By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
With public celebration of Easter liturgies an impossibility because of COVID-19, the strong desire to provide some public witness during the Christian church’s most sacred of seasons prompted Bishop Mark Hagemoen to initiate a unique project.
During Holy Week, led by the bishop, a log cross was constructed and raised on the grounds of the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, and a previously-carved wooden figure of the crucified Christ was placed on the rough-hewn wood.
From Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, the cross stood on the grounds, with many driving by to see, to pray and to venerate. Members of the Knights of Columbus stood in vigil, monitoring traffic and ensuring that all physical distancing requirements were in effect.
“It was so disappointing to not be able to gather for the rich Easter liturgies. However, amidst the desolation and the silence, God always brings new life, light and hope. I like to think that this extraordinary crucifix was a part of this,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
“When the prospect became clear that we were not going to be able to gather for the celebration of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum in the diocese because of the COVID 19 restrictions, it became all the more important to do something extraordinary that would celebrate our Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection,” said Bishop Mark Hagemoen.
“The most powerful symbols of our Catholic Christian faith is the cross and the crucifix – the latter has the ‘corpus’ or body of Christ on the cross. This is a dear and key symbol during the Easter Triduum. In the words from scripture and in the sacred Easter Triduum liturgies – it is by the holy cross of Jesus Christ that He, our Saviour, saves the world! (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18),” he explained.
An earlier experience prompted the bishop to revisit the idea of building a crucifix to meet the needs of this extraordinary time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In my first parish appointment back in 1999 as pastor in a new parish called St. Nicholas in Langley, B.C., our first Easter in our new building had no large crucifix. However, we had plenty of cedar on the property, and so we felled a yellow cedar and made a giant cross to have our first Good Friday celebration,” the bishop described “This memory came back when I was thinking about how to celebrate the Passion of our Lord this year in Saskatoon. I asked Curtis Mann: ‘Can we find a big tree – a very big tree – here in this part of Saskatchewan?'”
Curtis Mann had two options to suggest — some poplars or a very large spruce tree. “I told him – the big spruce tree it is. Thus, Curtis, and several others – Dan Denis, Jessie Siemens, Jon Neufeld – and several other members of Curtis’s family – made it happen. It was truly a task of bringing together many gifts, skills, and efforts,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
The spruce log ended up being much bigger and heavier than anticipated, which necessitated getting heavy equipment to lift the crucifix into place. “I also discovered a large life-size wood corpus that had been carved several years ago by artist William Judt. The holes had been pre-drilled, so that it was relatively easy to attach the corpus to the cross.”
The cross was thus raised into place on Holy Thursday morning, April 9. “The idea was that the crucifix would be located on the prominent front lawn of Holy Family Cathedral, where people would be able to drive in and venerate the crucifix from their vehicles,” said the bishop.
“However, there also quickly arose a concern of not having too many cars at any one time in the parking lot which would violate the spacing and other requirements of government and health care authorities. Thus, we ceased any advertising, and we had rotating teams of Knights of Columbus from the parish who stood by from 9 a.m. until mid-evening on Good Friday and Holy Saturday to make sure that requirements were fulfilled.”
Unlike Holy Thursday, Good Friday was a surprisingly warm and sunny day. A steady stream of cars and pedestrians came by to venerate or pray throughout Good Friday, said the bishop, who observed the scene from his corner office at the Catholic Pastoral Centre on the second floor of the cathedral. “I saw people of all ‘walks of life’ and all ages – come by to visit. Many persons I had not seen at the cathedral before, came by to view the crucifix.”
On Good Friday evening, Bishop Mark Hagemoen and Annette Bentler led Stations of the Cross at the foot of the outdoor crucifix in the golden light of a setting sun, while Christianne, Matthew and Paul Bentler silently enacted the stations in “freeze-frame” style tableau. This prayer event was live streamed throughout the diocese (find the video link below).
The steady stream of people in the cathedral parking lot – never more than the maximum of 10 persons, and always spaced well beyond the minimum two-meter physical-distancing requirement – continued on Holy Saturday.
“Following the celebration of the Easter Sunday morning Mass at St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral, I came by to check on things at Holy Family Cathedral. Again, a small group of bystanders were passing by and paying their respects on Easter Sunday before the crucifix,” the bishop said.
Early Easter Tuesday morning, April 14, the crucifix was taken down. “I must say that this brought some sadness for me: that this familiar although extraordinary symbol that had brought such attention and I think hope for people during an unusual and unprecedented Easter, was now removed,” reflected Bishop Hagemoen. “However, it had fulfilled its purpose! And now, our diocese continues to reflect and celebrate the meaning of the risen Christ, raised from dead after taking up His cross.”
Video of Stations of the Cross on Good Friday evening, April 10, 2020:
(Starts at 2:13-minute mark)