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Mary in a Bag!

2010 March 22
by Gordon Reid

The Annunciation to Mary this year falls in Passion Week, and so we shall be processing to the Shrine for the usual prayers to the Blessed Mother, but she will be all muffled up like a Muslim lady in Riyadh. More so, for not even her eyes will be visible.

This is what happens when March 25th falls in this one week of the year. If it was in the next week, Holy Week, the Feast would be transferred to the week after Easter, and of course if it was before Passion Week, Our Lady would not yet be veiled from sight.

So we will process to a veiled Madonna, and the crosses and other statues of the church will also be veiled (except the great crucifix hanging on the back wall of the church, which is just too difficult to veil). And, as often happens with the Church calendar, this coincidence of fixed-date Feast and seasonal Week will convey a profound message.

The Passion of God’s Son did not begin in Holy Week; it began with the Incarnation. At the message of the Angel, God the Son was conceived in Mary’s womb, and it was not long till Herod was about his bloody business, and the Holy Family were refugees. Jesus offered himself totally to his Father all his human life, not just on the Cross; that was the culmination of his self-offering. And Mary shared in the Passion; as Simeon had said, when she presented her son in the Temple; “A sword shall pierce thine own soul also”. And it did as she watched her son die on Calvary. She had com-passion, sym-pathy, and so shared in the redemptive act of her son, as she does to this day.

21 Responses leave one →
  1. John Reilly permalink
    March 23, 2010

    “All muffled up like a Muslim lady in Riyadh” — I had a good laugh over that one, Father.

  2. greg permalink
    March 24, 2010

    What is the theological reason for veiling the ornaments of the church?
    I would have thought that the crucifix the symbol of Christ’s suffering would be especially promininent during passion and holy week as we meditate on what that means for us.

    • March 24, 2010

      I share a little of your puzzlement, Greg, as I have often thought it would be psychologically more astute to veil everything except crucifixes
      - and maybe even to shine a spotlight on them.
      But I think the idea behind the veiling is to remind us that before his passion Christ hid himself from his enemies, presumably to spend time in prayer and communion with his Father. Combined with this, the crucifix is often of Christ in majesty or clothed as a priest, and even a bare realistic crucifix is now a sign of triumph for Christians, so they are taken out of our sight while we accompany Christ on the way to the Cross.

  3. March 24, 2010

    In high school the reredos in chapel closed up partially for Lent, so that only the central Christus figure was shown. They were definitely not the sort to veil images, though I think they did veil the processional cross. As I understand the school history, the ornaments were designed with A-C intent, but by the time I was there they were this odd mixture of high ceremony, low praxis, and broad theology– they had to be badgered into imposing ashes, for instance. Nowadays they’ve fallen into the “celebrate the community” ethos and have rearranged things so that the reredos might as well not be there.

  4. Stephen permalink
    March 25, 2010

    Father, Could the veiling of crosses and crucifixes during Passiontide be connected to the Procession for the Good Friday Liturgy? In it, we sing “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which is hung our Salvation! Oh, come let us adore Him!” While we are singing, the cross in being unveiled for our veneration. It seems as if Mother Church is trying to withold from us virtually all of the external comforts of our faith-even the very Cross itself- until we reach the Easter Triduum. I suppose it helps us appreciate them that much more. I find it a beautiful tradition, but we are talking about such ancient custom here, and all of us may just be guessing as to the real reasons behind it.

  5. greg permalink
    March 25, 2010

    I have been reading further about this and the most common reason given is that the veiling is a sign of mourning following Isa xxv 7 “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over the nations” This referring to the fact that Our Lord’s glory during His earthly life but especially during His Passion was veiled from mankind.

    Percy Deamer states that English use the Lenten array was hung up after evensong on the first sunday of lent and remained throughout. The veiling of all ornaments was to be in linen. Doubtless to say my parish church does not veil anything, but at least there are no altar flowers.

    One other point. If the stations of the cross were vailed this important lent devotion would loose some of its impact? Do churches that aim to follow traditional western ceremonial veil the stations of the cross?

