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The Way of the Cross

The pious exercise of the Way of the Cross represents the sorrowful journey that Christ made with the cross on His shoulders, to die on Calvary for the love of us. We should, therefore, practice this devotion with the greatest possible fervor, placing ourselves beside our savior as He walked this sorrowful way, uniting our tears with His, and offering to Him both our compassion and our gratitude.”

                 - St. Alphonsus Liguori, 1761

The widespread devotion to the Way of the Cross, followed in different ways and called by many names – the Stations of the Cross, Via Dolorosa, or Via Crucis – is a spiritual pilgrimage. Typically, in modern practice figures or plaques depicting the steps along the path of Christ’s Passion, the stations, are permanently fixed in or just outside of a church. They are also found in convents, Catholic hospital chapels, and other such places. However, plaques or pictures are not required to practice the devotion. The faithful meditate and pray upon each of these significant scenes from Christ’s Passion. Moving physically from plaque to plaque is common but not necessary; especially when large groups are practicing the devotion, only the clergy move from scene to scene.

An Ancient Christian Devotion

The devotion of the Way of the Cross is one the oldest Catholic devotions. As demonstrated through early tradition, as well as visions received by mystics such as Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, the earliest Christians – even the Blessed Virgin – visited the scenes and followed the path of Christ’s Passion.

From the time of Constantine, the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem became a popular pilgrimage destination for pious Christians, and in time, those who were unable to travel to the actual sites began to practice the devotion of following Christ’s passion in various ways without traveling to Jerusalem. There were many manners of practicing the devotion, both in pilgrimage and from afar, and for some time the number of stations referenced varied from 7 to 14. In the 17th century, plaques and pictures representing the stops along the Way of the Cross became popular in churches; in 1731 the number of stations was officially fixed at 14 by Pope Clement XII.

After St. Francis’s pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the early 13th century, and his observing Christians following the Way of the Cross there, the devotion was spread across Europe by the saint and his friars minor. Today, the two most popular methods of practicing the devotion remain the Way of the Cross by St. Francis of Assisi as well as the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori, popularized later in the 18th century.

The Fourteen Stations of the Cross

  1. Christ condemned to death

  2. The cross is laid upon him

  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

  14. Christ is laid in the tomb


Article Sources: The Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia.

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