Raise the Gonfalon Royal!
Station at Saint Peter's in the Vatican
Today's Station returns to the basilica built on the site of Nero's circus in Rome where St Peter, in imitation of the Lord, suffered death on a cross.
This is fitting as the Church enters Passiontide, that period of the liturgical year which focuses more intensely on the suffering of Christ and the mounting opposition to Him by His enemies. The Church is clad in mourning as all images of the saints and even the crucifix are veiled in purple.
The photo shown here actually encompasses all these ideas - St Peter's, the cross and mourning: it is a scene from almost a year ago, of a queue of mourners waiting to enter St Peter's Basilica where the body of Pope John Paul II laid in state. Indeed, today is the anniversary of the Holy Father's death. Fittingly, as we remember the love, suffering and cross that John Paul II bore so patiently unto death, so too the liturgical year enters into Christ's Passion, sharing in the suffering and Cross of the Lord. In this way, the Successor of St Peter also follows the way of the Divine Master.
But the Gospel given for this day, for the Third Scrutiny and for catechumens on this day tells of the Raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45); that event anticipates the full glory of Christ's resurrection so that even as death, decay and sorrow is evident, there is hope in the resurrection, as long as we have faith and profess that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life (cf Jn 11:25).
"The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow..."
Hence, these opening lines of the ancient Passiontide hymn by Vernatius Fortunatus, the Vexilla regis, employs military symbolism: the Gonfalon Royal (as a hymn tune written for the English translation puts it), the standard of the King is unfurled as the Lord begins the march to battle and to triumph over death, sin and hell! Passiontide begins the battle march of the Lord Jesus. This military analogy is a reminder too that the Lenten stations have their roots in the idea of standing guard at one's post in order to engage in spiritual battle. So in these last two weeks of Lent, let us march with Christ into battle, confident that the Victory is His and that if we share His Cross, we will also share His Resurrection.
Let us pray with those who will be baptised this Easter:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you commanded Lazarus
to step forth alive from his tomb
and by your own resurrection freed all people from death.
We pray for these your servants,
who eagerly approach the waters of new birth
and hunger for the banquet of life.
Do not let the power of death hold them back,
for, by their faith,
they will share in the triumph of your resurrection,
for you live and reign for ever and ever.