Fr James Lyons
Joy and gladness fly high on the banner of Christianity but they come at an enormous cost: the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, the Gospel of John tells us, and the obedience of this Son gave the world its Saviour. His obedience brought him through death to a fullness of life in resurrection and it is from this that true joy and gladness were born.
Lent is the season when Christians reflect on this marvellous mystery through a devotion known as the Stations of the Cross. It is among the earliest devotions recognised by the Church.
Tradition has it that, as long as she was in Jerusalem, Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited daily the scenes of his passion. In the third century, after Christianity was legalised, the pathway Jesus trod to Calvary was marked out and pilgrims would come from many regions to pray, to remember and to give thanks.
From the fifth century the ‘Way of the Cross’ was replicated in many other places so that not everyone had to travel to Jerusalem.
The devotion has evolved over the centuries to its present format of 14 ‘Stations’, or stopping places, that depict the final journey of Jesus from his condemnation by Pontius Pilate to his crucifixion and burial.
A contemporary trend has been to reconstruct the ‘Stations’ in line with the scriptural presentation. This is because some of the events, such as the Veronica wiping the face of Jesus and the number of times he fell are not recorded in the gospel accounts. The new approach also includes ‘the empty tomb’, indicating the story did not end with the burial of Jesus.
Another form growing in popularity is to explore the characters within each scene, for instance, Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, the Centurion, and consider their motivations or reactions.
In Wellington’s Sacred Heart Cathedral there is an additional set of images honouring the ‘Sorrowing Mother’. These are 14 bronze mouldings depicting the emotion on the face of Mary as she follows Jesus to Calvary. One is placed beneath each of the traditional ‘Stations’, adding significantly to the power of this devotion.
How can joy and gladness be found in scenes of suffering and sadness? An apparent impossibility can undergo remarkable transformation when you step into the ‘Stations’ and let them impact on your feelings and on your faith. You can quickly realise the power of love to bring hope to the arena of pain, deep peace to a broken heart.
Joy and gladness are gifts from sacrifice. They are offered from one whose love has been totally for others. They become real and lasting when we understand the love that has given them birth. Making them active in our own lives is the way we give thanks.
They are held in loving memory especially through the Stations of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus carries His cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls a third time
10. Jesus clothes are taken away
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.