Next Wednesday, 13th February, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. It is one of two days of fast and abstinence set down by the Church, the other being Good Friday.
The Christian practice of fasting and almsgiving is not some form of punishment but rather aims at leading us to interior conversion. Turning our hearts more toward God and less toward food helps make us more disciplined and more charitable. We fast in order to share our time and our treasure with an attitude of love towards God and others. This is reflected in Prefaces III and IV of Lent which are used at Mass on this day:
For you will that our self-denial should give you thanks,
humble our sinful pride,
contribute to the feeding of the poor,
and so help us imitate you in your kindness.
For through bodily fasting you restrain our faults,
raise up our minds,
and bestow both virtue and its rewards,
through Christ our Lord
I have received several enquiries recently about covering statues and crosses during Lent. Here is one of those enquiries and my response.
Q. My parish priest asked me to find out what the Church documents say about preparing the liturgical environment for the Lenten season. There were different views from the members of our Liturgy Committee. In particular:
Is the cross supposed to be covered on Palm Sunday? Last year we covered the big Crucifix with a red cloth. We have never covered the cross before.
When are the statues supposed to be covered – during the whole of the Lenten season from Ash Wednesday or only after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday?
The rubrics in the Missal for Holy Thursday say that after the period of silent adoration, the altar is stripped, and if possible, the crosses are removed from the Church and that it is desirable to cover any crosses which remain in the church. While the rubrics did not mention anything about statues, it should follow that the statues are covered at this time also. Is that correct?
A. In the past crosses and statues were covered in purple before the 5th Sunday of Lent. The cross was unveiled for veneration on Good Friday and statues were uncovered during the Glory to God at the Easter Vigil. Although the practice was abrogated with the publication of the 1970 Sacramentary, and this did not change with the implementation of the 2010 Missal, it seems to have continued in some places.
As you say, the rubrics for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper indicate that after the liturgy the altar is stripped and crosses are removed or veiled if possible. This is done so that the focus of the Adoration of the Holy Cross at the celebration of the Passion of the Lord the following day is the one cross which is processed and unveiled. The cross is the central symbol of Holy Week, so I cannot imagine why you would cover it on Passion/Palm Sunday.
With regard to the covering of statues, the question to ask is, what is the reason for having statues in the church and hence what is signified by covering them during Lent.