It’s the Opposite of the Wizard of Oz

The ears of the people are often holier than the lips of the priests said either St. Hilary or St. Bernadine or both, but just as often are their lips smarter. It started with an incomplete digression of mine concerning veiling Communion elements and crosses and how the veil functions differently in each case.

The digression went something like this. We veil the Communion elements for the same reason the cross above the altar was originally veiled on Good Friday. Churches who couldn’t claim to have a piece of the real cross veiled their own, not to withdraw it from sight but to highlight, to emphasize it, so that cross would be treated like the real Cross.  Our veiling of crosses during Lent, which dates to circa 1560, is to withdraw them from sight, to mute our joy (Mosebach, The Heresy of Formlessness, 169-171).

The Communion elements are veiled to emphasize that there is more here than meets the eyes. Martin Mosebach says it more elegantly.  “Veiling, in the liturgy, is not intended to withdraw some objects from view, to make a mystery out of it, or to conceal its appearance. The appearance of the veiled thing is common knowledge anyway. But their outward appearance tells us nothing about their real nature. It is the veil that indicates this….If one wanted to formulate a theological doctrine of the veil, one could say that God’s creation is real, but this reality, this ability to be real, is weakened because of original sin. Its lack of reality, its lost ability to radiate beyond itself and manifest itself as the Creator’s thought is designated by the veil that represents this radiance…In this context a liturgy that renounces all veiling has nothing to say. Presenting us with nothing but naked materiality, it takes account neither of creation’s supernatural perfection nor of the world’s need of redemption.” (Mosebach, The Heresy of Formlessness, 172-173).

In the midst of my digression, a young woman, shrieked is too shrill, screamed is too loud, let’s go with expostulated, “It’s the opposite of Wizard of Oz!” Hating the movie for the same reason most Baby boomers do, the flying monkeys, I was slow to take the point.  She persisted as she is wont to do: “It’s the opposite of The Wizard of Oz! Pay attention to the Man behind the curtain.”

This is really on point and really quite profound. I don’t know if the Contemporary Worship crowd or the ever Emerging Church has done away with veils, but I’m guessing they pretty much have.  Again, their argument is neither the validity or the efficacy of the Sacrament are attached to the veils, the precious metals, or type of bread and wine used.  They’re right; we don’t have to use them but in using them we are saying something; actually in Mosebach’s view we’re saying more than we are able to say with words.  Those purposely not using them are saying something as well.

In any case, when our veils are taken off, and there is theology in when in the liturgy this is done, our eyes are no less disappointed then Dorothy’s were.  But we don’t live by what our eyes see but by what our Lord tells us.  And our Lord tells us that present here is a glory, a power, a grace so immense that it ought to be veiled for the safety of sinners.  It is veiled to remind us of Who is really here. Pay attention to this Man behind the veil.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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