Since the Second Vatican Council,
Catholics have been more
aware of the need to enter fully, consciously, and actively into
the Church's liturgy. Sacrosanctum concilium calls this "the aim
to be considered before all else" (SC, #14). At the center of our
Catholic faith is the celebration of the Eucharist, the other sacraments,
and the Liturgy of the Hours. The liturgy constitution
describes these liturgical rituals as the source and summit of
the Church's activity (SC, #10). And yet, with nearly 40 years of
celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular, some of the faithful do
not seem to be engaged in the ritual prayer of the Church.
Almost every Sunday, at my home parish, or when I attend a
liturgy at various places around the country, I see people praying
from a devotional book or clutching the Rosary during
the celebration of the Eucharist. As the liturgy constitution
says, "liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church,"
(SC, #9). It goes on to speak of popular devotions as being
"fashioned [so] that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons,
accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it,
and lead people to it since in fact, the liturgy, by its very nature
far surpasses any of them" (SC, #13). Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic
exhortation "For the Right Ordering and Development
of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary" (Marialis cultus) (February 2, 1974), noted, "exercises of piety should be harmonized
with the liturgy, not merged into it." (MC, #31) There
are times when communities try to attach the "Way of the
Cross" to a liturgy such as adoration and Benediction of
the Blessed Sacrament or the Liturgy of the Hours. This should
This article will examine the "Way of the Cross," providing
a historical overview, some examples of devotional settings,
and a look at recent settings that are in closer harmony with
the liturgical life of the Church.
The devotion the "Way of the Cross" or "Stations of the Cross"
is also referred to as the Via Crucis or Via Dolorosa. The Via
Crucis designates a stretch of road between the Antonia fortress
and Golgotha, along which according to tradition, Jesus Christ
walked under the weight of the Cross. The Way of the Cross
signifies a series of images or tableaux representing certain scenes
of Christ's Passion, each corresponding to an incident,
or a form of devotion connected with each depiction. It was
Pope Clement XII who officially recognized the Stations of
the Cross as a noble devotion for the Church in 1731, yet the
Church has never provided an official ritual.
The Stations of the Cross are depicted in works of art
made of stone, wood, or metal, sculpted or carved, as well as
paintings and engravings. The erection and use of the stations
started to appear in the house of the Church by the end of the
seventeenth century. Saint Leonard of Port Maurice (1676 -
1751) established the Way of the Cross in more than 500 places,
including the Coliseum, in Rome, sometime before 1751. Since
then it has become a tradition for the Pope to lead the Way of
the Cross through the Coliseum on Good Friday. Over the centuries
the number of stations varied, but 14 stations have been
part of the devotional life of the church for at least 500 years.
One of the most famous and oldest texts of the Way of
the Cross is attributed to Alphonsus Ligouri (1696 -1787),
founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
(CSSR). Each station begins with a text proclaimed by the
minister ("We adore you O Christ and we bless you") and a
response by the people ("because, by your holy cross you have
redeemed the world"). This text is adapted from a prayer before
the Blessed Sacrament attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi
(1181-1226). At some point the singing of the "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" ("Maintzisch
Gesangbuch," 1661) with a text
attributed to Jacopone da Todi
(1230 -1306) was added to the
Stations of the Cross along with
a recitation of the Lord's Prayer,
Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Since
the end of the Second Vatican
Council, it has become popular
to add a fifteenth station, usually
at the Eucharistic table, that
commemorates the Resurrection
I grew up in Butte, Montana, in the 1960s and '70s in a city
with a population of about 40,000, a melting pot of Irish, Finns,
Italians, Cornish, Welsh, Serbs, Chinese, and others. Butte is a
city with a sense of place and culture, with deep religious roots.
In those early years, Butte boasted ten Catholic parishes, eight
parochial grade schools, and two Catholic high schools. I remember
as a child our entire grade school, of nearly 500 students,
processing to the church on Friday afternoons during Lent to
celebrate the Stations of the Cross. The celebration included a
procession to each station by the priest, servers carrying candles
and the Processional Cross. Except for the response to the
opening dialogue, the singing of the "Stabat Mater," and the
recitation of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, the priest
read the texts. Yet the movement, the dialogue, the music and
the prayer, in which 500 students participated, was only a foretaste
of what was to come at the Sunday Eucharist.
