Stations of the Cross
In early Christian times, people started visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the church that was built around the cave-tomb where Jesus was buried) as an act of piety (great religious devotion). During the Middle Ages, priest started instructing people to go there as a penance for certain serious sins. In making this pilgrimage, it was the only way that Penitents could get “a plenary (full) indulgence”. An indulgence is remission of temporal punishment due to sin, provided that sin has already been forgiven. That is, sin, even after forgiveness through the sacrament of Reconciliation, merits punishment on Earth or in Purgatory.”
The trips to the Middle East were very dangerous and very expensive, and many times the trips would last as long as two years. So the Christians decided that this was not very feasible and it did not seem fair because only those that were rich or strong enough would be able to get this indulgence. So various church organizations decided to build copies (not exact replicas, each built according to its culture’s style) so that it would be easier for people to get the ‘spiritual benefit’ of the trip to the Holy Land.” But even this was difficult for many people so the Franciscans, about the Fourteenth Century, started the practice of placing wooden crosses in the parish churches everywhere. Usually there were fourteen, each representing a “station” or important moment in the Passion. “The idea, then as now, was that you could simply go to your parish church and meditate on each of the stations, so you didn’t have to go all the way to Jerusalem.” In 1731 Pope Clement XII Corsini fixed the number of stations at 14. After Vatican II “a plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who make a pious exercise of the Way of the Cross.” So now we see how the Stations of the Cross are brought into our Lenten Journey. We are not only to partake in the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) but we are to attend a gathering of the Stations of the Cross, which are held every Friday during Lent, therefore completing our penance. “Those who are ‘impeded’ can gain the same indulgence, if they spend at least one half hour in pious reading and meditation of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ (Enchiridion of Indulgence).” During this time a plenary (full) indulgence is granted, however on other days of the year only partial indulgence is granted.
Way of the Cross
Now that we know a little history behind The Stations of the Cross, let us discuss what goes on at this gathering. The Stations of the Cross is not a Mass. It is a guided devotional gathering where we focus on the Passion of Christ (what Jesus went through from the time He went to Mount Gethsemane to His burial in the tomb). In doing this we remind ourselves of the struggle, torture, humiliation, and great sacrifice Jesus went through and in doing so we are reminded that “His sacrifice was an act of atonement, that is, makes us one again with God by the power of divine mercy extending to us the Father’s forgiveness of our sins.” So why did this even have to happen? “Jesus, Son of God, was sent by the Father to restore the harmony between Himself and humanity that had been disrupted by sin.”
“Using Scripture and traditions concerning the death of our Lord, and some legends, the Stations went through many variations, at one time numbering more than three dozen separate incidents- or stations.” However, “In 1731, about four hundred years after the way of the cross became popular, Pope Clement XII Corsini fixed the number of stations at fourteen…” Even though the number of stations was fixed at fourteen, which fourteen stations should be used is not fixed. The Stations of the Cross almost seem to change with the times to reflect the needs of God’s people. The common goal they share is that they serve as a guide for all Christians to help prepare them to enter the Paschal Mystery and to walk with Jesus in His last hours.
Question & Answer
Is attendance of the Stations of the Cross mandatory? I know that in some of the literature it does mention that it is necessary as part of the follow through to our penance as we also go to confession, but what it does not say is if we have to physically attend every Friday. Would it be satisfactory if we only attended one session during Lent or are we obligated to attend all?
The Stations of the Cross (Via Cruces in Spanish) is not mandatory. The Stations of the Cross are a devotional exercise appropriate for any time of the year, but certainly a devotion that is exercised more so during the season of Lent. The only thing that is necessary after the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the completion of the penance that the priest gives to the penitent. It certainly could include the Stations of the Cross, but that would be on a case by case basis. No devotion of the Catholic Church is every mandatory, only for the assistance of a person’s faith life.
Catechism # 1674-1676 - # 1675 states:
“These expressions of piety (read devotions) extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They “should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, according with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.”