Thursday, 20 March 2008

Corporis mysterium

The crucifix at The Parish of Saint Mark, Portland, Oregon
Anglican Church in America

I went by my parish yesterday to work on the chants for the Great Vigil of Easter and happened to have my camera with me. The first time I saw the great rood screen draped in purple it gave me "the willies". I'd seen smaller crosses covered before in my first parish in Santa Barbara, but they only had one average alter cross and that was about it as it was a "simple" Gothic structure. Seeing the huge rood screen cross covered is just unnerving. I wanted to capture this otherworldly feeling your get when you see it.

I have found some information on the origins of covering crosses and icons, but not a lot of explanation of why. I have been told that it is to hide the mysteries visually, allowing us to focus on the redemptive works of Christ. Only on Good Friday will one cross be unveiled during Divine Liturgy, and that is the one used at the veneration of the cross - the one people will come forward, kneel down three times along the way forward, then kiss. The three double genuflections represent Christ falling three times as he carried his cross.

As to the origins of this custom I found this:

From a Roman Catholic sources: Monsignor Elliott remarks:
"It probably derives from a custom, noted in Germany from the ninth century, of extending a large cloth before the altar from the beginning of Lent.

This cloth, called the Hungertuch (hunger cloth), hid the altar entirely from the faithful during Lent and was not removed until during the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the words "the veil of the temple was rent in two."
The New Advent encyclopedia confirms this with a bit more explanation on the custom, which is interesting:
In Germany... the custom [on Passion Sunday] of veiling the crosses and statues in the church was formerly done at the words in the Gospel "Jesus hid Himself", but is now done on the previous evening.


Stephanie said...

Douglas! If you haven't done it already, go buy Crazy for God. You have to read it. This post reminded me to say that to you again.

Douglas Bienert said...

You should hear what Kim said about the Good Friday-on Thursday "chapel" at PC. Stand at a lower level than a lighting rod - 'cause you don't wanna get hit!

I might have to head out and get that book today.

Anglican Beach Party said...

That's a wonderful image, Douglas!

It reminds me (for some unknown reason) to ask you: Have you read any of James Agee? Maybe I asked you that before ...