February 10, 2019 - Pastor Message02/17/2019
THE YEAR OF PRAYER PART 5: THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS (cont.)
“So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him” (John 19:1618).
Jesus’ way of the cross is depicted very briefly and very simply in the gospels. So how did we arrive at the fourteen traditional Stations of the Cross that we know today, and is that the only way to pray this beloved, ancient devotion? As mentioned last week, the early Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem who began the practice of walking in the footsteps of Jesus on his way to Calvary followed different routes and engaged in a variety of prayer practices, one of which was stopping to pray at various sites along the way. While, in time, the commonly accepted route was set as what is today the Via Dolorosa, there was no officially recognized set of stations or prayers for many centuries.
In the fourteenth century, the Franciscan friars were entrusted with the care of the shrines in the Holy Land, including the sites along the Via Dolorosa. The Franciscans secured the granting of indulgences, or the remission of punishment for sins after death, for pilgrims who stopped and prayed at seven designated sites, all corresponding to events depicted in Scripture, marking the first “official” recognition of a specific way of praying the Stations.
Other forms of praying the Stations continued, however. An English pilgrim named William Wey began to popularize the idea of fourteen stations when he wrote about his pilgrimage in the fifteenth century. He is also the first recorded source to refer to the devotion as the “Stations” of the Cross. His particular stations vary significantly from those we know today, but two other sources would bridge that gap soon after. Andrichomius, a sixteenth century Dutch priest and scholar, included in his book on the Holy Land an account of twelve stations that correspond to the modern devotion. At the same time, devotional books from the Low Countries which expanded that number to fourteen began widely circulating in Europe.
As the popularity of the devotion spread, largely through the work of the Franciscan friars, a series of papal decrees granted it official recognition, first by permitting Stations to be erected in Franciscan monasteries and churches, and then by permitting and even encouraging their erection in all churches. The latter step was taken by Pope Clement XII in 1731, who also officially set the number at the fourteen Stations we know today and which are depicted in our own church.
You would think that would be the end of the story, but remember: even though we may pray them publicly, the Stations of the Cross are a personal devotion. Many new and different versions continue to be published and observed, including a Scriptural Way of the Cross by Pope St. John Paul II. As with all devotions, the best way to pray the Stations is the way that serves best to raise your own mind and heart to God, so go ahead and search around to see what’s out there and find your own Way of the Cross that leads you closer to our crucified and risen Lord.
That’s it for this week. Tune in next week when we will continue our look at the Stations of the Cross. For more information about the history of the Stations, please see the following articles, from where the above information was taken: “Stations of the Cross Date Back to the Fourth Century” by Tim Puet at catholicnewsagency.com, and “How Did the Stations of the Cross Begin?” by Fr. William Saunders at ewtn.com.
Fr. Marc Stockton