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. My wife is Catholic and I was raised Protestant. Since our marriage six years ago, we have attended Mass together, especially during Lent.
Neither she nor I, however, understand what I and others who are not Catholic should do or not do at Mass. I know we should not receive Communion, but how about bowing or genuflecting before entering the pew?
Can we go forward at Communion time with others who cross their arms for a blessing? May we stand for the Gospel, for example? And give the sign of peace? Make the sign of the cross at the sprinkling of holy water?
I'm sure this is trivial, but I know others in the parish are as confused as I am. (Ohio)
A. It's not at all trivial. My mail regularly brings the same questions from others like yourselves.
Most Catholics, it seems to me, have no idea how uncertain and confused those not of our faith can be about how to act at Mass and other ceremonies, even after years of being there week after week.
The short and simple answer is that people who are not Catholic are welcome, even invited, to do everything Catholics do, except, as you say, receive Communion. Participate in the prayers, sing, make the sign of the cross, bow or genuflect as you wish.
In fact, the liturgy should become a more genuine act of worship for you if you participate in this way, as long as you feel comfortable doing so and if your actions reflect your interior attitude of prayer and devotion with the people worshiping alongside you.
It would perhaps not be a bad idea for parishes to place an occasional note in the bulletin on these matters to put you and others like you more at ease.
A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.