Saint Theodora wrote on her return voyage to the United States from France (1843-44):
It was not yet four o’clock in the afternoon and darkness had already spread over the horizon. If a storm is dreadful by day, it is still more awful by night. The lamps cannot be lighted, nor can anything be distinguished, save the white foam of the waves which seem greedy to devour us.
We assembled together for prayer. We looked no more for repose in this world and though we were covered with perspiration from the tossing of the ship, which trembled like a person in a nervous attack, we did not notice our fatigue. We had begun again the Way of the Cross, and offered anew to our dying Savior the sacrifice of our lives. In spite of the terrors of our weak nature, we could say to Him with confidence, “My God, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. “
Saint Theodora naturally turned to one of her favorite devotions in difficult times. The Way of the Cross, also known as Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis, and Via Dolorosa, is a devotional that focuses on Christ’s Passion. The prayers and meditations imitate a pilgrimage to places in Jerusalem of Christ’s suffering and death.
The Way of the Cross has been practiced in some variation since medieval times. The form we commonly pray today was approved by Pope Clement XVII in the 1700s. It consists of prayers and meditations surrounding the Stations of the Cross. When prayed in public, it also is customary to sing a stanza from the Stabat Mater.
The Stations may be viewed in a pamphlet or book or visited in a church or holy site that are painted, engraved, or sculptured from stone, wood, or metal. They also may be meditated upon using a chaplet–a string of beads and medals.
The Holy Father leads a variation of the Way of the Cross in the Coliseum on the evening of Good Friday that is more biblical in form. It omits stations that are not directly from the bible such as Jesus’ three falls and his encounters with his mother and Veronica. Instead, stations such as Jesus’ agony in the garden, the unjust sentence of Pilate, the promise of paradise to the good thief, and the presence of Jesus’ mother and disciple at the foot of the cross are added.
Following is the traditional form for praying the Way of the Cross with prayers from a pamphlet from the Basilica of the National shrine of the Immaculate Conception. After making the Sign of the Cross and praying the Opening Prayer, say the little prayer before each station, meditate on one of the stations, and then pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be. When you have completed the 14 Stations, pray the Closing Prayer and make the Sign of the Cross.
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Sign of the Cross
Lord Jesus, help me to be open to your closeness and presence as I begin this journey to Calvary with you. Help me to find in your Passion and Death the strength to take up my cross and follow you.
Prayer before each station:
I adore you, Lord Jesus, and I praise you because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.
The Stations of the Cross:
1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus carries his cross.
3. Jesus falls the first time.
4. Jesus meets his mother.
5. Jesus is helped by Simon.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
7. Jesus falls the second time.
8. Jesus meats the women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
11. Jesus is nailed o the cross.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
After each station, pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be.
Lord Jesus, help me to walk with you each day of my life, even to Calvary. The sorrow and joy, the pain and the healings, the failures and triumphs of my life are truly small deaths and resurrections that lead me to closeness with you. Give me the faith and trust I need to walk with you always. Amen.
(Photo of the stone station on the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.)
©2014, Mary K. Doyle