Lenten Practices 4: The Stations of the Cross

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Anyone who’s been in any Catholic church notices them–the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes done in plaster molding, sometimes in steel and wood, sometimes on plaques, sometimes in bas-relief–they are always there, in every church, a gift of St. Francis to the Church.

The Stations of the Cross are always there, but seem to gain popularity during Lent, with many parishes offering communal services to pray the stations. As a child, we “did” the stations of the cross every Friday during Lent with our class at the parochial school I attended, every year.

The Stations recount Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion, from His condemnation by Pilate (the first station) to the burial in the tomb (the fourteenth, and last, station). While the number of stations varied over the years, St. Francis codified the stations, in a sense, and gave us the fourteen stations we see today.  The object of the stations is to travel, spiritually, to Jerusalem, and thus walk with Jesus on Good Friday, often with a spirit of penance and reparation for our sins.

The stations are:

  1. Jesus is Condemned to Death
  2. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls the Second Time
  8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  10. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  11. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross (sometimes called the Crucifixion)
  12. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross
  14. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Often in communal services, the hymn Stabat Mater (“At the cross her station keeping”) is sung. On Good Friday, the pope recites the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, complete with prayers and meditations.  An excellent set for meditation are these, written by (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before Bl. John Paul II died in 2005; the pope was too ill to complete his normal Good Friday practices, so the Cardinal took his place, writing his own series of prayers and reflections.

The stations are a superb Lenten practice, since the graces we receive from doing them in a spirit of prayerful recollection and penance are so immense. It is good for us to ponder these things, to realize why Jesus died, to see the supreme mercy of God–the extreme depth of God’s love for us. We all see the signs that say John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” By mediating on the stations of the cross, we can truly see that love–love that was so deep it sustained Jesus through His horrible torture and death.

(As a side note: The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ shows all the stations, in some depth. For older children and adults, I often recommend watching this film, because I haven’t found a better example in media of Jesus’ passion and death, and what it truly was. It’s easy to whitewash what happened to Jesus; even the Gospels don’t give us explicit accounts, probably because their audiences knew all too well the horror of crucifixion. But we need to see it, I think, to really get it, and to see how deep and how great that love was. )

So, check and see if your church has a communal stations service on Fridays during Lent, or just go to your church sometime and walk the stations. If you can’t get to a church, you can also meditate on them at home by using a prayer book or an online guide, like the one I posted above. The important thing is that, at some point during Lent, you really focus on what the season is about, and what happened on Good Friday.)

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