During my planning of sessions this year, it occurred to me that young people in our programs never get exposed to the Stations of the Cross or many other traditional Catholic devotions. Even when I include the Stations in my plan, I’m teaching what they are, not leading or praying them with the young people. Maybe I needed to think differently about my approach, so this year I decided to try praying the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary with my seventh graders.
I started with introducing the Rosary to the young people. Many of them were at least familiar with this devotion, which was a good start. I reviewed the basic outlines of the prayers with my students near the end of a session which had focused on our call to eternal life (Finding God, Grade 7, Session 24). The session included discussion of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, which was a perfect lead-in to talk about the Glorious Mysteries. In the interest of time, I invited the young people to pray one decade of the Rosary, focusing on the fourth Glorious Mystery, the Assumption of Mary. We didn’t have rosaries at hand that evening, so we followed the beads by using a picture of the rosary in our books.
A few weeks later we were in Lent and talking about the Agony in the Garden. In the context of the session, we had already prayed a guided reflection suggested by the book (Session 17), but I believe that young people are open to praying more than one time during a gathering, so I led a decade of the Rosary. This time, as one might guess, we prayed the first Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden. This time I made sure I had rosaries for each young person to use, so they could have the tactile experience that is part of this devotion. In both experiences of praying the Rosary, my students were respectful during the prayer and willing to try the calming repetition of the prayers. It was a way to connect this traditional form of prayer with the context of the class theme for the night.
The Stations of the Cross
In another Lenten session, I tried praying the Stations of the Cross with the young people. Since I knew the Stations of the Cross would take more time than our usual prayers, I told them it would be on the longer side and asked for their help in keeping the prayer reverent. We used booklets with reflections for teens at each Station. The reflections were divided among multiple readers, always using the traditional refrain of, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” I had printed out pictures of the Stations and posted them around the room, and we all walked around the room as we prayed, stopping in front of each Station.
I was impressed by how we prayed the Stations of the Cross. The young people were respectful and all participated with the readings, following along with the booklets. I asked afterwards what they thought of this experience, and several responded positively, even indicating they might like to pray this way again.
Near the end of the session, I handed out materials for the young people to assemble their own Stations of the Cross booklets they could use for personal prayer at home. The booklets, from Christ Our Life Grade 7 BLMs, invite the young people to reflect on each individual Station and write prayers or draw pictures in response.
While we can’t expose the young people in our classes to every devotion from the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, we can look for opportunities to introduce them to some of the prayers of our heritage during class. Instead of shying away from devotions because they are old or neglecting to introduce them for whatever reason, we do well to remember what Gary Jansen, author of Station to Station, writes: “Devotions, rooted in tradition, are a good vehicle for encountering a vibrant present.”
How do you introduce Catholic devotions to the young people in your group? Do you incorporate opportunities for praying the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, or other devotions in your faith formation program?