Passion play 1992.
Scene from the Passion play, 1992

Tales from the Archives: The Lenten Season at St. Thomas

Prayer of the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on Fridays. Spiritual retreats conducted for students during Holy Week. The distribution of palms to all who attend Palm Sunday Mass.

These are some of the common events that have taken place at St. Thomas during past Lenten seasons. But Lent has also been a time when special gatherings have been planned to bring the community together and help it prepare for the coming of Easter.

A Forty Hours Devotion was held annually during the Lenten season in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas during the mid-20th century. This rite commemorated the traditional 40-hour period from Jesus’ burial until the resurrection. The observance was bookended by Solemn High Masses that featured a Eucharistic procession and benediction. Between the masses, groups and individuals gathered in the chapel for continuous prayer in perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Forty Hours Devotion procession, 1956

Theatrical productions have also been a highlight of the Lenten season at St. Thomas. From the 1920s through the 1950s, the 15th-century English morality play "Everyman" was produced on several occasions by St. Thomas and The Saint Paul Seminary students. In this allegorical play, the character “Everyman” (the personification of the vices and virtues of humankind) is visited by Angel of Death and followed on their path to judgment.

Seminarians on the set of the play “Everyman” performed at The Saint Paul Seminary in April 1943.

In the early 1990s, the Passion play was staged during Holy Week as a part of the Sacred Arts Festival. The theatrical production was a contemporary reinterpretation of a medieval mystery play that depicted Christ’s trial, suffering and death. The audience members who gathered in Coughlan Field House were encouraged to become active participants in the performance. The assembled crowd played the welcoming throng who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday and the jeering mob who lined the walk to Calvary.