By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
The images on interior, side walls of Roman Catholic churches go largely ignored most of the year hardly getting as much as a second glance as people walk down the aisles to their pews. But during the liturgical season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday evening as the Mass of the Last Supper begins, and on Good Friday, they become an important form of personal and public devotion.
These 14 images are the Stations of the Cross. Most parishes hold these devotional services weekly during Lent, and some more often. At mine, St. Kevin, they are held Friday evenings. Attendance varies, usually from 50 or 60 to 100 or so. You may recall seeing or reading about high-profile public Stations, like those at World Youth Day. When Toronto hosted, in 2002, about 500,00 people watched and prayed in Nathan Phillips Square, along University Avenue, in front of the Ontario Legislature building and through Queen’s Park and finally, in front of the Royal Ontario Museum. In Rio de Janeiro in 2013, more than 1 million are said to have witnessed.
Much has been written about this moving and for many participants, intense devotion. One rich source of information was found on the Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) website. It is clear and concise, explaining in simple language why it is that people “do” the stations. Here follows a passage about their history:
“From the earliest of days, followers of Jesus told the story of his passion, death and resurrection. When pilgrims came to see Jerusalem, they were anxious to see the sites where Jesus was. These sites become important holy connections with Jesus. Eventually, following in the footsteps of the Lord, along the way of the cross, became a part of the pilgrimage visit. The stations, as we know them today, came about when it was no longer easy or even possible to visit the holy sites. In the 1500’s, villages all over Europe started creating “replicas” of the way of the cross, with small shrines commemorating the places along the route in Jerusalem. Eventually, these shrines became the set of 14 stations we now know and were placed in almost every Catholic Church in the world.”
THE STATIONS AT ST. KEVIN
I often wondered about the Stations in my parish. With the assistance of office staffer Marney Donohue, I learned a little more about them.
The Stations are the work of Niagara Falls sculptor Helen Waimel Robertson. She was born in Estonia in 1917, emigrated to Canada in 1926 and died May 22, 2002 in Niagara Falls.
Mrs. Robertson attended the prestigious Ontario College of Art in Toronto on a scholarship, completing a four-year program in three. She was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal upon graduation. During the mid-1930s, she worked with prominent sculptors in Canada, one of them Elizabeth Wyn Wood, whose design proposal won the national competition held for the Welland-Crowland War Memorial in Chippawa Park.
According to information in Mrs. Robertson’s death notice, she made “a considerable contribution to the sculptor scene in Canada.” Her commissions included 12 Canada Coats of Arms, 10 Provincial Coats of Arms, Shields of Arms for Ontario Law Courts for various cities, architectural and ornamental sculpture for the Workmans Compensation Rehabilitation Centre, the crest for Niagara Falls City Hall and the Stations of the Cross at St. Kevin, among others.
In biographical information about her it is written: “After the Depression and years of World War 2, Helen Waimel married Blake Robertson, a contractor, and through his business contacts Helen’s talents were introduced to architects and fellow contractors. These partnerships opened the way to commissioned works for outdoor spaces, public buildings and churches…” This may explain how she received the commission for the Stations at St. Kevin, constructed in the early 1950s.
Whether one is spiritual or not, her Stations are noteworthy for simple elegance yet powerful imagery combining to create a masterful piece of religious art. They can’t be looked at even for a few seconds without inviting a longer and deeper study by the eye. These striking images may very well be the least known art treasure in the city.
At St. Kevin, various groups or ministries take turns animating each of the Stations of the Cross evenings, for example: Youth Ministry, Secular Franciscan Fraternity, Social Justice. Reflections, commentary and prayers during each evening come from the charism and spirituality of the animating group. Many people attend the entire weekly series, others pick and choose ones they prefer.
It is not an overly-long service, ranging from 30 to 45 minutes. Each Station has a specific prayer led by the hosting group with spoken and sung participation of the people in the pews. A verse from the hymn, At the Cross Her Station Keeping, is sung at the conclusion of each Station, then the movement continues to the next.
ENTER INTO THE MYSTERY
Another passage on the the Creighton University website offers this insight into why people participate in this old form of prayer:
“The most important reason for reviving the practice of making the Stations of the Cross is that it is a powerful way to contemplate, and enter into, the mystery of Jesus’ gift of himself to us. It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head, and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved.”
