The Way of the Cross PDF Print E-mail


by Ramon A. Pedrosa

(Also called Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, and Via Dolorosa).

It is no idle tradition which asserts that the Blessed Mother  used to visit daily the scenes of her Son's passion and death. The Way of the Cross then is the closest we shall ever get to joining Our Blessed Mother on her own passion and suffering as she experiences for us the pain of the piercing sword that Simeon at the Temple prophesied of her. The best way to follow Our Lord’s injunction to take up our Cross is to follow the example of  the Blessed Mother in her own Via Dolorosa.

Way Of The Cross

At a time when the most ardent desires of Christendom centered in the Holy Land, and when faithful followers of the Crucified gladly faced all hardships in the attempt to visit the scenes of the Saviour's Passion, those unable to accomplish such a journey strove to find an equivalent by following Christ's footsteps to Calvary at least in spirit. The exercise of the Stations of the Cross thus formed a miniature pilgrimage.

St. Jerome speaks of the crowds of pilgrims from all countries who used to visit the holy places in his day. There is, however, no direct evidence as to the existence of any set form of the devotion at that early date, and it is noteworthy that St. Sylvia (c. 380) says nothing about it in her "Peregrinatio ad loca sancta", although she describes minutely every other religious exercise that she saw practised there.

Several travellers who visited the Holy Land during the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, mention a "Via Sacra", i.e., a settled route along which pilgrims were conducted, but there is nothing in their accounts to identify this with the Via Crucis, as we understand it today.

A desire to reproduce the holy places in other lands, in order to satisfy the devotion of those who were hindered from making the actual pilgrimage, seems to have manifested itself at quite an early date. At the monastery of San Stefano at Bologna a group of connected chapels were constructed as early as the fifth century, by St. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, representing the more important shrines of Jerusalem, and so this monastery came to be known as "Hierusalem". This may perhaps be regarded as the germ from which the Stations afterwards developed, though it is tolerably certain that nothing that we have before about the fifteenth century can strictly be called a Way of the Cross in the modern sense.

The erection and use of the Stations did not become at all general before the end of the seventeenth century, but they are now to be found in almost every church. Formerly their number varied considerably in different places but fourteen are now prescribed by authority. They are as follows:

1.      Christ condemned to death

2.      Jesus willingly takes up His Cross

3.      His first fall

4.      He meets His Blessed Mother

5.      Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross

6.      Christ's face is wiped by Veronica

7.      His second fall

8.      He meets the women of Jerusalem

9.      His third fall

10.    He is stripped of His garments

11.    His crucifixion

12.    His death on the cross

13.    His body is taken down from the cross; and

14.    Jesus is laid in the tomb

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, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions.

It seems that up to that time it had been the general practice to commence at Mount Calvary, and proceeding thence, in the opposite direction to Christ, to work back to Pilate's house. This was gradually reversed as we have it today.

The number of stations also has varied through the centuries. With regard to the number of Stations it is not at all easy to determine how this came to be fixed at fourteen, for it seems to have varied considerably at different times and places. And, naturally, with varying numbers the incidents of the Passion commemorated also varied greatly. In the middle of the fifteenth century, there are  fourteen, but only five of these correspond with ours, and of the others, seven are only remotely connected with our Via Crucis:

•        The house of Dives,

•        the city gate through which Christ passed,

•        the probatic pool,

•        the Ecce Homo arch,

•        the Blessed Virgin's school, and

•        the houses of Herod and Simon the Pharisee.

In 1515 in an effort to obtain correct details, it was said that there ought to be thirty-one in all, but in the manuals of devotion subsequently issued for the use of those visiting these Stations they are given variously as nineteen, twenty-five, and thirty-seven, so it seems that even in the same place the number was not determined very definitely.

At any rate, during the sixteenth century, a number of devotional manuals, giving prayers for use when making the Stations, were published in the Low Countries, and some of our fourteen appear in them for the first time.

Additions and omissions such as these seem to confirm the supposition that our Stations are derived from pious manuals of devotion rather than from Jerusalem itself.

The erection of the Stations in churches did not become at all common until towards the end of the seventeenth century, and the popularity of the practice seems to have been chiefly due to the indulgences attached. It may be safely asserted that there is no devotion more richly endowed with indulgences than the Way of the Cross.

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