February 3, 2019 - Pastor Message02/17/2019
THE YEAR OF PRAYER PART 4: THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25).
As mentioned in a previous article from our ongoing series on the Year of Prayer at St. Boniface, prayer, most simply put, is the raising of our minds and hearts to God. Public, or liturgical, prayer is the prayer of the whole Church. Private, or devotional, prayer is the personal prayer of individuals. As the prayer of individuals, there are as many forms of devotional prayer as there are persons, but some devotions have captured the hearts and minds of millions of people over the centuries and have become treasured parts of our common Catholic tradition. The Stations of the Cross are one such devotion.
The roots of the Stations of the Cross go back to the desire of early Christians to share in Christ’s suffering by visiting the sites of his passion and death in Jerusalem. No one knows for sure when Christian pilgrims began this practice, but we know that it was already popular by the fourth century. It received official encouragement from the Roman emperor, Constantine, who, shortly after legalizing Christianity, built the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the site of Christ’s tomb in 335 AD. Initially, there was no set route or number of stops, and pilgrims observed a variety of prayers and religious practices along whatever route they chose to follow. Eventually, a route running from the Fortress Antonia, where Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher gained wide acceptance. This became known as the Via Dolorosa, or “Sorrowful Way,” and remains the accepted route for pilgrims to Jerusalem today.
The desire to take the experience of Christ’s way of the cross home to continue the devotion outside of Jerusalem and share it with others began early on, as pilgrims took artifacts and relics from the holy sites back with them. Certain monasteries also began erecting chapels that replicated places like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but this was relatively rare.
The devotion began to spread beyond Jerusalem in earnest when the Franciscan friars were given charge of the shrines in the Holy Land in the 14th century and the conquest of the Holy Land by the Turks made pilgrimages extremely difficult and dangerous. Through efforts of the Franciscans, the devotion spread throughout their monasteries and churches in Europe, to which pilgrims now directed their attention. The devotion became so popular that Pope Innocent XI gave permission for depictions of the Stations of the Cross to be displayed in all Franciscan churches in the 17th century, permission which Pope Clement XII extended beyond the Franciscan community to all churches in the 18th century. Thus the practice of displaying depictions of the Stations of the Cross in Catholic churches became the norm, and the devotion of sharing in Christ’s suffering by following his way of the cross became available to all.
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.