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March 9, 2008
The Stations of the Cross - A Short History
Lent is a time when we are compelled to do something special for God. We abstain from meat and perhaps give up a favorite drink or snack. We also try to pray a little more frequently and with more sincerity and focus. Very often Catholics want to pray using the Stations of the Cross. Although this devotion is not practiced with as much intensity as it was in the middle of the last century, it still remains a popular Lenten exercise.
Where did the Stations come from? Do we know? Perhaps many of us have some idea but in truth we do not know the whole story. The following is a short summary of the development of the stations throughout the history of the church. If you are a parent you may want to share this with your children. All Catholics should know the meaning of the stations.
After Jesus died and rose from the dead many people took time to reflect on his passion and death. They felt that visiting the path Jesus followed on that last day in Jerusalem helped them to enter into the experience. The path that Jesus walked is still called Via Dolorosa or the way of pain. People stopped along the way and remembered what had happened to Jesus. At some point they began marking the places where certain things had happened. The people who visited Jerusalem became known as “pilgrims.”
As time went by and Christianity spread and grew throughout the world, the distance to Jerusalem became a major obstacle for people to visit the Holy City. That did not mean that people did not want to remember Jesus’ last day. The intensity and fervor of devotion to Jesus’ passion and death grew very quickly during the time of the Crusades. More and more people wanted to visit a place where they could pray as they remembered the Passion.
When the Franciscan friars took over the shrines in the Holy Land in the 1300s, they saw it as their mission to encourage devotion to these places. In western Europe a series of shrines erected to help the faithful remember Christ’s passion became commonplace. They were erected outside Churches and monasteries and in other places as well. For many years there was large variety of stations. The current number of fourteen first appeared in the Low Countries in the sixteenth century and became standard in the eighteenth century with a series of papal pronouncements. Today, modern liturgists have suggested that devotion to the Passion is incomplete without the Resurrection. Therefore, they fostered the addition of a 15th station. There are many churches who have a 15th station on their walls.
Today, almost all Catholic churches have the Stations of the Cross on their walls. Parishioners (“pilgrims”) are welcome to visit and pray the stations in their churches. They move from one station to another thinking about the things that happened on that last day. Some churches schedule a time for people to pray the stations together but praying them individually is very good. If you would like to pray the stations with your children but you do not have the time to visit the church, why not visit the web site: http://frpat.com/stations.htm. The information above was taken from this website but you will also be able to pray the stations as they are on the site.
Lorette P. Nault