Lebrun on the Sacrifice of the Mass (2): Sacrificial Typology

The continuation of Fr. Pierre Lebrun’s Treatise on the Sacrifice of the Mass (First part. Download the whole here)

Mosaic showing Abel sacrificing a lamb and Melchizedek,  Priest-King of Salem, sacrificing bread.
The Sacrifice of Abel and Melchisedec, San Vitale, Ravenna

XV. The Sacrifice of the Eucharist is the same as that of the Cross

The exterior environment of Calvary that is not present at the altar had nothing to do with the action of the Sacrificer. The essential thing in the sacrifice of the Cross consisted in the oblation Jesus Christ made of his body. He continues to offer this same body on the altar and, bringing to its final perfection this divine sacrifice, which could not be eaten by the faithful on Calvary, He truly nourishes us every day with the sacrament of his Passion, as St. Ambrose says[1] the consumption of the victim was lacking on the altar of the Cross, and constitutes the perfection of the sacrifice of our altars. “We have an altar,” St. Paul says, “from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat.”[2] That is what was lacking on the altar of the cross, and it is on the altar of the Church that this consumption is accomplished through the comunion. The same victim is offered on Calvary and on our altars, but on Calvary it was only offered; here it is offered and distributed, as Augustine says speaking about the dedication of his Mother to the Sacrifice of the Altar.[3] We assist at this divine Altar, where we know that the holy Victim is dispensed, by which the stain of sin has been washed away. Jesus Christ thus offers himself on the altar, just as he offered himself dying on the Cross, the only difference being in the manner of offering, as the Council of Trent says, following St. Augustine and the other Fathers.[4]

XVI. The Sacrifice is one with the glorious mysteries

He offers himself here as he did at his Resurrection, offering his immortal and glorious body. He offers himself as he did at his Ascension, for he ascends again from the altar of the earth to the sublime altar of heaven, according to the expression of the Canon, to reside there and intercede for us, thus offering always one and the same Host.[5] That is why we saw at the Mass, that we offer this sacrifice for renew the memory of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus we can behold the union of all the mysteries who were the different parties or the continuation of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the truth of what we sing in the Psalms,[6] that in giving us the true food, God has renewed the memory of all his wondrous works.

It remains to see how the divine Victim of this adorable Sacrifice fulfills all the conditions that belonged to the victims of the old Law in the the most perfect sacrifices.

XVII. All the conditions of sacrificial victims contained in the Eucharist

Four conditions were required, forming the four parts of sacrifice. First, the reception of the victim by the priests. 2nd, the oblation to God. 3rd, the change or destruction of the victim. 4th, the consumption or communion of the victim.

1) Reception. A choice host was required, pleasing and acceptable to the Priests, following the command of God who had established what they must permit for the sacrifice and what they must reject. The priests of the New Testament accept bread and wine destined to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and they receive them following the choice of the Eternal Father who declared his Beloved Son a priest according to the order of Melchisedech. Thus they offer bread and wine: a bread that will be changed into the body that God has destined to be the true victim.[7]

2) The Oblation to God. The Host was offered to God by the priests of the Law, and thus elevated above the common state. The priests of the New Testament representing Jesus Christ offer to God the bread and the wine, to become—as before—the body and blood of Our Lord for our salvation.

3) Immolation and changing of the victim. In the holocausts, sin offerings, and guilt offerings, the victim was immolated and eaten. It changed its state. In this case the bread and the wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ who is immolated and so to speak in a state of death on the altar, because there he is deprived of the functions of natural life that he had on the earth, and because he is represented with the signs of death in the mystical separation of his body and blood, just as St. John saw the living Lamb standing before the Throne of Heaven.[8] He is also as immolated and dead due to the scars of his wounds and the marks of his bloody immolation which he conserves even in the state of glory.

4) Consumption of the Victim. Finally, the consumption of the host was necessary. If a holocaust was being offered, everything was burned in honor of God. In the other sacrifices, a part was consumed for God, the rest was distributed to the priests and those who had presented the host. In the Eucharist, the victim is entirely for God, and entirely consumed by the men who offer it. It is entirely communicated to everyone without any division and it is consumed in all without ceasing to exist.

Once again, the Sacrifice of this divine Victim contains all the truths of the figurative sacrifices.

XVIII. How the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is a holocaust

Firstly, there is a holocaust constituted by the destruction of the bread and wine. As in the ancient holocausts the material fire devoured and consumed the host with the breads and liquids in order to render homage to the sovereign power of God, in the same way the flame of the Holy Spirit, which the Church invokes for this purpose,[9] in a sense consumes the bread and wine, changing them into the body and the blood of Jesus Christ which renders to God his Father the infinite hommage that he is due.

XIX. How it fulfills the notion of all the other sacrifices

Secondly, it is a sacrifice of propitiation for sins, since it is the victim which expiates them.

Thirdly, it contains in a manner par excellence all the sacrifices of the peace offerings directed to obtain graces, since it contains the true peace offering, Jesus Christ, through whom we ask and obtain every gift.

Fourthly, it is a thanksgiving sacrifice because it was instituted by jesus Christ to render thanks to his Father for all the gifts he had received for the Church, and further, because by this sacrifice we give a worthy signs of our gratitude by offering him on the altar his own Son who is the most excellent gift he has given us, one we may present to him in return for all the graces we have received. It is also a holy sacrifice of praise, as St. Augustine writes,[10] in addition to one of thanksgiving, and what greater thanksgiving than what is rendered to God for his grace in Jesus Christ Our Lord, as it is made in the Sacrifice of the Church known to all the faithful, and of which the ancient sacrifices were all only shadows?

XX. The whole Church is united to Jesus Christ in His Sacrifice

Behold how the adorable sacrifice of the Eucharist, though infinitely elevated above all the ancient sacrifices, fulfills all their ends and conditions. Little remains but for us to observe that this sacrifice of Jesus Christ is at the same time the Sacrifice of the entire Church, who is offered with Jesus Christ, and that it is the sacrifice of all the Fathers who offer it, and of all those who desire to participate in it. These must by consequence offer themselves in sacrifice as Jesus Christ and his Church offer themselves to God. Listen to St. Augustine who teaches us wondrously about this truth: “the whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest, who offered Himself to God in His passion for us, that we might be members of this glorious head, according to the form of a servant. For it was this form He offered, in this He was offered, because it is according to it He is Mediator, in this He is our Priest, in this the Sacrifice.”And to continue following St. Augustine, “this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.”[11]

XXI: The Church offers and is offered

Jesus Christ is the one who offers, as Priest, and who is himself the gift that is offered, and in the same way the Church must offer herself when she offers. And as St. Augustine says,[12] God makes her see this mystery in the sacrifice she offers each day, for just as she is the body of such a Head, she learns to offer herself for Him. The Sacrifice of the Mass is thus that of Jesus Christ and of his Church, the only exterior sacrifice that must be offered to God, the true and unique sacrifice that contains the meanings of all the others, the only one that can satisfy for sins, that can merit graces for us, and that will continue until the end of the ages.

