Purple Cloth Coverings

Q. Growing up, I remember that churches used to put purple cloth over statues during Lent. That doesn’t seem to be the practice anymore. What was the reason for it, and why the change?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

Catholics of a certain age recall crosses and statues draped in purple throughout Lent, an unmistakable sign of the penitential season the Church had entered and invited us to embrace. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, / in quiet and in trust shall be your strength” (30:15). Removing distractions from church interiors was one way to focus our minds on God’s call to a deeper interior life with his Son.

Things have changed somewhat today, but covering images remains an option, and the rubrics in the Missal for the Fifth Sunday of Lent state: “In the Dioceses of the United States, 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.”

Massgoers will notice subtle — but important — changes in the liturgical texts beginning the Fifth Sunday of Lent: a new Preface, and prayers calling us to pay closer attention to Jesus’ passion. Covering statues on this Sunday underscores a deeper step we take with Christ on his Lenten journey.