“Step by step, one more breath, on the way to conquer death.”
by Katie McNerney – Guest Author
At Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Arlington, this refrain can be heard over and over on certain Wednesday evenings during Lent. Led by music minister Monica Perz-Waddington and a small group of musicians, everyone present has the opportunity to pray the Stations of the Cross through song. Accompanied by guitar, drum, and a sign language interpreter, the musicians invite the congregation to sing along on the refrain, which is repeated between and during the verses that mark each station.
These sung stations of the cross had their beginning in 2007, when a group of young adults from the St. Charles Borromeo Praise and Worship group volunteered to lead the Stations of the Cross one week during Lent for their congregation. Ed Patrick and Andrew Howley took the lead as the group brainstormed ways to transform the journey to the cross into music that came from their Praise and Worship experience.
“Lyrically speaking, our goal was to find something meaningful on an emotional level, something that people could connect with,” Patrick reflected. “The stations of the cross depict an anguishing, brutal journey that affected everyone involved. How could we, as songwriters, catch glimpses into what each of them could be feeling and experiencing? The content is all right there in the gospel. We just had to be able to extract it and make the words sound nice to music. Easy, right?” he laughed.
They came up with a simple melody that would be repeated throughout to link all of the stations, and found ways to put each station into its own sung prayer. “When Ed first played the chord progression, it felt right to all of us from the start,” said Howley. “When I thought about why, it seemed like the music itself was simply walking slowly, meditatively, and persistently forward, just like Jesus on the Way of the Cross.
“For the verses, we used whole quotes, key phrases, and the overall perspective from scripture itself, so even the first time you hear these verses, they’re already familiar and resonant with thoughts and memories of other times you’ve reflected on the Passion.”
Their musical reflections on the last steps of Jesus were well received at St. Charles. “People seemed to really like it,” commented Patrick. “We felt that it did a good job of pointing people’s hearts and focus upward and on Jesus’ march with the cross, and that is what it was all about.”
Later, Patrick shared the music with Perz-Waddington. “The song instantly resonated in my soul,” she recalled. “With the gentle ostinato of the refrain, I could feel myself moving and breathing with the great outpouring of love from Jesus on the way to Calvary.” With the permission of the composers, she approached the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace and offered to lead a sung Stations of the Cross for the parish. “When I saw the opportunity to bring it to more people, I knew it could bless their Lenten journeys.”
The pastor, Fr. Tim Hickey, agreed to have Perz-Waddington lead a new Stations of the Cross on one of the Wednesdays during Lent when the church would be open for confessions. After experiencing it once, he asked her to lead it on two more of the Wednesdays during Lent that year, and it has become a regular part of the Lenten worship at the church.
Parishioners have been enthusiastic about this new form of the Stations. Several have called it their favorite way to experience it. Veronica Bartlett said, “The sung stations of the cross is a wonderful opportunity to find some peace in this hectic world. The music is soft, beautiful, and calming.”
Peter Nicewicz agreed, adding, “Having the music along with reconciliation was very cathartic.”
Matthew Chapman reflected, “The Taize-like repetition of the chorus creates a beautiful space for prayer, and the simple and sung format makes the experience accessible to all.”
Former Director of Religious Education Katie Remedios had the same feeling, and arranged for the sung stations of the cross to be held in 2017 for the children of the parish as well. “I have never been so moved by encountering the Stations of the Cross as I was that first time I experienced them in song! The lyrics, the melodies, the environment places you right there on the trail with Jesus. You feel each nail pounded, and each heart breaking, as Jesus makes his way to Calvary. As the director of the Faith Formation program for the OLQP children, I knew immediately that I had to bring this experience to our parish youth. To incorporate the learning styles and abilities of our children, we created lifelike images of each station, painting the scenes onto large flag-like banners, which were carried down the aisle as the story was depicted in song. What a powerful event and true gift to all!”
Others, like RCIA leader Alice Curtin, are particularly moved by the sign language interpretation provided by parishioner and choir member Christine O’Connor. “I went for the first time last year,” Curtin explained. “I got there a little late and there were no more song sheets available. This was a blessing in disguise! I sat there and focused on the group – especially the sign language interpreter – the whole time, rather than looking down at the words on paper. It was amazing and incredibly beautiful. The opportunity to reflect on each station and experience the beauty of the sign language interpretation was truly a highlight of the Lenten season for me.”
Perz-Waddington looks forward to leading the sung Stations of the Cross every Lent. “While the music and lyrics are the highlight of my personal prayer, the chance to share it in community is a humbling and remarkable experience. During the sung stations, I feel all of us fully present, connecting our prayer and voices. The melody and cadence transcend time and place, as we link our tears and hopes to our faith in God’s unconditional love.”
The group of musicians that sings with Perz-Waddington each year are equally passionate about how meaningful these Stations of the Cross are for them. “The repeated lyrics in between each station bring me to a meditative place where God is free to whisper in my ear,” said Elizabeth Ferrante. “The words for each individual station are beautiful reminders of the story of Jesus’ passion, but they also hold so much truth for what this story means in our lives today – the story no longer feels ancient, but new and alive in a powerful way.”
The parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace invites everyone to share in these sung stations of the cross at 7:00 p.m. on three Wednesdays during Lent: February 21, March 7, and March 21.
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