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My People

Vol. 18, Issue 3, March 2005

"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." — 2 Chronicles 7:14


Anniversary Leads To Reflection On Lessons From Death Camp
Elderly Are Focus of Pope's Lenten Message
In Defense of Life: "Emergency Contraception"
The Holy Eucharist Is Still Miraculous
Just a Few Thoughts
Prison To Praise: One Lovely Morning
Guidelines For Lenten Observance


Anniversary Leads To Reflection On Lessons From Death Camp

January 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland near the end of World War II. Pope John Paul II, who grew up in Poland during those trying times, sent a message, dated January 15, to mark the observance of this anniversary. The Pope's message follows:

"Sixty years have passed since the liberation of the prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This anniversary calls us to ponder once again the drama which took place there, the final, tragic outcome of a program of hatred. In these days we must remember the millions of persons who, through no fault of their own, were forced to endure inhuman suffering and extermination in the gas chambers and ovens. I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis.

"When, as Pope, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1979, I halted before the monuments dedicated to the victims. There were inscriptions in many languages: Polish, English, Bulgarian, Romani, Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croat, German, Norwegian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian. All these languages spoke of the victims of Auschwitz: real, yet in many cases completely anonymous men, women, and children. I stood somewhat longer before the inscription written in Hebrew. I said: 'This inscription invites us to remember the people whose sons and daughters were doomed to total extermination. This people has its origin in Abraham, our father in faith (cf. Rom 4:11-12), as Paul of Tarsus has said. This, the very people that received from God the commandment, "You shall not kill," itself experienced in a special measure what killing means. No one is permitted to pass by this inscription with indifference.'

"Today I repeat those words. No one is permitted to pass by the tragedy of the Shoah. That attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will forever darken the history of humanity. May it serve, today and for the future, as a warning: there must be no yielding to ideologies which justify contempt for human dignity on the basis of race, color, language, or religion. I make this appeal to everyone, and particularly to those who would resort, in the name of religion, to acts of oppression and terrorism.

"These reflections have remained with me, especially when, during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Church celebrated the solemn penitential liturgy in Saint Peter's, and I journeyed as a pilgrim to the Holy Places and went up to Jerusalem. In Yad Vashem – the memorial to the Shoah – and at the foot of the Western Wall of the Temple I prayed in silence, begging forgiveness and the conversion of hearts.

"That day in 1979 I also remember stopping to reflect before two other inscriptions, written in Russian and in Romani. The history of the Soviet Union's role in that war was complex, yet it must not be forgotten that in it the Russians had the highest number of those who tragically lost their lives. The Roma were also doomed to total extermination in Hitler's plan. One cannot underestimate the sacrifice of life which was imposed on these, our brothers and sisters in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. For this reason, I insist once more that no one is permitted to pass by those inscriptions with indifference.

"Finally I halted before the inscription written in Polish. There I recalled that the experience of Auschwitz represented 'yet another stage in the centuries-old struggle of this nation, my nation, for its fundamental rights among the peoples of Europe. Yet another loud cry for the right to have a place of its own on the map of Europe. Yet another painful reckoning with the conscience of humanity.' The statement of this truth was nothing more or less than a call for historical justice for this nation, which had made such great sacrifices in the cause of Europe's liberation from the infamous Nazi ideology, and which had been sold into slavery to another destructive ideology: that of Soviet Communism. Today I return to those words – without retracting them – in order to thank God that, through the persevering efforts of my countrymen, Poland has taken its proper place on the map of Europe. It is my hope that this tragic historical experience will prove to be a source of mutual spiritual enrichment for all Europeans.

"During my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I also said that one should halt before every one of the inscriptions. I myself did so, passing in prayerful meditation from one to the next, and commending to the Divine Mercy all the victims from all those nations which experienced the atrocities of the war. I also prayed that, through their intercession, the gift of peace would be granted to our world. I continue to pray unceasingly, trusting that everywhere, in the end, there will prevail respect for the dignity of the human person and for the right of every man and woman to seek the truth in freedom, to follow the moral law, to discharge the duties imposed by justice and to lead a fully human life (cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 [1963], 295-296).

"In speaking of the victims of Auschwitz, I cannot fail to recall that, in the midst of that unspeakable concentration of evil, there were also heroic examples of commitment to good. Certainly there were many persons who were willing, in spiritual freedom, to endure suffering and to show love, not only for their fellow prisoners, but also for their tormentors. Many did so out of love for God and for man; others in the name of the highest spiritual values. Their attitude bore clear witness to a truth which is often expressed in the Bible: even though man is capable of evil, and at times boundless evil, evil itself will never have the last word. In the very abyss of suffering, love can triumph. The witness to this love shown in Auschwitz must never be forgotten. It must never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace.

