WHAT ARE THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS?
A devotion that is practiced in Catholic parishes, especially during the penitential season of Lent, is the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a means to help the faithful to make, in spirit, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ's sufferings and death; from Pontius Pilate's house to Christ's tomb.
Today, there are fourteen traditional scenes that make up the Stations of the Cross: Pilate condemns Christ to death; Jesus carries the cross; the first fall; Jesus meets His Blessed Mother; Simon of Cyrene helps to carry the cross; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; the second fall; Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem; the third fall; Jesus is stripped of His garments; Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus dies on the cross; Jesus is taken down from the cross; and Jesus is laid in the tomb.
This devotion has evolved over time. Tradition holds that our Blessed Mother visited daily the scenes of our Lord's passion. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the year 312, this pathway was marked with its important stations.
In 1342, the Franciscans were appointed as guardians of the shrines of the Holy Land. The faithful received indulgences for praying at the following stations: At Pilate's house, where Christ met His mother, where He spoke to the women, where He met Simon of Cyrene, where the soldiers stripped Him of His garments, where He was nailed to the cross, and at His tomb.
When the Muslim Turks blocked the access to the Holy Land, reproductions of the stations were erected at popular spiritual centers, including the Dominican Friary at Cordova and Poor Clare Convent of Messina (early 1400s), Nuremberg (1468), Louvain (1505), Bamberg, Fribourg and Rhodes (1507) and Antwerp (1520).
Because of the Turkish domination of Jerusalem, the pious exercises of the Way of the Cross could be performed far more devoutly at Nuremburg or Louvain than in Jerusalem itself. The devotion, which grew in Europe for the Stations, gave us our present series of Stations with the accustomed series of prayers for them.
In 1686, Pope Innocent XI, realizing that few people could travel to the Holy Land due to the Muslim oppression, granted the right to erect stations in all of their churches and that the same indulgences would be given to the Franciscans and those affiliated with them for practicing the devotion as if on an actual pilgrimage. Pope Benedict XIII extended these indulgences to all of the faithful in 1726.
Five years later, Pope Clement XII permitted stations to be created in all churches and fixed the number at fourteen. In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV exhorted all priests to enrich their churches with the Way of the Cross, which must include fourteen crosses and are usually accompanied with pictures or images of each particular station.
Pope John Paul II proposed a new set of 14 Stations in 1991. To pray these Stations visit US Catholic Bishops.
You may also choose to visit the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, where one may see reproductions of the Bethlehem Chapel, the tomb of our Lord, and other important shrines of the Holy Land.
Further history about the Stations of the Cross can be found at New Advent.