The History of the Stations of the Cross

Journey with Christ through the Stations of the Cross

Pilgrims carry a big, wooden cross — its upper, horizontal beam resting on the shoulders of those in front, and its vertical beam held by six or so hands on the left and right. It is winter, and these Catholics in heavy coats, along with those around and behind them, trace the final steps of Jesus in the old city of Jerusalem, mostly around busy, narrow streets now lined with tourist shops and some emitting the odor of a marketplace. This is the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Suffering” or “Way of Sorrows,” the path that Jesus took from Pilate’s praetorium all the way to His tomb. The procession consists of 14 stops, now called the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross.

 

Origin

This popular devotion originated in the Holy Land. Tradition maintains that the Blessed Mother would make daily visits to the scenes of her Son’s Passion, and St Jerome (342-420), who lived in Israel in his latter days, confirmed that crowds of pilgrims from different countries would visit these holy places.

Many of the faithful longed to practice this devotion, but were unable to make the actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Thus, the Church saw it fitting to “reproduce” these sites. For example, as early as the fifth century, St Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, commissioned the construction of chapels at the monastery of San Stefano in Bologna to represent the more important shrines in the Holy Land, including several stations.

In 1342, the Franciscans were tasked as guardians of the holy places. And in 1462, an English pilgrim named William Wey described the manner by which these scenes were approached, calling them “stations.” By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, various reproductions of the Stations could already be found in different parts of Europe. Today, the Stations of the Cross can be found in parishes all over the world.


The Way of the Cross - Stations of the Cross Book according to St. Alphones Liguori

Carry this nail token to remind yourself of Jesus' sacrifice for us.


 

The Stations of the Cross

As stated earlier, the Stations of the Cross call to mind specific scenes from Jesus’ Passion and Death. They are the following:

  1. Jesus Is Condemned to Death.
  2. 2. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother
  5. 5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls a Second Time
  8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  10. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  11. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross
  14. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb.

The most popular version is the one developed by St Alphonsus Liguori, who includes a preparatory prayer, as well as prayers and meditations for each station. Also incorporated in each station is a verse of the “Stabat Mater” (a Catholic hymn associated with the Way of the Cross, which originated in the 13th century).

Various versions have also evolved in modern times, among them a Gospel-based version approved by Pope Paul VI in 1975, and another version written by Pope John Paul II.

 

Purpose

“The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15569a.htm).

Archbishop Piero Marini writes, “Each step of Jesus is one step closer to the accomplishment of the plan of salvation…. Every new suffering of Jesus is a seed of future joy for humanity, every jeer, a premise of glory. Along that way of suffering Jesus’ every meeting — with friends, with enemies, with the indifferent — is a chance for one final lesson, one last look, one supreme offer of reconciliation and peace…in every episode which happened on that Way lies hidden a mystery of grace, a gesture of His love for [the Church].” (http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/documents/ns_lit_doc_via-crucis_en.html)

 

Part of Your Journey

The 14 Stations of the Cross are one of the well-loved devotions of the Church, most especially during the Lenten season. They provide enriching insights and a depth of wisdom to help devotees understand even more how the Savior sacrificed Himself for their sake, and how they, too, can offer more of themselves to Him.

Make the Stations of the Cross part of your Lenten journey this year, that you may draw closer to the heart of the Suffering Servant.

 

 

Sources:

On its history —

On the Way of the Cross by St Alphonsus Liguori —

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