do we say the Stations of the Cross?
of the Cross are an ancient form of prayer that has taken on new meaning
for Catholics of all ages today.
rooted in the Holy Land, where early Christians followed Jesus' path to
Calvary, stopping at various points to pray and meditate. Some say Mary
started the practice but there is no documented proof of this.
At the time
Christianity spread to other parts of the world, however, it was difficult
and often impossible for many Christians to travel very far from their
homes, much less to Jerusalem. In the 16th century, when the
Turks had control of Jerusalem, pilgrims to the Holy Land were prohibited
from stopping and praying along the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows), as
the path was by then named.
sparked a desire among European Christians for replicas of Jerusalem's
shrines to be built in their land. As early as the 5th century,
a group of connected chapels representing the more important shrines of
Jerusalem was constructed at the monastery of San Stefano in Bologna,
Italy. There was, however, no set devotion or prayer connected with them.
use of the term "Stations" in connection with the devotion associated
with Christ's passion occurs in the writings of an English pilgrim, William
Wey, who visited the Holy Land in the mid-1400s.
step in the development of the Stations of the Cross, however, did not
occur until 1520, when Pope Leo X granted an indulgence of 100 days for
those who prayed the Stations, following a set of sculptured Stations,
representing the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, in the cemetery of the Franciscan
Friary at Antwerp, Belgium. Similar replicas were built in other European
cities and devotional writers soon began developing prayers to be said
at each Station.
also initiated the practice of displaying the Stations in their churches.
In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted them permission to do so and attached
indulgences to be gained by those making the Way of the Cross in Franciscan
churches. By 1742, Pope Benedict XIV urged all churches to have the Stations.
the early Stations of the Cross consisted of seven Stations. It was not
until 1731 that Pope Clement XII established the 14 Stations of the Cross
as we know them today.
of the Cross now can be found on the walls of Catholic churches. Many
also are available outdoors, such as those at the National Shrine of Our
Lady of the Snows. Although the number of Stations remains officially
at 14, some churches have added a 15th for the Resurrection.
aspects of Jesus' passion and death, the Stations of the Cross offer a
basic structure to use for prayer and meditation on the suffering Jesus
endured and the sacrifice He made to open the doors of eternal life to
all of us. They are appropriate for both group and private prayer.
Vatican II, prayer booklets commonly used to pray the Stations of the
Cross emphasized worshipers' sinfulness and need for reparation. Many
of the hundreds of different versions--including some specifically for
children--available today in booklets, prayer books, and on the Internet,
help worshipers identify the suffering Christ with the suffering and sacrifices
in their own lives and in the world.
Stations of the Cross continue to be a favorite form of group prayer for
Lent but there is also growing interest in using them for private meditation
throughout the year. They can, for example, be a valuable prayer for those
concerned with social justice issues.
Oblates© March/April 2003•Volume 60•Number 2•pp. 18, 19
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