Background: the Stations of the Cross

A Pilgrimage of Faith

The Stations of the Cross is a devotion popular in the Roman Catholic Church that follows Jesus Christ in prayer and reflection on his way to Calvary.

The devotion originated, historians suggest, with late 4th century Byzantine pilgrims who visited Jerusalem and its holy places. On Holy Thursday, processing from Gethsemane on the eastern side of the city, which is the traditional site of Jesus' agony in the garden, they walked westward to the church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of his crucifixion and resurrection.

Among other early witnesses, the 4th century nun, Eteria, on pilgrimage from Gaul, reports frequent processions of pilgrims from Calvary to the tomb of Jesus when she was in the Holy Land. Over time, the processions extended to other places associated with his Passion.

The Via Dolorosa

From the 14th century on, pilgrims under the guidance of the Franciscans followed the journey of Jesus to Calvary along a route known today as the Via Dolorosa. Gradually locations were designated along the way, commemorating particular incidents of Jesus' Passion.

The Via Dolorosa begins at the remains of the fortress Antonia and proceeds westward through the streets of Jerusalem to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Today pilgrims still walk this sacred route- which archeologists say is more symbolic than historically based- and remember the journey of Jesus

The Way of the Cross in the Western Church

Besides the pilgrimage practice of the Via Dolorosa, the traditional fourteen Stations of the Cross have been influenced by medieval devotion to the Passion of Jesus. From the 11th century on, saints such as St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi (depicted at right in a Colonial period Mexican painting) and St. Bridged of Sweden, as well as meditation books like the 13th century Meditations on the Life of Christ focused the attention of western Christians on the Passion of Jesus.

Medieval Christians seeking more details about the Passion of the Lord, even beyond what was provided by the succinct stories of the gospels, turned to the writings of the mystics and the apocryphal gospels for more information about the last hours of Jesus. From these sources came the meeting of Jesus and his Mother, the story of Veronica, and the various falls of Jesus, which became part of the Stations of the Cross.

The Crusades increased interest among western Christians in the places where Jesus lived and suffered and died. (illustration at left: St Bernard praying for Louis VII and other crusaders).

Following the Moslem reconquest of the Holy Land, when Christian pilgrimage became more difficult, western Christians duplicated the shrines, liturgy and practices of the Holy Land in their own lands. Devotion to the Way of the Cross spread to the churches and shrines of Europe and its colonies, especially through the efforts of the Franciscans.


The Fourteen Stations

The number of stations, as well as the incidents of the Passion of Jesus they commemorated, varied over the centuries. It was only in the 18th century that the fourteen stations became fixed, as shown in most Catholic churches and devotional manuals today.

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus takes up his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene
  6. Jesus' face is wiped by Veronica
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is buried in the tomb
  15. Devotion to the Stations of the Cross spread rapidly throughout the Roman Catholic world in the 18th century, largely as a result of the preaching of the Franciscan, St. Leonard of Port -Maurice, who erected stations and promoted the devotion in over five hundred churches and places throughout Italy. His work was supported by the popes of his time, who saw the devotion as a means of strengthening faith.

    Another 18th century saint, St. Alphonsus Liguori, wrote a brief work on the stations that is still in use today. Religious communities like the Jesuits and the Passionists made the devotion part of their missions and retreats. By the l9th century, the Stations of the Cross had become a staple in Catholic prayer books and in churches throughout England, Ireland, and North America.

    Variations on the stations

    In recent years some variations have been introduced in the traditional devotion. One of these is the addition of a 15th station - the Resurrection of Jesus. Another is a series of scriptural stations, which begin with the Agony of Jesus in Gethsemane and omit some of the traditional non-scriptural stations in favor of incidents mentioned in the gospels.

    A series of scriptural stations was celebrated on Good Friday by Pope John Paul II in 1991, and again in 1994, in the Coliseum at Rome:

  16. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
  17. Jesus betrayed by Judas
  18. Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin
  19. Jesus denied by Peter
  20. Jesus condemned by the people
  21. Jesus crowned with thorns and clothed in purple.
  22. Jesus carries the cross.
  23. Jesus assisted by Simon of Cyrene
  24. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  25. Jesus is crucified.
  26. Jesus speaks to the thief
  27. Jesus speaks to his mother
  28. Jesus dies on the cross
  29. Jesus is buried.

Stations of the Cross

~ for use in a local neighborhood setting ~

These stations, based on the traditional fourteen stations of the cross, are meant to be used in a local neighborhood setting, rather than inside the sanctuary. They are in keeping with the idea of the remembrance of the Via Delarosa, the way of the cross. As Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha, so we also walk the streets of our cities, remembering that it was here that Jesus did his ministry, and for these that Jesus died.


The Stations

~ to be said as we arrive at each station ~

We adore you, O Christ and we bless you:

For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Gathering Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
take me along that holy way
you once took to your death,
Take my mind, my memory,
above all my reluctant heart,
and let me see what once you did
for love of me and all the world.


First Station: Jesus is condemned

Pilate brought Jesus outside and said to the people, "Look at your king!"
At this they shouted, "Away with him! Crucify him!"
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus is brought to Pilate. He is innocent. But the mob cries out for Pilate to condemn him, and the good people are silent. All around us there is evil. All around us there is injustice. All around us there is pain. Drugs are dealt out to the young, but we are silent. A woman is ripped off in the street, and we look the other way. A neighbor cries out for help, but we pretend not to hear.

Prayer: We are prisoners of our silence and our fear, Lord. Break the fear and silence. Make us strong to speak out for justice. Lord in your mercy.

Hear our prayer.

Second Station: Jesus takes up the cross

Jesus was led away, and carrying the Cross by himself,
went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, Golgotha.

The cross is heavy. The cross is rough. Jesus has already been beaten down. He is weak. But he accepts the cross, because that is what he came to do. It is his responsibility to carry the cross. How easy we find it to avoid responsibility. "It's not my job," we say. We let someone else bear the burden God has given us to bear.

Prayer: Help us, Lord, to be more responsible. Make us strong to do our duty, no matter how hard. Help us to carry the cross with Jesus. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer


Third Station: Jesus Falls

Jesus emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.
He humbled himself to death and a Cross

Jesus falls, but he gets up again. He keeps going, despite his weakness of body and soul. We fall also, because we are weak. Or something trips us up. Or because we are pushed into a situation. We all fall. We need to get back up again, and get going. God gives us another chance.

Prayer: Sometimes, Lord, we can't help falling. We are weak. Things trip us up. Sometimes we are pushovers. Help us to get back up. Don't let us stay down. Make us strong, to keep going, until we get where you want us to be. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

Simeon said to Mary his mother:
"This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,
a sign that will be opposed. And you yourself shall be pierced with a sword,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be laid bare."

At a turn in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, he makes a turn, and comes face to face with his mother. Our parents - our mothers and fathers - cannot always keep us from trouble and pain. Sometimes all they can do is stand and watch. And cry. And pray. Sometimes all they can do is bear our burden in their heart. Sometimes that is all we can do for them as well.

Prayer: Make strong the bonds of family, Lord. Help us to understand one another. When we cannot protect one another, help us to give those we love into your care, assured that they are safe in your hands. Bless parents and children, especially in times of problems and crisis. Lord in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus carry his cross

A man named Simon of Cyrene, was coming in from the fields,
and they pressed him into service to carry the Cross.

Simon just happened to be coming into the city. He was a stranger, pressed into service. Many times, we get help from people we don't even know. How many times are we asked to help, and we give it reluctantly? How many times do we have a chance to make a difference, and we refuse to help?

Prayer: Help us remember, Lord, that we are all brothers and sisters. We all need one another. We need to help one another. We need to bear one another's burdens. Help us to bear one another's cross. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Sixth Station: Veronica wipes Jesus' face

He who welcomes you welcomes me; and he who welcomes me,
welcomes him who sent me. And I promise that whoever gives a cup
of cold water will not want for a reward.

Jesus' face is stained with sweat and blood. He can hardly see his way. Everyone is afraid to help him. No one will help him. But one brave woman steps forward, to offer a small care - she wipes his face. How many people have stepped forward to make a difference in our life? Who stepped forward to offer us care when it was needed? God reaches out to us, oftentimes, through a simple act of love - a small act, at a needed time - through the kind word or thoughtful act of another.

Prayer: Thank you God, for women like Veronica. Women who hold their families together, who brave violence in the community. We thank you for all of those who have made a difference in our life. Help us to also make a positive difference in the life of someone, and so bear Christ into the world. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Seventh Station: Jesus falls a second time

But I am a worm and no man; the scorn of all,
despised by the people. All who see me scoff at me

Jesus is exhausted. His knees buckle. He falls. The whip cracks. The butt of a lance is shoved against his ribs. He gets up, and moves on. We know what this is all about. It seems we spend our life falling, that we are down more than we are up. Sometimes we don't know how we can move on. We get up again, but we don't feel like we're getting anywhere.

Prayer: Father, sometimes we get so tired and beaten down. Sometimes we lose hope. Sometimes we just lose our way. Father, help us to get up again. Give us hope. Give us a sense of direction. Help us to go on, until we get to our final resting place. There, may we rest in you. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women

A great crowd of people followed him, including women
who beat their breasts and lamented over him.

