In the history of Christianity, and of Roman Catholicism in particular, there has developed a wide variety of devotional practices. Whether done individually or corporately their purpose is to build and strengthen a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. Devotions are a way of bringing into our daily lives the sanctifying grace received in the sacraments so that the Holy Spirit, whom we received in baptism and affirmed in confirmation and who is nourished in the Eucharist, may empower us to conform ourselves ever more fully to the teachings of Christ and his Church. Some devotions are closely associated with particular seasons of the liturgical year, and in Lent it is the Stations of the Cross that focus our attention on the events in Jesus’ life that led to his offering his life in sacrifice.
Every time we enter a church building we are literally surrounded by the Stations since the custom is to place them on the perimeter walls with seven on one side and seven on the other. Yet, how often do we even look at them? Their presence is so familiar to us that we tend to pay little attention to them. Lent, however, is the time to stop and take a good look at them and to ask ourselves why they are there and what we can learn from them.
The Stations have an interesting history, their origins dating from the years following the Crusades (1095-1270) when it became customary to set up shrines representing several key moments from the time of Jesus appearing before Pilate through to his death on the Cross and his being laid in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. This was originally done to provide people who could not journey to Jerusalem to experience the sites where these events took place first hand with a way of making a substitute journey to unite themselves to Jesus’ sacrifice. It is interesting to note that the Stations were originally an outdoor phenomenon and varied in number from five to twenty (!) until the eighteenth century when Pope Clement XII fixed their number to fourteen. By that time it had become common to have indoor Stations in most churches.
It is also interesting to note that technically speaking the representations of each event commemorated are not themselves the “stations.” Rather, the Station is the wooden cross that is either above or to the side of the graphic which can be of any medium (for example, oil paintings at SS Peter & Paul and marble at Sr. John). With this background in mind, I would encourage us to “make the stations” this Lent. We do so as a congregation each Wednesday evening at 6:30 at St. John and each Friday morning at 11:15 at SS Peter & Paul. This Lenten devotion provides us with a very practical way of making a sacrifice in honor of the Lord and of uniting our sufferings to those of Christ which assure us of the redemption he won for us on the Cross.
Be at peace,
Father Dennis Mende