One of the customs practiced by Catholics during the season of Lent is a devotion in the form of a “virtual pilgrimage”. This devotion is commonly known as the Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis). It is a representation of what many may know as the Via Dolorosa, or the way of sorrows, which follows the path Christ carried the cross to be crucified. For Catholics it is a spiritual pilgrimage where we reflect on the passion of Christ.
If you have ever been in a Catholic church you may have noticed a series of pictures or carved scenes that surround the seating area (the nave). These are the Stations of the Cross and each one highlights a scene from the passion of Christ as they progress through the entire set of 14. The Stations start with Jesus being sentenced to death and ending with Him being placed in the tomb. In Jerusalem these stations are found on the Via Dolorosa, nine of which are on the route and the last five in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is where the Via Dolorosa ends.
During Lent the Stations are celebrated on Friday’s and especially on Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified and placed in the tomb. It is an excellent service! The Priest and attendants carry a cross around the church where the stations are located and prayers are said with some explanation about the particular station. It is a simple devotion with participation between the priest and people as most catholic devotions are but can also be done privately throughout the year as the Stations do not get removed after Lent. They can also be done privately at home and several internet sites offer the Stations as well. Here is an online version with reflections by St. Paul of the Cross at http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/xstations/stpaulofcross/index.html.
Historically the Stations come from actual pilgrimages to the holy land. Sometimes this was for personal devotion and sometimes as a penance. But, such a pilgrimage may have been a hard task for many who were not wealthy and as the world changed, passage to Jerusalem was at times cut-off or simply too dangerous. The Franciscans, who in 1342 were care takers of Christian holy places in Jerusalem formed the Stations and devotion of the Via Dolorosa, and so formed the “virtual” practice as well. These began to appear in the 15th and 16th centuries as outdoor shrines. Later they began to appear in the church buildings under the supervision of the Franciscans.
The traditional Stations are:
1.Jesus is condemned to death
2.Jesus accepts the cross
3.Jesus falls the first time
4.Jesus meets His Mother
5.Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6.Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7.Jesus falls the second time
8.Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9.Jesus falls the third time
10.Jesus is stripped of His garments
11.Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12.Jesus dies on the cross
13.Jesus’ body is removed from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
14.Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.