The Veil of Death

The “Holy Sepulcher” with veiled monstrance in the Parish of Trumau

In Austria, as in much of Central Europe (Poland, Slovakia, parts of Hungary and South-Eastern Germany…), there is a custom of carrying one of the hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday in a veiled monstrance in procession after the Good Friday Liturgy to a side altar decorated as a tomb, usually with an image of the shrouded body of the Lord surrounded by white flowers. The veiled monstrance remains at this “Holy Sepulcher” through the night of Good Friday and the morning of Holy Saturday. The custom is frowned upon by lovers of the sobriety of the Roman liturgy, but I think that it fits beautifully with the paradox of veiling and unveiling that dominates the whole of Passiontide. Nowhere is the holy, mighty, and immortal divinity of Christ so veiled as in His death. And yet this veiling is an ‘unveiling veiling’, to use Hans Urs von Balthasar’s term (enthüllende Verhüllung); nothing more reveals the deepest mystery of the Divine Love. The veiled monstrance is a triple veiling, which is at the same time a triple unveiling, revelation of the Divine Mystery. The eternal Word veils His Divine Nature in the Incarnation, when he takes on our Mortal nature, and yet this veiling in human flesh is at the same time the epiphany, the appearing of the invisible God in visible form. In His passion and death a second veil is, as it were, thrown over the veil of human nature, and yet His death is the greatest possible revelation of the glory of His Immortal Love. And in the Blessed Sacrament yet another veil is added: In cruce latebat sola Deitas, / At hic latet simul et Humanitas (On the Cross lay hidden but thy Deity, / Here is hidden also Thy Humanity). At yet the Blessed Sacrament, the greatest of the Lord’s miracles, is also the greatest revelation of His love for us sinners.


The Holy Sepulcher in Heiligenkreuz