Passiontide? What's that?

The joy of Easter is almost here, but before that we must accompany Jesus in his Passion.

Traditionally the final two weeks of Lent in the Roman Rite are used as an immediate preparation for the sorrowful events of the Easter drama. It is a period of time to focus more and more on the Passion and death of Jesus and so accompany him on his way to Calvary.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of a special sub-season called Passiontide, which extends until Holy Saturday. During this time the Church’s liturgy is more somber and a sorrowful mood is reflected in the various practices that occurred in the liturgy.

The most obvious example of a more somber mood is the veiling of statues and images, which remains an optional practice in the current Roman Missal: “In the Dioceses of the United States, the practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from [the fifth] Sunday [of Lent] may be observed. Crosses remain covered until the end of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.”

It seems strange that during the most sacred time of year we cover everything that is beautiful in our churches, even the crucifix. Shouldn’t we be looking at the painful scene at Calvary while we listen to the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday?

While it may appear counterintuitive to veil statues and images during the final weeks of Lent, the Church recommends this practice to heighten our senses and build within us a longing for Easter Sunday. It is a tradition that should not only be carried out in our local parish, but can also be a fruitful activity for the “domestic church” to practice.