The Fifth Sunday of Lent, where we find ourselves today, is traditionally known as “Passion Sunday.” This did get a little confusing with the reforms of the liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council as the name for next Sunday, Palm Sunday, is known officially as “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” and so sometimes after Vatican II, Palm Sunday has also been called Passion Sunday.
Modern confusion notwithstanding, this Sunday begins the time of Lent known as Passiontide. Author Philip Kosloski notes that, “Traditionally the final two weeks of Lent in the Roman Rite are used as an immediate preparation for the sorrowful events of the Easter drama. It is a period of time to focus more and more on the Passion and death of Jesus and so accompany him on his way to Calvary.”
So what is different about Passiontide? The preface at Mass (the prayer that begins the Eucharistic Prayer), is now the Preface of the Passion, rather than of Lent. We hear: “For through the saving Passion of your Son the whole world has received a heart to confess the infinite power of your majesty, since by the wondrous power of the Cross your judgment on the world is now revealed and the authority of Christ crucified.” It is also tradition in many churches to cover (or veil) statues and images with purple cloths on this Sunday. Crosses remain covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil. Why do we cover statutes? Just as we fast throughout all of Lent, during this more directed time of Passiontide, we even fast from the beauty of statues and images until the glory of Easter. The veiling is also associated with John 8:46–59, in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent used to be the feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The hymn Stabat Mater, which is traditionally sung at Stations of the Cross, is actually the sequence for that feast day. In 1969, the feast was removed from the calendar since there was another feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in September. Nonetheless, there is an alternate collect (opening prayer) on the Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent that remembers the sorrows of Mary.
As Philip Kosloski continues, “In the end, Passiontide is meant to be a special penitential period where we focus on Jesus’ bitter passion and foster within ourselves sorrow for our sins. The good news is that Passiontide does not have the last say, and this somber period of preparation ends quickly so that our hearts can rejoice in the beauty of Christ’s resurrection.” I wish you all God’s blessings during these weeks before Easter as we prepare our hearts through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the reception of the sacraments to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death!