(the descriptions are edited versions of the same found in the Anglican Service Book)
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STATIONS OF THE CROSS
The practice of pilgrims to the Holy Land following the Way of Sorrows from the house of Pilate to the Holy Sepulchre was the origin of this devotion, which became widespread in the later Middle Ages, although it was not completely formalized unto the eighteenth century. The Stations of the Cross is a popular and appropriate devotion during Lent and Holy Week. Eight of the Stations are based directly upon events recorded in the Gospels; the remaining six (stations 3, 4, 6, 9, and 13) are based upon inferences from the Gospels or upon pious legend.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, a time of spiritual warfare, of fasting, of penitence, and preparation for the Easter feast. Beginning in the tenth century, ashes were imposed on this day upon penitent sinners in preparation for their restoration to full communion with the Church. Since the eleventh century, ashes have been imposed upon all the faithful as a reminder that the wages of sin is death. As God said to Adam, 'dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19b) But as we are marked with the ashes in the same manner that we were signed with the cross in our Baptisms, we are also reminded that we only have life in Christ, the second Adam.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. The procession with palms calls to mind the triumphal entry of Jesus, our Lord and King, into Jerusalem. The procession is fundamentally an act of worship, witness, and devotion to our Blessed Lord. The purpose of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem was to fulfill his Father’s will; thus it is fitting that this service continues with the reading of the Passion, turning the emphasis to the days which lie ahead in Holy Week. We who hail him as king one moment, may in the next deny him, even joining with the crowds in shouting “Crucify him!”
This day receives its name from the mandatum or the “new commandment” given by our Lord. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and commanded them to love and serve one another as he had done. This service begins with a festal character: white vestments are worn; the Gloria in excelsis is sung; additional candles may be lit. This service has been called “a burst of sunshine in the gathering gloom.” We at once remember the joy of the institution of the Eucharist, the love and service which Jesus lived and taught, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal leading to the Crucifixion. The bread and wine of the Last Supper are given new meaning by the Body broken and Blood poured out on the cross. Sufficient bread and wine will be consecrated on this day for the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. The Sacrament is then taken to the Altar of Repose where the faithful are asked to “watch and pray.” The altar, symbolic of Christ, is stripped of its vesture and the building is left bare for the solemnity of Good Friday.
This most solemn of all days should be marked by fasting, abstinence, and penance, leading us to focus on Jesus upon the Cross. The bare, stark appearance of the church serves as a reminder of the solemnity and the sorrow of the day. The Lord of Life was rejected, mocked, scourged, and then put to death on the Cross. The faithful need to be mindful of the part which their own sins played in this suffering and agony, as Christ took all sin upon himself, in obedience to his Father’s will. By the Cross we are redeemed, set free from the bondage of sin and death. The Cross is assign of God’s never-ending love for us. It is a sign of life, in the midst of death. The service consists of three parts: lessons and prayers, including the recital of the Passion; veneration of the cross, a devotion showing our love and thankfulness for the gift of life given us by Jesus’ death; and it concludes with the Mass of the Presanctified from the Sacrament consecrated on Maundy Thursday.
The Great Vigil of Easter is perhaps the most theologically important service of the Church Year. In it the new fire of God is struck, banishing darkness, and showing forth the victory won on Good Friday; the saving acts of God in history are recounted in the Exsultet and in Holy Scripture; new Christians may be made through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism; the vows made by all Christians at their baptisms are renewed; and with the end of the Lenten observance, the first Mass of the joyful season of Easter is celebrated. The Vigil is not a short service. It marks time in the evening, while the people await the announcement of the Resurrection: “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” He is risen indeed, and the Paschal Candle burns as a sign of the Presence of the resurrected Christ.