For centuries, Roman Catholic believers have celebrated the Stations of the cross, or Way of the Cross, usually the weeks before Easter. The Stations of the Cross refer both to a series of depictions of Christ’s journey from the court of Pontius Pilate to the tomb and to a short pilgrimage centred around these stations.
Though the Stations of the Cross or Via Crucis is typically associated with Catholicism, some other denominations have their own versions of the stations, reminding us of Jesus’ death and sacrifice to save us from sin and redeem us.
Where Did the Stations of the Cross Originate?
The practice of visiting each station to pray originated with early Christian pilgrims who visited the historic sites of the events and walked the route believed to be from Pilate’s house to Christ’s tomb.
The routes that were taken varied at first, due to different interpretations of the route Christ took, but the path known as the Via Dolorosa eventually solidified as beginning at Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem, which was believed to be where Jesus stood before Pilate, to the crucifixion hill of Calvary/Golgotha, and ending at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, which had been erected on the supposed site of Christ’s tomb in the fourth century after Constantine’s legalization of Christian worship. In 1342, Franciscan monks were given official custody of the sites.
Most medieval pilgrims, however, couldn’t afford the arduous journey to the Holy Land. Thus, stations were set up near churches instead. Some Vias Dolorosa were even measured to use the actual distances from the Holy Land between markers. The number of stations varied until Pope Clement XII set the number at 14 in 1731.
What Is the Purpose of the Stations of the Cross?
According to the Catholic Online Encyclopedia, “The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death.”
Most simply, the stations of the cross, usually performed during Lent, especially on Good Friday, are about remembering Christ’s suffering for our sake. This is evidenced by the typical Catholic prayer uttered at each station:
Guide: We adore you O Christ and we praise you,
All: Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
During medieval times, a complicated system of indulgences (payment for the forgiveness of sins) became associated with the stations, and thus this was also a good way for worshippers to pursue indulgences.
These are reasons given by Pope Francis on why we should pray the Stations of the Cross.
- THEY ALLOW US TO PLACE OUR TRUST IN HIM
- THEY PUT US INTO THE STORY
- THEY REMIND US THAT JESUS SUFFERS WITH US
- THEY COMPEL US TO ACTION
- THEY HELPS US MAKE A DECISION FOR OR AGAINST CHRIST
- THEY REVEAL GOD’S RESPONSE TO EVIL IN THE WORLD
- THEY GIVE US THE CERTAINTY OF GOD’S LOVE FOR US
- THEY GUIDE US FROM THE CROSS TO THE RESURRECTION