Stations of the Cross
Lent begins this Wednesday, and the ‘Via Crucis’ or ‘Way of the Cross’ is a very popular devotion during the Lenten season. The story of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ goes right back to the first Good Friday, when the apostles, disciples and followers of Our Lord began to tread the very same ‘Via dolorosa’ or ‘Way of Sorrows’ Our Lord Himself walked to save us. In the early centuries, Christians from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to walk the same holy road. But then Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Muslims and so this devotion became very dangerous and eventually impossible. So the Church decided that the devotion could be performed in individual parish churches.
From the earliest days this devotion was promoted by the Franciscans. St Francis had a great devotion to Our Lord’s Passion and was the first to bear the stigmata (the wounds of Christ). The Church attached Indulgences to making the Stations, at first only for the Franciscans, but then Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 extended this to the whole Church and it became commonplace to see the Stations of the Cross in all Catholic churches.
Traditionally there are fourteen Stations, and most of the episodes are described in the Gospels. A few are not, such as JESUS’ three falls, His meeting with His Mother, and Veronica wiping His face. These incidents are part of tradition which is also a sound source of history.
Every time you make the Stations of the Cross you may gain a Plenary Indulgence. The Catechism describes an Indulgence as the remission of temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt is already forgiven in Confession (CCC #1471). Every sin has two consequences: guilt and debt. In the Sacrament of Penance we confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness and perform a penance. So through a good Confession the guilt of our sins is removed, and if we have committed a mortal or grave sin which cuts us off from God, we are restored to God’s grace and thus we avoid Hell. But the debt still has to be paid. That debt is paid either in this life or in Purgatory where God heals us and undoes the damage we have done. This is where Indulgences help us, because they help us to pay the debt of sin in this life. So it’s a good idea to try and gain as many Indulgences as we can. We may also apply any Indulgences we gain to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
So how do you gain an Indulgence by making the Stations of the Cross? The Stations must be lawfully erected, which they are in St Mary’s. There must be fourteen crosses and we must meditate on the Passion and Death of Our Lord at each Station. Those unable to come to church may also gain the Indulgence by spending 15 minutes in devout reading and meditation on Our Lord’s Passion. In addition to making the Stations, one must be in a state of grace, have a detachment from all sin, even venial sin, make a sacramental Confession within a week either before or after, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the Pope’s intentions which we do at the end of the Stations anyway. If one doesn’t fulfil all these conditions, the Indulgence is partial, but one must be in a state of grace. You can fulfil all these conditions on a Friday evening by making your Confession before the 6.30pm Mass, receiving Holy Communion at Mass, followed by making the Stations.
This devotion helps us to think of what Our Lord did for us and the great love He showed in doing it. By devoutly making the Stations, it helps us to return some of that love. Be sure to try and gain the Indulgence at least once this Lent.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC