The Stations of the Cross or Via Crucis
What are the Stations of the Cross?
The Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross in Latin), the Via Dolorosa (the Road/Way of Sorrows, in Latin), or The Way, are both a physical representation and a religious devotion.
As a physical representation, each Station is a painting, icon, or sculptural relief that depicts a specific moment during the Passion (the acts leading up to Jesus' death) and death of Jesus Christ. There are a total of fourteen (14) stations, placed in sequence beginning at the front of the church and continuing down one side wall and up the other.
History of the Devotion of the Stations of the Cross
The Franciscans began the Stations of the Cross as a devotion. They were given guardianship of the holy places in and around Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, in 1342. The Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross) or the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows) stems from the practice of pilgrims to the Holy Land going from one notable site to another. But the Franciscans did not receive formal permission to officially erect Stations until 1686. Pope Clement XII allowed the Stations to be erected in all Catholic churches in 1731 - but with the caveat that they only be erected by a Franciscan, and, even then, only with a local bishop's permission. The requirement that they only be placed by a Franciscan wasn't dropped until 1862.
When to Perform the Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross may be performed at any time of the year. A person can do this devotion privately (not while a Mass or other function is being celebrated, though). However, the public devotion of the Via Crucis is often held by Roman Catholic churches on the Fridays of Lent.
How to Perform the Stations of the Cross
All you have to do to "make the stations" or the Way of the Cross privately is to go to a church and walk from picture (or statue) to picture, in sequence. As you walk, you must meditate and reflect on the Passion of Jesus Christ.
The standard form for the public devotion (usually performed on the Fridays of Lent) is:
- Opening prayer
- Naming the station (aloud)
- The responsorial: "We adore Thee, Oh Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world."
- The presider leads or says a short meditation.
- Praying of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be
- Sometimes the presider says "Lord Jesus crucified" and the faithful present respond "have mercy on us."
- A verse from the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (a hymn about the sorrows of Mary, the Mother of Jesus)
Depending on how many people are in attendance, either the presider alone walks to each picture, or "station," while the faithful stand and, at times, kneel, in the pews or everyone present clusters around each station, with one person as Cross Bearer (carrying a staff bearing the Cross), and walks around the entire church (fourteen stations in all).
Variations of the Stations of the Cross Devotion
There are variations in the texts and meditations used for the Stations of the Cross. One of them is the Way of the Cross according to St. Alphonsus Liguri (the Ligurian Way of the Cross). Another is the Franciscan Way of the Cross. Pope John Paul II led the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in Rome in 1991. But, no matter which variation a church or faithful person follows, all the Stations focus on the Passion and death of Jesus, as recounted in the Bible.