The 14 Stations are listed below as is the 15th which was more recently added.
First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Die
Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time
Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother
Fifth Station: Simon the Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time
Eighth Station: The Women Of Jerusalem Weep For Jesus
Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time
Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Taken from the Cross
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb
Fifteenth Station: Jesus is Raised from the Dead.
Thoughts on Some Stations of the Cross at St. Kevin Church – Rev. Jim Mulligan CSC
I asked Father Jim Mulligan CSC, associate pastor at St. Kevin to offer reflections for some of the Stations. I have used his text with the photos taken for this piece of work.
“I have always liked the stations here at the church. They are almost in the style of an icon. They are carved stone. Each figure is in relief,” Mulligan noted.
Station One – Jesus Is Condemned To Death
Jesus is everybody.
The soldiers here in a row are everybody.
And the judgment will be for everybody.
Station Two – Jesus Takes Up His Cross
I can’t really do the stations unless I do them as a disciple. And one can’t really be a disciple unless one takes up that cross and walks it as Jesus did.
There is movement here. Jesus walking the cross. The three Roman soldiers right behind him. The invitation here is for me to walk along shouldering my own cross.
Station Four – Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother
Jesus shoulders the cross with one arm and the other arm directed towards his mother. Mary is kneeling her arms outstretched. Is she there to catch or embrace Jesus? Or is she there to let Jesus go – to encourage Jesus so that he can do what his Father wanted him to do?
The idea of a mother and child – roots and wings. There is time to hold and embrace and give security. And there is a time to let go as the bird flees the nest. In Mary’s posture she does both.
Station Eight – The Women Of Jerusalem Weep For Jesus
REFLECTION: This group of five persons, Jesus, two women and two children, is a powerful indictment of the patriarchal clericalism that there is still too much of in the church. No men here crying for or supporting Jesus. And I apply this to today.
In most parishes in most places in the world it is the women who are the mainstays. It is the women who by and large make up the worshipping church, the witnessing church and the serving church. It is the absence of women in the offices where the rules and regulations and decisions are made that is missed most.
The two women and the two children here jump out at us demonstrating what discipleship means in action.
Station Twelve – Jesus Dies On The Cross
REFLECTION: Jesus dying. Jesus dead. His mother. The disciple. Jesus gives the disciple (the church) into the care of his mother. Jesus gives his mother into the care of the disciple. Really – there are two disciples. Mary is the first of all of the disciples. She is discipling here trying to absorb what is beyond all of comprehension – the horrendous death of her son, her son who is Emmanuel, God with us.
Disciples are often called to accept that which is total mystery and to accept it on faith. This station always reminds me of that. The disciple looking up to Jesus; Mary head bowed and hands folded asking for the grace of acceptance; asking that her beloved son – no matter what, is safe and at peace, finally.
This station reminds me too of the hole in Jesus’ side from which came water and blood, the water of baptism and our birth into new life and the blood of the Eucharist that is food for our journey in our discipling and in our living this new life. The death of Jesus gives new life in abundance.
Station Fourteen – Jesus Is Placed In The Tomb
REFLECTION: A group of five. Jesus dead being laid gently on a slab of stone. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea doing the heavy work. Is it Mary Jesus’ mother in the background .. is it the gospel’s other Mary?
This grouping is both solemn and very sad. Not unlike the groupings we have at a funeral liturgy seated just 12 metres from this station. The looks of the four involved in Jesus’ burial are painful looks, looks that are without hope. We know how the story continues — the joy and power of the Resurrection. For the four that was it. Finis.
Here is the weekly schedule and the animating groups for this Lenten season’s Stations of the Cross at St. Kevin, all on Friday evenings. Each week, the Stations follow the 7 p.m. Mass:
February 28: Catholic Women’s League
March 6: Secular Franciscans
March 13: Holy Name Society
March 20: St. Vincent de Paul Society
March 27: Youth Ministry
April 3: Social Justice
April 10: Notre Dame College School
(Note: Stations of the Cross at St. Kevin first appeared on the blog several years ago. It has been revised and updated. Photos by Joe Barkovich)