Exposition During Stations of the Cross

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Exposition During Stations of the Cross


Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: When Benediction is to follow the Way of the Cross, is it proper to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed during the Stations, given the fact that parishioners' focus is on their prayer book, not the Eucharist, and they have their back to the monstrance for some of the Stations, as the priest moves around the church? — J.T., Surrey, British Columbia

A: There are two questions to be addressed, one regarding the posture of the faithful during a community celebration of the Stations and the second regarding the opportunity of exposing the Blessed Sacrament during the Via Crucis.

Regarding the first question I do not see any particular difficulty in this movement of the faithful even though they may briefly turn their backs to the tabernacle.

Catholics have been practicing the Via Crucis in churches for centuries without this creating any particular problem.

Certainly the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is worthy of all respect and prominence. But our churches, especially our older churches, are not exclusively reserved for the celebration of the sacraments and the adoration of our Lord in the tabernacle.

Certainly no disrespect is shown to the tabernacle if a member of the faithful turns away from it to pray at a side altar, chapel or image dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, a venerated crucifix or a saint to which he or she has a particular devotion.

In such cases, and likewise for the Via Crucis, the logic of prayer should prevail over the strict application of a kind of court etiquette, which may be more worldly than we realize.

Another case entirely is the opportunity of exposing the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament should only be exposed if it is to be the direct object of adoration.

The climate proper to this adoration is that of silent prayer although it may also be accompanied by readings, hymns and reflections.

Thus, the Via Crucis, because it requires movement and its center of attention is elsewhere, is not compatible with the simultaneous exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the same body of the church.

It may be compatible with exposition and adoration in a special chapel, provided the chapel is sufficiently soundproofed so that the Way of the Cross does not interfere with the adoration.

If one desires to have Benediction after the Via Crucis, then the Blessed Sacrament should be exposed afterward and followed by the period of adoration.

On the theme of the Via Crucis, the Holy See's 2001 "Directory for Popular Piety," Nos. 131-135, makes some valuable suggestions:

"131. Of all the pious exercises connected with the veneration of the Cross, none is more popular among the faithful than the Via Crucis. Through this pious exercise, the faithful movingly follow the final earthly journey of Christ: from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord, "in a small estate called Gethsemane" (Mark 14:32), was taken by anguish (cf. Luke 22:44), to Calvary where he was crucified between two thieves (cf. Luke 23:33), to the garden where he was placed in freshly hewn tomb (John 19:40-42).

"The love of the Christian faithful for this devotion is amply attested by the numerous Via Crucis erected in so many churches, shrines, cloisters, in the countryside, and on mountain pathways where the various stations are very evocative.

"132. The Via Crucis is a synthesis of various devotions that have arisen since the high middle ages: the pilgrimage to the Holy Land during which the faithful devoutly visit the places associated with the Lord's Passion; devotion to the three falls of Christ under the weight of the Cross; devotion to 'the dolorous journey of Christ' which consisted in processing from one church to another in memory of Christ's Passion; devotion to the stations of Christ, those places where Christ stopped on his journey to Calvary because obliged to do so by his executioners or exhausted by fatigue, or because moved by compassion to dialogue with those who were present at his Passion.

"In its present form, the Via Crucis, widely promoted by St. Leonardo da Porto Maurizio (+1751), was approved by the Apostolic See and indulgenced, consists of fourteen stations since the middle of seventeenth century.

"133. The Via Crucis is a journey made in the Holy Spirit, that divine fire which burned in the heart of Jesus (cf. Luke 12:49-50) and brought him to Calvary. This is a journey well esteemed by the Church since it has retained a living memory of the words and gestures of the final earthly days of her Spouse and Lord.

"In the Via Crucis, various strands of Christian piety coalesce: the idea of life being a journey or pilgrimage; as a passage from earthly exile to our true home in Heaven; the deep desire to be conformed to the Passion of Christ; the demands of following Christ, which imply that his disciples must follow behind the Master, daily carrying their own crosses (cf. Luke 9:23).

"The Via Crucis is a particularly apt pious exercise for Lent.

"134. The following may prove useful suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Via Crucis:

"— the traditional form of the Via Crucis, with its fourteen stations, is to be retained as the typical form of this pious exercise; from time to time, however, as the occasion warrants, one or other of the traditional stations might possibly be substituted with a reflection on some other aspects of the Gospel account of the journey to Calvary which are traditionally included in the Stations of the Cross;

"— alternative forms of the Via Crucis have been approved by Apostolic See or publicly used by the Roman Pontiff: these can be regarded as genuine forms of the devotion and may be used as occasion might warrant;

"— the Via Crucis is a pious devotion connected with the Passion of Christ; it should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope; following the example of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem which ends with a station at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord's resurrection.

