The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and images of the Passion were brought to life in a tableau-style presentation that combined prayer, poignant hymns, powerful voiceovers and rich symbolism as the Diocese of Harrisburg ushered in the opening weekend for its 150th anniversary.
On a Lenten Friday evening at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Harrisburg, a rendition of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice was illustrated by youth of the diocese and accompanied by adult voiceovers and by music under the direction of Helen McMonagle.
The result was less of a performance and more of living prayer, as the congregation prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary after each scene was re-enacted. Click here to view a recording of the Prayer Vigil.
The vigil began with the Presentation in the Temple, and Simeon (portrayed by Patrick Elter) telling Mary (Karly Zimmerman) that her son would be a sign of contradiction, and that her heart would be pierced.
Deacon Joseph Wrabel, George Mattis and Elizabeth Kreckel provided narration and voiceovers as the young enactors offered visual scenes of The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning of Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross and The Crucifixion.
18-year-old Stephen Gontis, a student at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg and a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish, portrayed Jesus, and told The Catholic Witness that his goal was to use his performance to glorify God.
“Thought the re-enactment was a human portrayal, I wanted our efforts to showcase God’s goodness and point to him,” he said.
As he prepared for the role, Stephen said that he reflected often on Jesus’ words to the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?”
“I wanted to channel that human question on Jesus’ heart, to especially point to Jesus’ humanity,” he remarked.
Stephen said that the decision to ask youth to re-enact the Sorrowful Mysteries points to Jesus’ words, “Unless you are like one of these, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“I think that using young people was a good way to symbolize those words. Hopefully these representations of the mysteries and of the Passion are able to reveal things about the Divine Mystery that perhaps people haven’t thought of before, and bring them closer to God,” he said.
15-year-old Karly Zimmerman portrayed the role of Mary.
“I watch The Passion of the Christ every Lent, but doing something like this re-enactment really got me to think about how Mary felt, how Joseph felt, and what Jesus and his followers experienced,” she said in preparing for the prayer vigil.
At Lebanon Catholic School, where she has been a student since kindergarten, Karly particularly analyzed the school’s Stations of the Cross version told from Mary’s perspective.
“I really tried to consider how she felt, and I looked at a lot of art depicting Jesus meeting Mary on the way to Calvary, or Jesus being taken down from the cross and laid in her lap,” she said.
For Karly, who attends LCBC, non-denominational Bible church in Manheim, participation in the prayer vigil in the role of the Blessed Mother gave her pause to reflect more on Mary’s feelings about her son’s sacrifice.
“Seeing what Jesus had to go through for us and our sins in this up-close way has given me a different perspective on the crucifixion and salvation,” she said.
During the presentation of the Sorrowful Mysteries, which included Jesus carrying his cross through the aisles of the church, many members of the congregation were moved to tears during the Crucifixion – accompanied by the hymn “Lament” from “Stabat Mater” – and during the epilogue of Jesus’s body being placed in the tomb – accompanied by the hymn “Carry Him Gently.”
In the congregation, DeAnn McCloskey, a member of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, was among those wiping tears from their eyes.
“You certainly can’t see a re-enactment of the Passion without getting emotional, thinking about what Christ truly gave for us – which is everything,” she said.
“As a mother myself, I can’t even imagine what Mary was feeling,” she reflected. “You try to put yourself in her shoes, and you ask yourself, ‘Could I have accepted what was asked?’ If someone came to me today and said, ‘This is the gift I am going to give to you; will you have it?’ could I accept it the way Mary did?
“I can’t even imagine watching one of my children being tortured and crucified to save us, but Mary accepted it. That’s a reflection for me each Lent as I see the Passion or the Stations of the Cross,” she said.
The reaction from the congregation is the gift that Lauren Shuyler, director, wanted the prayer vigil to be for the people of the diocese.
“God has worked through these young people, the musicians and the narrators so much so that it became a prayer,” she said, complimenting the youth for their prayerful portrayal. “It takes a certain amount of maturity to deal with the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Passion, but they immersed themselves in it so that others could feel it.”
“The re-enactment was seamless with the music, the voices and the tableaus, and offered a multi-sensory experience,” she said. “It was a gift to the people of the diocese, and certainly a gift to those of us who were part of it.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness