Friday, April 2, 2021

Latin Lesson: Stations of the Cross

While teaching our daughter first year Latin, it seemed appropriate to weave Good Friday into the lesson. I was brought up Catholic, later converted to Lutheran, and we have raised our daughter Lutheran. The Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), Via Doloroso (Way of Pain), or simply "Stations of the Cross" is an important and-- evocative-- observance in the Catholic faith which has largely been forgotten by Protestants. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer (WWII Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis) pointed out, sometimes Catholic traditions were dropped by Protestants reflexively because they were "too Catholic" but, like letting out the baby with the bathwater, some of the observances and traditions were extremely useful and important, worthy of consideration by Christians of all faiths. At the same time, they present opportunities for language education. So, to the blackboard:

The Passover Seder, another important observance often given too little attention by modern Christians, was designed to make a pivotal historical occurence real "from generation to generation". Each participant in a Seder is to consider that they, personally and individually, were lead forth from Egypt and delivered from slavery. The significance of the Paschal lamb, the unleavened bread, even the way the meal was to be eaten are brought into focus by the questions of the children: Why is this night different from all other nights? The traditions of the meal are designed to evoke imagery of a people on the verge of becoming, fleeing a bad but certain and familiar captivity into a promising but frightening and unknown freedom. For Christians, these symbols are not unimportant, the Paschal lamb sacrificed for Passover connecting to the Agnus Deii, the Lamb of God. The events of the Last Supper fit directly into the Passover meal: "And when the meal was ended, He took the cup..." fits directly before the Afikomen, the piece of unleavened bread which had been hidden in a cloth for the children to seek, making this cup the 3rd cup of wine in the Passover service, the "Cup of Redemption" and the bread he then broke the Afikomen itself. This then leads to the final cup of wine, the "Cup of Praise" which Christ says he will share with them "later". These enactments are important, but we seldom today stop to truly consider-- to wonder at-- them.
The Via Doloroso is also that kind of reenactment, to make the Road of Pain/Grief/Sorrow walked by a certain Ribbi Yeshuah Natzariim real and visceral, to put it in a concrete spiritual context often lost today in the midst of a new dress, eggs, bunnies, food, and family pictures. These gruesome scenes fall after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Palm Sunday, the Passover meal with friends and Disciples, before the cold tomb, and then the final triumph of the Resurrection. Traditionally, at the end of the enactment of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, following a prayerful fast, the Paschal Candle in the sanctuary-- the light that burns in the church day and night-- is extinguished, placing us all in the darkness of the tomb, only to be relit during the Easter Vigil service.
But where did these "stations" originate? Some of us Americans may have gone through the Patriot's Trail in Boston, the marked path and information stations leading to places of importance in our road to the Revolutionary War. Our family: wife, daughter, and myself, physically walked this path together some years ago. The Via Doloroso was a similar fixture in Jerusalem: a physical trail walked by pilgrims from station to station on the same path taken (as far as we know) by Christ on the day He was condemned and painfully executed. Most of those stations are identified concretely in Scripture, others were early church traditions, filling in events along the way where-- most likely but not assuredly-- they physically occurred. At each station, small shrines were erected. The Pilgrims often received small tokens which they would affix (affigo, affigere) to a cord around their neck or wrist: this is where we get "charm bracelets" today. During Holy Week, the Stations were often physically reenacted in a long procession.
During and after the Crusades, this physical journey became rather difficult. Because it became hard for even a minority of Christians to make this journey on their own behalf, churches began to set up their own mini stations and reenact the events themselves in their churches. This is what you see when you walk into a Catholic Church, usually carved and numbered plaques along both walls of the sanctuary. Catholics, between noon and three p.m. on Good Friday, would go to a service which moved from plaque to plaque. Growing up, some of us would dress in costume for this, someone standing in for Pontius Pilate (Pon-tee-us Pi-lah-tay in Latin), someone for Jesus, Simon, and the weeping women appearing where appropriate, etc. I still remember participatng in some of these in school, lifting the end of the board and thinking what it must have been like for Simon, drafted at sword point by the Romans, to suddenly become part of this gory drama, with no understanding at the time of where it would lead.
On the chalkboard, I have the Latin for each of the 14 traditional stations. Be aware, there are several, slightly different arrangements in tradition; which one you use does not necessarily matter given that you use them for their devotional purpose of compassion ("cum passus", suffering with) in Christ's journey. Under each I have the English. These are not direct translations. The traditional Latin and typical English labels are actually a bit different. In particular, the Latin labels often includevand focus on the physical location, such as VII. where Jesus falls "ad portis urbanis Ierusalem", "before the gatevof the city of Jerusalem". This focus makes sense given the origin of Via Doloroso as a physical route pilgrims actually walked. In English, we focus on the action.
As noted, "condemnatur" in Station I. Is the 3rd Person Singular Present Passive Indicative. Early Latin students may not have been introduced to the Passive, but it means "he was condemned". Jesus was the unwilling recipient of the action. In Station II., the verb is "suscepit", the 3rd Person Singular Present Indicative Active: Christ is performing the action by "taking up" His cross. They are all written in the present tense. You are supposed to think of this as happening before your eyes, "Look! See what is being done to the Teacher! What can this mean?" Consider the horror of the people-- bystanders, followers, friends, family, as they see this and think about people today with eyes glued to a YouTube video of someone being beaten, but physically present in the crowd.
This attitude is exemplified in the beautiful poignant spiritual "Were you there when the crucified my Lord?" ( )
In the image of the paper copy below, I write out more of the vocabulary, with the full forms and glosses copied from Whitaker's Words so they can be copied and memorized by students if desired. I also found a printable booklet ( ) of the Stations, the images of St. Alphonsus Liguori, and some prayers side-by-side in Latin/English. Each printed copy of the PDF makes two booklets. You cut across the middle, then fold the pages together and tie with a bit of yarn. These can be colored, and my daughter and I will likely do so through the weekend.
In any case, have a blessed holiday.

[Draft 1.0- first full pass, formatting and links need some fixing]

No comments:

Post a Comment