[1] Significans passionem Domini Jesu, cuius quotidie vescimur sacramento (Ambr. in Psal. 43).

[2] Habemus altare, de quo edere non habent potestatem qui Tabernaculo deserviunt (Hebr. 13:10).

[3] L. 9 Confess. c. 12. 13.

[4] Una enim eademque est hostia, idem nunc offerens Sacerdotum ministerio, qui seipsum tunc in cruce obtulit, sola offerendi ratione diversa (Conc. Trid. Sess. 22. cap. 2).

[5] Hic autem unam pro peccatis offerens hostiam in sempiternum, sedet in dextera Dei (Hebr. 10:12)

[6] Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum (Ps. 110:4).

[7] Corpus autem aptasti mihi (Hebr 10:5).

[8] Et vidi, et ecce in medio Throni…. Agnum stantem tanquam occisum (Apoc. v. 6).

[9] Fulgent admonit. l. 2 c. 6. et seqq. Optat. Milev. l. 6 Isidor. Peus. epist. 109 et 313. Miss. Goth. Miss. 22.

[10] Quod est autem sacratius laudis sacrificium quam in actione gratiarum, et unde maiores agendae sunt gratiae quam pro ipsius gratia per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum? Quod totum fideles in Ecclesiae sacrificio sciunt, cuius umbrae fuerunt omnia priorum genera sacrificiorum (Aug. contr. adversar. Leg. et Prophet. l. 1 c. 18).

[11] De civit. l. 10 c. 6.

[12] Cuius rei sacramentum quotidianum esse voluit Ecclesiae sacrificium, quae cum ipsius Capitis corpus sit, se ipsam per ipsum discit, offerre” (Ibid., bk. 10, c. 20).


Gemma Animae (38): On the Cantors

Ch. 38

On the Cantors

One cantor offers an oblation carried on a linen cloth and wine in a cruet, a second provides the water to be mixed in the wine [1]. The one who offers wine signifies the Church of the Jews, which exchanged the rite of the law for the sacrifice of Christ; he who offers water signifies the Church of the Gentiles, which sacrificed the Gentile people to Christ. These two also put forward a type of Enoch and Elias, who will offer the Jewish people to Christ in sacrifice [2]. They make this offering not with their bare hands, but with linens made white by much labor, because the body of Christ is worthily received only by those who crucify their flesh to vice and concupiscence [3]. The cruet in which the wine is offered signifies our devotion, which is carried in the vessels of the heart. The archdeacon pours all the water into the chalice and offers it to the bishop, because Christ, whom the deacon signifies here, mixed the Church with himself in his Passion, offered it to the Father on the Cross, and at the last joined the head to the body when he handed over the kingdom to his God and Father.


[1] The cantors’ offering is an ancient feature of the Roman Rite, attested in the most ancient extant book of papal liturgical ceremony, the Ordo Romanus Primus. As Abbe Quoex explains (Ritual and Sacred Chant in the Ordo Romanus Primus, trans. my own):

“In addition to performing the required chant, the scola cantorum participates in a singular manner in the rite of offering. We read in OR n. 80 that a sub-deacon sequens descends from the apse to the scola to receive the offering of water (“accipit fontem”) from the hands of the archiparaphonist. This is placed on the altar by the archdeacon so that he can mix it into the wine of the chalice while making the sign of the cross with the cruet. The offering of water on the part of the scola cantorum seems to be a consequence of the direct link between the act of offering the material for the sacrifice and the action of communion. He who offers bread and wine will receive Eucharistic communion. Now, during the distribution of communion, the scola is occupied with chanting; its members being incapable of communicating during the celebration, they therefore do not offer the material for consecration. Nevertheless, as by their chant they participate in the liturgical celebration, they manifest this participation by offering the water for the chalice. If we follow the teaching of St. Cyprian, the offering of the water in fact manifests, in its own way, a true participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice–a mystical and spiritual participation of humanity redeemed by Christ’s oblation.” [St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epist. 63 ad Concilium, CSEL 3, II (1871), 711: “Nam quia omnes portabat Christus qui et peccata nosra portabat, videmus in acqua populum intellegi, in vino vero ostendi sanguinem Christi. Quando autem in calice vino aqua miscetur, Christo populus adunatur et credentium plebs ei in quem credidit copulatur et iungitur.”]

[2] A reference to Revelation 11: “And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner […]. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (Rev 11: 3-5, 7-13).

[3] Since the most ancient times, sacred offerings were carried not with bare human hands, but with some form of honor and ceremony, such as the linen cloth or a paten. This custom is observable in many paintings of the Presentation from the Middle Ages, where Christ is usually passed to Simeon on a cloth.


Presentation, Giotto
Giotto’s Presentation in the Temple, in the Scrovegni Chapel
Presentation, Athos
Theophanes the Cretan, 1535, Great Lavra Monastery on Mount Athos


Presentation, Book of Hours
The Presentation at the Temple, Book of Hours, Netherlands c. 1460


Presentation, icon 2
Greek icon of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

Gemma Animae (31-33): The Sacrifice of Bread and Wine

Ch. 31

On the Sacrifice of Bread

This sacrifice is of bread because Christ called himself the bread of life (John 6), whom Scripture prefigured as the bread of angels (Psalm 77). This bread is made without yeast, because Christ was without sin. And so it is made with wheat, for Christ claimed to be the grain of wheat. But the grain is extracted from its shell by rubbing. Dried by contumelies and insults from the Jews and from the gentiles, as if by two stones, it is crushed by blows, and sifted and strewn as it is prepared, and when separated from his own, pouring out his blood he was fixed to the cross, where as bread baked in the fire of his Passion he was changed toward immortality.