A group of women lament as they see Jesus coming. Some are young, carrying their young children; some are old, leaning on each other for support. They have troubles of their own. But they weep for Jesus. There is always trouble in the world - plenty to weep for. There is plenty to worry about. But you have also promised that our weeping will end, and turn into joy.

Praayer: Thank you, Father, for those who have tender hearts, who are more concerned over others than over their own troubles. Give us hearts that are open to the pain of the world, so that we may weep with those who weep. But also give us hope that our weeping will come to an end, that we may rejoice in your salvation. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time

I am like water poured out; all my bones are racked.
You have brought me down to the dust of death

There is no power, no strength left in Jesus. He cannot go any further on his own strength. If he is to get to the cross, he must go by another's power. There are times when we have no place to go, no strength of our own, no answers will serve us. There are times when we must rely on someone else to get us where we need to go. Sometimes there is no earthly answer to our problems. But where we are weakest, God still has strength for us. Where we run out of answers, God is just beginning.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, sometimes we run out of steam. Sometimes we run out of answers. Sometimes the problems are too big. Sometimes our abilities are just to small. Sometimes we just can't cope any more. Help us to rely on you more. Give us hope, that when we come to the end of our strength, you've just gotten started. Where we thought no possibilities existed, open our hearts to believe in what you are able to do. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped

They stripped off his clothes and began to mock him saying:
"All hail, king of the Jews!"

Jesus is stripped naked in front of everyone. He is laid bare for the world to see. God is humiliated before sinful people. There is pain, as scabs clotted to his clothing are pulled away. Then there is shame.

Father, there are many who feel exposed to the world, and who often feel ashamed: the young girl who has been raped, the woman who has been abused, those who lie in nursing homes and hospitals, those who are being treated for mental illness. Help us to be gentle with one another. Help us to be careful not to cause unneeded suffering. Help us to be careful with those whose spirits have been crushed. Help us to be gentle with our own wounded self. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross

After carrying his Cross, Jesus came to the
Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).
There they crucified him and two others with him

The hammers pound nails into raw flesh. Bones and tendons are separated, the hands curl in agony. Then the cross is raised up and dropped into place. An innocent man is killed.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, there is pain in our community. There are many innocent people who suffer. There is great unjustice all around us. We name the sins around us: racism, sexism, greed, idolotry of every kind, lack of respect between parents and children - the list goes on and on. That is why you are hanging there, Jesus. You still suffer because of us. You still suffer for us. You still weep for us. We see you in the least among us. We see you in those whom we are unjust to. Forgive us, Jesus, and help us. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Twelfth Station: Jesus dies

Jesus said, "I thirst!" and they gave him wine.
Then he cried, "It is finished"!"
and gave up his spirit.

~ time will be given for reflective silence and prayer ~

Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross

When the soldiers came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,

they did not break his legs.

But one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side,

and blood and water flowed out.

Kind Jewish men asked permission to take the body down. Kind Jewish men gently pried out the nails, and lifted the crown of thorns. A Jewish man - Christ - born of a loving Jewish mother, who called twelve Jewish disciples, and whose body was cared for by Jewish believers. And since that time, Christians have discriminated and killed millions of Jewish people.

Prayer: Remind us, Father, of the special bonds between Christians and Jews. They were first to hear your promise. They were the first to receive your Son. Help us to honor and love them. Keep us from racism of all kinds. Help us to respect those who are different from us, and to receive them as special gifts of your grace to us. Lord, in your mercy:

Hear our prayer.

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is placed in the tomb

Joseph of Arimethea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus,

and wrapped it in perfumed oils.

Then he buried Jesus in a tomb close at hand.

Jesus is placed in the tomb. Their friend is dead. Nothing to do now but go home - face an empty chair, an empty place at the table, and nurse the hole in their hearts. Their hearts are empty. Sometimes it is a long time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Prayer: Let us remember those who have left us in death, whom we miss, and all who have suffered great losses in their life: Lord Jesus, we remember those who have died, who rest in your bosom, especially those whom we name before you now (you are invited to remember the names of those who have died). Help us to remember that death is not the end of life, that you call us from life into greater life. Lord Jesus, by your death you took away the sting of death. Grant to us, your servants, so to follow where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in your, and wake in your likeness; to you, the author and giver of life, be all honor and glory, now and forever.


Concluding Prayer

Father, as Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem many time, we too have walked these streets before. As Jesus healed the sick and rescued the broken, help us to be agents of your healing and reconciling power. As he died for the sake of those who walked those streets daily, help us also to bear the burdens of this community - to bear the cross for the sake of the world. We ask your blessing on our community, on our churches and our people. Open hearts to receive the good news of the Gospel, and enable us to live in peace. May your angels watch over us and keep us, that the wicked one may have no power over us. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray.


Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

An example of some variations on the Stations for local use