I was just thinking that this particular stretch of Del Mar Trails Road reminded me of some ancient Italian village (only with more yard space and much bigger houses), when a bend in the road opened a vista to the valley beyond, a vista dominated by a huge copper dome topped with a cross — an exclamation point for that Italian echo.
The church is new enough that the outdoor Stations of the Cross, highlighting various moments in Jesus’ life from His condemnation onward, are not yet in place along the outdoor Walk of Faith. But the plan, said deacon John Fanelle, was for the Stations to end at the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. From the church brochure: “The chapel represents the risen Christ — the fifteenth station heralding the Resurrection.”
“The Stations started as a penance service,” explained Fanelle. “People who sinned were sent to the Holy Land to walk the Way of the Cross. Over time, that became impractical, and in Germany, they started setting up stations. The number of stations varied, all the way up to 21.” Many churches feature just 14, concluding with Jesus’ burial in the tomb; it’s an appropriately downbeat note for the penitential season of Lent, when the Stations are usually emphasized. But Friday’s Stations included Number 15: The Resurrection. A note in the text explained that “the Passion of Christ is meaningless unless the Resurrection is kept in mind.”
Because the Stations were not yet installed, the service was held inside the church. About 70 congregants attended, many of them relative youngsters, their subdued voices echoing in the dim vastness as they sang: “Were you there/ When they crucified my Lord... Were you there/ When they crowned Him with the thorns...” Fanelle processed forward toward the great bronze crucifix, its dark visage tinged with purple from the spotlights below. “Lord Jesus,” he prayed, “for 2000 years, the Church has gathered to remember — to relive — those final hours of Your earthly journey.... In Your suffering and death, You reveal to us the truth about God and man.... Help us to become worthy to share in the Passion and the Resurrection.”
Fanelle then spooned incense into a holder on a chain and made the long walk to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, returning with a consecrated Host cupped between his hands. He placed the Host in a red-and-gold monstrance on the altar that served to display it to the people. From that point on, no one sat; the service involved a mix of kneeling and standing, with frequent shifts between the two. (My right knee had begun to twinge by the time Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry His cross at the Fifth Station, which included the prayer, “Help us to see in the sufferings...of our lives a share in Your Cross.... Console us in the belief that we bear all things in union with You.”)
The congregation remained in their places throughout. In order to mirror Jesus’ progress through the streets of Jerusalem, Fanelle led the prayers from various parts of the church — now alone in a far corner as Jesus was condemned, now in the midst of the people as Jesus fell the second time. (By which point, the empurpled crucifix was wreathed in haze from the pot of incense.)
Each station began with Fanelle praying, “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You.” Everyone genuflected and answered, “Because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.” Then Fanelle read from Scripture — usually the Gospel account of the Passion, but occasionally bits of the Old Testament. Isaiah’s “It was our weaknesses that He carried” accompanied Jesus’ second fall, and Psalm 118’s “I lie prostrate in the dust; give me life according to Your word” followed His third. Everyone knelt and paused before joining in a reading — sometimes prophesying, sometimes lamenting, sometimes comforting. “Happy is the man whom God chastises!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Then Fanelle offered a prayer, and the congregation stood and sang a verse to the tune of the 13th-century hymn “Stabat Mater.” Each verse heralded the next station; before the death of Jesus, they sang, “Life eternal, death defiant/ Bowed his head — the world was silent/ Through his death came life anew.”
(This was the traditional form; on alternating Fridays, Fanelle leads another Stations of the Cross based on the 1991 Good Friday service conducted by Pope John Paul II.)
What happens when we die?
“I think we get to enjoy the love of God like you’ve never, ever imagined,” said Fanelle, before adding a story from the previous week’s homily about the difference between heaven and hell. What it came to was this: in hell, people loved themselves and suffered; in heaven, they loved each other and rejoiced.
4355 Del Mar Trails Road, Del Mar
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Founded locally: May 2007 (under its current name)
Senior pastor: Nicholas Dempsey
Congregation size: 2000 families
Staff size: 7
Sunday school enrollment: 634
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to semi-formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian, Pacific Islander, and Asian-American
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 45 minutes