A Primer for Protestants
As a protestant, I had heard of the Stations of the Cross but didn’t know anything about it until I decided to investigate it this year.
The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, which is a traditional processional route symbolizing the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The objective of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion Story of Christ. It’s one of the most popular devotions and the stations can be found in many Western Christian churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.
The Stations of the Cross originated in pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a desire to reproduce the Via Dolorosa. Imitating holy places was not a new concept. For example, the religious complex of Santo Stefano in Bologna, Italy, replicated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sacred sites, including the Mount of Olives and Valley of Josaphat.
Usually, a series of fourteen images will be arranged in numbered order along a path, and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This is done individually or in a procession usually on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his crucifixion. As a physical devotion involving standing, kneeling, and genuflections, the Stations of the Cross are tied with the Christian themes of repentance and mortification of the flesh.
The fourteen Stations of the Cross
- Jesus is condemned to death
- Jesus carries his cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his mother
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls the third time
- Jesus’ clothes are taken away
- Jesus is nailed to the cross
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Jesus is taken down from the cross
- Jesus is laid in the tomb.
The style, form, and placement of the stations vary widely. The typical stations are small plaques with reliefs or paintings placed around a church nave. Modern minimalist stations can be simple crosses with a numeral in the center. Occasionally the faithful might say the stations of the cross without there being any image, such as when the pope leads the stations of the cross around the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.
Obviously, as a Protestant, I was puzzled about station six. Who was Veronica? According to Catholic tradition, Veronica was a pious woman of Jerusalem who was moved with pity upon seeing Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha. As Jesus passed, Veronica wiped his faith. A miracle occurred when an impression of Jesus’s face was left upon the cloth called The Veil of Veronica.
And, I never knew that Jesus fell three times as featured in stations three, seven, and nine.
How protestants can pray the Stations of the Cross
In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced “Scriptural or Biblical Stations of the Cross.” These fourteen stations are tied to scriptures from the Passion story in the gospels.
- Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-41)
- Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (Mark 14:43-46)
- Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
- Jesus is denied by Peter (Matthew 26:69-75)
- Jesus is judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-5, 15)
- Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-3)
- Jesus takes up his cross (John 19:6, 15-17)
- Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross (Mark 15:21)
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
- Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-34)
- Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief (Luke 23:39-43)
- Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other (John 19:25-27)
- Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
- Jesus is laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)
The Stations of the Cross
You might try meditating on these scriptures at each station. You can use the artwork below.
If you want to pray the stations using the scriptures listed above, there are lots of resources online:
- Written resources
- Prayer apps
- YouTube videos
The next time you wear a necklace with featuring a cross, I hope you’ll remember the Passion Story and the Stations of the Cross. May you find Holy Week this year meaningful with the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
“Experimental Theology” blog by Richard Beck, March 28, 2022