Categories: Ave Maria Press1263 words4.8 min readBy Published On: August 9, 2022

Via Crucis – The Way of the Cross

“Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God…and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled.” (St John Damascene). It is in the sacred beauty of church architecture, sculpture and paintings that I know many of the faithful contemplate the glory of the Lord to echo the words of St John Damascene. There are many things that signify a Catholic church; chief among them being the tabernacle holding the Divine Presence of Jesus. Towering above the tabernacle is a large crucifix making visible the sacrifice that takes place on the altar. Just outside the sanctuary there will be a statue of Our Lady and of her most Chaste Spouse St Joseph. And then there will appear the Via Crucis or in English, The Way of the Cross also referred to as the Stations of the Cross. We are presented with the many scenes of Christ’s Passion and the saintly and sinful figures who form part of it. Why is it so important for these images to be inside every Catholic church? Why don’t we just use that space for something else? I propose that the Church in her infinite wisdom knowing that our senses need to be sanctified by the veneration of holy images sees an opportunity for the faithful to enter into the mystery of salvation. 

We find ourselves in a world abundant with images; some are good, noble and pleasing to the eye while others are crude, vulgar and corrupt the imagination. In these moments the heart drowns in anguish and pains at visions of ghastliness. We struggle in the arduous pursuit of purity and a holy imagination that we so desperately need in order to adequately contemplate Christ’s Life, Death and Resurrection. I hold that meditation on the Via Crucis is the antidote to our self-inflated and pornographic mindset. Why is that? I believe it is because we are invited, I dare say compelled to look at Christ’s Passion as it truly appears. We are called to share in the courage of great sacred artists who made visible the crown of thorns laid upon the Divine Head of the Saviour, the nails pierced into His hands and feet and the lifeless Body of Jesus entombed. There is a temptation in us to think that the Messiah did not really suffer but when faced with the Saviour falling down, we begin to see that we think erroneously. 

In the delicate strokes of paint we encounter the cowardice of Pontius Pilate, we behold the face of a strange man who is a prisoner named Barrabas. Still the picture is incomplete and lacks the scheming Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes grimacing and snarling. Coming to the foreground of our frame is the compassionate Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. Blessed is she indeed who received in her hands the likeness of the Word made flesh printed with His own blood. Slowly the Cross is unveiled to us and the same colours of the day which fell upon the nosy crowd, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus are now shown to us. Those colours which are dark and brooding now illumine the face of Simon of Cyrene taking on the task of being a cross-bearer. Weeping in the shadows are the women of Jerusalem but Jesus, now covered in the crimson of blood implores them to weep for themselves. Proceeding closer and closer to us are the harsh, rigid lines of soldiers. We see lines of shields and lines of swords stripping Jesus of His garments and lines nailing Him to the cross. In His final hour we humbly regard the silhouette of the Saviour dying on the cross. At this moment all who present for this solemn meditation kneel in a sombre and reverent silence for we dare not utter a word while the Saviour utters His last words commending His spirit to the Father. In this we see the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, laying down His life for His Bride the Church. The words of the new and everlasting covenant are brought to life and the marriage between the Church and Jesus Christ is consummated. It is no wonder then that, at least from my side of the horizon, the Crucifixion of Jesus is the most widely commissioned work of art; I propose that the second would be that of the Lord’s Supper. In a strange way, we seem to judge the greatness of a sacred artist by the manner in which he or she depicts the Passion of Jesus Christ. Or maybe that’s just me? For if the artist shows too little the pain of Jesus, we deplore the work and the artist who made it but if the artist should dare to reveal the truth of the Passion to us by exposing the Most Holy Wounds of Jesus, by revealing the coldness of the cross and by shining a light on the tears of the Blessed Virgin Mary we are in awe, admiration and a bit of shock that the death of Jesus could be made so vividly real to us. 

Sacred art that is made well does not shy away from the truths of our faith and aligns itself to the beauty of God. I lament that at times it seems the needs of the Christian people for prayer and contemplation are set aside for the vainglory of the artist seeking personal self-expression as the highest good. Venerable Pope Pius XII articulates this well in his encyclical ‘Mediator Dei’. He states “Recent works of art which lend themselves to the materials of modern composition should not be universally despised or rejected through prejudice. Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the church and the sacred rites provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive symbolism, and that the needs of the Christian community are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent of the individual artist”. This I suppose begs the question ‘What are the needs of the Christian community?’. Well, they are the same now as they were 2000 years ago.  The Christian, residing in a world hostile to its beliefs must be reminded of Christ’s Incarnation, of His life under the tender care of St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of His ministry of preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons, His time of fasting and prayer in the desert, His temptations at the hands of the devil, His carrying of the Cross and the very real suffering that was endured and finally His Death and Resurrection. Sacred Art in union with Sacred Music and Sacred Scripture must not stoop down to the level of being trendy or fashionable lest we reduce Jesus to just a man who said a few wise words and died a terrible death. Such art will not help us on our journey of faith. Art that accentuates the floral patterns in your living room furniture cannot be the same art used to depict Jesus being scourged at the pillar. Let us pray for art that is solemn, sacred and beautiful so that as we take on our own Via Crucis we may in the words of St John Damascene “…contemplate the glory of the Lord, His face unveiled”.