Columban Fr Barry Cairns tells us about his display for the Adoration of the Cross.
When I was a very young priest just out of language school in Tokyo, my Japanese vocabulary was somewhat limited! To give me confidence and help me get the message across I used many visual aids in my classes with those preparing for Baptism.
Gradually as proficiency in the language increased I continued to use visual aids because I found that they conveyed the message of Jesus far more effectively. This is especially the case with the Japanese culture which emphasizes the concrete rather than the conceptual.
Here I am 55 years later still using visual aids in my Catechumenate Programme, Homilies and Liturgies! The Good Friday Liturgy is one example. For the Adoration of the Cross there is quite a display. Centre-piece is a large crucifix. I found it in the sacristy store room. It was broken with only wires protruding from the plaster arms. A recently baptized parishioner is a sculptor. He gave the image of Jesus new arms. This repair work meant a lot to him.
I had previously seen a crucifix from Ireland that was used during the persecution there. On it was not only the outline of Jesus, but also depicted were the instruments of the Passion. Using this Irish crucifix as our resource we assembled various concrete objects.
The women in charge of the altar flower arrangements plaited a crown of thorns. In my carpenter's workshop I made the scourge and a large pair of dice. (Dice were used by the soldiers to decide who won the seamless cloak of Jesus). From my carpentry kit we added a heavy hammer three large nails and pincers (to take the nails out after Jesus' death).
Another amateur carpenter made a very realistic looking lance, a pole topped with a sponge and a miniature ladder (to take down Jesus' body from the cross). At first we had only a tiny rooster to recall Peter's denial. Then a parishioner gave us an heirloom from her deceased father. It was a big, very much alive-looking rooster made in the atelier of the famous Japanese chinaware company, Noritake.
Our parish uses these visual aids on Good Friday during the liturgy which includes the Adoration of the Cross. At first we slowly read the relevant passages in St John's Gospel and the fourth Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12).
The lights are then turned off and only a spotlight shines on the area of the Cross. Then each person comes up in procession two by two while a chanter gently sings in Japanese those haunting liturgical hymns for Good Friday (Improperia). In twos they lay their hands on the Cross and looking at Jesus on the Cross commune with their Saviour in silent prayer. It is a supremely sacred moment.
The purpose of a catechetical visual aid is to lead the viewer to a deeper faith truth. The aid must not become a mere transitory entertaining gimmick! An aid is a parable in the concrete.
In other words we do not concentrate on the actual wounds themselves, but rather on the love behind them. 'By his stripes we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).
That love is not just 2000 years ago, but a love that is alive and active for each of us today. We can all say with St Paul: Jesus 'loves me and gave himself up for me' (Galatians 2:20).
Columban Fr Barry Cairns has been a missionary in Japan since 1956.
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