  6. Richard permalink
    March 25, 2010

    I find it very difficult to believe or accept the title of this comment from an Anglo Catholic parish. Today marks the glory given to Mary on “her” day. Why not celebrate the day in all its splendor and uncover the statue for this one day during Lent (Passiontide)

    • Bromartin permalink
      March 26, 2010

      What is it that is so hard to believe or accept, a catchy sense of humour? Certainly Our Lady, in her great humility, never fails to give everything she has for her most blessed Son, Our Saviour. These final days of His Passion have been observed accordingly for many centuries. We cannot arbitrarily make “off again, on again” decisions, day by day by the liturgical calendar. I think most of us have experienced the meanderings and results of that sort of thinking.

  7. March 27, 2010

    Crucifixes depicting the passion ought not to be veiled in Passiontide of all times! The custom pertains to the originally predominant Christus Rex design that is currently veiled in my own parish church. The veiling of Our Lady on the Annunciation also seems rather liturgically schizophrenic: either feast days are “in but not of Lent” or not.

    • Paul Goings permalink
      March 27, 2010


      The veiling of the crosses and images during Passiontide at S. Clement’s follows the former usage of the Roman rite, and makes no distinction between the Christus Rex and other crucifixes. The idea that “feast days are ‘in but not of Lent’” is also foreign to the traditional Roman rite. In your parish is the “alleluia” used on feast days during Lent?

      • March 28, 2010

        We certainly sang in on Lady Day.

      • March 28, 2010

        Actually, I’m mistaken. I think there was a Tract, which I found strange on a “white” day. Certainly the Gloria was sung with gusto. In any case, I’m aware of the traditional Roman custom, I’m merely pointing out that it is one of those peculiarities that has outlived its rationale, like dismissing the people before it is actually time for them to go!

        Do you fast on Sundays in Lent then?

      • Paul Goings permalink
        March 29, 2010

        Was it ever traditional to fast on Sundays? (To abstain, yes; to fast, no.) The matter of observing the feast days in Lent in a certain way is a matter of certain traditions being preserved; fasting on Sundays would be an innovation.

        You assert that “it is one of those peculiarities that has outlived its rationale.” I respond that I could find that claim being made about just about any aspect of the Christian religion, and so this tells us little about whether we should preserve it or not.

  8. March 27, 2010

    Having looked into it, it seems that Our Lady was indeed unveiled in the Use of Sarum.

  9. Bromartin permalink
    March 27, 2010

    OK. I can see the point. It is a “white” festival of Our Lady “in Lent.”

    BTW, it’s interesting that, on the Roman calendar, the Good Thief, Saint Dismas, is also recalled on March 25, which would, oddly, add a drop of red to the date?

  10. Richard permalink
    March 27, 2010

    In my locale we have “Mary on the HalfShell” and Mary of the bathtub” These images are usually in the front yards of homes and never veiled. Does that make them less honored? I’m sure there will be responses.

    • Bromartin permalink
      March 28, 2010

      Seriously…NOT! Why so cynicle?

  11. April 5, 2010

    If the Lady Day falls on the Holy Week, why should one transfer it? Its connection with Christmas shouldn’t allow any transfer, dispite the Roman custom. Even in Western rites, the two offices may be easy combined.

  12. Bromartin permalink
    April 14, 2010

    There is not, nor has there ever been (I hope) any suggestion of transferring in any way the Annunciation to the BVM. Our discussion is only due to circumstances where the final two weeks of Lent happen to encompass one of the more important joyful holydays. As one who has always lived and worshiped with purple veils from Passion Sunday until Maundy Thursday; in the overall context of the season, I do not quite get the point of uncovering Mary’s likeness for the day.

  13. Bromartin permalink
    April 15, 2010

    SELF-CORRECTION and CLARIFICATION!! Yes, the Feast is transferred to the following Monday, as it was just a few years ago, if it falls within Holy Week.

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