Thursday, May 23, 2024

Eucharistic Revival Series: I Was There When They Crucified the Lord

Several years ago, the Diocese’ Archives Department had a program that taught middle-school students all about the Diocese. This program dealt with the various Bishops of the diocese, the 15 counties that it covers as well as several artifacts from its history. Another fun aspect was a scavenger hunt of items in the display cases in the lobby of the Conference Center, in which students hurried to complete answers to questions they were given.

One year, before a class visit, the archivist came to me and asked, “What am I going to do? There are 60 students from grades four and five coming from one of our schools to visit. In the display cases are copies of the paintings of each Station that were made from the Stations of the Cross that the State Museum possesses. How am I going to integrate the Stations of the Cross into a scavenger hunt? I need your creative expertise!” I responded, “Why don’t we pray the Stations of the Cross? But instead of praying them, sing them? The song “Where You There When They Crucified My Lord” has 14 stanzas that match each station. How about dividing the students into groups of 10. Each group will be responsible for acting out one of the Stations of their choice, introducing the Station and saying a prayer that goes with that Station. I could supply costumes for the students to ‘dress up.’ It will be a different kind of class trip; a holy one.” The archivist replied, “I will be amazed that you will be able to pull this off!”

In preparation for the class visit, I gathered about 30 large boxes of costumes and set them along the perimeter of the classroom we were using. Each box had a label that described what was inside. As the archivist and I put them around the room, I was doing mental gymnastics about how to “teach” the students about this activity.

When each student received the songs for the Stations, I told them that the Stations were special reproductions of real paintings. Each painting also had an image of the artist in it, like a modern “Where’s Waldo.” I also pointed out that at the foot of each painting was an artifact about the Station with a description card. After we sang each Station, I would call on one of the students to read the description card. I was amazed at the reverence that the students displayed during this prayer time, as well as their astute observation skills in finding the artist’s picture.

Now it was time for my real challenge – the classroom activity. When we gathered, I explained the activity and reminded them they had five minutes to find a costume and 10 minutes to practice the Station reenactment and write the prayer. I also asked the adult chaperones and teachers to assist each group.

After 15 minutes of organized chaos, I called the students back to their seats and reminded them that they were doing something holy because it glorified God. Tears welled up in my eyes as group by group prayed the Station of their choice. The prayers were absolutely beautiful! After each group performed, I told them that they had until I counted to 15 to put their costumes neatly back in the boxes. Amazingly, they did!

I am reminded of this experience as I continue my series on the Eucharist. In my reflections, I’m using the book “The Eucharist, Our Sanctification,” by Raniero Catalamessa. He writes, “It is due to the sacrament of the Eucharist that we mysteriously become contemporaries of the event; the event is present for us and we are present at the event. In the liturgy of the Passover night, the Jews of Jesus’s time used to say: ‘In every generation let each one see himself as the one that came out of Egypt that night.’ Applied to us Christians, this text tells us that in every generation, each of us must see himself as one that stood beneath the Cross that day, with Mary and John. Yes, we were there; ‘everyone was born there.’ (Ps 87:4) Whenever I hear the spiritual that says: ‘Were you there when they crucified the Lord?’ I always answer in my heart, Yes, I was there!  The sacrament of the Eucharist doesn’t make the event of the Cross present to us only; it would be too little; it makes it present above all to the Father. At every ‘breaking of the bread’ when the priest breaks the host, it’s as if the alabaster vase of Christ’s humanity were being broken again, which is what happened on the Cross, and as if the perfume of his obedience were rising to touch the Father’s heart again. … If we ask ourselves how it is that the event of the Cross is not ended and concluded in itself like every other event in history, but is relevant even today, the ultimate answer is, the Holy Spirit.”1

It is the same Holy Spirit that gave me the idea to act out the Stations of the Cross that made Jesus’ offering very real to those middle-school students during their visit to the Diocesan Center. They, like us, can truly say, “I was there!” Amazing!

1Cantalamessa, Raniero. The Eucharist, Our Sanctification. St Pauls, 2016. Pg. 13.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness

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