The Lenten season is just around the corner, and one of the devotions that I look forward to is that of the Stations of the Cross. Also known as the Way of the Cross, I was amazed to see Fr. Sullivan count this devotion as a sacramental. I had no idea, did you?
The Way of the Cross is a devotion which is performed by meditating before fourteen Stations of the Cross successively, on the Passion of our Blessed Lord.
This devotion is also known as the Stations of the Cross, from the Stations or crosses before which it is made, and which are usually affixed to the interior walls of Catholic churches. These Stations are not the pictures, or reliefs, or groups of statuary representing the sufferings of our Savior. The Stations are the crosses, which must be of wood, and which are usually placed over the pictures. The indulgences are attached to the crosses, and the pictures are not essential, but are merely an aid to devotion.
The Stations must be lawfully erected; that is, they must be blessed by the bishop of the diocese or by a priest specially delegated by him. Otherwise, no indulgences can be gained.
The History of the Way of the Cross.
In the early days of the Church many pious Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land and visited the places sanctified by our Lord’s sufferings, and thereby gained many indulgences. But when Jerusalem came into the possession of the fanatical Moslems, this could no longer be done with safety; and in order that the same devotion might be performed without danger or difficulty, pictures or statuary were placed in European churches, representing the journey to Calvary.
It is said that the first to do this was the Blessed Alvarez, a Dominican, at Cordova, in Spain. The practice was adopted about 1350 by the Franciscan Minorites, and was soon approved and indulgenced by the Holy See. The indulgences were granted at first only to Franciscans and those affiliated to them—that is, belonging to societies united to the Franciscan Order; but in 1726 Benedict XIII extended these indulgences to all the faithful. Formerly only the Franciscan Fathers could erect Stations in churches, but this power is now given to all bishops, and they may delegate it to their priests.
The Stations are fourteen in number. In past centuries, in different places, the number varied from eleven to sixteen; but the Church finally ruled that they must be not more nor less than fourteen. They may begin on either side of the church; if the figure of our Saviour is facing toward the right, the series goes to the right; if to the left, the order is reversed. Thus in some churches they begin on the Gospel side, in others on the Epistle side. They are sometimes erected in the open air.
Some of the scenes shown in the pictures are described in the Gospels; others are not. There is no mention in the Scriptures of our Saviour’s falls under the cross, nor of His meeting with His Blessed Mother, nor of the story of Veronica. These are handed down by tradition.
The Indulgences of the Way of the Cross.
We know that no other pious practice is so highly indulgenced; that those who perform this devotion properly gain the same indulgences which they would gain by visiting the actual Way of the Cross in Jerusalem; but the precise amount or number of these indulgences is not known. They may be applied to the souls in Purgatory.
To perform this devotion and to gain the indulgences, we are not bound to read a meditation or prayer at each Station; we are not bound to recite any prayers. It is customary to recite an Our Father, Hail Mary, etc., but these are not necessary. We must go around from the first Station to the fourteenth, stopping at each for a short time and meditating on the Passion of our Lord in general or on the particular event which the Station represents. If we cannot go around, on account of the crowded condition of the church, or if the Stations are being performed publicly, it is sufficient to turn towards each Station.
Those who cannot go to the church are sometimes permitted to gain the same spiritual benefits by using an indulgenced crucifix, which is to be held in the hands while the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father are said twenty times—fourteen for the Stations and six for the intention of the Pope. Pictures of the Stations printed in prayer-books or on a chart cannot be used for making the “Way of the Cross.