“We adore You Oh Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.”
As Christians, we have the ability to walk that dark path of agony that Jesus trod on the way to crucifixion over and over again, recalling his pain and suffering and praying in atonement for our sins. This special walk is called “The Stations of the Cross” but it is also known as “The Way of the Cross”, “The Via Dolorosa” or the “Via Crucis.” It is a tradition that is treasured during Lent, but can be prayed individually any time of the year.
Praying the Stations of the Cross is a traditional devotion that began in medieval Europe when Christian pilgrims were prevented from visiting the Holy Land due to the many wars of that time. Scenes depicting the walk Jesus made on His way to Calvary with the cross on his shoulders were installed along a procession, either indoors or outdoors. These stations draw those who pray the devotion into deeper meditation upon the Lord’s suffering as they stop to pray at each station along the way.
All Catholic churches have the Stations of the Cross depicted along the inside of the church walls for community devotion during Lent. Some are quite elaborate and can even be carved in life-sized depictions while others are very simple with a small wooden cross and the number of the station displayed beneath it.
The fourteen stations upon which we meditate are:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus is given his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets His Mother
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. The Crucifixion- Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus' body is removed from the cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Of these fourteen stations, only eight of them are based on scripture. The others (3,4,6,7,9 and 13) are formed from legends. Nevertheless, they are all beautiful reflections on the pain and suffering of our Lord and are each able to draw us into the mystery of His passion in a deeply meaningful way.
The Stabat Mater is often sung between stations. This ancient hymn recalls the pain that Mary suffered in watching the sorrow and agony of her beloved son. Just the first stanza alone is haunting in its ability to draw the person in prayer into deeper communion with the pain of the Blessed Mother…At the Cross her station keeping,stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.
St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote one of the most beautiful versions of the Stations of the Cross. His preparatory prayer is an example of his deep love for Jesus and the beautiful, poetic wording of his entire version: My Lord Jesus Christ, you have made this journey to die for me with love unutterable, and I have so many times unworthily abandoned you; but now I love you with my whole heart, and because I love you, I repent sincerely for ever having offended you. Pardon me, my God, and permit me to accompany you on this journey. You go to die for love of me, I wish also, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of you. My Jesus, I will live and die always united to you.
When the weather is nice, walking outdoor stations can be a lovely way to immerse yourself in meditation upon Christ’s passion and death. When the weather is unpleasant, the grace of walking in a little discomfort adds to the feeling of suffering along with Jesus in His most painful moments.
If you have never partaken in this devotion, please consider this year to be the beginning of your walk with Jesus, to offer Him your comfort and love along the painful journey to His death.