Dear Friends in Christ,
With this Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Church enters the final part of Lent: Passiontide. From today until the Vigil of the Resurrection in the night of Holy Saturday, crosses and statues are veiled and the sacred liturgy of each day takes us more deeply into the heart of the Paschal Mystery, as the Church cries out in faith, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”
The veiling of sacred images during Passiontide is a custom with roots in Christian antiquity, and it prepares us for the great sundering of Christ’s atoning death. But even in Passiontide, stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross remain visible, and these artistic catechisms can teach us a great deal about the dignity and difficulty of being disciples of the Lord Jesus. This is true in any Catholic church, but it is most especially true here at Saint Mary’s where we are blessed with sacred art of great beauty and power.
The sanctuary of the church is dominated by a stained glass window of the Crucifixion and Resurrection which was made in Bavaria in 1904 by the famed studio of Franz Mayer & Company. At the center of the scene is the Lord Jesus on the Cross, to which Saint Mary Magdalene clings at the base. To the left of the Cross are the three Mary’s: the Blessed Virgin Mary stands between Mary the mother James and Joses and Mary the wife of Cleopas. And to the right of the Cross is another group of three: Saint John the Beloved Disciple stands between his mother Salome and the centurion who cried out “Truly, this was the Son of God!” Finally, at the top of the window is an image of the Resurrected Lord Jesus revealed in divine glory as the Eternal Word and God the Son – the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Behind all the figures, the Holy City of Jerusalem is visible, the same city into which Jesus was received as a conquering hero only five days before his judicial murder was demanded by a howling mob. How quickly the road paved with palm branches became the Way of the Cross!
Running through the nave are the Fourteen Stations of the Cross, a devotion made popular by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. At a time when Christians could not travel safely to Jerusalem because the Holy City was under Islamic rule, Saint Francis devised a simple method for Christians to follow the Lord Jesus in the Way of the Cross in their own churches. The fourteen traditional stops or stations on the Via Dolorosa are depicted in works of art that invite pilgrims to pause and pray while meditating on Christ’s passion and atoning death on the Cross.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world!