Stations of the Cross

As early as the 4 thChristian pilgrims to the Holy Land would walk the route that Our Lord walked as He made His way to Golgotha for our salvation. When Muslims captured Jerusalem and it became too dangerous to make this pilgrimage, Christians replicated the sites back home in Europe, and there developed the “Stations of the Cross” devotion (also known as “Way of the Cross,” “Via Dolorosa,” or “Via Crucis”).

The devotion consists of meditating on 14 events — that number being fixed in 1731 by Pope Clement XII — which took place during Christ’s Passion, from His being condemned to His burial. Franciscans popularized the devotion, which was originally made outside, often along roads to shrines or churches. The Way of the Cross can still be made outside, of course but is usually made inside nowadays, especially during the Season of Lent and most especially on Good Friday.

When you enter Saint James Church, or any Catholic Church for that matter, and look along the walls of the nave (where the parishioners sit), you should see 14 representations on the walls which depict 14 events of Christ’s Passion that have been singled out for contemplation. It is at these blessed artistic representations, these “stations” — which can be painted, carved, engraved, of wood, metal, paint on canvas, etc., topped with a wooden Cross — that the Way of the Cross is made during public liturgy. The Way of the Cross can also be made privately, even at home, with or without “visual aids.”

When the Way of the Cross is made in groups, each person first makes the Sign of the Cross, makes an Act of Contrition (i.e., expresses penitence through prayer) and mentally intends to gain indulgences, for himself or another. Then, typically, at each station:

  • The leader will announce the name of the station
  • The leader will lead with a statement of praise, such as “We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee”
  • The people will respond, with, for example, using the above acclamation, “Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”
  • The leader will read a meditative reading, upon which all should meditate in penitence, thanking God for His sacrifice and uniting himself with that sacrifice (often by identifying with Mary)
  • The people will respond with an appropriate prayer. (traditionally an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be are recited
  • Traditionally, between the stations, successive stanzas of the hymn called Stabat Materare sung — a hymn known since at least 1388 A.D. and possibly written by Pope Innocent III who died in 1216 A.D.

The meditations and prayers for the Stations presented below were written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger for the Way of the Cross at the Colliseum in 2005, weeks before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI.