The series "Pulling Back the Veil" was featured in The Lewis County Catholic Times between January 8 and February 12 of this year. It is presented here in its original, weekly installment format.
Few things are as satisfying as unwrapping a gift or the curtain opening on a staged production. We humans have always had a fascination with uncovering that which is obscured. A covering denotes mystery and secrecy, and it often enlivens in us an overwhelming anticipation. Part of our nature is having an insatiable desire to know as much as possible. The very concept of mystery is one that eludes us because we fear the unknown—even when we know that which is being obscured.
A particular item of interest that has come up in conversation recently concerns the subject of veils.
A veil in any form is simply something which covers something else. In fact, when we speak of the concept of Divine Revelation, God manifesting himself to humanity, the word “revelation” literally means to pull back the veil, to show that which was hidden. This topic is especially apropos of the Feast of the Epiphany, in which God manifests His Salvation to the world in the Child Jesus.
Since ancient times, veils have been used as a means of covering that which is sacred. Whether it was originally intended as protection, a barrier, a warning, or a decoration, the effect has largely been the same: a degree of awe and reverence for that which is covered up. It creates a desire to see, a yearning to know that which is behind the veil. A veil creates a certain poetic mystery that is also a contradiction, for we both know and do not know what is on the other side of it—like Schrodinger’s cat!
But modern man has seen fit to unveil all things, in the hope of proving them through reason. The poetry of much of our devotion is gone, and it is largely through the efforts of modernists to seek to demystify the mysteries of our Faith, one presumes that we might somehow be even more convinced of them.
Throughout the Old Testament, reference is made to the Veil of the Temple, the barrier which separated the rest of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum in which resided the Ark of the Covenant and the True Presence of God. The sanctity of that space, filled with incense and lit by seven lampstands, was so imposing that even the hardest of hearts trembled and melted in its presence. If there had been no veil, the Ark most likely would have become merely a showpiece—a casual furnishing of no substance.
When one considers the appointment of the Catholic sanctuary, it is of paramount importance to note that it, too, is the Holy of Holies, the place where the Most High God truly resides in the Blessed Sacrament. Kept in the tabernacle is the Savior and Creator of the world. I cannot help but speculate if perhaps we, too, have lost a certain reverence for that most sacred of spaces because of a certain demystifying that comes with making all things visible and present. Much ink has been spilt on this very subject, as more and more are becoming convinced that the poetry and mystery of our Faith has begun to take a back seat to reason, incuriosity, and nonchalance. And so, the question must be posed: how do we behave in the House of God? Seeing before us the Holy of Holies, unveiled but nonetheless permeated with the True Presence of the Living and True God, are we more struck with awe or apathy, with wonder or weariness? And can we, as a Church, rekindle the poetic romance of mystery contained in that which is known but not seen, perceived but not felt?
Over the coming weeks, we will explore the various types of veils that have come down to us through the liturgical traditions of the Church in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of how this ancient practice can help and hinder a fuller understanding of the Church and the mysteries of Our Faith.