The Veiling of Images in Lent (Old Passion Sunday)

Prior to 1969, the last Sundays of Lent were as follows:

  • Fourth Sunday: Laetare Sunday (known for the Rose vestments)
  • Fifth Sunday: Passion Sunday (known for the veiling of images on this day)
  • Sixth Sunday: Palm Sunday (known for the palm procession)

In the old days, Passion Sunday (5th Sunday) “ramped up” the Lenten season. Passion Sunday (also called Judica Sunday from the opening Introit) is the traditional day for veiling the crucifixes and statues in the churches. The practice allegedly derives from Bavaria (though I’d love for someone more knowledgable to shed light on the origin of this custom). The crosses and images remain veiled and add to the dramatic effect of Paschal Vigil when they are unveiled for the glory and wonder of our Lord’s resurrection. The famous medieval triptychs that opened and close were constructed for the purpose of closing them for this season.

Unfortunately, all this symbolism has been lost in the Novus Ordo arrangement of the calendar. His Holiness Pope Paul VI combined the title of Passion (5th) Sunday with Palm (6th) Sunday so that Palm (6th) Sunday was called: “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord” (Latin: Dominica in Palmis de Passione Domini).* Thus the previous tradition of according the 5th Sunday as “Passion Sunday” no longer exists in the Novus Ordo arrangement.

If you attend Holy Mass according to the Extraordinary Form (1962 Missale), the Passion tradition remains for this 5th Sunday of Lent.

In the Eastern Churches, the Fifth Sunday of Lent is also a time of “ramping up the penance.” The penitent nun St Mary of Egypt is today’s model for our Byzantine brethren. In some places, the Easterns bless “dried fruit” which is a symbol of asceticism and fasting.

* The modification began with His Holiness John XXIII who named the 5th Sunday “Dominica I Passionis” and the 6th Sunday “Dominica II Passionis seu in Palmis.” In other words, there was “First Passion Sunday” (5th Sunday) and “Second Passion Sunday,” (6th Sunday) with the latter also being Palm Sunday.

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