Saturday, 19 March 2011

Stations without the figure of Christ?

If we were Buddhists, when we meditate, we would try to empty our minds. But we're Catholics. When we meditate we try to fill our minds with thoughts of Jesus, His life and work, the people around Him, the times in which He lived and what we can glean from that and gain from that and how we can become like that.
This is a remark that Ask Sr Mary Martha makes as part of a post which discusses colouring books of the Stations of the Cross for young children to use during Lent. It followed a previous post, in which Sister wrote about newer forms of the Stations of the Cross that use only Scriptural sources, and the problem that using these newer forms can cause when the parish Church has a lovely set of "traditional stations". Like Sister, I am quite comfortable with the idea of different forms of the stations and, indeed, with their extension into a "stations of the Resurrection" that can be used during the Liturgical season of Easter. Indeed, I have buried away on my hard drive at least one set of Stations of the Cross intended for use during a period of Eucharistic Adoration and a set of Stations of the Resurrection also intended for the same type of use. The way in which the Stations of the Cross are prayed during World Youth Days shows how this "traditional" devotion can be successfully "updated" without losing anything of its original vigour and life.

However, yesterday evening I encountered a "Stations of the Crown of Thorns" at the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Paul's in Goodmayes. Images of some of the stations can be found here and here, though they have now been placed around the Church as would be typical of Stations of the Cross. The Vicar of the parish has written a set of prayers/meditations for each station - a strength of which is the use for some stations of Old Testament passages that would not often be associated with the Stations of the Cross and a weakness of which is that two stations have meditations that reflect the "inclusive" (ie in some respects liberal) nature of the parish.

However, what prompts my reflection is the absence of the figure of Christ himself from the images in the Stations. One station - Jesus dies on the Cross - is represented by the lovely crucifix with figure that was already in place on the East wall of the Church behind the altar, so this is an exception. The absence of a representation of the figure of Christ in the station representing the Eucharistic presence of Jesus (see the first photogaph here) might also be seen as an exception because of the appropriateness of the absence of a bodily representation. The artists responsible for the commission describe it as follows:
In this semi-abstract scheme, Christ is represented solely by the Crown of Thorns..... The additional Station represents the risen Christ in the form of bread and wine and will be located in the Lady Chapel.

The stated intention of the artist is that the Crown of Thorns "represents Christ"; but there remains a sense in which the figure of Christ's body is not represented in the images for the stations. For a religion whose centre is the teaching that Jesus Christ, in his human body, is God-made-man - and therefore God can be artistically represented in human flesh - this raises a first interesting question. Under what circumstances, if any, is it true to the Christian mystery to leave out a representation of the bodily figure of Christ from a work of art that shows his presence? As Ask Sister Mary Martha suggests in the passage quoted above, should we "empty" ourselves of the presence of Christ or should we "fill" ourselves with that presence in a work of Christian art?
There is also a second question, which occurs because of the context of a parish whose website includes the description (my italics added):
We are a friendly, multi-ethnic, inclusive congregation, offering a warm welcome to everyone, regardless of their background.
Does avoiding a bodily representation of Christ allow the artist to avoid representing the person of Christ as being male, if not in intention than at least in effect? Such would be to completely re-write the doctrines of the Incarnation and of the Trinity.

1 comment:

Mike said...

If you go here:

you can see that the Cross behind the altar has no figure of Christ on it. The church was built in the 1980s. Hopefully this sort of thing would not happen today.