Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Durandus on Lenten Veils

Last week I posted some excerpts from William Durandus’ Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, the parts of his treatise on Ash Wednesday which explains the general Lenten customs which begin on that day. (Book 6, chapter 27) In that section, he refers the reader to an earlier section, book 2, chapter 3, “On pictures, curtains and ornaments in the church”, for his discussion of a practice which in his time was very common in the West, the hanging of a veil, or as we will read, two different veils, in the sanctuary in Lent. I include below an excerpt on the same topic from a Sarum Customary of the 15th century, now kept at the British Museum. (Harley 2911)

Of course, everything which pertains to decoration must be removed or covered in the season of Lent. By the custom of some, this takes place on Passion Sunday, since from that point forward, the divinity was hidden and veiled in Christ, since He let Himself be taken and scourged, as a man that did not have the power of the divinity within him; whence it is said in the Gospel of this day, “Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8, 59, the last verse of the Gospel of Passion Sunday.) Therefore, the crosses are then covered, that is, the power of divinity. Others do this from the first Sunday of Lent, since from that point forward, the Church begins to treat of His Passion; whence in that period, the cross ought not to be carried through the church unless it is covered. According to the custom of some places, two veils or curtains are used, one of which is set around the choir, the other is hung between the altar and the choir, so that the things which are within the Holy of holies may not be seen. …

From last year’s third photopost of Passiontide veils, Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome.
… in this season there is commonly hung, or set up a veil or wall between the clergy and people, so that they cannot see each other, (see note below) as if to say by this fact “Turn away thine eyes, lest they see vanity etc.” (Ps. 118, 37) But on Good Friday, every veil is taken away, because at the Lord’s Passion, the veil of the temple was rent, and through this, the spiritual understanding of the King, which formerly lay hidden, was revealed to us, and the door of heaven was opened … However, the veil which divides the sanctuary from the clergy (in the choir) is pulled back or lifted up at Vespers of each Saturday of Lent, when the Office of Sunday begins, so that the clergy can look into the sanctuary, because this recalls the Lord’s resurrection. (He goes on to explain that it is also to honor the Resurrection that there is also no fasting on the Sundays of Lent.)

On feasts of nine readings, the Lenten veil is also lifted up or pulled back. But this does not come from the Church’s primitive custom, since originally, no feast was solemnly celebrated in Lent, but if a feast occurred, whatever day it was, a commemoration was made of it on (the following) Saturday and Sunday… and this because of the sadness of the season. Afterwards, the opposite custom obtained, namely, that a feast of nine readings be solemnly celebrated on its own day, and the fast be observed nonetheless.

Note: Durandus says that the Lenten veil is set up “between the clergy and people, so that they cannot see each other.” This clearly implies that without the veil, they can see each other, even though rood screens were still normative at that point throughout Western Europe. Clearly, he is assuming here that the rood screen is not so solid as to block the view of the sanctuary entirely; a good example would be this one from the basilica of the Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello in the lagoon of Venice.

From the Sarum Customary

On the Monday of the first week of Lent, at Matins, all the crosses, images and relics, and also the vessel containing the Eucharist should be covered until Matins of Easter. But from the preceding Saturday, until the Wednesday before Easter, a veil hangs in the sanctuary between the choir and the altar, which throughout Lent, on the ferias, both at Mass and at Matins and the other hours, must be let down, except when the Gospel is read; for then it is lifted up and raised until the priest says “Orate fratres”. Then the veil is let down, both for the elevation of the Lord’s body (by this time, an extremely important focus of popular devotion), and all the rest of the time of the Mass, until the priest says “Bow your heads to the Lord.” Then it is raised until the service of the Mass is completed. If there follows on the morrow a feast of nine readings, it is not let down again on that day, until the next ferial Matins. …

On the Wednesday before Easter, when the Passion of the Lord is read (Luke 22 and 23), the veil hangs in its place as usual, until the words “the veil of the temple was rent”; and when this is said, the veil falls (i.e. is allowed to drop) in the area of the sanctuary.

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