Because of The Stations of the Cross

Because of The Stations of the Cross March 9, 2010

One of the dreams my wife and I have is to go on a tour of the Holy Land. We want to make a pilgrimage there and see the sights and holy places where the greatest story ever told took place. That is a trip we are really looking forward to.

There are many sites outside of the Holy Land to make a pilgrimage to as well. Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe come to mind. So many places, so little time, and dare I say it, so little cash. But there is a way to go to the Holy Land this week right in your local parish.

How? Via the devotional of The Stations of the Cross, also known as The Way of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a Catholic devotion that commemorates the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the stations represents an event that occurred during Jesus’ Passion and death at Calvary on Good Friday.

The Stations were originally performed many centuries ago by Christian pilgrims who visited the Holy Land and the sites of Jesus’ Passion. Promotion of the devotion to the Stations began in earnest with the Franciscans, who were given custody of the Holy Places in Palestine in the 1300s. Countless Catholic Christians have enriched their spiritual lives with this powerful devotion, and I am happy to be included in their number now.

In a nutshell, The Stations is a devotion to the Passion of Our Lord consisting of prayers and meditations on the fourteen events experienced by Jesus on His way to and during the Crucifixion. The devotion originated in the late 4th century when pilgrims flocked to the Holy Land from all parts of the world to visit the land of Jesus. Heading the list of places they visited was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was built by the Emperor Constantine  in 325-335 AD atop Calvary, as well as the tomb of Jesus. Processions of pilgrims to this church were common then and now.

During the time of the crusades (1095–1270), it became popular for pilgrims in the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus to Calvary. After the Moslems recaptured the Holy Land, pilgrimages became too dangerous. As a result, the Stations of the Cross became a popular substitute pilgrimage throughout Europe.

Originally done only outdoors, the Stations were allowed inside churches in the mid-18th century. Eventually fixed at fourteen, the Stations soon became a familiar feature in all Catholic churches. They place you at the scene of Our Lord’s Crucifixion much as the old You Are There television series did for historical events.

The devotion may be conducted personally by an individual, making their way from one station to another and saying the prayers, or by having an officiating celebrant move from cross to cross while the faithful make the responses. I heartily recommend this second method, with your parish priest as celebrant and like-minded parishioners in attendance. And the kids? Bring them if you have them! Just as Webster experienced when he was teaching his CCD class how to pray the Rosary, your children will amaze you with their recognition of the holiness of this devotion.

In our parish, the Stations are conducted every Friday evening during Lent after the Lenten Dinner. The dinner and the devotion are hosted by a different parish ministry each week.  I served in the scullery when the Men’s Ministry hosted the dinner, and I was one of the readers of the devotion (the 13th Station) as well.

One of the reasons I became a Catholic is that I want to live my faith life out not only in a spiritual way, but in a physical way as well. This is especially true during the Lenten season, when we are fasting. Devotions such as this are one of the defining differences in my life that I desired when I became a Catholic Christian. This devotion in particular has deepened my understanding and appreciation for what Our Lord endured for the benefit of all mankind.

In the long run, my wife and I will keep saving a little bit here and there for that chance to make a pilgrimage to Israel in the future. In the short run, we’ll be heading to the Holy Land via our parish church. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity too.

For more on the Stations of the Cross, go to New Advent.

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  • I would like to go the the Holy Land too. I'm afraid I would be too overcome with the experience though.I would also recommend the "guided" Way of the Cross. I experienced that for the first time last year Good Friday. It was a very powerful and effective means of focusing very directly on our Lord's Passion.My parish is having the guided way of the cross this friday. I will certainly be there.My parish is also promoting a Taize Way of the Cross the following Friday. The weekly bulletin describes is as "The way of the cross with Taize style meditation, chanting and prayer around the cross". This description does not sound very reverant to me. Has anyone else experienced a Taize Way of the Cross?

  • Webster Bull

    @NewGuy, No but I do love the music of Taizé. I know it's not always favored, but I find it moving.

