In the week following the Fifth Sunday of Lent, as the Church approaches Holy Week, a shift occurs. According to The Roman Missal (3rd Edition, 2011), “the practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from this Sunday 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.” (2011, p.256).

This was a tradition that was started during the time of the Medieval Church and has since developed to become the practice that it is today. It is highly likely to have originated from the 9th century in Germany, when the Hungertuch (the Hunger Cloth) –  a humongous piece of cloth, was used to cover up the altar and the sanctuary from the sight of the faithful at the beginning of Lent, until the reading of the words, “the veil of the temple was rent in two,” from the liturgical readings of Holy Wednesday (McNamara, 2005). Nonetheless, some theologians and scholars have argued that this practice of veiling the Crucifixes and images in our Church, originates from the ancient practice of dispelling public penitents at the beginning of Lent. As this custom of public penance fell away, and the entire congregation was incorporated into the order of penitents during the imposition of the ashes on a person’s forehead during Ash Wednesday, it did not make sense to expel the entire congregation from the church, and hence the practice of shielding the altar – the Holy of Holies from view was deployed, until the congregation was once more reconciled with God at Easter (The Catholic Leader, 2014).

It is difficult to miss the veiling of the crucifixes and religious images in the church, and this veiling is a phenomenon that is jarring, jolts the senses to confront a tangible absence, and may come across as paradoxical and counter-intuitive– why do we hide these beautiful artistic renditions, especially when our focus is meant to focus on the Cross and passion of Jesus?

First, the veiling deliberately creates a contrast with the other liturgical seasons. Our senses become acutely aware of the absence of the visually beautiful in the church and are invited to attune ourselves to a heightened awareness of everything else, such as the Word of God that is proclaimed, and the hymns that are sung during this time. 19th century Benedictine Dom Prosper Gueranger interprets the veiling in alignment with the Gospel of John – As Jesus slips away into the crowd and hides himself from those who desire to stone him (John 8:59), so via the veils, we can see clearly how Jesus is now hidden from the world in anticipation of the mysteries of His passion, death, and Resurrection. According to Dom Prosper Gueranger, the saints too become hidden to follow in the footsteps of their master – since the Master is now hidden, so too his servants (The Catholic Leader, 2014). The veils immediately and sensorily alert us to the fact that something intense is about to happen, this is a time that is not ordinary, and that there is something that is coming up that we would need to prepare for.

Second, the veils hide on one level, the Face of Christ as it is symbolically represented in artistic renditions, and on the other, the veils tell us that this hiding of beauty is not something permanent (Kosloski, 2016). Just as Christ had his face and body become so disfigured and marred during his passion from the thorns, the blows, the whips and the lashes, his beauty is temporarily hidden away from us – “As many were astonished at him – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men – so shall he startle many nations” (Isaiah 52:14), with the assurance that all would be restored during Easter.

Veiling makes manifest, a revealed metaphor for our life here on Earth. Here, we live a veiled existence. While the Kingdom of Heaven is among us and now, our understanding of the Divine is limited. In our mortality, we live under a temporary veil, for our true home is in Heaven, and when that happens, the veil of our mortal bodies will be lifted to reveal our true glory and identity as the sons and daughters of God our Father, and in union with the Holy Trinity (Newsome, 2019).

In Matthew 9: 15 it says, ‘Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast;”’ and in Luke 5:35, “But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” The veiling of the crucifixes and the statues in church is a visual representation of this fast. Spiritual Fasting is a voluntary avoidance of something that is good, so as to grow spiritually closer to Jesus during this time of Lent. In covering the Crucifixes and the statues, we allow our visual senses to fast from the images of God, so as to allow our souls to hunger for the face of God, and in anticipation of meeting him again on the day of the resurrection. Through our Lenten sacrifices we mortify ourselves, but in these weeks leading up to Easter, we also sanctify and allow our sense of sight to undergo a time of cleansing and mortification (Spencer, 2017).

The crucifix that is hidden reminds us how sin prevents us from seeing the Face of God. Sin and shame hide us from God, like how Adam and Eve hid from God in their shame – Genesis 3: 9-10 ‘The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”’ When sin fills our hearts, there is no space for God, and the act of veiling in the church reminds us of the beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8).

At the same time, not everything is veiled. The altar or processional cross is not veiled, neither are stained glass windows depicting the images of Christ and the Saints. The Stations of the Cross also remain unveiled. Neither are the Crucifixes, nor the images veiled for the entire duration of Lent.

I am reminded of the parable that Jesus says, “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8: 16-17) The veiling of the crucifixes and the statues are a foretaste that what is hidden now from our sight, will be eventually seen. The hidden glory of God will one day be revealed not in the form of bread and wine, but as how God is really, and that true light and true beauty will be far beyond the comparison of the artistic renditions here on Earth – representations that speak to our senses, but only give a miniscule fraction of understanding the immensity of God’s beauty and radiance.

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



Kosloski, P. (2016). Why do Catholics cover crucifixes and statues during Lent? Aleteia. Retrieved March 28, from

McNamara, E. (2005). Covering of Crosses and Images during Lent. EWTN. Retrieved March 28, from

Newsome, M. (2019). Why are the statues Covered? WCU Catholic Campus Ministry. Retrieved March 28, 2023 from

Spencer, S. (2017). We Veil our Statues and Unveil our Hearts at Passiontide. National Catholic Register. Retrieved March 28, 2023 from

The Catholic Leader. (2014). Veiling Statues in Lent. The Catholic Leader. Retrieved March 28, 2023 from

The Roman Missal. (2011). The Roman Missal (3rd Edition). Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.