Friday, March 8, 2019

The Way of the Cross, an introduction


St. Timothy’s offers the devotional service of the Way of the Cross (also known as the Stations of the Cross, the Via Crucis, or the Way of Sorrows) followed by the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 7 PM on each Friday in Lent.

This devotion arose out of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. For those who could not make the long journey, or for those who had been to Jerusalem and walked the Via Crucis there and wished to re-live that experience, this service was devised. It meant just about anyone could participate in the story of Christ’s Passion in a direct, accessible way.

The number and names of the stops (“stations”) along the way has varied widely over the years—fourteen being the most common. The stations are mostly derived from the Passion accounts in the Gospels, though a few come to us from Christian devotional tradition and express the imaginative, creative element in a living faith. The stations used at St. Timothy’s are:

Pilate condemns Jesus to die
Jesus accepts his cross
Jesus falls for the first time
Jesus meets his mother, Mary
Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Jesus falls for the second time
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Jesus falls for the third time
Jesus is stripped of his clothes
Jesus is nailed to the cross
Jesus dies on the cross
Jesus is taken down from the cross
Jesus is placed in the tomb

Each station is marked by an act of adoration, a brief reading from scripture, a short meditation, a pause for silence, and then a concluding prayer. Thus, each stop forms a consideration of some important aspect of Christ’s passion and our personal response in faith. This slow, considered participation is what makes Stations so effective as we attend it week-by-week each Lent. 

It is customary to sing verses from a hymn between each station; at St. Timothy’s from the 13thcentury hymn Stabat Mater. This poem reflects on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s experience of her son’s sufferings. In this way, we acknowledge and honor the very real suffering not only of Christ, but of all his children down through the ages.

The Way of the Cross often includes meditations written by a well-known teacher, mystic, theologian, saint, or poet. This year at St. Timothy’s we will be using a version of this service including meditations from the writings of Dame Julian of Norwich, a 14thcentury English solitary. Her book “Revelations of Divine Love” has had a tremendous impact on modern thought about prayer, God’s love, and how our faith may grow in trust and assurance. This service combines our intellect and our emotions into a holy synthesis.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament comes at the end of this night’s devotion. Benediction consists of a series of hymns and prayers offered in the presence of the Holy Sacrament upon the altar. It serves as a physical assurance of Christ’s resurrected and triumphant presence with us after what we have experienced in the Stations devotion. In its simplicity, Benediction is an affirmation that “God is with us,” in spirit, in sacrament, and in all times and places. With this knowledge, we depart in peace.

In a world dominated by loudness, pushiness, and competition, Lenten Friday evenings at St. Timothy’s are a haven of peace and a walled garden of contemplation. It is a gift for those having the courage and the commitment to take an hour out of life to listen deeply and to share in the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality.