Understanding the Stations of the Cross


by Terry Rogers


One of the most popular prayers during the Lenten season is, We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world. These beautiful words begin the prayers for the great devotion known throughout the Catholic Church as the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross commemorate Jesus last hours on earth, starting with the First Station, his condemnation to death by Pontius Pilate and ending with the Fourteenth Station, Jesus’ burial in the tomb. The Stations are traditionally prayed during Fridays of Lent


This devotion has evolved over time. Tradition holds that our Blessed Mother visited daily the scenes of our Lord’s passion. In the year 312AD, Christianity was legalized in the Empire, thus allowing Christians to publicly venerate the sites where our Lord was born, lived, ministered, suffered, died and rose from the dead. St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem during the latter part of his life, attested to the crowds of pilgrims from various countries who visited those holy places and followed the Via Dolorosa or the Way of the Cross.


In the year 1219, the charismatic Francis of Assisi made a personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land to meet with the Sultan. The visit went so well that St. Francis, having left such a positive impression on the Sultan, received special permission for the brothers to stay behind to provide pastoral care for the pilgrims. 800 years later, the Franciscan Friars (Order Friars Minor) priests and brothers are still providing pastoral care to the throngs of Christian pilgrims who visit the Holy Land every year. The friars have custody over most of the Churches, Chapels and Shrines in the Holy Land. The spiritual sons of St. Francis, wearing their simple brown habits and a cord of three knots, representing the vows of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are a reaffirming presence to modern day pilgrims. Today, the friars minister and staff the local parishes and schools of the Christian Arab populations of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and surrounding regions.


Through the influence of the Franciscan Order and the inability to travel to the Holy Land during certain time periods, various Pope’s starting with Pope Innocent granted permission to the Franciscans the right to establish the Stations of the Cross within their own Churches. In 1731, Pope Clement XII extended to all Churches the right to have the Stations, provided a Franciscan Priest erected them, with the consent of the local Bishop. In 1857, the Bishops of England were allowed to adorn their Churches with the Stations by themselves, without the presence of a Franciscan Priest. In 1862 this right was extended to all Bishops throughout the universal Church.


The Stations of the Cross, prayed on Friday’s during the Lenten Season (not restricted to the Lenten season alone) provides believers an opportunity to meditate on the Lord’s Passion, His life, death and resurrection by marking those significant events of Jesus’ last all hours on earth. Throughout the centuries, Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land to pray the Stations of the Cross. Now we too have the privilege of praying the Stations in our own parish Churches.

We adore you O Christ and we praise you because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world!


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