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Celebrating the Way of the Cross

2015-03-23 08:46

During Lent, most parishes celebrate the Way of the Cross, especially on Good Friday.  It is a practice which originated very early in our history as people wanted to retrace the steps of Jesus on his way to Calvary. As early as the 5th century efforts were made to create the holy places in other countries. However it was the Franciscans who created the Stations of the Cross as we know them today, enabling people to walk the Via Dolorosa even if they could not travel to Jerusalem.

It was St Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751) who was particularly associated with the Stations of the Cross, especially in Rome, where he is buried. He was responsible for setting up no fewer than 572 sets of Stations across Italy.  During Lent, he preached in the Roman churches, making it a time of pilgrimage with the Lord, moving from one church to the next for the 40 days of the season.  It seems that the traditional fourteen Stations are the ones he made the most memorable.

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In 1975 the North American College in Rome opted to revive, for the English-speaking community, the ancient custom of the ‘Station Churches’.  Every morning throughout Lent, Mass is offered in a different church, so that there is a 40-day pilgrimage throughout the city.  It’s a very precious, very beautiful custom, involving, not only the main basilicas, but also some of the oldest churches, some of which are the burial places of the early Christians – and especially, of early Christian martyrs.  Lent thus becomes, not only a 40-day pilgrimage marking the passion and death of Jesus, but also that of his followers during 2,000 years of Christianity. It is a journey from tragedy and despair to new life and hope in the Resurrection.

Today, we are very fortunate. Thanks to printing and to modern technology, we do not need to travel to Jerusalem, or even to our local church, in order to make the Stations of the Cross. We can celebrate them within our own homes as stopping places where we reflect on life’s greatest truth: that God became a human being, living and dying amongst us.

St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists and a contemporary of St Leonard of Port Maurice, composed what subsequently became one of the world’s most popular set of meditations on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Following the structure gradually established by the Franciscan, he wrote brief reflections and prayers which would enable people to “make the Stations” in public or in private. He also introduced verses of the hymn At the cross her station keeping (Stabat Mater) between the various Stations. Nearly 300 years later, Redemptorist Publications continue to encourage young and old to walk the Way of the Cross with Jesus.

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The Stations of the Cross - St Alphonsus

Let's Go the Way of the Cross (for children)

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