Closer to the cross: St. Al creates prayer labyrinth for Holy Week

Published 6:36 pm Friday, March 29, 2024

The history of the labyrinth dates back nearly 4,000 years. A labyrinth is a type of maze; however, the difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that instead of being a series of confusing passages and dead ends, a labyrinth leads along a continuous path to the center. From Greek mythology and garden design to games and art, labyrinths are an ancient feature that continue to be seen today.

Christians have adapted the labyrinth as a tool for meditation and prayer, with the physical movement toward the center of the maze representing the journey toward Christ. The labyrinth is designed to encourage participants to walk slowly, breathe deeply and reflect completely on God.

On Holy Wednesday, St. Aloysius High School created a labyrinth lined with luminaries on its football field. The labyrinth was designed to be navigated at night, with light from the luminaries providing guidance through the maze. According to Chesley Lambiotte of St. Aloysius Catholic School, “In 2014, during theology class with Mrs. Joan Thornton, the seniors were exposed to a labyrinth-style prayer. After experiencing the prayer labyrinth, the students said, ‘let’s do a prayer labyrinth for our community.'”

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Prior to that, the school had been observing a yearly luminary service to honor and remember loved ones. This was merged with the labyrinth after 2014 to become a luminary labyrinth.

Each year, the senior class designs, creates and implements a new labyrinth with help from the practical math class.

“The class of 2024 drew inspiration from Matthew 4:19 ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people’ for their design.” Lambiotte said.

Attendees traversing the labyrinth marked in the grass on the St. Al football field were not going in a simple circle, but rather a more complicated path shaped like the Christian fish as they made their way toward the center, where a wooden cross stood, draped with purple cloth. A single path leads to the entrance of the labyrinth and winds around, drawing participants closer to the cross with each pass.

Luminary bags filled with sand and glowing candles lined the path. On each bag was written the name of a loved one designating “in honor of” or “in memory of.” Lambiotte said, “The idea is to say a prayer before you go (into the labyrinth) and as you go, you may see names that you know, and you can lift them up in prayer. Once you make your way to the middle, the cross, you can pause to pray. Then you can make your way back out, you can follow the path out or just come straight out and maybe say another prayer, and that’s it.”

Senior Jon Daniel Busby said, “It’s really great because, it’s simple, but it speaks volumes to the memory of people who have passed and the honor of people who are still living. It’s the power of Christ and family and how you can honor people who you miss who have passed on or people you love who are still alive now, and it’s a way to speak to them.”

There is no charge to attend the labyrinth, and Lambiotte estimates between 100 and 200 people visit each year.  A donation for each bag is collected from the person wishing to honor or remember someone.

“Seniors chose to sell bags to help fund different senior activities and their senior retreat that will be coming up in a few weeks,” Lambiotte said. “They help out with the Food Pantry, we have a blessing box and a senior buddies program.”

As the journey toward Christ culminates in the celebration of Easter, the St. Aloysius labyrinth is a good reminder of the spiritual path Christians aspire to follow as they draw closer to the cross, Lambiotte said.