Although I find new liturgical architecture generally inspiring, one feature of new church buildings which usually leaves much to be desired is the treatment of the Stations by which the faithful are enabled to follow the way of the Cross.
More often than not, the Stations are grouped together on one wall, or placed so closely together, that any sense of journey is lost. The long walk is reduced to a short stroll, in some cases even a hop, skip and a jump.
Such drastic attenuation is all the more regrettable when the artwork is really profound and powerful. One image tumbles into the next with no time for us to catch our breath, to ponder, to reflect. This is bad enough when praying the Stations alone, but when followed liturgically the lack of space between each Station erodes any sense of gradual progression, as we shuffle forwards to stand a few inches further forward while more verses of the journeying hymn is sung.
As we rediscover a sense of journey as a vital component of the Sunday Liturgy, it is a great pity that the one devotion explicitly build around a journey has been reduced almost to a standstill.
How might we recapture something of the essential journey as we follow the Way of the Cross, especially during Lent? How might we use the Stations more creatively?
Beginning with the texts themselves, the Scriptural Stations of the Cross initiated by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, are much to be preferred to the traditional Stations, some of which are based on apocryphal stories rather than well attested events. The Scriptural Stations recall us to a wider spread of incidents along the Way – including for example Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, and his promise of the Kingdom to the penitent thief – and provide a form of this devotion immediately more appealing to Christians of other traditions.
Secondly, we should be more adventurous in our journeying. This could involve using all the walls of the church rather than just one, or going further, using all the buildings in the church complex, as well as the church grounds.
In urban areas or small towns, the Stations of the Cross could also provide an excellent opportunity for moving from parish to parish, or even from one denomination to another, reflecting on just 2 or 3 Stations in each church building. Reflecting together on Our Lord’s Passion may shame us into closer working together and do more for local ecumenism than any number of ‘special services’ in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Let us journey on.