Jesus and Barabbas.jpg
Jesus and Barabbas, Giovanni Gasparro (Source)

Ch. 32

On the Church and its Signification

And thus the body of Christ is made from bread, which is confected out of many grains, because the Church, which is composed of the many elect, is the body of Christ and is built up by it. The grains, i.e. the elect, are removed from the shell of the old life by the whip of preaching, dried by penance, and milled as if by two stones, as they are gradually imbued with the two laws through careful self-scrutiny. Sifted and strewn, they are prepared, separated from the unfaithful, born again in the water of Baptism, and joined by the bond of charity through the Holy Spirit in faith just as bread baked in the oven is made white, and tested in the way of tribulation they are reformed unto the image of God. In like manner, as bread, those made from the bread of Christ are restored, and they do not die forever.

Ch. 33

On the Sacrifice of Wine

And thus is the sacrament of wine made, for Christ called himself the vine, and Scripture asserted that he is the wine of gladness. Now, the grape, squeezed in the winepress by two wooden beams, is strained into wine, and Christ, pressed by the two wooden beams of the cross, poured out his blood as a drink for the faithful. And therefore the blood of Christ is confected from wine, for it is pressed from many grapes, because by it the Church, the body of Christ, which is assembled from many just men, is built up. She is trodden by the pressures of the world, as if in a winepress, and is incorporated into Christ by these sufferings.



[1] Honorius’s allegorical extrapolations on the meaning of the bread are echoed in St. Thomas, who includes a similar interpretation in his commentary on the Old Law (I-II, q. 102 , a. 3, ad 12), when explaining why both bread and corn were offered in former times:

“The figurative cause is that the bread signifies Christ Who is the “living bread” (John 6:41-51). He was indeed an ear of corn, as it were, during the state of the law of nature, in the faith of the patriarchs; He was like flour in the doctrine of the Law of the prophets; and He was like perfect bread after He had taken human nature; baked in the fire, i.e. formed by the Holy Ghost in the oven of the virginal womb; baked again in a pan by the toils which He suffered in the world; and consumed by fire on the cross as on a gridiron.”

[2] The tradition of allegorical interpretation we have seen practiced in the Gemma Animae was much more than a literary conceit or a method of personal piety. It also left a deep impact on the liturgical rites of the Middle Ages. Perhaps the most striking case of this influence of piety on rite is found in the elaborate ceremonies that our medieval fathers used to surround the production, the transportation, and the offering of the bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice.

In many places the baking of the Eucharistic bread was surrounded with great care and symbolism. These ceremonies formed a sort of ritual exegesis of the symbolic content of the Eucharistic species and their significant role in the Eucharistic mystery, drawing out all the mystical reasons for the use of bread and wine.

Jungmann gives a general description of these rituals:

In the West, too, the making of bread was for a time given a liturgical form, particularly within the ambit of the Cluniac reform movement. According to the customs of the monastery of Hirsau in the Black Forest (eleventh century), the wheat had to be selected kernel for kernel; the mill on which it was to be ground had to be cleaned, then hung about with curtains; the monk who supervised the milling had to don an alb an humeral. The same vesture was worn by the four monks to whom the baking of the hosts was confided; at least three of these monks were to be in the deacon’s orders or even higher rank. While working they were to keep strict silence, so that their breath might not touch the bread [1]. According to the instructions in other monasteries, on the other hand, the monks were to combine their work with the singing of psalms according to a precise plan [2] (MS, vol. 2, pg. 35).

Thus the production of the Eucharistic species becomes a sacred action in itself, in which their role in the Mass sacrifice is anticipated. The grains, the mill, the table, the oven, are treated with the same care as sacred vessels at the altar and are entrusted to the deacon. The bakery is shrouded with a veil, just like an altar would have been during the Canon. In a way analogous to the proskomedia rites of the Byzantine Church, the preparation of the gifts furnishes a moment for a small-scale symbolic recapitulation of the Paschal Mystery, a chance to meditate and pray on the unfathomable spiritual mysteries of the Eucharist.

Vessels and instruments for the Byzantine Liturgy made in Moscow in 1679, now in the treasury of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. (Source)


Bernardus, Ordo Clun., I, 53 (Herrgott, Vetus disciplina monastica, 249); cf. William of Hirsau, Const., II, 32 (PL, CL, 1086 f.).

Consuetudines of Fruttuaria (11th c.; Albers, Consuetudines, IV, 138); Lanfranc (d. 1089), Decreta pro O.S.B., c. 6 (PL, CL, 488 f.).

Lebrun on the Sacrifice of the Mass (1)

Immediately following the Preface to his Explanation, Lebrun includes a preliminary treatise on the nature of the Mass sacrifice. It is a remarkably full, balanced, and lucid work of liturgical theology, sourced largely from Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Cyprian (and thus resembles Aquinas’s treatise on religion and on the Old Law).

That we should find such a treatment in the 18th century is all the more surprising if we accept the standard narrative of Jungmann, in whose view Counter-Reformation polemics had tended to confine Eucharistic theology within narrow bounds: “Through the controversy with the Reformers, the whole stress of thought on the Eucharist was directed to and bound down to the Real Presence, almost to the neglect of other aspects” (MS, vol. 1, pg. 142). Counter-Reformation polemics

forced into the background any notion that the faithful had a part to play in the prayer of the priest or that they should co-offer in closer union with him. For, since the Reform­ers had denied a special priesthood, it seemed necessary to stress not what was common and connective between priest and people, but rather what was distinctive and separative. This was certainly the case in the Society of Jesus whose theologians were leaders in the intellectual movement of this period; its members had no close contact with the liturgy and did nothing towards a pastoral development of liturgical possibilities” (MS, vol. 1, pg. 142).

The Oratorian Fathers, however, were not drawn into the general spirit of the times, at least in this respect. Led by Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (d. 1629), a teacher of St. Francis de Sales and Vincent de Paul, the French Oratorians lived and expounded a spiritual life that was deeply founded in the liturgy:

On the basis of meditation on the Word made flesh and of His complete life­ long dedication to the Father, worship was established from the start as the center of piety. Private prayer was deliberately allied to public lit­urgy. In fact participation in the oblation of Christ gradually became the fundamental concept of piety in the school of Bérulle, of Condren (d. 1641) and of Olier (d. 1657). Thus in regard to the Mass, the sacrifice of the Church and with it the liturgical side of the sacrifice became more prominent. During this period, one of the best explanations of the Mass came from the circle of the Oratory (Ibid., 143).