"135. Innumerable texts exist for the celebration of the Via Crucis. Many of them were compiled by pastors who were sincerely interested in this pious exercise and convinced of its spiritual effectiveness. Texts have also been provided by lay authors who were known for their exemplary piety, holiness of life, doctrine and literary qualities.

"Bearing in mind whatever instructions might have been established by the bishops in the matter, the choice of texts for the Via Crucis should take account of the condition of those participating in its celebration and the wise pastoral principle of integrating renewal and continuity. It is always preferable to choose texts resonant with the biblical narrative and written in a clear simple style.

"The Via Crucis in which hymns, silence, procession and reflective pauses are wisely integrated in a balanced manner, contribute significantly to obtaining the spiritual fruits of the pious exercise."

* * *

Follow-up: Exposition During Way of the Cross [03-15-2005]

With respect to our comments regarding the inappropriateness of making the Way of the Cross before the Blessed Sacrament exposed (see March 1), a Franciscan friar "begged to differ" and described his order's practice.

"In some of our friary churches," he writes, "we have perpetual adoration and for almost 15 years now we have had the Stations while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. We have been following the rubrics which, [by] my understanding, is approved by the Church. When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed the priest remains stationary, standing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and only the cross and candle bearers, if any, move from station to station. The people remain in their places and genuflect at their places. They may watch the cross bearer as he goes from station to station, but most people focus on the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar. At the end there is no blessing given and the priest and acolytes exit in silence."

Such a practice certainly shows all due respect toward the Blessed Sacrament exposed. But I would be more inclined to call it a meditation on the Passion than a Way of the Cross. As the name implies, the Way of the Cross implies movement.

Among the few traces of what might be termed official norms in this area are the indications of the Enchiridion of Indulgences, No. 63.4.

They stipulate that in order to gain the plenary indulgence it is necessary to move from one station to another, although if the exercise is carried out publicly and it is difficult for everybody to move, then it is enough that the director move from station to station.

This is not the above case as the priest remains immobile while non-essential cross and candle bearers do the moving.

Certainly the people who assist at the above practice may still gain a plenary indulgence in virtue of the adoration and the meditation on the Passion. And the option chosen is probably the best in order not to interrupt the perpetual adoration.

Another question about the earlier column related to who may act as guide or director of the Via Crucis.

If a priest or deacon is available, then he customarily leads, but if not, then anybody may guide the stations although leaving out anything properly reserved to a priest and deacon, such as giving a final blessing.

A reader from the Philippines, among others, asked about the subject matter of the stations.

The above-mentioned norms for indulgences demand 14 crosses in order to legitimately set up a Via Crucis at which an indulgence may be obtained. Images or statues may be praiseworthily, albeit optionally, added.

In order to obtain the indulgence one moves from one station to the other reflecting on Christ's passion to which one may freely add some reading, meditation or pious invocations. It is not required that one reflect on the specific aspects of each station.

Because of this, it is possible to substitute [replace] the traditional 14 stations for [with]other facets of the Passion and, beginning with the early 1990s, the Pope has occasionally substituted other stations for the traditional 14 during his Good Friday Way of the Cross.

These have usually been taken from the Gospels but there does not appear to be a fixed or official scheme. On one occasion some new "Gospel Stations" were mixed with the traditional non-biblical stations of the three falls. Thus a priest or anybody else who wishes to prepare meditations on alternative Via Crucis has a wide range of possibilities.

All told, however, the most common scheme used in substitution for the traditional stations at the Pope's Via Crucis has been the following:

1. The Agony in the garden
2. Treason of Judas and arrest of Jesus
3. Christ condemned by the Sanhedrin
4. Christ denied by Peter
5. Christ judged by Pilate
6. Christ scourged and crowned with thorns
7. Christ burdened with the cross
8. Christ assisted by Simon of Cyrene
9. Christ meets the women of Jerusalem
10. Christ crucified
11. Christ promises the kingdom to the Good Thief
12. Christ on the cross; the Mother; and the disciple
13. Christ dies on the cross
14. Christ taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb

As a corollary, a Florida reader asked about the public rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. This is different from the Via Crucis and has been specifically permitted by the Holy See in an official response to a doubt, published Jan. 15, 1997.

In this document it is stated that the Blessed Sacrament should not be exposed just to pray the rosary. But it may be included among the prayers carried out during adoration underlying the rosary's Christological aspects with biblical readings relative to the mysteries and leaving space for silence in which to meditate and adore them. ZE05031521

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