Steps of devotion

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Holy Week practice that goes back to medieval Christian tradition is the Way of the Cross, a devotion that commemorates Jesus' final hours.

Also known as Stations of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows), the Way of the Cross is observed mostly in the Catholic church. Images of Christ's final hours — or simple crosses representing them — are displayed in Catholic churches or in cemeteries or other outdoor locations. Worshipers pass from station to station saying certain prayers at each station and meditating on the various incidents.

The Way of the Cross originated in medieval Europe when wars prevented Christian pilgrims from visiting the Holy Land. European artists created works depicting scenes of Christ's journey, and the faithful installed these sculptures or paintings at intervals along a procession route, inside a church or outdoors. Performing the devotion means walking the entire route, stopping to pray at each station.

Fourteen stations normally make up the Way of the Cross, although as many as 16 stations are observed in some rites which state the ritual cannot be accurately depicted without including the Resurrection and Ascension:

1. Jesus is condemned to death

2. Jesus carries his cross

3. Jesus falls for the first time

4. Jesus meets his mother

5. Simon helps Jesus carry his cross

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

7. Jesus falls the second time

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

9. Jesus falls a third time

10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross

12. Jesus dies on the cross

13. Jesus is taken down from the cross

14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

15. Jesus rises from the dead on the third day

16. Jesus ascends into heaven

On Good Friday, 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new form of devotion called the Scriptural Way of the Cross, which calls for more meditation. The Pope celebrated that ritual thereafter at the Colosseum in Rome.

Families can pray the Way of the Cross at home, using a candelabrum representing the stations beginning the Wednesday of Holy Week though Good Friday. Begin with 15 candles in a candelabrum or even secured in a box. At the start of the devotion, in a darkened room with everyone standing, light all the candles. After each station is said, a family member — usually a child — puts out one candle, alternating left and right ends. When the last station is said, the candle in the center — the Light of Christ — is extinguished and the room is in darkness. Explain the darkness by saying "Christ was the Light of the world and when He died the Light was gone from the world." Then relight only the center candle as a reminder that Christ is with us, even in deepest darkness.


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