August 19, 2013

shekinah


*This is an essay I found during one of my organizing rampages last week.  It discusses the topic of veiling sacred things... I believe I wrote it to send to a friend who didn't understand the matter.  Feel free to discuss.*

The Shekinah Cloud (Glory Cloud) appears every time God manifests His power in a direct way in the Old Testament.  It comes down on Mount Sinai when Moses is speaking to God, and again when the Temple is built.  It descends on the Ark of the Covenant, and, in the New Testament, at the Transfiguration.  When we veil something, we implicitly reveal it by drawing attention to it, though not in an outright way, but by drawing attention to the presence of something mysterious or sacred.  It is revelation in hiddenness.  This is also why, technically, the tabernacles we use today are supposed to be solid, and have a cloth veil over the door(s).

St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:22-27 regarding veiling and modesty:  “On the contrary, the parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with greater honor, and our un-presentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.  But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”


The fact that we cover certain parts of our body draws attention to the fact these are not just the same as the rest of our body.  They are “un-presentable” and so given the greater honor by virtue of the fact they are veiled, or protected.  St. Paul is using this analogy to discuss how, in the Church, the spiritually weaker members partake in the graces merited by the stronger, but he makes the same point about veiling being a way to hide and honor at the same time.

The real meaning of veiling is given to us by the earliest mention of a veiling (a covering) that we find in Holy Scripture.  After the fall, Adam and Eve discovered, to their horror, that they were naked, and they made clothes from leaves.  There is something profoundly disturbing about this passage, for, according to the teachings of Genesis, man was created perfect; his nakedness was not a defect, but an expression of his likeness to God.  After breaking God’s command, the defect is suddenly there, although man remains outwardly unchanged.  He has lost something; it is not there, and it awakens a sense of loss within him. Theology calls this defect the loss of grace.  Man clumsily tries to make up for his loss by making clothes out of fig leaves, and trying to regain the radiance that had formerly surrounded him.

Veiling, therefore, becomes a visible sign of the nimbus of grace and holiness that has become invisible to human eyes.  Veiling in liturgy is the halo that is, by nature, appropriate to the sacred vessels and their more sacred Contents.  This must never be forgotten if these vessels, these signs, and Hosts are to be correctly understood.  Veiling in the liturgy is not intended to withdraw some object from view, to make a mystery out of it, or to conceal its appearance.  The appearance of the veiled things tells us nothing about their real nature, and 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 perfections, nor of the world’s need for redemption.

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