pre-Vatican II Catholic tradition. Historically, all sacred images and crucifixes were veiled starting on Passion Sunday in the fifth week of Lent. This practice dates back as early as the 11th century, though some sources trace it back even earlier.
In the Middle Ages, Lent was a period of penance marked by somber reflection and removal of festive decorations. Just as Christians fasted and gave alms, churches visually removed signs of celebration by covering statues, crosses and other religious imagery. The color purple came to be associated with Lenten covers, symbolizing mourning and the Passion of Christ.
While the exact beginning remains unclear, early church documents confirm the custom was established by the Vatican by the 16th century. Coverings expanded beyond crucifixes to include Mary, saints and images of the Holy Family. This omission of sacred figures visually reflected the liturgical mourning of Lent.
Chapter 2: Meaning and Significance
Beyond merely an old tradition, the custom of covering sacred statues holds deep spiritual meaning for Catholics worldwide. The purpose is to visually convey the introspective, somber tone of the Lenten season.
Statues and sacred images used in worship and liturgy are visual focal points of faith and reminders of Christ's presence. Covering these striking focal points shifts focus to the subdued Lenten journey. The absence of familiar sacred imagery directs attention inward to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
The color purple also carries significance. In the Catholic Church, purple vestments and drapings symbolize penance and preparation. Covering beloved statues in somber purple visually represents Lent as a season of solemn reverence. Just as purple robes set the liturgical tone for priests, purple coverings signal the reflective ambience of the Lenten season.
In summary, the veiling of crosses and statues aims to:
- Visually symbolize the introspective nature of Lent
- Draw focus toward inner preparation versus outward celebration
- Convey solemn reverence through the liturgical color purple
- Remind Catholics of Christ's ultimate sacrifice on Good Friday
Chapter 3: Vatican II and Today
The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s ushered in major liturgical changes that also impacted Lenten statue coverings. Under Vatican II reforms, Passion Sunday was renamed as the 5th Sunday of Lent. Crucifixes remained covered but covering non-crucifix statues became optional rather than mandatory.
Today's practices vary across different parishes:
- Some parishes cover statues, crosses and all sacred art at the start of Lent.
- Some only cover crosses, keeping statues visible as reminders of the saints' faith.
- Some parishes veil selectively or not at all, focusing instead on Lenten liturgy.
Though specific applications evolved, the custom remains cherished in many Catholic communities. While not officially mandated, covering crosses and statues remains a visually striking practice in thousands of parishes worldwide. Many parishes hold liturgical services where worshippers participate in solemnly veiling icons on the Lenten start date.
Regardless of specific church practices, the tradition continues to hold symbolic meaning. Seasonal coverings offer a tangible reminder to enter Lent with introspective reverence. The absence of familiar visual focal points encourages parishioners to direct their focus inward and embrace the Lenten path of spiritual growth.
Also Read: how to display religious statues?
Chapter 4: Frequently Asked Questions
Why are statues covered specifically during Lent?
Statue coverings visually reflect Lent as a season of solemnity and sacrifice. Just as Christ sacrificed his life on the Cross, Lent calls us to sacrifice through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Covering cherished sacred art shifts our focus from outward signs of faith toward inner introspection.
Are all Catholic parishes required to cover statues and crucifixes during Lent?
No. Under Vatican II reforms, covering crosses is still expected but veiling non-crucifix statues is optional. Practices vary across different parishes. Some continue full covering traditions, while others focus solely on liturgy.
Why are some statues still visible in certain parishes?
Some parishes keep statues of saints uncovered as inspirational reminders during Lent. This allows focus on the journeys and sacrifices of holy figures as models during the preparatory season.
What is the significance of purple coverings?
In Catholic tradition, the color purple signals penance and solemnity. Purple vestments set a somber tone during Lenten liturgies. Likewise, purple coverings convey solemn preparation and introspection.
Why are statues kept covered the entire 40 days of Lent?
Statues remain covered throughout Lent to preserve a consistent visual focus on preparation and sacrifice. Just as fasting is observed for 40 days, visual solemnity created by coverings is maintained through Holy Week.
When are Lenten coverings removed?
Crosses and statues remain draped in purple until Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The somber coverings are joyously removed before the first Easter Mass, creating a powerful visual contrast between Lenten solemnity and Easter celebration.
Are all crosses and images covered?
Practices vary. Crosses are nearly always covered. Statues of saints may remain uncovered in some parishes as inspirational figures. Other sacred images like the Holy Family may also stay visible depending on the parish.
What happens to the statue coverings after Lent?
Following Holy Saturday's unveiling, the purple cloths are traditionally stored away until the next Lent. Some parishes burn the covers to make ashes for next year's Ash Wednesday services.
The custom of veiling crosses and statues evolved from early Vatican traditions requiring stark Lenten simplicity in sacred spaces. While specific applications have adapted over centuries, the core meaning remains relevant in modern Lenten observation. Somber purple drapes over familiar statues create a visual focus on solemn reverence. By omitting outward celebratory signs, Catholics' attention shifts to inward spiritual growth. Rather than a mere tradition, Lenten coverings serve as tangible "blinders" to filter out distractions on the path to Easter. This practice will likely continue enriching Catholic worship for generations to come as the faithful follow purple-draped paths toward Christ's resurrection.