“It is not so much a thought we must follow, but an event into which we have to enter; it is a form of memory; and, as with every form of memory, it derives its importance from the seriousness with which, in our hearts, we focus on the contents of the memory itself, like a meditation that comes alive, ever accessible, ever more possible through the journey and the words we hear and the songs we sing.”
Each year with these words, Fr. Luigi Giussani, now recognized by the Church as Servant of God, would introduce the Way of the Cross to a couple thousand university students in Milan who would take part in the life of the movement he had founded, Communion and Liberation. Members of the movement in Montreal have introduced the same form of this “liturgy,” which is not the traditional fourteen stations and prayers. Instead, it involves fewer stations – we generally choose six – that explore a series of moments in the Passion of Christ, with particular focus on Mary.
The participants are led to view the Passion through Mary’s eyes, guided by some moving passages from Charles Péguy’s Mystery of the Passion of Joan of Arc and accompanied with choral works and solos ranging from Negro Spirituals to Gregorian chant, from fifteenth-century settings of the Passion to the “Ave Maria” from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. The desire is not to perform but to present a beautiful gesture that invites those taking part in the procession to understand that what happened in the past can be a present experience. It is for this reason that the form of this Way of the Cross is dark, intimate, precise, objective, and imbued with an atmosphere of silence.
Communion and Liberation have been presenting this form of the Way of the Cross in Montreal for the past thirty years. At the very first one, there were just three adults and two children in a park one intensely cold day - so cold, in fact, that the tiny group ended up seeking shelter in the warmth of a car. For four years the event took place in a retreat home or a church and in 1996 the Via Crucis moved outdoors to Angrignon Park. After a few years, the desire grew among a number of people to move the modest procession to the historic centre of Montreal, as a simple sign to the city. At first the route was around the Old Port but soon the starting point became the historic church of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours and the traditional route was set to Notre Dame Basilica, St. Patrick’s, recently to Le Gesù, and ending up in Mary Queen of the World Cathedral. The original group of fifty in the Old Port eventually grew to a thousand at our last outdoor event in 2019.
Last year we were caught off guard by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown. But so many people wanted the event to go on that we decided to record the Way of the Cross, using videotapes of our choir from previous years.
This year once again, we wish to provide an online Way of the Cross, but this time it will be live. There will be no choir, since choirs are not allowed in red zones, but we will have soloists in a simpler live version of the event. We will have our usual readings, and we will be graced once again by the presence of Archbishop Christian Lépine, who has guided us in this event in past years. Our hopes and expectations are that this simpler live version of the Way of the Cross will be even more intense in its expression and thus an opportunity for the entire diocese to contemplate the Mystery of Christ’s Passion.
Fr. Giussani always reminded us that the last word on existence is mercy, and so this Way of the Cross will end on the positive note that death is not the last word on our existence, but rather the Resurrection. A comforting reminder in these difficult times.