"Such, then, is the deepest meaning of this anniversary celebration. We remember the tragic sufferings of the victims not for the sake of reopening painful wounds or of stirring up sentiments of hatred and revenge, but rather in order to honor the dead, to acknowledge historical reality, and above all to ensure that those terrible events will serve as a summons for the men and women of today to ever greater responsibility for our common history. Never again, in any part of the world, must others experience what was experienced by these men and women whom we have mourned for 60 years! . . ."


Elderly Are Focus of Pope's Lenten Message

Pope John Paul II urged the Faithful to focus on the role of the elderly in the Church and society and respond to them with loving concern in their Lenten journey this year. The Pope's Lenten message, dated September 8, 2004, follows:

"Each year, the Lenten Season is set before us as a good opportunity for the intensification of prayer and penance, opening hearts to the docile welcoming of the divine will. During Lent, a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is done primarily by listening to the Word of God more devoutly and by practicing mortification more generously, thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need.

"This year, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to bring to your attention a theme which is rather current, well-illustrated by the following verse from Deuteronomy: 'Loving the Lord…means life to you, and length of days…' (30:20). These are the words that Moses directs to the people, inviting them to embrace the Covenant with Yahweh in the country of Moab, 'that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him.' (30:19-20). The fidelity to this divine Covenant is for Israel a guarantee of the future: 'That you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them' (30:20). According to the Biblical understanding, reaching old age is a sign of the Most High's gracious benevolence. Longevity appears, therefore, as a special divine gift.

"It is upon this theme that I would like to ask you to reflect during this Lent, in order to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus to prepare your hearts for the loving welcome that should always be reserved for them. Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly. This demands a more specific attention to the world of so-called 'old' age, in order to help its members to live their full potential by placing them at the service of the entire community. The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present.

"Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment, 'You shall not kill!', always requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant. If growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.

"The elderly need to be understood and helped in this perspective. I wish, here, to express my appreciation to those who dedicate themselves to fulfilling these needs, and I also call upon other people of good will to take advantage of Lent for making their own personal contribution. This will allow many elderly not to think of themselves as a burden to the community, and sometimes even to their own families, living in a situation of loneliness that leads to the temptation of isolating themselves or becoming discouraged.

"It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued. For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened. In truth, during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients.

"The greater amount of free time in this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity to face the primary issues that perhaps had been previously set aside, due to concerns that were pressing or considered a priority nonetheless. Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy.

"Precisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilization.

"How important it is to rediscover this mutual enrichment between different generations! The Lenten Season, with its strong call to conversion and solidarity, leads us this year to focus on these important themes which concern everyone. What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be, if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming towards them.

"Dear brothers and sisters, during Lent, aided by the Word of God, let us reflect upon how important it is that each community accompany with loving understanding those who grow old. Moreover, one must become accustomed to thinking confidently about the mystery of death, so that the definitive encounter with God occur in a climate of interior peace, in the awareness that He 'Who knit me in my mother's womb' (cf. Psalm 139:13b) and Who willed us 'in His image and likeness' (cf. Gen. 1:26) will receive us.

"Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, leads all believers, especially the elderly, to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ dead and risen, Who is the ultimate reason for our existence. May she, the faithful servant of her divine Son, together with Saints Ann and Joachim, intercede for each one of us 'now and at the hour of our death.'



"Emergency Contraception"

Fred H. Summe
Fred H. Summe, vice president of Northern Kentucky Right to Life
by Fred H. Summe

When is "Contraception" an Abortion?

"Emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill) is a high dosage of the birth control pill. It is recommended to be used after sexual intercourse, over a period of 72 hours, to achieve the goal of preventing or ending pregnancy.

"The idea of emergency contraception – or a morning-after pill – is based on a theory. Under this theory, if a woman has sexual intercourse and fears she may be pregnant, she can take large doses of birth control pills. If in fact the woman is pregnant when she takes these birth control pills, the high dosage could act to kill her preborn child – a living human being. The only 'emergency' in this case is the woman's fear of being pregnant," explains the American Life League, Inc.

How do emergency contraception/morning-after pills work?

