BUCKSPORT, Maine — The Franciscan Brothers of St. Elizabeth of Hungary fondly call the ritual of the Stations of the Cross their “Lenten calisthenics” because participants kneel and stand at least 14 times as they contemplate what Christians call the Passion of Christ — the time from his sentence to his burial.
This Lenten season, the Franciscan brothers, best known for their Friars Bakehouse on Central Street in Bangor, are leading the ritual at 5:30 p.m. Fridays through Good Friday, April 10, at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 60 Franklin St., in Bucksport. A light supper of soup and bread is served in the church basement after the hourlong service.
The brothers also are conducting a “Lenten Day of Recollection” at the church on Saturday, March 21. (See sidebar). In previous years, Brothers Kenneth and Donald have led the prayers at a Bangor church but moved to St. Vincent’s this year because it is the Catholic church closest to their 34-acre property where they plan to build a friary in the near future.
“Leave all your baggage outside,” Brother Kenneth urged the 40 or so people who attended the first service on Friday, Feb. 27. “You can pick it up on your way out. Now, we want to focus on Jesus and our sins.”
Charles Clapper, 80, of Bucksport said after the service that he was able to do that.
“It turns your view into yourself to inventory what you have been doing, who you are and where you are going,” Clapper, who has attended St. Vincent’s since 1958, said of praying the Stations of the Cross. “Lent is the time for getting ourselves, as best we can, squared with God. The introspection [allowed by the service] helps me do that.”
The roots of the Stations or Way of the Cross can be traced to the first centuries of the modern era, according to the “Catholic Encyclopedia.” The practice in its current form was instituted in the mid-14th century by the Franciscans as a way of imitating the pilgrim route in Jerusalem.
The number of stations varied greatly, ranging up to 37, but in the 18th century, the current 14 stations were established. In some churches, the stations are mosaics in the walls. In others, they are paintings.
In most, however, they are mass-produced, three-dimensional ceramic or wooden plaques that sometimes pale in comparison to the stained-glass windows they often rest between.
The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the incidents of Christ’s final hours in turn.
“It makes you good,” Diana Wakefield, 62, of Bucksport said last month after the service. “It touches you to know what he went through for us.”
A lifelong Catholic, Wakefield previously lived in Ashland and was involved at St. Mary Catholic Church in Presque Isle before recently moving south to be closer to family.
Nancy Buckwalter, 62, lives in Bass Harbor and works in Brewer. In the past, the long commute has kept her from being able to attend a similar service closer to home.
“The timing was good for me,” she said. “I thought that this year instead of giving up something for Lent, I’d do more spiritual things. Doing the Stations of the Cross is one of them.”
The intent of the services, Brother Kenneth said last month, is to be “non-denominational” so that all Christians feel welcome to take part in “Lenten calisthenics.” He defined them as “Lenten exercises designed to develop spiritual health and vigor, usually performed with little or no special apparatus.”