Stations of the Cross Devotion
We have many forms of popular piety within our Catholic Faith. Besides Sacramental Liturgy and sacramentals (sacred signs such as holy water, scapulars, or actions such as making the sign of the cross), we must also consider the other forms of piety and popular devotions. Those various forms of piety that surround the Church’s sacramental life and devotions include the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, the rosary, medals and the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus’ last day as a human man on earth. The 14 devotions or stations focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with being condemned by Pontius Pilate through His entombment. The stations are a mini pilgrimage as we move from station to station. At each station, the Priest or deacon and congregation recall and meditate on a specific event from Jesus’ last day. Specific prayers are recited where the celebrant, and sometimes the congregation, moves to the next station until completion. These stations are mostly prayed during Lent but especially on Good Friday, the day of the year upon which Jesus’ Passion occurred.
Lent is a penitential and sorrowful season for our preparation for Easter. Stations of the Cross have been a popular devotion in parishes where in the 16th century, this pathway was officially entitled the “Via Dolorosa” (Sorrowful Way) or simply Way of the Cross or as we are familiar with the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross devotion evolved over time. Tradition holds that our Blessed Mother visited daily the scenes of our Lord’s passion. After Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 312 A.D., Jesus’ last day on earth was marked with important stations. St. Jerome (342-420), living in Bethlehem, attested to the numerous crowds of pilgrims from various countries who visited those holy places and physically followed the Way of the Cross.
As such, this devotion continued to grow in popularity. In the fifth century, an interest developed within the Roman Catholic Church to “reproduce” these holy stations so pilgrims who could not physically travel to the Holy Land could do so in a devotional, spiritual way in their hearts, minds, and souls. For instance, St. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, Italy, constructed a group of chapels at the monastery of San Stefano, which depicted the more important shrines of the Holy Land, including several of the stations.
When the Muslim Turks blocked the access to the Holy Land, reproductions of the stations were erected at popular spiritual centers throughout Europe. At the end of the 17th century, the erection of stations in churches became more popular. In 1686, Pope Innocent XI, realizing that few people could travel to the Holy Land due to the Muslim oppression, granted the right to erect stations in all their churches.
There are 14 traditional stations: Pilate condemns Christ to death; Jesus carries the cross; the first fall; Jesus meets His Blessed Mother; Simon of Cyrene helps to carry the cross; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; the second fall; Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem; the third fall; Jesus is stripped of His garments; Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus dies on the cross; Jesus is taken down from the cross; and Jesus is laid in the tomb. Some devotional booklets now include a 15th station, which commemorates Jesus’ Resurrection.
We can all participate in the Church’s sacramental life of the Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of the Lake on every Friday during Lent at 4 p.m. What a perfect and beautiful way to end the work week with spending time with our Lord Jesus while praying and being with Him during his last human day on earth. Blessings – Dcn Jim