Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Ceremonies of Passiontide

Feel free to modify at will for use in your bulletins, etc.

The final stage in our symbolic journey toward Easter is Passiontide, which begins with
Judica, the 5th Sunday in Lent. The crosses are now covered, triptychs are closed, and even the Gloria
Patri disappears for a while.

A common question is “Why do we drape and cover the crosses as we get closer to Good Friday, as our attention upon the last hours and the sufferings of Our Lord increases?”

We do this because we don’t deserve to look upon the cross. We are not worthy of the Sacrifice. The cross is our greatest and most cherished symbol. So it is partially taken away from us for a short time, that we might better appreciate it when it returns.

The crosses are not taken away completely. They are not removed. They are covered. We can see outlines of the crosses, but their beauty and details are fuzzy. This symbolizes the reality that our grief prevents us from seeing clearly until the Good Friday liturgy and, of course, Easter. This also reminds us of Our Lord's actions in response to the violence of the people in the Judica Gospel, the Lord "Jesus hid Himself." That is why the crosses and statues are veiled during the Service after the reading of the Gospel.

The idea of removing the Gloria Patri is much the same. The Triune Name given at the Ascension is the fullest revelation of God’s Name given to men. To take away the Gloria Patri for two weeks is a bit jarring. It is particularly awkward to not sing it at the end of the Nunc Dimitis. Its short-term removal serves to draw attention to it.

All of this is that we would learn to mortify the flesh and to depend more and more upon the grace of God in Christ. For never, even in our most somber of ceremonies, is the Church in doubt about the end. Jesus died but is not dead. Jesus lives. Easter is coming. Our Hallelujahs, Gloria Patris, crosses, fatty foods, and the like shall all return, but even better than that, we shall have them forever in heaven when our own resurrections occur.

Passiontide extends through Holy Week and the Triduum (“three holy days”—which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday). At the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday Service the Altar will be stripped, the Sanctuary decorations, such as the candelabra, will be removed. Even the main crucifix will be carried out, only to be carried back in during the reproaches on Good Friday. All that will be left in the Sanctuary are the immovable pieces of furniture, laid bare. On Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, while all is bare, the normal responses and introductions are removed from the readings.

The intensity builds from now until Holy Saturday when we finally arrive at the empty tomb but not at an empty Altar.


  1. Thanks, Dave, for doing my work for me. That's mercy.

  2. Thanks for this. Is the Great Vigil really supposed to be held with a bare sanctuary?

    1. Sort of. It is suppose to start off with violet and then the paraments are changed to white or gold during the Service, when the flowers are brought in also. We just started doing the parament switched. It was nice but it required some serious planning and rehearsal. We had the candles and flowers and everything else in place.

      But I think what I was talking about above was the reading of the prophecies at the Vigil that are bare of the normal ceremonies, introductions, conclusions, etc.


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