As published in Physicians Desk Reference, the most widely published medical book in the U.S., and reconfirmed by the Federal Drug Administration, the emergency contraceptive/morning-after pill has three functions:

1. It inhibits ovulation, i.e., the ovary does not release the egg;

2. The mucus may become thicker, preventing the sperm from traveling to the fallopian tube; or

3. It changes the lining of the uterus so that if the woman becomes pregnant, the newly- conceived child is impeded from implanting into the lining of the uterus.

In any individual case, there is no way of telling which of the possible three ways the emergency contraception/ morning-after pill functions. In many cases, the newly conceived child is impeded from implanting into the lining of the mother's uterus, resulting in the child's death.

"These properties of OCs (Ordinary Birth Control Pills) have long been acknowledged, but it is impossible to determine which mode of action is responsible in any given cycle for a woman's failure to conceive or maintain pregnancy. . .It is important to note that 'ovulation is now always stopped. . .cervical mucus is not always made impenetrable, . . .the lining of the womb is not always rendered unreceptive to a fertilized ovum every cycle. . .'" Life Insight, September 1998, published by U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

"These chemicals 'harden' the lining of the womb (uterus), creating a hostile environment and thus making it harder for the tiny multi-celled human being from implanting in the wall of the womb. This constitutes abortion at approximately one week of life." A Declaration of Life, published by Pro-Life Physicians (8/14/98).

"The evidence that the 'morning-after' pills are, in fact, abortifacients is overwhelming and irrefutable," states Eugene Diamond, M.D.

If the newly-conceived child is unable to implant into his mother's womb, the tiny baby will die.

When Does an Individual's Life Begin?

Micheline Matthews-Roth, M.D., Principal Research Associate of Harvard University Medical School, teaches:

"It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and that this developing human being always is a member of our species in all stages of its life. There is not one medical text in use in one medical school in this country that teaches to the contrary."


Emergency "Contraception" and Early Abortion, published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, states: "While these pills may sometimes have a contraceptive mode of action because they prevent or delay ovulation or fertilization, they are designed to prevent implantation as well.

"Thus some researchers conclude that interfering with the endometrium 'could explain the majority of cases where pregnancies are prevented by the morning-after pill.'

"Women are being falsely led to believe that these pills are contraceptive in nature. But one of their common and intended modes of action is to prevent the development of the embryo, resulting in his or her death."

"From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." Catechism of the Catholic Church (2270).

Abortion, whether surgical or chemical, is an act of direct killing that takes the life of a tiny human being – a life that begins at fertilization.


The Holy Eucharist Is Still Miraculous

by Michael J. Halm

If you expect a miracle during Holy Week or Easter in this Year of the Eucharist, you are likely not to be disappointed. There have been many such miracles as precedent. But then, every Eucharist is a miracle.

On Holy Thursday, 1255, while Fr. Dompfarrer Ulrich von Dornberg was taking the Eucharist to the sick, he slipped and fell in the stream called Bachgrasse near Ratisbon, Germany. He collected the ciborium and hosts with some difficulty, but that was not the end but just the beginning of the story. Parishioners erected a wooden chapel on the site and finished it three days later on Easter. It was two years later when a priest doubting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist celebrated Mass there. The corpus of the crucifix behind him took the chalice from his hands. The chalice was returned to him when he repented of his lack of faith. By 1260 St. Saviour's chapel was rebuilt and expanded because of the many pilgrims there, becoming Kreuzkapelle (Cross Chapel).

On another Holy Thursday, this time in 1384, something miraculous happened at St. Oswald's in Seefeld in Tyrol provence, Austria. Sir Oswald Milser drew his sword and demanded that the priest give him the large Host rather than a small Host. When the frightened priest did so, the floor under the knight's feet is said to have opened up under him and he sank down to his knees – and then the miracle happened. He grabbed the altar, begged the priest to take back the large Host, and repented of his pride.

The Host, which had turned blood red, has been venerated in a Gothic style reliquary ever since. The hollow into which Sir Oswald sunk and the impression on the stone altar left by his hands can still be seen.

On Easter, 1171, at Saint Maria del Vado, Ferrara, Italy, Padre Pietro de Verona broke the Holy Eucharist as usual, but not as usual this time the Host flowed with blood. It was witnessed by his concelebrants, Padre Bono, Padre Leonardo, and Padre Aimone. The blood even sprinkled the semi-circular vault behind and above the altar. The Host had turned to flesh. The bishop, Amato, and the Archbishop, Gherardo, both came and witnessed the miracle.