Of the Sacrifice and the preparations prescribed for its offering

Sanguis Christi – Scuola Bernini Museo di Ariccia


The necessity of sacrifice at all times, the cessation of those of the ancient Law and the excellence of the unique Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and on our altars, which contains all the others and will never cease

I. Necessity of interior and exterior sacrifice

Religion is a cult that joins us to God by a perfect subjection of ourselves to the supreme Being and causes us to render all that we are and all that we do to his glory. It makes us fulfill this duty particularly through sacrifice, which is an oblation made to God to recognize his sovereign dominion over all creation.

This oblation must be made interiorly, because God is a Spirit, and those who adore him must do it in spirit and in truth. [1] Yet because men are composed of body and spirit, they must also make this Oblation exteriorly, because they must give visible and public signs of the disposition of their heart toward the sovereign Majesty. To interior sacrifice, therefore, they must join exterior sacrifice,[2] which is nothing other than a sensible sign of the interior Oblation of ourselves, which we must make to God as our Creator and Preserver.

Religion cannot exist without interior and exterior sacrifice, because it consists in nothing less than uniting men by means of exterior signs of the dependence and of the love which they owe to God.

II. Sacrifices offered since the beginning of the world

cropped-800px-sacrifice_of_isaac-caravaggio_uffizi4.jpgTheir own natural lights have always inspired men men to sacrifice as the first of all the essential acts of religion. Sacred history teaches us what they have offered since the beginning of the world,[3] and we see that they understood that sacrifice was necessary and that it could only be offered to the Divinity.

The written Law confirmed what nature had inspired and declared that to turn men away from sacrifice or to sacrifice to anyone other than God alone were two enormous crimes. [4] The sin of the sons of Heli was very great before the Lord, the Sacred text says, because they turned men away from sacrifice. And when men who are blinded by their passions have feared and reverenced creatures, Angels, or demons to the point of offering them sacrifices, the Law says, to give them the proper horror of this sacrilege: “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.[5]

III. The four ends of sacrifice

basilica-of-san-vitale-byzantine-mosaics-scenes-from-abrahams-life-E92W65.jpgExterior sacrifice consists in offering to God a sensible and exterior thing to be destroyed or to suffer some change, and this is done for four reasons which are the four ends of sacrifice. Firstly, to recognize the sovereign domain of God over all created beings. Secondly, to thank him for his benefits. Thirdly, to obtain pardon for sins and indicate what we owe to the divine Justice. Fourthly, to ask for whatever help we need.

The destruction or change of the thing offered perfectly expresses two of the principle ends of sacrifice, which are to honor the sovereign dominion of God and to recognize what we merit for our sins. For by this destruction and by this change, men declare that God is the absolute master of all things, that he has no need of any creature because they are destroyed in being offered to him. Secondly, by this destruction they indicate that as sinners they have merited death by their offenses, and that the victim is substituted in their place. This is why those who offer the sacrifice placed their hands on the head of the victim.

Men must also thank God for all his benefits and ask for new graces. Now to fulfill all these obligations, the Law established many sacrifices: the holocaust, the sin offering, and the peace offerings.[6]

IV. Why different sacrifices: the holocaust, the sin offering, and the peace offerings?

The holocaust consisted in burning the whole victim without anyone being able to eat of it, in order to render by this entire consumption a full and unreserved homage to the sovereign dominion of God.

The sin offering was often joined to the holocaust, [7] and was divided into three parts, one of which was consumed at the altar of holocausts, the other was burned outside the camp, and the third was eaten by the priests.[8] Those who offered victims for their sins could not eat of it; and when the priests offered for themselves, no one ate of it. Everything that was not burned on the altar of holocausts was burned outside the camp.

The peace offerings, either to thank God for benefits received, or to obtain new ones from him, were not distinguished from sin offerings except that that the people as well as the priests had to participate by eating a part of the victim.

V. Sacrifice displeasing without the Redeemer

Although these sacrifices had been ordained by the Divine Law, they were still nothing but signs, incapable in themselves of pleasing God. They had neither efficacy nor power except through the faith of those who offered them having in their minds the Divine Victim, [9] the unblemished Lamb who takes away sins who was immolated before the beginning of the world.

When these sacrifices were offered by the saints, such as Abel, [10] Abraham, Job, and all the men of faith who lived in expectation of the Messiah, then those sacrifices were agreeable to God who received them as a sweet perfume, according to the expression of Scripture.[11]

But when the priests went no further than the external ceremony, and when all the sacrificers and the people separated from the sacrifice the spirit in which its whole merit consisted, the holocausts were no longer pleasing to God.[12]

No matter the care with which the priests chose the animals without spot or blemish, these were nothing more than simple figures entirely empty and inanimate, for they did not pay attention to the fact that the only reason it was necessary to choose animals without spot or blemish, as St. Augustine observes, [13] was to announce and await the immolation of he who alone was free of all spot of sin.

VI. The wickedness of the Pharisees and Sadducees caused the sacrifices to be rejected

The spirit that ought to have animated all the ceremonies of religion diminished day by day when there were no more prophets, and irreligion and stupidity reached their acme immediately before the advent of the Messiah. For what could be expected of the Pharisees who stopped outside the Law, and especially the Sadducees,[14] who held sway in the Temple, who presided at the sacrifices, and who did not believe in the resurrection? Thus it was at that time that the figures were to cease, and that, according to the prediction of the Prophet-King, [15] God would reject the sacrifices that had been offered until then in the only Temple of Jerusalem.

