Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I am a runner. Not a very fast runner, but a committed runner. Lent reminds me of a run. I start off fresh, almost looking forward to the feel of exerting myself, with my focus high. Before long I start thinking about how short of a distance I have gone, how there is so much left, and I wonder if I will ever get there. But I keep on going, striving to reach my goal. Then I get about two-thirds of the way through. I have accomplished the bulk of my run, I am tired, but feeling good, and the end is in sight. And that is when I kick it up a notch. I see the finish line, so to speak, I am going to finish out strong, or maybe run faster and further than I set out to run. The Church in the last two weeks of Lent calls us to do just that with our Lenten penances. We have made it thus far, we have overcome the lull of the middle weeks and now Holy Week is at hand.
Traditionally known as Passiontide, the last fortnight of Lent is the time we are called to greater devotion and mortification. Now is the time to meditate even more deeply on Christ’s Passion. This is the time that the Church traditionally covers the crucifix and statues imitating Jesus at the end of the Gospel for Passion Sunday in the Extraordinary Form: “Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” Many parishes have kept up or brought back the tradition of veiling holy images during Passiontide. In my home, we also cover our religious images and crucifixes with the traditional purple colored cloth to keep the Passion of Our Lord in the front of our minds throughout the day. Not only are we mortifying our bodies through our Lenten penances, but we now mortifying our sight. The veiled crucifix reminds us of how our sins divide us from Jesus; we cannot see him or be guided by him when sin rules our hearts.
The Dom Gasper Lefebvre, O.S.B. in the Saint Andrew Daily Missal gives this history of the tradition of veiling statues, pictures, and crucifixes:
[W]e see here a trace of the custom which obtained of suspending a curtain between the sanctuary and the nave, during the whole of Lent. In those times public penitents who had been excluded from the Church could not enter it again until Holy Thursday, and when this custom was abolished, all Christians were more or less placed in the position of such penitents. Although no sentence of exclusion was pronounced against them, the sanctuary and all that took place there was hidden to them, to show that they could only merit to share in the Eucharistic worship given them in their Easter Communion, after they brought forth fruits of worthy penance. (Liturgical Note on Passiontide)
The veiling reminds us that none of us are free of sin, and we all take part in public penance during Lent. Our personal Lenten resolutions in addition to the acts of standing in the confession line and speaking our sins out loud to a priest Confession makes our penitence public. Our sins are no longer hidden in our hearts, but repented of, confessed, and forgiven.
Our repentance should lead us to a greater, more devout love of God. His mercy towards us should make us love him more, just like the sinful woman, whom tradition tells us is St. Mary Magdalene, who anointed Christ’s feet with oil in the Gospel of Luke: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47).” We, who are forgiven, should love deeply, and if we do not feel a deep love, Passiontide is the time to foster a love that will lead us to stand with Our Lady at the foot of the cross on Good Friday consoling our crucified Lord.
Judas, the betrayer, criticizes St. Mary Magdalene in the gospel of John for using very expensive oil to anointed Jesus’ feet. He sees it as excessive; the money could have been used to help the poor (John 12:1-8). Yet, when one considers what Christ did for her, what he has done for us, no act of true love and devotion could ever be excessive. In fact the theological virtues or faith, hope, and charity, are the only virtues that we can never have in excess. They are directed towards God, and we can never love him enough, and should always asking God to have these virtues more perfectly. Like, St. Mary Magdalene we can grow in our charity by weeping along with the Sorrowful Mother as they followed Jesus on his way of the cross. We can do this by meditating on the Stations of the Cross, praying with the Passion narratives of the Gospels, praying the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and on Good Friday publically venerating the feet of Christ with our kisses. These acts of devotion will help us to love Christ in his suffering more and more. When we consider what Christ has done for us, these small acts of devotion will not seem extravagant, and our Lenten penances will be made light. For none of our acts of love can compare to the act of Love Christ made for our salvation.
Then we can meditate with St. Mary Magdalene again. On the third day Christ’s death, Mary Magdalene, in her great love for her Lord, went to the tomb of Christ and saw that it was empty. Her savior, her healer, the one whom she lived for was no longer there. She ran to find St. Peter, and he and St. John ran back to the tomb and found it empty. But Mary stood weeping. She could not find her Lord; it was like her time of being in sin—she was separated from love. When the Angels asked her why she as weeping, she replied, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-13). The veiled crucifixes of Passiontide evoke a similar feeling; the familiar presence of the Jesus on the Cross not there. The veil almost draws more attention to it than the unveiled image alone. He is hidden from us. Yet, unlike Mary, we know that he is risen. We know that this valley of tears is only temporary. We know that we will see him again. And like Mary in the garden, we will one day see his glorified body, but not before we are able to truly love him. We need this time of repentance, this time of meditation, to increase our love and devotion, so that we can have more fully the joy of Easter and the hope of Heaven.