When Pope Pius IX visited in 1857 the still venerated altar where the miracle had happened, he said, "These drops are like the ones on the corporal in Orvieto!" Since 1930 the basilica has been appropriately in the care of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood.

Again on Easter, this time in Blanot, France, in 1331 vicar Hugues de la Baume did not notice that the Eucharist had fallen from the mouth of Jacquette d'Effour to land, his servers told him, on the Communion railing cloth. When he went back to retrieve the Host, however, he found a blood stain. When he tried to wash the blood stain out of the cloth, it only grew larger and darker. An investigation was held 15 days later by Cure de Lucenay, a monsignor from Autun and an apostalic notary.

The unused Hosts from that Mass were still in good condition during a five-hour procession in 1706. Although placed in safekeeping during the French Revolution, the blood-stained cloth has traditionally been solemnly exposed every Easter Monday.

On the third Sunday of Easter, 1560, in Morrovale, Italy, a fire destroyed the Church of St. Francis. Among the ashes and broken marble, however, Padre Girolama and the others helping him found an intact Host, even though the tabernacle and the sacred vessels in it had been completely destroyed. It was the judgement of the investigation commissioned by Pope Pius IV that the event was "undoubtedly miraculous." He granted a plenary indulgence to any pilgrim who visits the church on the anniversary of the miracle, April 16.

These and many other well-documented accounts of such stories are collected in Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz (Tan Books, 1987). "There have also been many other such miracles," Cruz writes in her prefix, "but research would be endless if an attempt were made to include every single one. It is hoped that the reader, after reflecting on the contents of this volume, will be blessed with a deeper reverence for this Holy Sacrament."


Just A Few Thoughts

Ray Grothaus
Ray Grothaus
by Ray Grothaus

Just a few thoughts on dependence. There are three different kinds of dependence; dependence itself where someone is dependent upon others to get what they need. Independence is where an individual does everything on their own. And interdependence is where people work together to achieve success.

Let's look at dependent individuals first. These are people who either by choice or circumstance depend on others to do things for them. Many older or disabled persons need and deserve help. You've seen a maintenance man repair something for the elderly that he wouldn't necessarily do for a young couple. How many times have you witnessed a wheelchair bound woman get assistance from a passerby? These are certainly acceptable examples of dependent people.

There are some who would be dependent though who can do things for themselves but choose to let others do the work. We're talking here about the young woman who constantly calls her parents to ask for money or favors. She is unorganized or unenergetic and mom bails her out. This is the kind of person who can help herself but won't because it's too easy to get help from mom and dad. Our welfare system operates on this very misguided idea.

Independent people go out and do everything themselves. They don't need others to help them in any way. Their belief is that they can do it, they are responsible and they are self-reliant. These are great convictions and if we had more of this attitude in the world today we wouldn't have so many problems. The overachievers in life take full responsibility for all their actions. Even when things go wrong, they figure it's their fault. Personally, I think its great when individuals accept the consequences of their actions, it shows real maturity.

But being totally self-dependent can get in the way too. Individuals didn't take New England and Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. The teams worked together to win their games and advance to the big game. A quarterback can't do it alone; he has to have receivers to catch his passes and running backs to take his handoffs. At some time, everyone must seek the help of others if they are to succeed.

That's where interdependence comes in. It says we can do it, we are responsible and we must count on each other. By combining the talents and abilities of a group of individuals, something greater can be achieved. The reward of interdependence is never more obvious than in the sports arena. It's true that only one man crosses the goal line for a touchdown but it takes his whole offensive line to block defenders out of his path before he gets to pay dirt. A pitcher can throw a no hitter but it takes his fielders to cleanly field all the hit balls and record the outs.

So what would you rather be? Dependent on others, dependent on only you or part of a team that depends on each other? Given some thought you'll no doubt choose the latter because not only will you enjoy greater success, you'll be happier by being part of a team. Just a few thoughts.


Prison To Praise

(Editor's note: Mr. Thomas writes from Michigan. We welcome contributions from prisoners.)

One Lovely Morning

by Tyrone Thomas

On one lovely morning,
as a new day was dawning,
I looked up into the sky,
and had to breathe a sigh.

I saw a special wonder,
in the sun we're under.
For even when it thunders,
I know the Lord will not blunder.

On one lovely morning,
as I lay in bed a yawning,
I gave thanks to the Lord;
He holds a mighty sword.

I heard a million song birds,
on one lovely morning.
My mind was filled with words
and my hands were enjoining.

Through God's sweet grace,
I woke up this new day.
A tear drop touched my face
and I began to pray.


