The Lenten Veil
Why do we veil the crosses and images of saints in the church during Lent?
Like many of the liturgical practices in The Episcopal Church, this one isn’t prescribed by canon law or by the rubrics in the prayer book. It’s an amalgamation of traditions that have formed over the centuries. And like much of our liturgical ceremonial at St. Mary’s, this custom has its roots in two separate-yet-intertwining traditions: the traditional Roman rite, and the variation of the Roman rite that was used in parts of England prior to the Reformation: the Sarum use.
In the Sarum use, unbleached linen trimmed in red and black (“Lenten array”) was typically used during Lent. Images and crosses were covered from Ash Wednesday until Easter. In the traditional Roman rite, the color used during Lent is violet. Images and crosses are veiled during the two weeks preceding Easter. Most Anglo-Catholics use violet during Lent as we do, and most Episcopal parishes observe the Lenten veil through the entirety of Lent.
What is the spiritual significance of this practice?
The Lenten veil is a visual representation of the penitential nature of the season. The cross – the sign of Christ’s glorious victory over death – and the images of the saints who lead us closer to him are simply too bright for us to bear during this season of mourning and penance. The veil also reminds us of the fig leaves worn by Adam and Eve, the visible sign of the shame felt by our first parents when they ate the apple from the forbidden tree. During Lent, we hone our spiritual habits, and as we do, we become more aware of our own sinfulness with its corresponding shame. As we grow in self-awareness of our tendency to sin, we also become more and more aware that we are not able to fix ourselves on our own. We need a Savior.
The veils will come off soon enough as Easter is just around the corner. But in the meantime, the Lenten veil reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. In the words Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “The night may be dark and long, but all along the way, a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon.” 
 By “traditional Roman rite”, I’m referring to the primary liturgy used in the Roman Catholic Church from 1570 until 1962 along with its prescribed ceremonial. It is properly referred to as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but commonly called the Tridentine Mass or the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
 The Sarum use is a now defunct pre-Reformation variation of the traditional Roman Rite that stems from the Diocese of Salisbury and spread to much of southern England as well as elsewhere in the British Isles. If you’re interested in an academic overview of the Sarum use, click here. It is a pet peeve of mine that in The Episcopal Church today, it is common to attribute any liturgical peculiarity to the Sarum use in order to attempt to legitimize it, even if it has no basis in historical practice. For example, Episcopal parishes that use blue as the liturgical color during Advent often call it “Sarum blue”, even though blue was never the color used for Advent in the Sarum use.
Our Choirmaster and Director of Music Dr. Tony Maglione was recently interviewed by the Kansas City Star's Patrick Neas and our own Dr. William Baker, director of the William Baker Festival Singers and chorister at St. Mary's. Spend a few minutes listening to the conversation, and to Tony's handiwork! You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. And you can hear his beautiful music making every Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. at St. Mary's Episcopal Church!
Dr. Maglione's bio can be found here.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church is located at 1307 Holmes Road in downtown Kansas City.
Fr. Charles Everson's love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.
To the Glory of God and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.
1307 Holmes Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64106