Saturday, February 16, 2008


It’s that time of the year for one of our most revered and popular devotional practices: The Stations of the Cross. It is not an entertaining devotion by any stretch of the imagination and I am surprised that so many people still participate in it in an age when it seems as though if it is not entertaining, our society is not very interested.

I know of few people who actually enjoy making the Stations. Rather than being entertained by the story like a movie (ala The Passion) it is much more a kin to sitting with somebody who is dying. Hardly the thing to do on a Friday night. We stand by Christ as he is condemned, is tortured and suffers, dies, and is laid in the tomb all the while offering our prayer of gratitude that he would do such a thing for us and symbolically we become a person who stands by Him on His death walk when many of His closest followers had scattered. Any joy we might derive from the Stations comes from the fact that we stood by even when it was difficult for us, forsaking yet another television re-run or other busy chore.

The stations represent the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) or Jesus’ journey of about a mile from Pilate’s court to Calvary and His tomb. It is a symbolic representation of a pilgrimage that many took in Jerusalem, stopping at each of the actual sites for reflection and prayer. The Franciscans brought the practice to other churches by way of small images for those unable to make the pilgrimage so that people could make the Via Dolorosa and benefit from the lessons and spiritual growth that it offered. From there it spread throughout the whole of the Church so that today it can hardly be thought that a Catholic Church or would be built without the Stations of the Cross. For more in the history look here.

According to the Handbook of Indulgences there is a plenary indulgence “granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly make the Stations of the Cross.” (A plenary indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment for sins when the mandates for indulgences in general and an indulgence in particular are met.)

Some of the particulars for this indulgence include that the stations must be lawfully erected and those stations are fourteen crosses not pictures! Pictures may be attached to the crosses (and usually are) but pictures without the crosses are like building a church without an altar. Prayers or meditations are made on the Passion of Christ and movement is required. That is, one does not just sit in the pew and think of these things (though prayer is always helpful) but that someone actually symbolically makes the pilgrimage. In cases of large groups praying together it is only necessary that one person actually make the journey.

Yet if someone truly is incapable of the walk, they can spend some time (15 minutes) meditating on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If attached to your crosses there are pictured representations of the stations and they are not overly abstract or plain, pay close attention because there can be a lot of cool symbolism. See the colors that Christ and Mary are wearing, notice the things in people’s hands, notice what is in the background. All of which can be very intriguing.

If you’ve not made the Stations before (or if you have and really hated it) give it a go. It is a lot like giving blood. You hate going in but you feel so good coming out.


Anonymous said...

At my parish, we have Mass every evening at 7 pm, but on Fridays of Lent, we have Stations at 7, followed by Mass.

A few years ago I intended to go to Mass, but found myself walking into Stations. I had no idea what was going on, didn't even have a booklet, so it was very confusing.

But since that time, I have made it a point to go every Friday, whether I want to or not. Last night they used a format which looks at the Passion from Mary's perspective, and boy, quite a few of us were convicted.

I can't say that always happens...some versions seem so wordy that there is no time for real meditation, so I supppose we all just try to engage with what we can.

On Good Friday, we'll have Stations at 3 pm, and this will be the first year I'll be able to get there as I won't be working.

Anonymous said...

Adoro - I'm glad I wasn't the only one confused!

One time I went to Confession (after returning back to the faith), the Priest told me to pray the Stations of the Cross for my penance. I knew what they were (basically) but had NO CLUE how to pray them! I had to buy a book - the children's version seemed a bit better to understand at that time! LOL

Since the Passion of the Christ came out, it seems like that helps keep my mind focused on each of the Stations because I can visualize what Jesus went through on His way to Calvary. I helps keep me in that mindset so that I pray the Stations with my whole being.

btw - I had no idea that the Stations had a plenary indulgence granted to those who prayed the Stations. WOW!
Lillian Marie

Adrienne said...

My penance after my general confession after reverting was to say the stations every day for a month at Cataldo Mission. This is the oldest building in the state of Idaho and not heated. It was also a 45 minute drive from my home. It was the month before Easter that year and wet and cold. I decided it wasn't enough so I stayed and said a rosary, too. Ended up sick but it was the best thing I ever did.

The state park employee (an 83 year old man) and I became wonderful friends which was a bonus.