Guidelines For Lenten Observance

(The following excerpts concerning Lent are by The Vatican's Congregation For Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued in December, 2001, Directory On Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Principles and Guidelines and are being printed to aid My People readers in observing Lent.)

"In accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, this Congregation, in furthering and promoting the Liturgy, 'the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed...and the fount from which all her power flows,' wishes to draw attention to the need to ensure that other forms of piety among the Christian people are not overlooked, nor their useful contribution to living in unity with Christ, in the Church, be forgotten (2). . ."


"Lent precedes and prepares for Easter. It is a time to hear the Word of God, to convert, to prepare for and remember Baptism, to be reconciled with God and one's neighbor, and of more frequent recourse to the 'arms of Christian penance' (134): prayer, fasting, and good works (cf. Mt 6:1-6, 16-18).

"Popular piety does not easily perceive the mystical aspect of Lent and does not emphasize any of its great themes or values, such a relationship between 'the sacrament of forty days' and 'the sacraments of Christian initiation,' nor the mystery of the 'exodus' which is always present in the Lenten journey. Popular piety concentrates on the mysteries of Christ's humanity, and during Lent the faithful pay close attention to the Passion and Death of Our Lord.

"In the Roman Rite, the beginning of the forty days of penance is marked with the austere symbol of ashes which are used in the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The use of ashes is a survival from an ancient rite according to which converted sinners submitted themselves to canonical penance. The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent. The faithful who come to receive ashes should be assisted in perceiving the implicit internal significance of this act, which disposes them towards conversion and renewed Easter commitment.

"Notwithstanding the secularization of contemporary society, the Christian faithful, during Lent, are clearly conscious of the need to turn the mind towards those realities which really count, which require Gospel commitment and integrity of life which, through self denial of those things which are superfluous, are translated into good works and solidarity with the poor and needy.

"Those of the faithful who infrequently attend the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist should be aware of the long ecclesial tradition associating the precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten season, or preferably during Eastertide (135).

"The existing divergence between the liturgical idea of Lent and the outlook of popular piety need not prevent an effective interaction between Liturgy and popular piety during the forty days of Lent.

"An example of such interaction is to be seen in fact that popular piety often encourages particular observances on certain days, or special devotional exercises, or apostolic or charitable works which are foreseen and recommended by the Lenten Liturgy. The practice of fasting, characteristic of the Lenten season since antiquity, is an 'exercise' which frees the faithful from earthly concerns so as to discover the life that comes from above: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (cf. Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4; antiphon for the first Sunday of Lent).

Veneration of the Crucified Christ

"The journey of Lent ends with the Easter Triduum, initiated by the celebration of the Coena Domini Mass. During the Triduum, Good Friday which is dedicated to the celebration of the Lord's Passion, is eminently suited for the 'Adoration of the Holy Cross.'

"Popular piety tends to anticipate the cultic veneration of the Cross. Throughout Lent, every Friday is observed, since very ancient times, as a commemoration of the Lord's Passion and the faithful easily direct their devotions towards the mystery of the Cross.

"They contemplate the crucified Saviour, they sense more easily the great suffering which Jesus, the Holy and Innocent One, suffered for the salvation of mankind. They understand His love and the effectiveness of His redemptive sacrifice.

"The various and numerous devotions to the crucified Christ acquire a special significance in those churches dedicated to the mystery of the Cross or where authentic relics of the true Cross are venerated. The 'invention of the Cross' in the early fourth century, and the subsequent diffusion throughout the Church of particles of the true Cross, gave notable impulse to devotion to the Cross.

"Devotions to the crucified Christ contain many elements usually found in popular piety: hymns and prayers, acts such as the unveiling and kissing of the Cross, processions and blessing with the Cross. These can lead to the development of pious exercises often containing many valuable formal and material elements.

"Devotion to the Cross, however, sometimes requires a certain enlightenment. The faithful should be taught to place the Cross in its essential reference to the Resurrection of Christ: the Cross, the empty tomb, the Death and Resurrection of Christ are indispensable in the Gospel narrative of God's salvific plan. In the Christian faith, the Cross is an expression of the triumph of Christ over the powers of darkness. Hence, it is adorned with precious stones and is a sign of blessing when made upon one's self, or on others or on objects.