  • Allison Salerno

    Thanks for this post, Frank! Yes, I do love the way the church makes our faith "real" by calling us in mind AND body to live the faith. I have no experience or knowledge of Taize worship and look forward to hearing from others. I do think it is cool we Catholics offer so many varied approaches to expressing various traditions in our Church. My pastor speaks of a "choral Stations of the Cross" which he says is reverent and beautiful.

  • I'm in the midst of guiding the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders (public school kids in our parish religious education program on Sundays and Wednesdays)through the Station of the Cross. It's the third year we've done it together — one grade at a time– and the kids really get into it. On Sundays, due to Mass, we can't use the church, so I set it up in the old school building and our new parish center. The kids really get a sense of travel on those days as we go in and out of rooms, down dark hallways, and up/down stairs. They are given a small traveling sack at the first station, a slip of paper with the "We adore you, O Christ…" prayer. They must put on an article of clothing over their regular clothes. At the 10th Station — Jesus is stripped of their garments–we take off that article and place it in a basket for the homeless poor as a way of showing Jesus (and our) solidarity with the poor. I love how honest the kids are about their struggles (which they write about at the 3rd Station). I'm the only one (except our Lord) who knows what they wrote — and it gives to me a prayer focus all throughout Lent.I got many of the ideas I use for the stations from a small church (not Catholic or Anglican) in England.

  • A Stefanie: I really enjoyed your comment. The thing I appreciate most about devotions like this is they really do help us "adults" become more like children in a way that we sorely need. Well, in a way I sorely need. Thanks for reminding me of this.

  • Anonymous

    Taize Prayer Around the Cross is less like the Stations of The Cross, and a bit more like the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. It is situatied in a meditative service common in the Taize community, and includes a time when particiipants often take part in a procession, lighting a candle and leaving it near the Cross, and possibly spending a moment or two in silent prayer near the cross. If you visit their web site you can find some description of their basic form of prayer,Steve

  • Guys, I've been three times as a Protestant pastor/tour host. The first time you can barely keep up with where you are, even if you've done your homework. The second time you begin to savor. The third time, you are correcting your guide (or at least giving the details).But I've never gone yet as a Catholic. That is going to be the greatest experience, God willing. The Franciscan Custody does a fantastic job with pilgrims and offering time for praying the Rosary. I was already a crypto-Catholic my third time, so I looked on achingly at the Catholic pilgrims everywhere.I can only second what you and NewGuy say: it is overwhelming. We are incarnate beings; to be in THE Upper Room, in THE Tomb, touch THE Golgotha rock (yes, you can) – these are tactile memories your body will never forget. To death, and beyond. Cheers

  • The Stations of the Cross are a special form of meditation to me and I have to say that they are a big part of the reason why I became a Catholic.Twenty two years ago, I was living in Rhode Island and was not too far away from the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro MA. I had been visiting the shrine, outside, to pray and meditate. LaSalette has beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross which are half life-size. As Lent approached, I decided I would come to the Shrine everyday to do the Stations. At the time, that was a radical idea for me because I had been brought up to believe that "praying to statues like the Catholics do" was a form of idolatry. In an attempt to make a very long story short, I will just say that over the course of time the Stations became very powerful vehicles that on a spiritual level transported me back to the via dolorosa. I almost felt like I walked into each of them. They also provided a framework for me to understand my life and to work out the stuggles I had with my increasing interest in Catholicism. By the time Lent was over, I knew the Catholic church was home and that I wanted to become a Catholic.

  • Thank you Frank for the information on the history of the Stations of the Cross. In my many travels as a youth, I actually had the privilege of praying the Stations while climbing mountains in Europe. As we made our way along well traveled alpine routes, we would stop at each station to take a 'breather.' This 'stop' coincided with each of the fourteen Stations! As a youngster I really appreciated the concrete, organic aspect of this outdoor tradition. After college I prayed the Stations for peace with Pax Christi in NYC, ending in Times Square — back in the day this was a dangerous route… You have now motivated me to take my young children to our parish on Friday during Lent to begin this tradition with them. How did YOUR children experience the Stations? Was it arduous for them? Please advise. Pax Christi.

