The Way of the Cross, or the Stations of the Cross, is a Christian devotion that commemorates the events of Good Friday, from Jesus being condemned to death to the moment He is laid in the tomb. For many Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists, a prayerful meditation of these 14 stations is traditionally practiced in the Lenten season, as well as Fridays during the rest of the year.
"The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ's resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life. It is the way of hope, the way of the future. Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity." - Pope Francis
The History of the Way of the Cross:
The Way of the Cross is a Christian tradition that dates back to the very early Church. Not long after Christ’s death, His followers would visit the physical locations throughout Jerusalem that marked Jesus’s suffering and death. Some traditions state that the Blessed Virgin Mary would visit these sites daily during her life. St. Jerome commented before his death in 420, that pilgrims were coming from all over Christendom to follow the path Jesus took to His death.
Still, the exact beginnings of this pious practice are uncertain. We do know that in the 12th century, when the Franciscans were allowed to return to the previously seized Holy Land they created a specific route for pilgrims to follow in order to live out those last hours Jesus spent on this earth.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that outdoor shrines that mimicked the Holy Places in Jerusalem began to pop up around Europe, giving those people unable to make the complicated journey to Jerusalem a chance to still follow Christ’s final steps. At the time, the number of stations varied greatly from place to place, with some having up to 30 stations to visit.
The practice we have today - of the specific 14 stations - was firmly established by Pope Clement XII in 1731. Today, you’ll frequently see these 14 stations - often paintings or carvings - mounted on the walls of a Church or Chapel and even spread throughout a cemetery.
The 14 Stations:
- The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.
- The Second Station: Jesus takes up His cross.
- The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.
- The Fourth Station: Jesus is met by His Blessed Mother.
- The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross.
- The Sixth Station: The face of Jesus is wiped by Veronica.
- The Seventh Station: Jesus falls a second time.
- The Eight Station: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem.
- The Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time.
- The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His garments.
- The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
- The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross.
- The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother.
- The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.
How to Pray the Stations of the Cross:
Praying the Stations of the Cross can be done in a group or individually, and this mini-pilgrimage can be done at a Church or even from your own home. Typically, you would stand or kneel before each Station and begin by saying the prayer: “We adore you, oh Christ, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” After that a Bible passage or reflection on the scene is read and contemplated before moving on to the next station and beginning the process again. Some parishes and groups will sing or recite prayers between stations.
Careful contemplation of Jesus' passion and death, and what that means for our lives is ideal for this time of mini pilgrimage. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his book The Way of the Cross, "We must bring into our life, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through Love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem all mankind."
A plenary indulgence is attached to the pious saying of the Stations of the Cross if the person or group process from station to station. For those who physically cannot meet this requirement, the same indulgence can be obtained from piously meditation on the passion and death of Jesus for at least 15 minutes.
My most beloved Jesus, I embrace all the sufferings You have destined for me until death. I beg You, by all You suffered in carrying Your cross, to help me carry mine with Your perfect peace and resignation. I love You, Jesus, my love; I repent of ever having offended You. Never let me separate myself from You again. Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will. - St. Alphonsus Liguori from his Stations of the Cross
St. Josemaria and The Way of the Cross:
Over the years, a variety of Saints have written their own version of these 14 Stations to be used in the practice of the Way of the Cross. For instance, both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Alphonsus Liguori have penned versions that are still in use today.
Here at Scepter Publishers we offer St. Josemaria Escriva’s The Way of the Cross - in both book and ebook formats as well as a smaller parish version, and in Spanish. This version of The Way of the Cross was first published after St. Josemaria’s death. Yet. like his other titles, such as The Way, Furrow and The Forge, the book’s purpose remains the same: to help people pray and, with God’s grace, to grow in a spirit of reparation, of lover-sorrow, and or gratitude to our Lord.
St. Josemaria’s version of the Stations of the Cross begins with this prayer: “My Lord and my God, under the loving eyes of our Mother, we are making ready to accompany you along this path of sorrow, which was the price for our redemption. We wish to suffer all that You suffered, to offer you our poor, contrite hearts, because you are innocent, and yet you are going to die for us, who are the only really guilty ones. My Mother, Virgin of sorrows, help me to relive those bitter hours which your Son wished to spend on earth, so that we, who were made from a handful of clay, may finally live in libertatem gloriae filiorum Dei,in the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
After each commentary on the particular scene, the full version of the book also contains a series of smaller quotes to contemplate from St. Josemaria Escriva’s writings.
"From the Cross hangs Our Lord 's —now lifeless — body. The people, seeing what had been done, went home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48). Now that you have repented, promise Jesus that, with his help, you will not crucify him again. Say it with faith. Repeat, over and over again: I will love you, my God, because ever since you were born, ever since you were a child, you abandoned yourself in my arms, defenseless, trusting in my loyalty." - St. Josemaria Escriva, from the Twelfth Station
The Scriptural Way of the Cross
While the 14 Stations are based in both scripture and tradition, not all of them can be found in the Bible narrative of Jesus’ last hours. With that in mind Pope John Paul II began a new form of this devotion in 1991 called the Scriptural Way of the Cross. This was often the form he would often use when praying this devotion on Good Friday in the Colosseum.
For the Scriptural Way of the Cross, the Stations are:
- The First Station: Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
- The Second Station: Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested.
- The Third Station: Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin.
- The Fourth Station: Jesus is denied by Peter three times.
- The Fifth Station: Jesus is judged by Pilate.
- The Sixth Station: Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns.
- The Seventh Station: Jesus takes up his cross.
- The Eight Station: Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross.
- The Ninth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
- The Tenth Station: Jesus is crucified.
- The Eleventh Station: Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief.
- The Twelfth Station: Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other.
- The Thirteenth Station: Jesus dies on the cross.
- The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.
You can find a version of St. John Paul II's Scriptural Way of the Cross on the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.