"The Gospel texts of the Passion are especially detailed. Coupled with a tendency in popular piety to isolate specific moments of the narrative, this has induced the faithful to turn their attention to specific aspects of the Passion of Christ, making of them specific devotions: devotion to the 'Ecce Homo,' Christ despised, 'crowned with thorns and clothed in a purple cloak' (John 19:5), and shown to the multitude by Pilate; devotion to the five sacred wounds of Christ, especially to the side of Christ from which flowed blood and water for the salvation of mankind (John 19:34); devotion to the instruments of the Passion, the pillar at which Christ was scourged, the steps of the Praetorium, the crown of thorns, the nails, the lance that pierced Him; devotion to the Holy Shroud.

"Such expressions of piety, often promoted by persons of great sanctity, are legitimate. However, in order to avoid excessive fragmentation in contemplation of the mystery of the Cross, it is always useful to emphasize the whole event of the Passion, as is the case in biblical and patristic tradition.

Reading of the Lord's Passion

"The Church exhorts the faithful to frequent personal and community reading of the Word of God. Undoubtedly, the account of the Lord's Passion is among the most important pastoral passages in the New Testament. Hence, for the Christian in His last agony, the Ordo untionis informorum eorumque pastoralis curae suggests the reading of the Lord's Passion either in its entirety, or at least some pericopes from it (136).

"During Lent, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays, love for our Crucified Saviour should move the Christian community to read the account of the Lord's Passion. Such reading, which is doctrinally significant, attracts the attention of the faithful because of its content and because of its narrative form, and inspires true devotion: repentance for sins, since the faithful see that Christ died for the sins of the entire human race, including their own; compassion and solidarity for the Innocent who was unjustly condemned; gratitude for the infinite love of Jesus for all the brethren, which was shown by Jesus, the first born Son, in His Passion; commitment to imitating His example of meekness, patience, mercy, forgiveness of offenses, abandonment to the Father, which Jesus did willingly and efficaciously in His Passion.

"Outside of the liturgical celebration of the Passion, the Gospel narrative can be 'dramatized,' giving the various parts of the narrative to different persons; or by interspersing it with hymns or moments of silent reflection.

Via Crucis

"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' (Mk 14:32), was taken by anguish (cf. Lk 22:44), to Calvary where He was crucified between two thieves (cf. Lk 23:33), to the garden where He was placed in a 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.

"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 (137), and consists of fourteen stations since the middle of seventeenth century.

"The Via Crucis is a journey made in the Holy Spirit, that divine fire which burned in the heart of Jesus (cf. Lk 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. Lk 9:23).

The Via Crucis is a Particularly Apt Pious Exercise for Lent

"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 the Apostolic See (138) or publicly used by the Roman Pontiff (139): 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.

"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 signif-icantly to obtaining the spiritual fruits of the pious exercise.

The Via Matris

"As Christ and Our Lady of Dolours were associated in God's saving plan (Lk 2:34-35), so too they are associated in the Liturgy and popular piety.

"As Christ was the 'man of sorrows' (Is 53:3) through Whom it pleased God to have 'reconciled all things through Him and for Him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when He made peace by His death on the cross' (Col 1:20), so too, Mary is 'the woman of sorrows' whom God associated with His Son as mother and participant in His Passion (socia passionis).

"Since the childhood of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary's life was entirely lived out under the sign of the sword (cf. Lk 2:35). Christian piety has signalled out seven particular incidents of sorrow in her life, known as the 'seven sorrows' of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Modelled on the Via Crucis, the pious exercise of the Via Matris dolorosae, or simply the Via Matris, developed and was subsequently approved by the Apostolic See (140). This pious exercise already existed in embryonic form since the sixteenth century, while its present form dates from the nineteenth century. Its fundamental intuition is a reflection on the life of Our Lady from the prophecy of Simeon (cf. Lk 2:34-35), to the death and burial of her Son, in terms of a journey in faith and sorrow: this journey is articulated in seven 'stations' corresponding to the 'seven dolours' of the Mother of Our Saviour.

"This pious exercise harmonizes well with certain themes that are proper to the lenten season. Since the sorrows of Our Lady are caused by the rejection of her Son (cf. John 1:11; Lk 2:1-7; 2, 34-35; 4:28-29; Mt 26:47-56; Acts 12:1-5), the Via Matris constantly and necessarily refers to the mystery of Christ as the suffering servant (cf. Is 52:13, 53:12). It also refers to the mystery of the Church: the stations of the Via Matris are stages on the journey of faith and sorrow on which the Virgin Mary has preceded the Church, and in which the Church journeys until the end of time.

"The highest expression of the Via Matris is the Pietà which has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Christian art since the middles ages. . ."


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