Holy Rosary Elementary students embrace the cross, the crucifix in Lenten art classes

By Beth Donze

Throughout the season of Lent, Phyllis Hale’s music students at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans sing a hymn that uses some powerful imagery to describe Jesus’ walk to Calvary.

Entitled “Under the Weight of the Wood,” the lyrics ask questions often pondered by children and adults alike: “Lord, must the journey always end this way, under the weight of the wood? How many times have we nailed you up today?”

“I have a number of students who if they don’t understand a term or a word in a song, they will ask you,” said Hale, noting that the requests for lyrical clarification pour in equally from both Catholic and non-Catholic students.

“When we sing ‘Under the Weight of the Wood,’ we talk about carrying our own crosses,” Hale said.

“When we have a difficulty in life, we think of Jesus on the cross and what he went through for us. We see that Jesus readily did what his father asked him to do and carried the cross to save us from our sins,” added the music teacher, who is always striving to put Jesus’ sacrifice in a positive light for her students: If Christ went to such lengths to save us, Hale figures, “just imagine how he wants us to live our lives – to be happy and to do the right things!”

The cross is also being used by Hale – Holy Rosary’s K-7 music and art teacher – as the central image in all of her Lenten art classes.

“Lent is one of my favorite times of year. There’s so much you can do musically and artistically with the students,” she said.

For example, Hale’s third and fourth graders made large crucifixes out of clothespins, while fifth graders built 3-D crosses using popsicle sticks.

Her oldest students made Lenten “God’s eyes” with various colors of purple yarn – to spawn a discussion of shades and tints – and made simple paper crosses and crucifixes to practice skills such as cutting, outlining and contouring.]

“Are you going to include the body of Jesus if you are drawing a cross? No!” said Hale during a recent art class with sixth and seventh graders. “The crucifix has the body of Jesus affixed to the cross.”

As her students used markers to build out a simple image of a crucifix with contour lines, Hale introduced them to vocabulary words such as “silhouette,” “corpus,” “cool colors” and “warm colors.”

Math skills also came into play, with Hale instructing students to draw “at least three, but no more than five” contour lines.

“You’re going to create your own color scheme,” she told them. “Remember, this is your art; you want it to look nice!”

Some of Hale’s favorite classroom moments are when her older students answer questions posed by little ones – like the time a non-Catholic kindergartner spotted a crucifix on the wall of the art room and asked, “Who’s that?”

During some recent “free-draw time,” one of Hale’s seventh graders asked what “INRI” – written at the top of some crucifixes – meant (the abbreviated Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”).

Hale’s plan for her upcoming Easter art classes is to explore images of new life, such as baby chicks and rabbits. Students also will study various types of lettering and use them to write a word that has been absent at Masses throughout Lent: “Alleluia!”

“I have a tendency to bring in the musical, the artistic and the religious aspects of everything I teach,” Hale said, smiling. “I like to pull them all together!”

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