VII. Jesus Christ announces a new sacrifice

A new sacrifice was necessary that would be offered in spirit and in truth. This is what Jesus Christ announced to the Samaritan woman when she asked him about the place where one must worship,[16] i.e. sacrifice. For the Jews and Samaritans only differed about the place of exterior cult, of Oblations and Sacrifices, and not about the place of interior prayer and sacrifice, for all were convinced that prayer could be offered to God in any place. Jesus Christ responds saying that the time would come when people would not adore, that is to say, sacrifice, either on the mountain of Garizim, nor in Jerusalem, but that there would be true worshippers who worshipped in spirit and truth, and who would no longer be constrained to a particular place. The response of Jesus Christ confirmed the necessity of sacrifice and announced the truth of the New law, which would be offered throughout all the world and would be offered in spirit and truth by he who is the truth itself.Old Testament

VIII. Accomplishment of the prophecy of Malachi

What Jesus Christ announced was the accomplishment of the well-known prophecy of Malachi addressed to the Jewish people: “I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”[17]

One must agree with the most ancient doctors of the Church, St. Justine, [18] St. Irenaeus, [10] Tertullian,[20] St. Cyprian,[21] etc. who applied this prophecy to the Eucharist, and who said that the Church had learned to offer this new sacrifice throughout the whole world from Jesus Christ and the Apostles. And indeed how could one not see in this prophecy that God rejects the sacrifices of the Jews and substitutes in their place, in the whole world, the Sacrifice of a pure and holy Oblation? Here it is not a matter of the interior sacrifice of our heart; such is not a new sacrifice, because it was the sacrifice of all just souls since the beginning of the world. Now what other sacrifice was substituted except that of Jesus Christ on the Cross and on our altars? But the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross was accomplished on Calvary. It is thus the unbloody sacrifice of our altars which is offered in every place, and which is substituted for the ancient victims.

IX. God demands the body of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice

Saint Augustine explains this truth wonderfully where he explains this verse of the the Psalm: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire.”[22]

This is what he writes: “What then? Are we left at this present time without a sacrifice? God forbid! Here the words of the Prophet: ‘But a Body have You perfected for me.’ Behold a new victim. What has God rejected then? The figures.” [23] Then what will God accept, and what will he prescribe to fulfill the figures? The body which fulfills all the figures, the adorable body of Jesus Christ on our altars: this body which the faithful know, which the Catechumens do not know. Augustine continues: “What is that which has been given as its fulfillment? That Body; which you know; which you do not all of you know; which, of you who do know it, I pray God all may not know it unto condemnation.”

There you have it: the Body of Jesus Christ is offered and eaten on our altars throughout the whole world, as the sacrifice of the New Law. Now we have to explain when this adorable sacrifice began, its perfection, and great things it contains, and how it fulfills all the figures and all the conditions that accompanied the ancient sacrifices.

X. Jesus Christ’s offering puts an end to the figures

In the unhappy times of irreligion that we have just spoken about, Jesus Christ, who was the truth of all the figures, offers himself and and fill out the imperfection of all the ancient sacrifices. He says to his Father: “” Finding nothing in the world, says St. Augustine, so pure to offer to God, he offered himself. And it is by this Oblation, which is to be permanent and eternal, that mankind has been sanctified. For he offers himself once for all time. His life was one unceasing sacrifice, up to the moment when he poured out all his blood upon the cross. At that time the figure of the bloody sacrifices of Aaron were fulfilled; and all the sacrifices that had to be multiplied due to their imperfection had to disappear so that the faithful would have recourse only to the true and unique sacrifice of our divine Mediator which alone can satisfy for sin.

XI. As a Priest and Victim on the cross Jesus Christ contains everything we find in the sacrifices

It is here that we find truly present in one Sacrificer everything that we see and desire in all sacrifices, God to whom they are offered, the priest who offers, the gift that must be offered; because the divine Mediator, Priest and Victim, is one with God to whom he offers; and because he is united, or rather made one with all the faithful whom he reconciles to God, their common Father. It is certain that he was at the same time Priest and Victim on the cross. The Jews and Gentiles who put him to death were his executioners and not his sacrificers, it is thus he who is offered and he who has offered us in sacrifice with himself on the cross.

(to be continued…)

[1] John 4:24
[2] Aug. Civ. Dei. bk. 10, c. 19
[3] Cain and Abel offered to God the fruits of the earth and the animals. Gen 4:3 and 4. Noah on leaving the Ark built an altar, took from all the pure animals and offered them to the Lord in a holocaust on this altar (Gen. 8:20).
[4] Erat ergo peccatum puerorum grande nimis coram Domine, quia retrahebant homines a Sacrificio Domini (1 Kings 2:17).
[5] Qui immolat Diis occidetur praeter quam Domino soli (Ex. 22:20; Aug. de Civit. l. 29, c. 23).
[6] See the fifth treatise of Maimonides, de ratione sacrificiorum faciendorum, translated from Hebrew into Latin by Compiegne de Veil.
[7] Levit. 14 and 15.
[8] Levit. 6 and 7.
[9] Apoc 13:8
[10] Fide plurimam Hostiam Abel, etc (Hebr. 11).
[11] Gen. 8:21
[12] Holocautomata pro peccato non tibi placuerunt (Hebr. 10:6).
[13] Ut speraretur immolandus esse pro nobis qui solus immaculatus fuerat a peccatis (Contr. adversar. Leg. et Proph. bk. 2, ch. 13).
[14] We see in the History of Josephus that before and after Herod, i.e. in the time of the advent of Jesus Christ, the High Priests were Sadducees. Certainly Caiphas, Annas his predecessor and father-in-law, and the second Annas or Ananus the successor of Caiphas were. This is no less clear in the Acts of the Apostles, where we see that the High Priest and all those who caused the Apostles to be imprisoned were Sadducees. “Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy” (Acts 5:17).
[15] Psalm 39:9
[16] John 4:20 et seqq.
[17] Malach. 1:10
[18] Dialog. cum Triphon
[19] Bk. 4 ch. 32
[20] Adversus Marcion book 3, ch. 21
[21] Adversus Jud. book 4, n. 16
[22] Psalm 39:6.
[23] Quid ergo nos iam hoc tempore sine sacrificio dimissi sumus? Absit. Corpus autem perfecisti mihi (Aug. in Psal. 39)
[24] Quid est quod datum es, completivum? Corpus quod nostis, quod non omnes nostis [Ibid.] Huius corporis participes summus, quod accepimus, novimus, et qui (Catechumeni) non nostis, noveritis; et cum didiceritis, utinam non ad judicium accipiatis: qui enim manducat et bibit indigne, iudicium sibi manducat et bibit [Ibid.]

The Lenten Veil, by Henri de Villiers

The Lenten Veil—Velum quadragesimale

By Henri de Villiers

We are grateful to the author for his permission to translate his article Le voile de Carême – Velum quadragesimale.”  Also published at Liturgical Arts Journal.

Lent is a time of fasting. In former times, in order to prepare themselves to live the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians not only fasted from food but also practiced an auditory and visual fast.

