Lent and Passiontide: Dying with the Church

Some time ago, I wrote a description of what happens in the Churches liturgy during Lent and how the liturgical changes should reflect our Lenten experience.

I bring this up because we are well into Lent and Passiontide is around the corner.  In the older form of the Roman Rite we will begin to see some changes that reflect the intensity of the season as we come into the final stretch.

All around, as spring sets in, bushes and trees are being pruned, to help them grow and flower later on.  This is a pattern in the Church’s liturgy and in the arc of our lives.

Here is something of what I wrote, slightly adjusted.


We lose things during Lent.  We are being pruned through the liturgy.

Holy Church experiences liturgical death before the feast of the Resurrection.   The Alleluia goes on Septuagesima.  Music and flowers go on Ash Wednesday.   On First Passion Sunday in the older, traditional calendar (5th Sunday of Lent in the newer, post-Conciliar calendar), statues and images are draped in purple.  That is why that Sunday is sometimes called Repus Sunday, from repositus analogous to absconditus or “hidden”, because this is the day when Crosses and other images in churches are veiled. 

The universal Church’s Ordo published by the Holy See has an indication that images can be veiled from the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Traditionally Crosses may be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and images, such as statues may be covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.  You could, of course, unveil statues of the Pietà or Ecce Homo and the Crucified Lord after the Good Friday service.

Also, as part of the pruning, as of 1st Passion Sunday in the older form of Mass, the “Iudica” psalm in prayers at the foot of the altar and the Gloria Patri at the end of certain prayers was no longer said. 
The pruning cuts more deeply as we march into the Triduum.

After the Mass on Holy Thursday the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the main altar, which itself is stripped and bells are replaced with wooden noise makers. 

On Good Friday there isn’t even a Mass. 

At the beginning of the Vigil we are deprived of light itself!  It is as if the Church herself were completely dead with the Lord in His tomb. 

This liturgical death of the Church reveals how Christ emptied Himself of His glory in order to save us from our sins and to teach us who we are (cf. GS 22).

The Church then gloriously springs to life again at the Vigil of Easter.  In ancient times, the Vigil was celebrated in the depth of night.  In the darkness a single spark would be struck from flint and spread into the flames.  The flames spread through the whole Church.   

If we can connect ourselves in heart and mind with the Church’s liturgy in which these sacred mysteries are re-presented, then by our active receptivity we become participants in the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. 

To begin this active receptivity we must be baptized members of the Church and be in the state of grace.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bryan says:

    Just simply beautiful.

    Thank you!

  2. JosephMary says:

    Yet at my parish our one day of Adoration on Mondays will be cancelled as well as the daily Mass on the day after Easter because “we are all going to be so tired”. I asked Father, when he told me this, if Mass makes us tired. At any rate, the priests are leaving town because they will be exhausted and on Easter Monday my church will be locked up.

    I think for myself and some other hardy individuals, we will not be too tired and will even make the drive across town to find somewhere where Mass will not tire everyone out.

  3. JosephMary: You know… the priest might just be tired on Monday.

  4. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    Father, what a beautiful piece!
    Being a parish sacristan, Master of Ceremonies, and resident-do-all, I (along with most others who work in liturgy) consider Holy Week the most exhausting of the whole year. These liturgies require a lot of work, as they should. Usually around this time of Lent I try to take a deep breath before we tuck our heads and plow on forward into Holy Week. Last night, at the suggestion of Mr. Palmo at Whispers, I watched Cardinal DiNardo’s address: watch it! It’s great prep for the time to come, and amazing preaching.
    As an aside, yes, for someone who is involved in all of the goings-on of Holy Week (which for some of us also includes Morning and Night Prayers, Stations, and Basket Blessings) Easter Monday is a day of grateful rest!

    God bless our priests as they prepare to celebrate the rites and mysteries of Holy Week, and may all those involved in their preparation and actualization do so with strength and dignity.

  5. asperges says:

    They took up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” (Gospel of (old) 1st Sunday of the Passion) which is one of the reasons put forward as to why we veil the crosses and statues from this point.

    Whether this is correct or not, there is so much to be gained from this symbolism and ritual. Even the new Church oddly suggests two weeks of this mourning when they have reduced Passiontide to one week.

    But what a wealth of teaching there is in this simple act: to be busy veiling with sorrow the crosses in the family home, just as there is joy at the giving of Easter Eggs at the Resurrection. Dom Gueranger lamented in the 19th century France how much of the old customs related to the Faith had been forgotten within families, yet even there now Epiphany cakes and Shrove Tuesday pancakes (mardi gras) survive as a half-forgotten remnant of an age of faith.

    The soul-less and clinical liturgical reforms of the 60s which swept everything aside have left us barren and wanting. It may have taken 40 years to see the folly of this revolution, and much of it is now being reversed. That will bring graces and some comfort and joy back to something that touches the soul and stays in the imagination for us to contemplate. It does not all have to be intellectual, dull and plain.

  6. Shekinah says:

    Hello Fr. John. Thank you. This is my first comment on your blog. I’m not sure. Do I have to apologize for my user name? I think I just called myself Yahweh-lite? I am in the 2nd year of a scripture study featuring St. John’s Bible published by St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota. We just reviewed the book of Wisdom during Lent this year and the word Shekinah popped up. I liked it better than the user name Avatar. If offensive, please suggest a penance for me so that I might keep my user name. It was not easy signing up for your blog. ;0) Humbly speaking.

    I wasn’t sure where you were going with your article. At first I thought you were suggesting architectural changes to Church buildings including atriums and open air seating during Lent. I am not joking. Handheld pruners for every parishioner. In fact I liked those ideas. But then I realized you were upholding the traditional, poignant Lenten and Holy Week liturgies by pairing a meaningful springtime theme. I am not disappointed. I tend to “run before I can walk”. Building projects are not really IN these days. Our sanctuary is traditional. It’s beautiful and so are the legions of liturgical assistants during Holy Week.

    As for the comment by “JosephMary” above:
    I think the point was to provide more opportunities for the laity to carry the torch, if such a thing is possible. Devotions inlieu of Eucharist on Monday after Easter if the staff is exhausted. Or Someday, Eucharist ala Deacons?

    Your blog is rated Number 1 for good reason I see. I hope I can keep up with your articles. I want to be on the helpful side of Catholicism. Lesson ONE from Fr. John. Walk gracefully between Life and Death. The faithful are watching.;0)

    Respectfully submitted, “a recovering Catholic-basher”.

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