In writing about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I identified it as a devotional exercise. It seemed to me to be an extended visual meditation on the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Others have identified it as a meditation on the Stations of the Cross. In any case, the movie translated a classic Christian devotion into a shockingly modern form.
The church has preached the Cross from its apostolic beginnings at Pentecost, but it seems that once people heeded the message of the Cross and became followers of Jesus, they felt a need to structure personal and communal ways to remember that pivotal event in salvation history.
The most ancient description of a ritualized remembering of the Passion is a fourth-century eyewitness report by a Spanish nun named Egeria. She traveled to the Holy Land and reported that Christians in Jerusalem gathered for three hours on Good Friday to listen to the bishop read from the Scriptures the prophecies of the Lord's Passion and their fulfillment.
Christians have developed other forms of commemoration (literally, "remembering together"), such as walking the Way of Sorrows (via dolorosa) either literally in Jerusalem or symbolically by praying and meditating before a series of plaques that recount the events of Jesus' painful trek to Calvary.
This Holy Week, I am going to participate in another variation on such communal remembering: a service of meditations on the Seven Last Words. This service was first developed by Jesuit missionaries in Peru, who blended cross-centered preaching with guided meditation to create a kind of congregational "spiritual exercise." In Jesuit terms, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says, Spiritual Exercises refers to a 4-week program of meditations ...
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