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Stations of the Cross Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 11 March 2012

Prayer at the Stations of the Cross is a great devotion, especially during Lent, because it allows us to follow Jesus along the road to Calvary. Pope John Paul II used to say them every Friday during the year as well. If we were considering the crucifixion of someone else, we could do it once and file it away as an historical thing that we know something about. So what is so special about Jesus’ crucifixion?

Well, Benedict XVI explained it this way: “What on the outside is simply brutal violence – the Crucifixion – from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. . . .Violence is transformed into love, and death into life.” This is the event of God’s total self-giving. This is what is so unique.

It involved a sinless human being united to the person of the Divine Son who eternally returns all that he is to the Father in love. He does this right here in our history. Nothing will ever be the same again. As we walk along Jesus’ journey of suffering, we begin to see: we get spiritual clues to total self-giving in love from the one who has gone before us. Catholicism expresses that infinite selfless love of God.

In Saint Alphonsus Liguori’s version of the stations, one of my favorites, we pray: “You have made this journey to die for me with unspeakable love.” This is the love that burns eternally in the Godhead and it is being poured out right here on earth. Moreover, walking alongside this miracle of real love as it happens is Mary, Jesus’ Mother, who has to watch her son being tormented to death. Hence we sing the verses of the Stabat Mater as we move from station to station.

After the first station, for example, we sing: “At the cross her station keeping, Stood the mournful Mother weeping, Close to Jesus to the last.”

Then we slowly pray our way through the stages of Jesus’ suffering: Pilate condemns Jesus; Jesus accepts his Cross; Jesus falls the first time; Jesus meets his mother; Simon helps Jesus carry the cross and so on.

Everything else is shut out for a while. We focus on this sad procession of a man going to his death, and going because of us. You can feel the preoccupations of the day being thrust aside as we focus all of our mind and heart on this pivotal event in human history.

The rhythm of prayer is the same at each station. In Ligouri’s version, at the eleventh station, Christ is nailed to the cross, the leader says: “We adore you O Christ and we bless you.” We genuflect – this prayer involves body, mind, and heart. It also unifies body, mind, and heart as our words and actions express the same thing. Here the Christian attitude is summed up in one phrase. We then respond: “because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

        XII: Where Christ Dies upon the Cross  (Leonard Porter)

This is the mystery that radiates through the whole world, whether the world likes it or not. In fact the world’s opposition put Christ on the cross in the first place.

Then as we have disposed ourselves, the leader sets the scene: “Consider Jesus, thrown down upon the cross, He stretched out His arms and offered to His eternal Father the sacrifice of His life for our salvation. They nailed His hands and feet, and then, raising the cross, left Him to die in anguish.”

And we respond: “My despised Jesus, / nail my heart to the cross / that it may always remain there to love You and never leave You again. / I love You more than myself; / I am sorry for ever having offended You. / Never permit me to offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.”

We are expressing the deepest sentiments of our soul. Or perhaps not? If the latter, then the words can dispose our soul so that this communal prayer molds our interior life.

If you think about it, going through this prayer we see what interior life is really like. We have the representation of the life of Jesus in front of us and we are gathered in adoration and prayer. By contemplating Jesus, our souls learn to stretch and take in the wonder of salvation.

We don’t cut Jesus’ expression of love down to our size; with his help we expand to his size. So “that Christ may dwell in you hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by 4Subsidiarity, March 11, 2012
We have been subjected to a Stations of the Cross liturgy put together by Development and Peace. It looks like something that could have been written by David Suzuki. It was alarmist, anti-western and so on. I would like to know if this is appropriate and whether the Bishops approve of this?
written by Fr. Bramwell, March 11, 2012
Not having seen it I have no idea. The rules for devotion are wider than they would be for sacraments for example. But the text of the devotion still has to be theological and theologically accurate. Your diocese could discern that for you.
written by Patrick K, March 11, 2012
I attended Stations of the Cross recently at St. John Cantius in Chicago and we used a text that I happened to notice was copyrighted in 1936. It mentioned the indulgence for attendance, which was interesting to me. I am 31 years old and I don't remember ever hearing of indulgences before. (I knew what they were, mostly from reading about the history of the Protestant Reformation, but I had never encountered them in a liturgical setting.) I suppose that Vatican II (or the "spirit" thereof) made the granting of indulgences no longer fashionable? I don't know.

It seems to me it might be helpful to remind us lay faithful that there are such things as indulgences, and that the Church has the authority to grant them. Of course, the perfect saint would be content to obey the laws simply out of love, and then merely, meekly ask "that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will."

But since I'm not a perfect saint, I found it encouraging to know that God would respond in an appreciable way to my attendance, namely with an indulgence. That it meant something.

And as an aside, why were ornate altars removed? St. John Cantius and St. Mary of Perpetual Help are two of the churches in Chicago that I attend that have kept them. The other church I usually go to is Holy Name Cathedral. It took out the altar and now has an abstract wooden design, with a small coat-of-arms of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

St. John Cantius and St. Mary of Perpetual Help have kept them, along with their statues, murals, and other Polskie rzeczy... beautiful colors. Did the Romans think them campy or cartoonish?
written by Randall, March 12, 2012
@Patrick K, I'm guessing you're Polish? (Polskie rzeczy) My wife's Polish and we currently live in Poland. As to your question why some parishes have removed the ornate altars and decor . . . I don't want to answer for the priests of those parishes. Who knows exactly why they've done that. But I'm familiar with the phenomenom. Maybe they were embarrassed by the richness of what they had? Maybe they think they're being more modest? Maybe they're trying to appeal to American Protestants?
I grew up American Protestant and I have to say I love the traditional, beautiful Catholic churches. I believe that any "permanent" structure where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated ought to be as beautiful as human beings can possibly make them.
Finally, one thought on the Stations of the Cross. It happens to me every single time in the 12th station, where Jesus dies, and every one kneels and there's a moment of heart rending silence before we all pray the Our Father. I can barely gasp out the Our Father at that moment because my heart is in my throat. All I want to do is weep in sorrow and gratitude.
God loves us so very, very much - I can hardly fathom it.
written by debby, March 13, 2012
Thank you, Fr.
Praying the Stations are so dear and precious to me. As a convert, I found them compelling and between them and the deeper fasting, Lent has become one of my most favorite times of the year. It reminds me of the last month before the baby comes....such anticipation and suffering, a true ache for Resurrection and Eternal Life.
My parish uses this very moving version of Stations. by the end of them i can no longer sing, and barely speak the prayers aloud.
Caryll Houselander's meditation The Way of the Cross is also very inspirational. Some of her meditations, written during the bombing of London in WW2, are gritty yet deeply moving; the stark reality of my sin and my only chance of redemption-His suffering, all His blood.
This Faith is so RICH in grace and beauty. What a unfathomable privilege to be His!

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