PROVO — A new video titled “A Reflection of the Stations of the Cross” aims to share the rich tradition of the devotion with students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The 35-minute reflection, sponsored by the Brigham Young University Council for Religious Outreach, offers hundreds of Catholic images depicting the journey of Christ to the cross. The soundtrack features sacred music, including the Stabat Mater, and scriptural passages.
Fr. Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, was interviewed for an accompanying 7-minute video that gives a brief history of the Stations of the Cross.
The stations are “a powerful, powerful symbolism that brings us closer to the reality,” Fr. Diaz said in the video. “Sometimes when we look at Jesus on the cross, we don’t see all of the suffering that went into it.”
In the documentary, Eric Huntsman, a New Testament specialist who has lived and studied extensively in the Holy Land, gives a brief overview of the Via Dolorosa and the history of the Stations of the Cross.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a lot of doctrinal and ritual differences from other Christians, but when it comes to the idea of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and his resurrection, those are two points of contact where we share so much with the wider Christian world,” Huntsman said. “I love to help our people celebrate those holidays and, in the process, resonate with Christians from both the Catholic and the Protestant traditions.”
Along with Huntsman’s narrative, John Hilton III, associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU and author of the book Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects us with Christ, was interviewed. In addition, Mauro Properzi, a BYU associate professor of church history and a native Italian, shared some memories of his grandmother praying the rosary. Also featured are Mauren Fitzsimmons, president of the BYU Newman Student Association; Jordan Miles, a student who did a research project on the Stations of the Cross; and Elliott Wise, the art professor who developed both videos.
“I think it’s a pretty cool metaphor,” said Fitzsimmons of the Stations of the Cross. “I think the intent of having them around the church is because that’s where the light comes in, and so I feel that has a greater purpose, showing us that the story of the Stations of the Cross is where we can find light in our lives and in our Church as well.”
In an interview for this article, Fr. Diaz said he thought the documentary “was excellent in terms of the history and the understanding.”
This outreach by BYU appears to be part of the evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said.
“There’s a spirituality developing, an understanding of Jesus and that death/resurrection,” he said. “We know that the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not crucifix-oriented, it’s Resurrection-oriented. It appears that, at BYU anyway, they’re investigating how Jesus got to the Resurrection and looking at that through art and through the devotion of the Stations of the Cross.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be developing a sense of theology of the cross, he said.
“We continue to remember that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just under 200 years old,” he said. “So, we know in this history of every other religion, it takes a while to develop the theology. It’s the experiences first and the testimonies and the evangelization (speaking out), but then as a religion becomes more settled, it’s not trying to form a place, if you will. It’s an accepted kind of place in the community, then the speculation starts.”
This religious outreach experience is an “opportunity to emphasize the solidarity that we feel with all worshippers of Christ during the holiest of weeks,” said Wise, the art history professor who developed the video’s reflections for Lent and for Holy Week.
Response to the videos has been tremendous, he said.
One of his students told him that she had been deeply touched by the reflections and that it had made Holy Week a spiritual experience for her. After Wise sent the link to a friend from Spain who lives in the United States, he passed it along to a Spanish Catholic pastor, who shared it with his parish for Easter.
“The feedback has warmed my heart very, very deeply,” Wise said. “It increased the sanctity of Holy Week and increased people’s eyes to the deep beauty in different religious approaches to celebrating the life and suffering and resurrection of Christ.”
Wise hopes to leave both videos up on YouTube as long as copyright laws allow, and invites Utah Catholics to explore the reflections as a way to increase their spiritual life, particularly during the pandemic when they may not yet feel safe visiting churches to perform the Stations there.
“I would hope that it is an opportunity to continue to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ throughout the year,” he said. “I encourage them to allow it to be a spiritual experience, a meditative opportunity to develop in the rich Roman Catholic tradition of meditation. I hope it will be a moving and a personalized experience for them.”
Wise plans to post the reflections every year for Lent, to update the videos and to develop more material.
He encourages those who watch the reflections and have suggestions to improve the virtual experience of the Stations of the Cross to reach out to him.
The reflections may be found at https://youtu.be/MnK0P_5ApiE. See the introductory documentary at https://youtu.be/dnC86ToqhP4. Wise may be reached at Elliott_wise@byu.edu.