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Liturgy: Exposition During Stations of the Cross

And More on Indulgences

ROME, MARCH 2, 2005 (Zenit) - 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: Year-of-the-Eucharist Indulgence

Several readers sent in further questions and clarifications regarding indulgences (see Feb. 15).

Most importantly, a reader notified me of a January 2000 publication of the Apostolic Penitentiary which clarified that sacramental confession may be made up to 20 days before or after performing the act to which an indulgence is attached.

Thus a person who confesses every month or so would be able to gain a plenary indulgence every day.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Vatican office that oversees everything related to indulgences.

Another question regarded the need for an intention of receiving an indulgence before carrying out the practice.

Norm 20.2 of the Enchiridion of indulgences states one must have, at least, a general intention of gaining an indulgence beforehand.

If, throughout the day, one carries out several practices united to partial indulgences it suffices to formulate a single general intention.

Some readers requested if the requirement was to pray "For the intention of the Pope" or "For the Pope's intentions."

The second version is the more accurate translation and thus the requirement is to pray according to, and in communion with, the intentions of the Holy Father.

Of course, praying for the Holy Father is also highly recommended.

Finally, a reader expressed misgivings that the condition of not being attached to any sin, even venial sin, might lead to endless introspection and seem impossible to some.

While I mentioned that this was the more-difficult condition, it is not hard to know if one is fulfilling it.

An attachment is an objective disorder, a refusal to amend a situation, and the person involved is aware of it.

Thus it is not confused with normal human weakness or the fact that many, perhaps most, of us tend to repeat the same failings many times before overcoming them.

If this were the case, it would certainly be almost impossible to gain any indulgences.

Human inconstancy is, perhaps, one of the principal reasons why the Holy Spirit inspired the Church to recommend frequent confession in the first place.


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Liturgy, Cross, Eucharist, McNamara, Indulgences, Sacrament

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