Liturgy Spots: Lent Prefaces, Stations of the Cross - 14th February 2016

The Prefaces of Lent

The first section of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass - the part that comes after our response “It is right and just” and before the “Holy, holy” - is called the Preface.

There are 97 Prefaces in the Roman Missal. The common tone of all these Prefaces is one of thanksgiving. In addition, during feasts and seasons of the church year, the Preface always reflects the focus of the celebration.

The Prefaces for the Sundays of Lent serve to reinforce the Gospel readings of the day. For example, the Gospel reading on the second Sunday of Lent is always the account of the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, so in the Preface on that day we hear:

For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death,

on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory,

to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets,

that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. (Preface for the Second Sunday of Lent)

If we are distracted and our thoughts wander, the Preface can sometimes over before we are aware of it. This is a pity. Listening carefully to the Preface helps us link the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass with the Liturgy of the Word and to participate more fully in the celebration.

The Way of the Cross

Stations of the Cross is a popular practice in parishes during Lent.

This form of devotion arose after pilgrims began to visit the Holy Land from the end of the 4th century to follow the path that Jesus trod in his last week of life. Christians who were unable to travel to Palestine themselves reproduced a parallel devotion at home.

The Franciscans popularised the practice during the Middle Ages, but the number and subject of the stations was not settled until the 18th century. The fourteen stations that were established were a blend of biblical and legendary material.

There is no set way of praying the Stations and the Church has never provided an official ritual for the celebration. In 1975 the Congregation for Sacred Rites suggested a list of Stations of the Cross that is more in keeping with the gospel accounts than the traditional form. It begins with the Last Supper and concludes with Christ’s resurrection.  Recent popes have used yet another set of Stations when celebrating the Way of Cross at the Colosseum during Holy Week.

The terms “Stations of the Cross” and “Way of the Cross” refer to the same devotional practice. The latter may be better as it emphasises the spiritual journey aspect of the prayer.

Official guidelines for celebrating the Way of the Cross suggest that it is always preferable to choose texts written in a clear simple style and to end the celebration with a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection “to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope”.

Elizabeth Harrington