  • @LA&G;: Thanks for this reflection on the Stations. I had been brought up to believe that "praying to statues like the Catholics do" was a form of idolatry. I'm glad you wrote this as those of our Christian brothers and sisters who aren't Catholic need to know that the images, statues, crucifixes etc. are not being "prayed to." They are, instead, helping us to remember and picture in our minds eye what took place, and to recollect the depth of Gods love for us. Perhaps the best way to put it is looking at a photograph of your child who is away at college, or of your grandparents who have passed on. Your memories stir and these take your mind and spirit to a place where you remember this person as clearly as if they were standing right beside you. Your memories come alive, yes?To me, that in a nutshell is Christian iconography. Indispensable help in the practice of recollection.

  • @Athos:I pray you make that 4th trip mon ami.

  • MUJERLATINA: Arduous? Only in getting them to break their normal Friday evening routines.The number of other children around also put my kids at ease. Afterwards, my kids told me I read well (even though I flubbed a word, LOL). Mine are aged 9 through 14 so getting them in the car was the hardest part. ;^)

  • Patty B

    I've been to Jerusalem and made the Stations at the real stations. I was so disappointed because they were treated without any respect. Food vendors stood in front of them and only a small marking on the walls indicated where they were! When I returned home, I mentioned this to a Franciscan friar who was stationed in Jerusalem for many years. He commented that he felt the same way and when he made the Stations one day, he heard an "interior voice" he believed to be the Lord telling him that this is exactly how it was on Good Friday – lots of crowds caught up in miscellaneous activities oblivious to his sacrifice and the enormity of what was really happening in their midst and that it would continue to be that way until the end of time. I've reflected on the friar's words many times and I ask you to consider them when you make your trip to Jerusalem.

  • Webster Bull

    @PattyB,What a powerful reflection! It reminds me of something I was reading just this morning about the Holy Family–that probably in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph weren't viewed as anything special, just parents with a kid named Jesus. The Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection even–all happened in the hurly-burly of life. Thanks for this.

  • @PattyB, I can totally see that happening. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Ferde

    Thanks for your comment, Patty B. That has never occurred to me. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

  • A friend sent me this link of 360 degree panoramic photographs ofThe Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Enjoy!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, PattyB, I had the same experience in Dec. when I was in the Holy Land, and it bothered me then and still does. However your Franciscan Friar's explanation makes me realize that indeed it was then, is now and will forever be like that. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    We went on a pilgrimage (about 30 of us, including 2 priests) in 1979. Typically in Jerusalem , where you are walking is perhaps 6 to 10 feet above where Jesus walked 20 centuries ago, a/c how many times Jerusalem has been destroyed (Romans, Persians, etc.), then rebuilt over the rubble on the same site. One has difficulty focusing on the prayers a/c distractions "Buy 20 postcards for one dollar!" "4 wooden camels for one dollar!", but we cannot forget some sites. There is a "Chapel of Flagellation" with a crown of thorns painted on the ceiling. The Mel Gibson film wasn't bad from that perspective. One can return from a pilgrimage incredulous that Jesus can love me so much to undergo such suffering to save me from my own sinfulness.We don't really understand it; but in some dim way we can enhance our appreciation for it.TeaPot562

  • Anonymous

    Frank, thank you for the panoramic view of the Holy Sepulchre ChurchI could look at it for hours, having recently been there. But this is so beautiful because there are no people and you can focus.Thanks again.

  • PattyB — wow, what an insightful comment you shared with us!

  • I love the Stations of the Cross and I love Taize Prayer. I have never been to a Taize Stations but I imagine it would be lovely! When Taize is done right, with the candles and the icons and the chanting, it is so beautiful! I would think that combining both prayer forms would be a great way to make the stations more ecumenical like Taize is, and thus draw more people to a deeper devotion for the stations.