One of my favorite devotions is the Stations of the Cross. It is a devotion that transports us to be with Jesus during His long, painful Way of the Cross and crucifixion, death, and burial. As we pray at each Station, we accompany Jesus and are present to Him. Praying the Stations can give us a greater understanding of Jesus’ suffering and gratitude for what He endured willingly to save us. The origins of the Stations of the Cross devotion are in the 4th century when Christians on pilgrimage in the Holy Land prayed at the sites of the Way of the Cross. .
There are many different meditations for this devotion. St. Alphonsus Liguori’s meditations are perhaps the best known. It is easy to find meditations for the Stations of the Cross in prayer books, leaflets, and online. We are also free to make up our own meditations as we pray the Stations. The traditional meditations remind us that it was because of our sins that Jesus suffered and died; we realize we are responsible. This thought makes us repent of our sins and ask God to help us to live virtuously. Some of the Stations inspire us to make other changes in our life. For example, the second Station in which Jesus accepts His cross inspires us to accept the crosses in our lives and offer them up to God for the salvation of other people; the fifth Station in which Simon helps Jesus carry His cross inspires us to offer to help Jesus in His work in the world today; the sixth Station in which Veronica wipes the face of Jesus inspires us to see Jesus in those in need and go out to help them; and the tenth Station in which Jesus is stripped of His garments inspires us to seek to become detached from material things and from anything else that prevents us from dedicating our lives to God.
The Stations of the Cross is a devotion that involves our souls as we pray, our minds as we use our imagination to meditate, and our bodies as we walk from Station to Station. Most of the traditional fourteen Stations can be found in Sacred Scripture except for Jesus’ falls, His meeting with His mother Mary, and His meeting with St. Veronica, but as not everything that happened to Jesus was written in Scripture, we can assume that these Stations are based on an oral tradition and they are all likely to have happened. Jesus was weak and carrying a heavy cross, so He may have fallen; we know Mary was with Jesus as He suffered and died on the cross so He may have briefly met her on the way to Calvary; we know there were women following Jesus, so one woman may have gone up to Jesus to wipe his His face with her veil. St. John Paul II, who gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary also gave us the Scriptural Way of the Cross; all of the Stations are found in the Gospels and they begin with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In 2007, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI approved these Stations for public celebration and private meditation.
Praying the Stations of the Cross can be helpful for people who are suffering in some way as it can help them to unite their suffering to Jesus. People have so many forms of suffering including: poor health, unemployment, difficulties in their families, war, and religious persecution. The Stations of the Cross can enable them to endure these hardships with faith and hope, knowing that Jesus understands what they are undergoing and will never abandon them, but will sustain them throughout these trials. It is a good devotion to do with children: one’s own children or a catechism class, as children are able to remain active by walking to each Station and they can focus on the images which will make what Jesus experienced real to them. One of my friends brings her young children to church to pray the Stations each Lent; her family also prays the Stations at home and outside. She has found that it is a devotion that can be shared with Protestants as well and has invited a Protestant friend and her children to join her family in praying the Stations.
One of my most memorable and moving experiences in praying the Stations of the Cross was with my friend Father Rooney during his last Lent, the month before he died. On two occasions, on a Lent week day and on Good Friday, we went to the nursing home chapel, and while going together to each Station, Father Rooney gave his own meditations and prayers, truly inspired by the Holy Spirit. He spoke with great understanding of Jesus’ suffering and with gratitude and love for the mercy Jesus showed us in enduring it. Although I can no longer remember Father Rooney’s exact words, I will always remember his helping me to experience being present with Jesus on His way of the cross and to better appreciate His great love for us.
If we pray the Stations of the Cross in a church, we can receive a plenary indulgence. People who are impeded from making the Stations can receive the indulgence by spending a half hour of pious reading and meditation on the Passion and death of Jesus. However, it is such a wonderful prayer that even if we can’t go to a church, it is still good to pray it at home, using a cross that has been blessed, or walking outside, which is what I do sometimes. I have even prayed the Stations outside an abortion clinic; it is an appropriate prayer for such a place of great suffering. It is a tradition of the Church that during Lent, the Stations are prayed in parishes on Fridays, with the meditations usually led by a priest. Although the meditations are sad, we know that the Way of the Cross ends with the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection which gives us hope for our own eternal life with Him in Heaven.
I have become especially drawn to two of the Stations in recent years because they are related to my vocation of spiritual motherhood, particularly my ministry to senior priests. In the fourth Station, when Jesus meets His mother Mary, I ask her to help me grow closer to Her son Jesus and to become like her as a spiritual mother to priests. In the sixth Station, when Jesus meets St. Veronica, I ask her to help me bring consolation to any older priests I visit who may be suffering. I believe meditating on these two Stations will help other women as well in their vocations. Reflecting on Our Lady and St. Veronica as they went to give support and comfort to Jesus on His Way of the Cross can enable Catholic women to grow in their calling to be faithful, compassionate, and courageous.
The devotion of the Stations of the Cross is not only for the season of Lent. We can pray the Stations all during the year as doing so can increase our gratitude to Jesus for all that He did to save us, and inspire us to follow the examples of the Blessed Mother, St. Veronica, and Simon in their faithful service to Our Lord.
The Traditional Stations of the Cross:
- First Station: Jesus is Condemned by Pilate
- Second Station: Jesus Accepts His Cross
- Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time
- Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary
- Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
- Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
- Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time
- Eighth Station: Jesus Speaks to the Women
- Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time
- Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
- Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
- Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies Upon the Cross
- Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
- Fourteenth Station: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
The Scriptural Stations of the Cross
- First Station: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
- Second Station: Jesus is Betrayed by Judas and Arrested
- Third Station: Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin
- Fourth Station: Jesus is Denied by Peter
- Fifth Station: Jesus is Judged by Pilate
- Sixth Station: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns
- Seventh Station: Jesus Bears His Cross
- Eighth Station: Simon the Cyrenian Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
- Ninth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
- Tenth Station: Jesus is Crucified
- Eleventh Station: Jesus Promises a Place in His Kingdom to the Good Thief
- Twelfth Station: Jesus Speaks to His Mother and the Beloved Disciple
- Thirteenth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb