Lenten Iconoclasm

This is a couple of days early, but my little oratory is in Lenten Array for the first time. I modified the altar frontal from the old chapel to fit the smaller altar and to eliminate the wooden frame.

The English / Sarum use veils the icons and statues of the church from the beginning of Lent unlike the Roman rite which veils from I Vespers of Passion Sunday and in violet veils. This is a plain off-white or light ashen colour with blood-red trimmings and crosses. The crucifixes are also veiled and display a black cross.

A brief explanation of the Lenten Array is found here – Lenten Array in the Sarum Use. I also wrote about it myself: Lenten Array. Why this temporary iconoclasm?

Lent is a time of mourning, and the iconography of the church is covered so that we lament for our souls that are dead in sin. We relive the catechumenate of the early Church, because Lent is that time of preparation for the passage from death to life with the resurrected Christ. It all begins with compunction before we can rebuild our lives in God’s grace. Even the image of the Crucified is veiled and covered with an image of a black cross symbolising pain, torment and death.

I can assure you that Easter is that much better shown when the church has been veiled for so long and not only the last two weeks of the Lenten Fast.

I am struck by the story of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. When Lady Marchmain dies, the chapel at Brideshead is closed.

[The priest] emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room.

In the service of Tenebrae, we hear the lamentation of the Jews over Jerusalem

How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how is the mistress of the Gentiles become as a widow: the princes of provinces made tributary! . . . her children are led into captivity: before the face of the oppressor . . . her princes are become like rams that find no pastures.

Such is human vanity. As World War II approaches, the family described by Waugh disintegrates, but there are signs of grace in man’s agony and humiliation. Ἔρως becomes ἀγάπη. The love of sensual pleasure gives way to the austere reality of self-sacrifice and altruism. The Halcyon Days, Et in arcadia ego, are over – and the reconstruction must begin. Thus even our love for beauty must give way to our truth before God.

As I write these lines, I cast my mind to the present situation of war unleashed by President Putin against the Ukraine, possibly in the very name of Orthodox Christianity and the ambition to restore Christendom. At other times of Russia’s history, hatred and murder were motivated by nihilism and the Communist ideology. Now, it seems to be in the name of a caricature of Christ. Will this bring the world to God and Christ, in the midst of scandal upon scandal. Maybe what Lent will be about this year is the absolute veiling of God’s love and beauty and our being abandoned to our nihilism. That would be the ultimate asceticism!

The time of Lent is set in the liturgical year, but this truth hitting our world and contradicting our virtue-signalling in America and Europe may go on a lot longer. The Covid pandemic and the first lockdown  two years ago were but a “little rehearsal” compared with what we may be facing. We can pray and hope that no one would be insane enough to use nuclear weapons, the stuff of our childhood nightmares during the Cold War in the 1960’s. We were spared then, through the Cuba missile crisis, and we are still here today – but under a new threat. I am in my early 60’s and no longer matter. I feel sorry for the young and hopeful.

The veils will remind us of this truth with which we must come to terms. May our Christian life not be that of Putin or the Patriarch – but of St Seraphim of Zarov or St Benoît-Joseph Labre, that of the fools for Christ, something so well understood by Dostoyevsky, Berdyaev and many others.

Oh no, the veils are not a game or decoration like the Christmas tree. Down we go before we can come up again – renewed.

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3 Responses to Lenten Iconoclasm

  1. Denis says:

    Our Lady of Vladimir pray for your child Vladimir Putin

  2. Andrew West says:

    Dear Father,
    I am in my mid eighties and appreciate what you write, keep praying and know that you are inspiration to a wide and diverse world of believers, including Catholics of the Roman variety.
    Andrew West

  3. Raúl says:

    Dear Father, a beautiful article (as always). His work on altars inspired many people I know who have built beautiful altars in their own homes. In fact, my brother built one and invites a priest from the Fraternity of Saint Pius X to celebrate Mass.

    Thanks for his work, thanks for this blog.

    A big hug (a bone breaker) from Argentina,

    In Christ, Raúl Miguel.

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