The Stations of the Cross is a devotional prayer that takes us through the fourteen events in Jesus’ Passion up to His death on the cross. It is traditionally prayed during Lent as a way to meditate on Jesus’ suffering.
Churches often have Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent, usually during the evening. As a family with several young children, this has been a hard time for us to participate. It tends to be late enough that our kids become overtired and hungry. The meditative atmosphere, while beautiful, isn’t always the best place for very young children (who don’t yet understand why they should whisper their most urgent questions about what is happening and save the less urgent ones for after the service is concluded). Out of respect for the other participants and for the solemnity of the service, I have kept my children home on these evenings.
Still, I longed for a way to involve my kids in the Stations of the Cross. It could be a wonderful form of prayer for children because it involves specific pictures and images, repeated phrases that are easy to remember, and movement.
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A few years ago, my dear friend began hosting Stations of the Cross at her home for family friends. We gathered for a simple soup supper in the early evening. When everyone was fed, we sat or knelt on the floor around her living room coffee table. In the center of the table, she placed fourteen candles in the shape of a cross. Because we all had toddlers at the time, she used battery-operated candles for safety.
Each family was given a slip of paper with the prayers we would say at each station. Using a children’s Stations of the Cross book, families took turns reading each station. Adults and children shared the responsibility of serving as “leader” for the prayers and for reading aloud for the group. After each station, we paused for a moment while a child extinguished one of the candles on the table.
The effect of growing darkness as we journeyed with Jesus toward the end of His life was poignant. Children still wiggled, just as they would have done in our parish sanctuary. Children made noise and asked questions from time to time. The difference was that we didn’t need to remove them from the room. We were all there together. We didn’t worry that they were distracting others around us. We were able to focus on our prayer as a family before God, including our very youngest members. This felt incredibly freeing for my family, and it was a real gift to us at a time when we were often separated during Mass (with one parent in the hall soothing a crying baby or managing a wiggly toddler).
Praying the Stations of the Cross together as a family is a wonderful way to prepare for Easter, and experiencing it with a community of friends has become one of my favorite Lenten devotions. Each time we journey with Jesus through the final events of His life, we remember how much He loved us and how He suffered for us. It might not always be comfortable to discuss these things with our children, but it is incredibly important.
Without an age-appropriate understanding of Jesus’ suffering, how can our children be expected to grasp the joy of the Resurrection? Creating an environment where we can experience the Stations of the Cross together with our children gives us an opportunity to bring them into this beautiful prayer and to help them begin to understand the depth of Jesus’ love for each of them.
Have you prayed the Stations of the Cross with your children? How did it go? What activities or prayers have you used to help the youngest members of your family prepare for Easter?
Copyright 2017 Abbey Dupuy
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