In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: In the parish church the stations of the cross have individual lights. The present pastor turns on the stations of the cross lights for Mass. I disagree with this practice. I used to be a high school speech and drama teacher and directed the plays and musicals. Certainly we use light for general illumination, but we also use light to draw attention to a particular place. The stations of the cross are private devotional prayer, quite removed from the public liturgical prayer of the church, and as such, it seems to me that having the lights of the stations on during Mass invites the faithful to divert their attention from the sanctuary (the chair, altar, or pulpit, or wherever the liturgical action occurs, e.g., a baptistry in the gathering space) and to instead reflect on the stations.

Simply put, I believe that having the lights on the stations of the cross during Mass is inappropriate, as this invites the people to give attention to the stations rather than to the place of the liturgical action, usually the pulpit, chair, or altar. And, the stations of the cross lights are not needed for general illumination. Private devotional prayer should not be allowed to intrude on public liturgical prayer. 

Perhaps I am being too picky, but your observations, please.


A: You’re right. There’s no need to highlight a devotional element in a way that could distract people from the action in the sanctuary at Mass. GIRM 318 says that sacred images “should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. Care should, therefore, be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and moreover that they be arranged in proper order so as not to draw the attention of the faithful to themselves and away from the celebration itself.” The principle is there, but its interpretation is a judgment call. With you, I’d probably leave the station lights off for Mass if they were not necessary for the people’s vision. But it’s probably not worth a battle.