Auditory privation took the form of suppressing of the use of the organ and musical instruments, but also in many diocesan uses, suppressing the ringing of bells

Visual privation with the veils that were placed over the Cross and the statues or even the prohibition of placing flowers upon the altar. Visual privation also included closing off the sanctuary with a great veil, the velum quadrigesimale.

And so in Paris, until around the year 1870, such a veil was hung from the first Sunday of Lent until Spy Wednesday. This great veil, made of violet or ash-coloured linen, completely closed off the sanctuary and masked the view of the High Altar. It was dropped on the pavement of the sanctuary during the course of Spy Wednesday Mass during the chanting of the Passion according to St. Luke, precisely when the chronista reached the chanting of this verse: “et obscuratus est sol: et velum templi scissum est medium.” (Luke 23:45).

This dramatic visual action gave life to the words of the Gospel of the Passion that the faithful heard and reinforced its meaning in their hearts.

This great veil—called the velum quadrigesimale or velum templi—was not, however, particular to Paris, since it is found in all the lands of the ancient Carolingian world. Its usage is attested by many councils and medieval statutes and actually goes all the way back to Christian antiquity. Growing more and more ornate toward the end of the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, the Lenten veil, which had survived the Lutheran reform, is currently witnessing a renewed interest.

1. The Lenten Veil in the Ancient Use of Paris

Below are several paragraphs concerning the decoration of churches during Lent, taken from the Caeremoniale Parisiense published in 1662 by Cardinal de Retz, and edited by Martin Sonnet, priest and beneficiary of the Church of Paris, a reference work for understanding the old Parisian rite. This passage describes the set-up of the decoration of churches proper to the time Lent, carried out before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. Regarding the great Lenten veil, the parisian Ceremonial stipulates not only when it must be placed in the sanctuary, but also at what precise moments it must be opened or closed.


From the Sundays and ferias of Lent until Palm Sunday.

And when Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry (Matthew 4:2).

1. The first Sunday of Lent is a semi-double of the first class. Semi-double with respect to the office; first class, with respect to its privilege.

2. The Saturday before Vespers, the Master of Ceremonies ensures that the churchwarden or the sacristan and his assistants entirely cover up all crosses, reliquaries or relics of the saints, and images of the church, even the Processional Cross, in a dignified manner with a violet or ash-coloured veils made from camlet or damask silk, or from a silky fabric. He likewise ensures that the high altar and the other altars of the church be covered with frontals of the same colour.

3. And before the high altar, between the choir and the sanctuary, from one side to the other, a great oblong and wide veil is hung, or a large curtain made of violet or ash-coloured camlet, which can be drawn back or folded or let down when needful, or even spread out or closed or drawn, until Wednesday of Holy Week.

4. Now, this great veil is spread out for all ferial hours only, and for the entire day and night, and it is never spread out during mass, nor during the Sunday office from First Vespers until Second Vespers and for the entire day and night, nor indeed on the offices of double and semi-double feasts, nor by day nor by night.

5. Additionally, all draperies and all the carpets of the steps or the predella of the high altar and the other altars, are taken down throughout the Church: in sum, until Easter, the entire church is without ornament.


Observe how the same Ceremonial describes the lifting of the great Lenten veil a little later, when it speaks about Spy Wednesday:


11. The deacon sings the Passion according to St Luke, which the celebrant meanwhile reads on the Gospel side, as is noted in the preceding Tuesday. Now, after he arrives at the eagle which is in the middle of the choir, the Master of Ceremonies extends the great veil between the sanctuary and the altar, in the usual manner. It is elevated in each part of the choir, and held by two clerics, until these words of the Passion: “And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst”. And when the deacon pronounced those words, at the command of the Master of Ceremonies, the two aforementioned clerics immediately let go, so the veil may suddenly fall entirely on the floor of the choir, and it is afterwards taken away by the sacristan.


It is very interesting to note that the great Lenten veil remains opened all Sunday, from First Vespers to Second: the Day of the Lord, Dies Domini, has always been the feast of the Resurrection, even in Lent. Fasting is forbidden on this day.

The Cæremoniale Parisiense of Cardinal de Noailles, published in 1703, moreover, quite reasonably postpones the installation of the veil until after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent and before the Night Office of Monday: since the veil remained open on all Sundays, its installation before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent—however it perfectly logically fit with the entry into Lent—was not absolutely necessary. According to this Ceremonial, the other veils on the images and crosses are nevertheless always installed before First Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent. As we shall see, the practice of placing the Lenten veil after Compline of the First Sunday is already found in most medieval monastic customaries from the 10th century, and perhaps this is a souvenir from ancient times—before St. Gregory the Great!—when the fast did not commence until Monday.

2. The Lenten Veil in the Rest of Europe

Before the Renaissance and the printing of the first diocesan ceremonials, it is not always easy to discover the development of various liturgical rites in exact detail: the rubrics in the old Medieval Missals are fragmentary or even non-existent. We may still glean several useful details in the acts of provincial councils, and especially in the Customaries of the Abbeys, which regulated the details of conventual life in each of the great monastic centers with great precision.

And so we find the great Lenten veil mentioned by a series of medieval Anglo-Norman councils as being part of the supplies that every church was obliged to possess: these are the councils of Exeter (1217), Canterbury (1220), Winchester (1240), Evreux (1240), and Oxford (1287).

Prior to these councils, a number of customaries, constitutions, and statutes of medieval abbeys witness to the custom of closing off the sanctuary with a veil during Lent.

The most ancient mention is found in the Consuetudines Farfenses, the Constitutions of the Abbey of Farfa, near Rome, produced around the year 1010 (ch. XLII), which notes for the evening of the First Sunday of Lent:

Nam denique secraetarius cortinam exacta vespera in fune ordinet et completorio consummato in circulos extendant.

And finally, after Vespers have finished, the sacristan shall set up a curtain over a cord and, at the end of Compline, they shall spread it out.

St. Lanfranc († 1089), abbot of Saint-Étienne in Caen and then archbishop of Canterbury in 1070, speaks in his statutes about the Lenten veil, which must be installed after Compline of the First Sunday of Lent, and about other veils for the crosses and images, which are placed the next day before Terce:

Dominica prima Quadragesimae post Completorium suspendatur cortina inter Chorum et altare. Feria secunda ante Tertiam debent esse coopertae Crux, Coronae, Capsae, textus qui imagines deforis habent.

On the First Sunday of Lent, after Compline, let a curtain be hung up between the choir and the altar. On Monday before Terce, the Cross, crowns, reliquaries, and the fabrics which have images [painted] on them must be covered up (Statutes ch. 1, § 3).

Here are several more references, which admittedly show some variation in detail amongst the medieval monastic uses, but which allow us to appreciate the wide extent of the use of the Lenten veil:

  • Post Completorium appenditur velum inter altare et chorum quod nullus praeter Sanctuarii Custodes, atque Ministros, absque rationabili causa audet transire.

    After Compline, a veil is hung between the altar and the choir, which no one besides the custodians of the sanctuary and the ministers [of the mass] should dare to cross without reasonable cause. (Liber Consuetudinum S. Benigni Divionensis, Customary of St-Bénigne in Dijon)

  • Dominica post completam debet Secretarius tendere cortinam inter chorum et altare et Crucifixum cooperire.

    On Sunday after Compline the Sacristan must stretch out a curtain between the choir and the altar and cover the Crucifix. (Liber Usuum Beccesnsium, Book of the Usages of Bec-Hellouin)

  • Hac die post Completorium cruces cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis per XL usque ad quartam feriam ante Pascha post Completorium remanebit. (…) In Sabbatis vero et in vigiliis SS. duodecim Lectionum ante Vesperas a conspectu Presbyterii est cortina retrahenda, et in crastino post Completorium est remittenda. Similiter retrahentur ad Missam pro praesenti defuncto, et ad exequias: Non intres in iudicium, donec septem psalmi finiantur post sepulturam. S et ad benedictionem novitii. (…) Ad missam vero privatis diebus, ut Sacerdos libere ab Abbate, si assuerit, ad Evangelium legendum benedictionem petat, Subdiaconus cornu cortinae in parte Abbatis modice retrahat, et data benedictione, ut prius erat, remittat. Diaconus vero accedat ad cortinam, ubi sublevata est, quaerens benedictionem.

    On this day, after Compline, let the crosses be covered up, and a curtain be extended before the sanctuary, which must remain so on all ferial days throughout Lent until after Compline of the Wednesday before Easter. […] On Saturdays, however, and the vigils of saints of twelve lessons, the curtain must be drawn back before Vespers that the sanctuary might be visible, and it is put back the next day after Compline. It is likewise to be drawn back on a funeral mass where the body is present, and on obsequies from Non intres in judicium until the seven penitential psalms finish after the burial, and on the blessing of a novice. […] But on weekday masses, in order that the priest, if he wishes, can freely ask the blessing of the abbot for reading the Gospel, let the Subdeacon slightly draw back the end of the curtain at the abbot’s side, and after the blessing has been given, let him put it back as it was before. But let the deacon walk up to the curtain, at the point where it is lifted up, to ask for the blessing. (Liber Usuum Cisterciensium, Book of the Usages of Cîteaux, ch. 15: De Dominica prima XL).

  • Hac die post IX ante Sanctuarium cortina a Sacrista tendatur, et cruces in ecclesia cooperiantur. (…) In festis vero SS. XII. Lectionum, et Dominicis, die praecedente ad Vesperas a conspectu Sanctuarii cortina abstrahenda est, et in die festi post Completorium rehrahenda: similiter singulis diebus ante elvationem Domin Corporis abstrahantur, et ea facta retrahetur.

    On this day after None, let a curtain be spread out before the sanctuary by the sacristan, and let the crosses in the church be covered up, […] But on saints feasts of twelve lessons, and on Sundays, at Vespers on the preceding day the curtain is to be opened up that the sanctuary might be visible, and after Compline on the feast it is to be put back. Similarly, on each day let it be opened up before the elevation of the Body of the Lord, and closed again thereafter. (Tullense S. Apri Ordinarium, Ordinary of St-Evre-lès-Toul)

  • Vesperae autem diei praecedentis diem cinerum, cruces, et imagines cooperiantur, et cortina ante Presbyterium tendatur, quae ita omnibus diebus privatis usque ad quartam feriam hebdomadae palmarum dum canitur: Et velum Templi scissum est, remanebit. (…) Et omnibus etiam privatis diebus ad elevationem Dominici Corporis et Sanguinis Missae conventualis, quae cantantur in summo altari.

    Now, at Vespers of the day preceding the Day of Ashes, let the crosses and images be covered up, and a curtain be stretched out before the sanctuary, which shall remain thus on all ferial days until Wednesday of the Week of Palms, when Et velum templi scissum est is sung. […] but not on ferial days at the elevation of the Body and Blood of the Lord during conventual Mass, which is sung at the high altar. (Caeremoniae Bursfeldenses, Ceremonial of the German Benedictine Congregation of Bursfelde, ch. 31, 1474-1475)

3. The German Fastentuch

The Lenten veil has remained in use here and there in Sicily and in Spain, but it is especially in Germany and Austria that it has been preserved to our day. The fact that the Lenten veils (or Fastentuch in German) had there become genuine works of art by their decoration surely has something to do with their preservation, and the continuance of their use.

The Lenten veil of Paris would usually have been a rather ordinary woolen sheet (made of ‘camlet’ to employ the technical term used by Martin Sonnet in the Ceremonial of 1662), and must have remained without any special decoration for a long time, as it was in its primitive state. None of these have been conserved and we have not been able to find any ancient iconographic representations.

On the other hand, it is at the end of the 13th century that we observe, in Flanders and Germany, that Lenten veils became ornamented, first with embroidery and then with painting, becoming more and more rich and sumptuous.

Especially in southern Germany and Austria one sees that Lenten veils became very richly painted canvases representing scenes of the Passion, often true masterpieces of their time.

Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Fribourg (1612)

In Germany, the cathedral of Our Lady of Fribourg preserves the largest Lenten veil known in Europe. Dating to 1612, it measures more than 10 by 12 metres and weighs almost one ton. The central scene of the crucifixion is surrounded by 25 squares containing various episodes of the Passion.

Lenten Veil of the Abbey of Millstatt in Austria (1593)

The Lenten veil of the Abbey of Millstatt, in Carinthia (Austria) originating in 1593 had fallen into disuse. Restored, it has been reinstalled and used once more every Lent since 1984.

Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria (1458)

These Lenten veils were a veritable instrument of catechesis through image, educating the people on the history of salvation.

The Lenten Veil of the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria, composed of 99 (tableaux) from Scripture (1458)

In Northern Germany, the Lenten veil remained of a much more simple design: made of white linen decorated with embroidery, consisting usually of references from Scripture or the liturgy. These features are found also in the ancient Lenten veils of Flanders that are conserved in the museums of Belgium, the more ancient belonging to the 14th century. The Museum of the cathedral of Brandenburg near Berlin possesses one dating from the year 1290.



Martin Luther, who detested the idea of Lent and of penance, tried to make the Fastentuch disappear in all of Germany. Little by little they fell into disuse, and from the end of the 19th century the use had practically disappeared. Curiously, this ancient tradition reappeared vigorously beginning in 1974, when the charitable association Misereor had the idea of producing a Fastentuch to give concrete expression to Christians’ Lenten efforts. This initiative has a certain impact all over Germany, leading to the rediscovery of this tradition, the restoration of numerous historic veils that slept in the vaults of cathedrals or museums, and their suspension in sanctuaries once more. There was so much interest that even the Lutherans were moved to put them up! Currently, it is estimated that one third of German Catholic churches as well as many hundreds of Lutheran parishes hang up a veil during Lent. From Germany the practice is expanding currently into Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland and even France.


4. A Tradition with Roots in Christian Antiquity

The practice of veiling images, crosses, and relics during Lent is certainly ancient in the West. Thus, we see in the life of St. Eligius, written by St. Audoin († 686), that the precious casket of the saint was covered by a veil during the entire duration of Lent. But this is not exactly the purpose of this article.

The practice of hanging a veil before the sanctuary of churches hearkens to the most ancient period.

The Old Testament, a type of the New, speaks of a veil that covered the Holy of Holies, first in the itinerant Tabernacle of the desert, then in the Temple of Jerusalem (according to St. Paul, the veil that was rent at the death of Christ was the second veil, and a first veil closed off the Holy Place. Cf. Hebrews 9:3).

The first Christian churches used the sanctuary veil as much in the West as in the East.

The ancient altar was usually covered by a ciborium or baldacchino, between whose columns veils were hung.


Besides these veils over the ciborium, the sanctuary itself was separated from the choir and the nave by a cloister called the chancel or templon, a barrier that might include columns, between which veils were hung. Twelve columns closed off the sanctuary of the basilica of the Anastasis (today the Holy Sepulchre) constructed by Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century. These columns served to support curtains, as various patristic texts tell us. The curtain of the sanctuary of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, donated by the munificence of the emperor Justinian, was made of cloth of gold and silver of an estimated cost of 2,000 minae.


This double rung of veils, the veil of the templum and the veil of the ciborium, constituted the limits of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the temples of the new covenant.


The curtains were kept closed or open depending on the moments of the liturgical action. Their opening always signified the full transmission of grace and symbolized the opening of the heavens.

“When,” said St John Chrysostom, “the heavenly host is upon the altar, when Jesus Christ, the royal lamb, is immolated, when you hear these words: ‘Let us all pray to the Lord together’, when you see that the veils and curtains of the altar are pulled back, consider that you contemplate the heavens that are opened up and the angels that come down to earth.”


The West was not to be outdone: one finds in the Liber Pontificalis several references to popes (e.g. Sergius I, Gregory III, Zachary, Hadrian I) who donated veils to ornament the arcades of the ciboria and the sanctuaries of Roman churches.

Many ancient Eastern and Western liturgies contain a prayer—the prayer of the veil—that the celebrant says when, during the offertory, he leaves the choir and enters the sanctuary, going beyond the veil that closed it off.

The prayer of the veil in the Liturgy of St James, which represents the ancient use of the Church of Jerusalem, is justly renowned:

“We thank Thee, O Lord our God, that Thou hast given us boldness for the entrance of Thy holy places, which Thou hast renewed to us as a new and living way through the veil of the flesh of Thy Christ. We therefore, being counted worthy to enter into the place of the tabernacle of Thy glory, and to be within the veil, and to behold the Holy of Holies, cast ourselves down before Thy goodness: Lord, have mercy on us: since we are full of fear and trembling, when about to stand at Thy holy altar, and to offer this dread and bloodless sacrifice for our own sins and for the errors of the people: send forth, O God, Thy good grace, and sanctify our souls, and bodies, and spirits; and turn our thoughts to holiness, that with a pure conscience we may bring to Thee a peace-offering, the sacrifice of praise:

(Aloud.) By the mercy and loving-kindness of Thy only-begotten Son, with whom Thou art blessed, together with Thy all-holy, and good, and quickening Spirit, now and always:

R/. Amen.”


The Assyro-Chaldean, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Churches have kept the use of a curtain that closes off the sanctuary. In the Armenian Church, a church is considered to be in disuse if its sanctuary is bereft of a curtain. In the Byzantine church, the columns that once propped up the curtain grew coated with icons in the course of the ages and became the iconostasis: the curtain is still present, although its extension is most often limited to the breadth of the sanctuary doors.

Veil Armenia.jpg

Even if a curtain closes off the sanctuary yearlong in the East, there are nevertheless special customs during Lent. Thus, in the Armenian Church, the usual curtain is replaced during Lent by a black curtain. This black curtain always remains closed during mass and the Lenten offices, symbolizing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. It is not opened until Palm Sunday.

The Russians likewise change their usual brightly coloured curtain for a sombre-coloured one during the weekdays of Great Lent. All the other veils and coverings of the church are similarly changed. Brightly coloured curtains return on Holy Saturday during the Paschal Vigil, right before the singing of the Gospel of the Resurrection, while the choir sings “Rise up, O Lord, and judge the earth.”


Is it foreseeable that this custom will be restored in France, like it has in Germany?

Juridically, there is nothing blocking it, since the Congregation of Rites has affirmed that the use of the great veil of Lent closing off the sanctuary is indeed permissible (decr. auth. 3448, 11 May 1878).

Nevertheless, we still have something of the “visual Lent” of our forefathers since we have kept the Roman usage of veiling the crosses and statues before First Vespers of Passion Sunday (fifteen days before Easter). Even if this article is not directly about that beautiful custom, it might perhaps help us to better understand the origins of that use and to grasp its historical and symbolic depths.

*For more on veils, also posts at NLM here and here.