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Catholic Activity: Tenebrae--Candelabrum for Stations of the Cross


  • twelve white candles
  • length of board with twelve holes or two shoe boxes with six holes apiece
  • Plaster of Paris
  • black paint

Prep Time

5 hours


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$$ $ $

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Construct this candelabrum to make the Stations of the Cross more meaningful for children.


It is hard to keep track of this treasure that is laid in Heaven if you are quite small and six weeks drag out like six years. We have made this part of the effort visible for the children so that they might see that they were accomplishing something. On or about Ash Wednesday, we dye lima beans purple to be used as counters in a jar. Beans, because they are seeds which, if put in the ground, appear to die only to spring forth with new life. This is what Our Lord said we must do if we would have life in Him. He that seems to lose his life shall gain it. The beans remind us that daily death to self in one self-denial after another is the dying which will find for us new life in Him.

"Try to surrender your will to Him, dear, so He may have His will in you." It is excruciatingly difficult, but one must begin. And they do understand, because we have discovered that as they grow a little older, they no longer need the beans — they see in their minds what they are doing.

At the same time we dye little pieces of cloth to use as purple shrouds for our pictures and statues on Passion Sunday, as the shrouds are used in church. This is remind us that with Passion Sunday, the last most solemn and sorrowful weeks of Lent have begun. One year we dyed a square of fine soft wool to make a cope for our Infant of Prague. (Instruction: You will now throw out the dye, like a good girl. Else everyone in the family will be trying to dye things in purple.)

Next, we make a candelabrum for the Stations of the Cross. For children the Stations of the Cross can conceivably mean nothing better than continual bobbings up and down with prayers. This sounds frightful, but it is true. We have somewhat the same problem teaching them to love and to know the Stations as we have with the Rosary. (See the author's We and Our Children, pp. 71-83.) So we decided to make a set of candles in a candelabrum to be used after the fashion of Tenebrae, the dramatic service in Holy Week, to help them love the Stations and want to say them nightly during Lent (we live too far out in the country to get to church in the evenings).

Twelve candles in one long candelabrum, or two short candelabra holding six candles apiece are needed. The candelabra may be made a number of ways. A length of board with twelve holes bored for the candles; two shoe boxes with six holes apiece for the candles, or — as we have done — two candelabra made with plaster of paris which is poured into two empty Kleenex boxes (one at a time!), and the candles (six of each) held in place for a few moments until the plaster hardens. The box is easily pulled away when the plaster is hard. After twenty-four hours the candelabrum is dry enough to be carried to wherever you will use it. We keep ours on the mantel. We use white candles. The candelabrum may be painted black.

Together with these, we use a crucifix and a booklet of meditations suitable for children, although we do not always read these. Often they are used only to acquaint the family with each Station, letting some member supply a short meditation "out of his head." Whichever, the meditations must be kept short and if possible related to something familiar in daily life.

We light all twelve candles at the start, and put out the other lights in the room, leaving one lighted in another room so that little ones will not be frightened by complete darkness. After each Station is identified, we genuflect and say the traditional prayer:

We adore Thee O Christ, and we praise Thee,
Because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Other prayers are optional. The Stations may be properly said in a church by going from one Station to another and merely making a meditation at each. For the sake of uniformity and in order to include what to our children is synonymous with devotional "praying" we say, after the short meditation, an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Gloria. Then one of the children puts out a candle for that Station. They take turns, a different child putting out the candles every night. When we have finished the twelfth Station, Jesus Dies on the Cross, the last candle is snuffed, and the room is in complete darkness. If you were there, they would explain it to you this way: "It's because He was the Light of the World, and when He died, the Light was gone out of the world."

You start remembering — all the way back to Advent when the wreath and its weekly growing light anticipated the coming of the Light of the World; back to St. Lucy, whose feast and whose name anticipated the coming of the Light of the World; back to the Christ candle, lighted at midnight Christmas Eve to tell us that the Light had come into the world. He is our Light, our Sun, our All.

Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956