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Photo by Alan M. Dumoff 


Kendall Mehoffey, Juliette Ciro, Annalisa Ciro, Melino Ciro and Grace Gardiner wear masks at the annual Carnevale event sponsored by the Sicilian-American Club of South Jersey. It was held Feb. 21 at St. Augustine Preparatory School, Richland.

By Father John Dietzen
Catholic News Service


Q. At the start of Lent in our parish, the statues and pictures in church are covered with a purple cloth. Other churches in our area do not do this. Is there a rule about this, or is it up to each parish? (New York) 

A. I’ve never heard of statues being covered during the whole of Lent. Before 1970, crosses and other images in Catholic churches were traditionally covered with purple veils during the final two weeks of Lent, during what was then called Passiontide.

When the revised missal was published in 1970, however, it included a different regulation, which is found at the end of the Mass for Saturday of the fourth week of Lent.

“The practice of covering crosses and images in the church may be observed, if the episcopal conference decides.” In that case, beginning on the second Sunday before Easter, “The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.”

These rubrics were repeated by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1988.

As of now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not voted to continue the rule of covering images. Thus the practice has not been permitted in this country for 38 years. Individual parishes have no authority to reintroduce the practice on their own. 

Q. Please explain the significance of Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Some say it means to feast or pig out before Lent. Can this be correct? (Wisconsin)

A. The celebration of Mardi Gras in anticipation of the rigors of the Lenten fast goes back many centuries. Those rigors were much more severe in those days than they are now.

Foods forbidden during the Lenten time included meats and fats, common condiments for cooking, which would spoil by the time Easter arrived. (Our word “carnival” comes, in fact, from a Latin phrase that means “taking away the meat.”)

Thus, the day before Lent began was a time to consume all the fat in the house. It also provided Christians a chance to enjoy their last pre-Lenten party, often in company with the non-Christians around them who were in the midst of their own spring masquerades and feasts. Not much, it seems, has changed, except the fasting. 

(A free brochure answering questions Catholics ask about the sacrament of penance is available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Father John Dietzen, Box 3315, Peoria, IL 61612.) 

(Questions may be sent to Father Dietzen at the same address, or e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)


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