The Stations of the Cross

What are the fourteen stations, and from where are they derived?

There are normally fourteen stations, derived from the Gospel accounts of the Passion and from the Church’s Tradition. In early times, many versions existed, ranging from five stations to more than thirty, but fourteen appears to have been set on in the Low Countries some time in the sixteenth century, and set as the number when the Stations of the Cross was regulated by Pope Clement XII in 1731.

The fourteen stations are usually:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus takes up his Cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his afflicted mother
  5. The Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene
  6. A woman (Veronica) wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls a second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for a third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus dies upon the Cross
  13. The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

NB. In some churches, there is a fifteenth station, for the Resurrection, that is used particularly in Eastertide. In churches where there is no fifteenth station, the Altar is generally treated as the station of the Resurrection.

What is the Stations of the Cross
(also known as the Way of the Cross or Via Crucis)?

It is essentially a series of 14 numbered crosses around a church, often marked by images, pictures or carvings depicting incidents in Christ’s last journey from Pilate’s house to his entombment. Although the images or carvings that accompany the stations of the cross may be very elaborate, it is not the images that are important, but the sense of place and of movement – the Stations or Way of the Cross is a pilgrimage.

The Stations of the Cross, with its emphasis on the Passion and Death of Christ, is often a particularly Lenten devotion, but can and should be used all-year round. It originates in the great importance of Pilgrimage in the medieval era. First, from the practice of pilgrims to Jerusalem retracing the steps of Our Lord on his journey to the Cross, offering prayers at particular points along the way. It would have been, and still is, very powerful being at or near the very places where those final events in Our Lord’s life took place. Once home they wanted to carry on that devotion and so set up Stations in their churches at home.

Second, many, many people could not go on Pilgrimage to Jerusalem – it was too expensive, they could be away for months or years, long-distance travel was very dangerous, and the ebb and flow of the Crusades made getting to Jerusalem more or less difficult, or even impossible – so the Stations provided a way of making that pilgrimage while not having to travel to the Holy Land.

In the Stations of the Cross, we follow Jesus Christ in his passion and to see ourselves mirrored in him. We bear the imprint of the Way of the Cross. We are judged unjustly, we fall, we find life’s journey hard, we know the mystery of death, and we recoil from it. To face life’s dark side in ourselves and in our world, we need images of hope, and Jesus offers images of hope in his passion.

As TS Elliot said, ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality.’ Through his passion and resurrection, Jesus transforms the reality of evil we find hard to bear. By accompanying him on the Way of the Cross, we gain his courageous patience and learn to trust in God who delivers us from evil – we very much do all of these devotions because they are effective not for the sake of it.

A typical format for the Stations of the Cross:

The Stations of the Cross is often led by a Priest or Deacon, robed in cassock and cotta, especially in Lent when it forms part of a parishes Lenten devotions. However, there is no reason why Stations should not be lead as a group devotion by a member of the clergy not robed, or by a member of the laity, or done alone as a private devotion.

  1. Start at the Altar with prayer.
  2. Move to the first or next station, singing or saying a verse from the Stabat Mater (the hymn At the Cross her station keeping, which can be found in most comprehensive hymn books, such as the Celebration Hymnal for Everyone No. 57, or the New English Hymnal No. 97).
  3. The station is announced.
  4. All Genuflect as leader says ‘We adore you O Christ and we bless you’.
  5. The response is ‘Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world’.
  6. After a brief silence, a scriptural or similar reading relating to that station is read, followed by a mediatation and prayer.
  7. All then move on to next station.
  8. This pattern is repeated for each station, with the exception that at the twelfth station (Jesus dies on the Cross) one convention is that one does not simply genuflect but remains kneeling throughout the station and keeps a longer silence before the reading or meditation.
  9. After the fourteenth station, the leader of the devotion returns to the Altar for concluding prayers.