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A little more than halfway through Lent, Christ still calls us to take up our cross and follow Him

by J. E. Helm

Sunday, March 30, was Laetare Sunday – the fourth of six Sundays during Lent.

Like Gaudete Sunday in Advent, Laetare Sunday offers observers a brief break in an otherwise austere, penitential season: Priests wear rose-colored vestments, flowers may adorn the altar, the introit encourages listeners to “Rejoice!” and the Scripture readings offer encouragement.

Laetare Sunday is a vivid reminder that Catholics are an Easter people, called to joy. Unintentionally, perhaps, it is also a reminder that Lent is far from over.

For the next few weeks, we are called to continue to fast from selected indulgences, abstain from meat on Fridays and add devotions – all in an effort to draw closer to Christ, who suffered, died and rose from the dead to reconcile us to the Father and to offer us eternal life.

 

Many and varied are the practices that can draw us closer to Christ, but one devotion speaks to the heart of the Lenten journey:  The Stations of the Cross.

The Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, has been followed by Christians since the earliest centuries of the Church.  Pilgrims to Jerusalem during the time of Constantine followed what were believed to be the footsteps of Christ on His way to Calvary.  Through the centuries, the form has been fixed, indulgences attached and, today, the walls of every Catholic church are adorned with artistic representations of the stations, each one depicting one scene, one event, from that first Good Friday.

The stations offer those who pray them a chance to perform a kind of pilgrimage.  We follow as Jesus is condemned to death, falls three times, meets His mother, is nailed to the cross and finally dies this terrible death by crucifixion.

We can pray the stations privately, walking around the church, symbolically walking the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross.  When the stations are offered as a public prayer service, the priest or deacon as leader walks in our place as we stand, kneel and turn to face each station.

The music of the beautiful Stabat Mater calls forth our heartfelt sorrow as we sing its verses, moving from station to station.  This 13th century Latin hymn has more than 60 English translations and has inspired choral and orchestral compositions by Palestrina, Haydn, Rossini and many others.

Who could fail to be moved, calling to mind the image of Our Lady standing at the foot of the cross?  Stabat Mater can be translated as “the mother was standing.”  In plain English, we would say, “she stood there.”  She stood there and watched her only son suffer and die for our salvation.  The hymn asks, “Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?”

Parishes around the archdiocese are making a special effort to make this beautiful devotion available.  Many churches offer a “simple supper” or “Lenten meal” either before or after Stations of the Cross, often on Friday evenings; parish bulletins and websites contain precise times and locations.

At Saint Monica’s in Edmond, church secretary Stacy Sample reports that the Hispanic community of Saint Monica’s will present live, outdoor Stations of the Cross at 4 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18.

Saint Francis of Assisi in Oklahoma City will host “A Dramatic Stations of the Cross,” presented by the high school youth group of Saint John’s Catholic Church of McAlester, Okla.  This group travels throughout the region offering a 40-minute presentation that incorporates readings, music and dramatic movements to enact the stations.  The program is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, April 6, at Saint Francis.

Also at Saint Francis, the eighth grade class of Rosary School will enact “Shadow Stations” at 10 a.m. on Good Friday, April 16.

In addition to the traditional version of stations offered in most parishes, bookstores and online sites feature stations for peace, scriptural stations, stations for families, stations for the sick and suffering, and stations for the military.

If we haven’t spent the time or made the effort as of yet to renew our spiritual life this Lenten season, many opportunities still exist in every parish.  The Stations of the Cross are still being offered, Mass will still be said and confessions will still be heard.  It’s not yet too late to have a meaningful Lent.

J.E. Helm is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of English at several area colleges. Tina Korbe Dzurisin also contributed to this article.