ROME, 20 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ
Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina
Q: I am hoping you can help me with two Eastertide questions. 1)
At my parish, we use the sprinkling rite at the beginning of
Mass on Sundays during the Easter season. The water used is
taken from the font that was blessed during the Easter Vigil.
Before the sprinkling begins, the presider blesses the water
again. The reason given for this practice is that in the
sacramentary, there are only two options for preparing the
water, a blessing during ordinary time and a blessing during the
Easter season. Is there no other option, especially one that
would allow using, throughout the Easter season, water that has
been most solemnly blessed during the Easter Vigil? 2) Many
parishes (not ours) place a statue of the Risen Lord in a
prominent place in the church during the Easter season. I have
even seen some places that keep their altar-of-repose
decorations up during Eastertide, replacing the actual
repository with the statues. It has always been my understanding
that the paschal candle is the primary symbol of the Risen Lord
during Eastertide. Would not the use of the statue detract from
the sign/symbol value of the paschal candle and be equivalent to
introducing something new into current liturgical practice?
S.P., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A: With respect to the first question, I would say that the
liturgical norms already presuppose a form of sprinkling with
this water without a second blessing
but only on Easter Sunday itself. Thus the Holy See's circular
letter on the Easter celebrations states: "97. Mass is to be
celebrated on Easter Day with great solemnity. It is appropriate
that the penitential rite on this day take the form of a
sprinkling with water blessed at the Vigil, during which the
antiphon 'Vidi aquam' or some other song of baptismal
character should be sung. The entrance stoops to the church
should also be filled with the same water."
On the other Sundays the rite would appear to presuppose that
the water blessed during the Easter vigil is not the water used
during the rite of blessing and sprinkling before Mass. Since
the rite is called that of "Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water,"
it can be surmised that both elements are necessary and that
Easter Day is an exception due to its particular character.
During other times of the year, previously blessed holy water is
not used during this rite, even if readily available. So it is
probable that the rite does not contemplate its use during the
50 days of Easter.
Likewise, it is not correct to bless water a second time. The
water blessed during the vigil is above all reserved for the
celebration of baptisms during Eastertide. In this case the rite
of blessing the baptismal water is omitted.
Regarding the second question, I would say that while it is true
that the Easter candle is the primary liturgical symbol of the
Risen Christ, it need not exclude other devotional symbols.
Displaying a statue or pennant of the Risen Lord during this
period can help to inculcate devotion and awareness of the
mystery. In this sense it is analogous to the Christmas crèche.
It is important to note that we are dealing above all with a
devotional practice and not a liturgical object supplanting the
For this reason, care should be taken regarding the placement
and location of these images so that they serve to enhance the
message of Easter while not obscuring the primary liturgical
* * *
Follow-up: Eastertide Holy
Water and Statues [5-4-2010]
Pursuant to our comments on the use of a statue of the Risen
Christ at Eastertide (see April 20), a reader from Lagos,
Nigeria, asked about statues during Lent. The question was:
"Please, why do we cover up all the statutes and crucifixes in
the church with purple cloth, two weeks [prior] to Easter? Do we
extend the practice to our individual homes by covering all the
statues and crucifixes in our offices, homes, etc.? Any
Although the custom is evidently a sign of sadness and penance
that goes well with the overall Lenten climate, the historical
origin of the custom is probably found elsewhere.
In all probability the custom derives from a medieval usage of
extending a large veil or curtain in front of the altar at the
beginning of Lent, hiding it completely from view. This fabric,
of which there is evidence from the ninth century, was called
the cloth of hunger (Hungertuch) in Germany.
This veil was removed on proclaiming the words "The veil of the
temple was rent in two" during the reading of the Passion on
There are probably several reasons for this practice. First of
all, it was a practical way of informing an illiterate
population that Lent had begun. It might also have been a
vestige of the ancient practice of expelling public penitents
from the church at the beginning of Lent. In time, public
penance disappeared, but with the advent of Ash Wednesday all
Christians in a sense ritually entered into the order of
penitents. It being no longer possible to expel everybody from
the church, this was done symbolically by shrouding the Holy of
Holies until all were reconciled with God at Easter.
Following the same principle, many churches in the later Middle
Ages began to cover the statues and crosses from the beginning
of Lent. In the 17th century the bishops' ceremonial manual
limited the veiling to Passiontide or from the Fifth Sunday of
Lent, and this custom may still be followed. If not covered at
this time, the images should be veiled or removed after the Mass
of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.
Given the historical context of the origin of this practice,
there is no requirement to extend it to the home, school or
other areas where sacred images are set up for devotional