The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation. The stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station.
In any Catholic Church along the side walls will be found, in sequence, the Stations of the Cross. Stations one through seven along one side and eight through fourteen along the other. The pilgrim before each station recites the following prayer: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.” The Church grants an indulgence for anyone who completes the Stations. An indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins”. It may reduce the temporal punishment after death for a soul in the state or process of purification called Purgatory.
Before each station after reciting the prayer given above, the pilgrim then meditates on that particular element of Christ’s Passion. The pilgrim should not only meditate upon the Lord’s Passion but on any trial that burdens his/her life, as well. We can join our migraine headache to the crown of thorns; our chronic back aches to His scourging; our weakened legs, by age or malady, to the weight of His cross; our arthritic hands and feet to the divine hands and feet pinned to the cross. Those enslaved by addiction or isolated through atheism are not forgotten in His saying: “Father why have you abandoned me.” And the homeless find refuge in the knowledge that the “Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head.” It is therapeutic and freeing to attach our suffering with that of Christ’s. He encourages us to do so when He invites us to “Take up our cross and follow Him.” Simon of Cyrene shows that we do not have to carry our crosses in life alone. It was he who lessened Christ’s burden. And it is Christ who lessens ours. This is so, because all the sins and comprehensive burdens that constitute the totality of human suffering were the substance of that cross.
The Via Dolorosa was the road that Christ walked from His condemnation, to the instrument of that condemnation on Calvary. Along the way He was wept for by those who sympathized and spat upon and mocked by those who did not. The unrelenting lash was taken to the back of the Creator by His creatures. Urging the Divine Lover on to the fulfillment of His mission by His beloved. Not greater pain did He endure than that.
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death
“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
Station 2: Jesus carries his cross
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.
Station 3: Jesus falls the first time
My Jesus, the heavy burden of my sins is on Thee, and bears Thee down beneath the cross.
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother
Jesus tells His Mother and the apostle John: “Woman behold your son. Son behold your Mother.” From that time on John took Mary the Mother of Jesus into his house. At that moment, Mary became the Mother of the Church, and John the first member of the Church.
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene carries Christ’s cross
And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Station 7: Jesus falls the second time
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
Station 9: Jesus falls the third time
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his garments
And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull), they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross
They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross
After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body.
Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb
The tomb was sealed and a guard set to keep watch. At no other time in history was a guard set to watch over a tomb because there was concern that the dead would rise. The strangest aspect of this event was that it was his enemies who thought Christ might rise, not His friends.
The Stations of the Cross is a wonderful Lenten exercise. For in it we are encouraged to continue our Lenten promises of the three pillars of lent: Almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Almsgiving is our commitment to our neighbor. Prayer is our commitment to God. And fasting is our commitment to improving ourselves. When a person sacrifices /gives up something/ for the forty days of lent it is a form of fasting; beyond not eating meat on Fridays during lent or a periodic light meal. It means giving up that which is a possession; one that has become possessive. It could be food, beverage, forms of social media, TV use or any negative habit hindering personal growth. If we experience some angst or tension in so doing then we have found where change is needed. To return to such practices in the same strength of habit or in some cases, at all, defeats the purpose of Lent. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are life changing events from which we all share the benefits. He turned the world upside down to turn it right side up for the forgiveness of sins and thereby reopened the gates of heaven through reconciliation with God. There is no going back. Likewise we, too, if we are to perfect ourselves, must guard against returning to those ways that have stifled improvements toward perfection. A step forward followed by a step back is no improvement at all.
Will we fall along the way? Surely we can. Yet, we need not fail, because we fall. Our example to follow is that of Christ along the Via Dolorosa. For on that road He fell three times and yet rose from each fall to continue on to His crowing success. So we, too, must not allow our stumbles along our pilgrimage to deter us from fulfilling the three Pillars of Lent. In the end we will be better for it. For God finds us charming in our contrite efforts toward truth and goodness that are found in His will.
Yes, Christ fell three times. However, He managed to save the world nonetheless. We have but to save ourselves. Our Lenten task may be a difficult one. Yet, how infinitely greater was His, and still He finished His divine mission. Who then can fail in knowing that?
A weekly Stations of the Cross is time well spent in keeping one on track toward a successful Lent. And in so doing we play a functional role in fulfilling Christ’s promise: “Watch, I make all things new.” This is true of us all; even for the seemingly least of us. For we are all unique and equally important in his eyes.