Why are the statues and crucifix covered? In most Catholic churches throughout the world and over the course of the next few weeks you will see the main crucifix in the center of the sanctuary covered. You will also see the statues around the church covered, with the exception of Saint Joseph, who has the distinct dispensation of not being covered during his month of March. Some churches actually remove all of the statues. The Stations of the Cross are not covered so as to highlight the Passion of the Lord on the way to the Holy Cross.
The covering begins in Passiontide from vespers (Evening Prayer at sundown) of the vigil of the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The coverings in the purple color of Lent may be removed after Good Friday because Lent-proper has finished on Holy Thursday when the Triduum begins.
So why is it done? A few reasons: In the Middle Ages and Renaissance many of the crosses and statues were covered in precious stones and gold. These were appropriate gifts to give glory to God. Even Saint Francis of Assisi said “Only the best for God.” But during the Passiontide of Jesus those glittering jewels and gold were covered so as not to be a distraction from the gravitas of the Passion. The veiling of the Savior also expresses the humiliation to which the Savior subjected Himself. In His Passion the Savior’s divinity was almost totally eclipsed, so great was the agony and suffering of the Passion. But also His humanity was eclipsed and covered because His face and body were so disfigured by the scourging and the wounds. His humanity was veiled, covered and hidden by the torment of the cross. The wounds hid and veiled both His humanity and His divinity.
But there is an even deeper scriptural meaning.
Remember that our faith is ancient and it carries with it very long traditions whose meanings sometime become obscured within history. Your family has many traditions handed down through generations, but the reason why you do those things may be lost to time. During the gospel of the next few days you will see something definitively change about Jesus. Jesus is now a “marked man” with a price on his head. He may no longer move around freely for fear of being arrested. Jesus is “going dark.” And so Jesus “hid” Himself from those who were seeking to put Him to death. Jesus is “hidden” or “covered” from the world until His Holy Passion and death. He is hidden until His hour has come. “They took up stones to cast at Him. But Jesus hid himself…” (John 8) Lastly, in covering the cross the glory of the Savior is now covered. And if the glory of the Savior is covered, so too should the glory of His saints be covered. The saints ought not to outshine the Savior…so they are covered as well.
Let us enter now into these final days of the Holy Passion of Our Lord. We are mindful of the words said at every station of the Stations of the Cross: “We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.”
Come, let us accompany Him.
-Fr. Gerard Gordon