In most Catholic parishes throughout the world, a standard set of traditions and rubrics governs the rituals and activities seen throughout the liturgical year. A time of the year when liturgical changes are especially obvious is during Lent, a period of about eight weeks preceding Easter. Lent is usually considered a period of sacrifice and penance, and therefore there are several traditions that emphasise this time as one of sorrow and meditation.
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To help the church faithful be more aware of the liturgical season, most Catholic churches cover most of their spiritual images with purple cloth during Lent, especially the large crucifix overhanging the altar. The primary intent of this tradition is to impact the faithful psychologically, creating a spiritual hunger to see the face of their saviour, Jesus Christ, once again.
Shift of Focus
By covering spiritual images and crucifixes during Lent, the faithful are expected to shift their focus from simple worship and adoration to deeper forms of meditation, remembering Christ's redemptive acts through his sacrifice. This is intended to contrast against Christ's resurrection and ascension, which is celebrated throughout the rest of the liturgical year. By focusing on the redemptive act, the faithful come to a greater appreciation for the penalty of sin and the gravity of Christ's sacrifice.
A more historical tradition for covering the crucifix during Lent comes from the story of Christ's death, whereupon the moment he died the veil in the Jewish temple was torn. This veil normally separated the Jewish people from the holy of holies, the place where God was believed to reside. Therefore, the tearing of this veil is thought to symbolise that Christ removed the boundaries between men and God through his sacrifice. The modern use of covering the crucifix and other spiritual images commemorates this tradition, reminding the faithful of the divide that existed between God and men before Christ's redemptive act.
Finally, the covering of the cross and other spiritual images makes the celebration of Easter much more significant. A celebration, so Catholic tradition holds, must be made in preparation, and the preparation is partially what makes the celebration worthwhile. In the Easter celebration, all of the Lenten are completed and the faithful begin their celebration of Christ's resurrection. In this reversal of emphases, the spiritual images and crucifixes are uncovered as symbols of Christ's presence and close proximity after his resurrection.
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