When pilgrims pray the Way of the Cross, they often
make a connection between their suffering and the suffering of
Jesus. Pope John Paul II often preached on suffering and the
Way of the Cross during his lifetime. During the Pope's 1998
visit to Cuba, he met with the sick and the elderly at the Shrine
of Saint Lazarus at El Rincon, La Habana. Addressing the gathering
he said, "To our human questioning, the Lord responds
with a call, with a special vocation which is grounded in love.
Christ comes to us not with explanations and reasons, which
might either, anesthetize or alienate us. Instead, he comes to us
saying, 'Come with me. Follow me on the Way of the Cross.' "
Christ has taken the lead on the Way of the Cross. He has suffered
first. He does not drive us towards suffering but shares it
with us, wanting us to have life and to have it in abundance"
(see John 10:10). Praying the Way of the Cross is one example
of our journey through life, where we can conform ourselves to
the Passion of Christ and thus daily take up our cross and follow
after Christ (see Luke 9:23).
During the 1990s and into the new millennium, Pope John
Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have used a set of Stations that
differed from the traditional 14. Since Stations IV (Jesus meets
his mother), III, VII, IX (the three falls of Jesus), and station VI
(Veronica wipes the face of Jesus) are not mentioned in the
Bible, they were omitted. The Way of the Cross used by the
- Jesus on the Mount of Olives.
- Jesus betrayed by Judas is arrested.
- Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin.
- Peter denies Jesus.
- Jesus is judged by Pilate.
- Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns.
- Jesus takes up the cross.
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross.
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
- Jesus is crucified.
- Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief.
- Jesus on the cross, his mother and his disciples.
- Jesus dies on the cross.
- Jesus is placed in the tomb.
While some faith communities have adopted the stations
celebrated by Pope John Paul II, many have not. The Church
provides both sets of stations for the faithful.
On December 17, 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued the Directory on
Popular Piety and the Liturgy (DPPL). This Directory makes
several points about the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross:
- The Via Crucis is a most popular exercise where the faithful
follow the earthly journey of Christ. The love of the
devotion is made evident by the sheer number of Stations
erected throughout the world (DPPL, #131).
- The Via Crucis is a synthesis of various devotions of
the Church since the high Middle Ages and has consisted
of 14 stations since the middle of the seventh century
- The journey is a living memory of the Lord's final days on
earth and is an appropriate exercise for the season of Lent
- Whether using the text of the traditional 14 stations,
those approved by the Apostolic See or those used by
the Pope, the Directory suggested that following the example
of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem, which ends with a station
at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration
of the Lord's Resurrection (DPPL, #134).
- The Directory acknowledges that several choices of texts
are available for celebrating the Way of the Cross and yet
these principles should be embraced:
- The text should take into account the condition of
those participating in the celebration.
- The setting should observe the wise pastoral
principle of integrating renewal and continuity.
- Choose texts written with the biblical narrative,
and texts that are written in a clear, simple style
I recommend three newer settings of the Way of the Cross for
The first is The Way of the Cross, published by Liturgy
Training Publications of Chicago (2003). This resource will
serve varied parish groups. The collection contains, the Ordo
for the Traditional Jerusalem Stations, the Ordo for the
Scriptural Stations, and the Ordo for Walking with the Women
of the Gospels. Besides the leader/reader edition, there are three
booklets for use by the people. The leader/reader edition also
contains an overview of devotions, recent papal documentation,
and an overview of the content of the collection among other
catechetical insights. A two-page outline for "preparing
to walk the way" offers suggestions for organizing the celebrations.
Each of the three booklets contains inspirational illustrations
by Julie Lonneman. More information about these
resources can be found at www.LTP.org.
The second is The Biblical Way of the Cross, by David
Haas, published by GIA Publications of Chicago (2005). This
setting follows the biblical model Pope John Paul II initiated in
1991. The Biblical Way of the Cross offers a scriptural account of
the condemnation and Crucifixion of Jesus. This setting
includes scripture readings arranged for two readers and musical
responses for the people, composed by Haas and Marty
Haugen. The iconic art of Nicholas Markell draws one into the
mystery of Christ's Passion. More information can be found at
Finally, The Way of the Cross for Children, by Christopher
Walker, Paule Freeburg, dc, and Jean Germano, published by
Oregon Catholic Press (2003). This setting includes a leader's
book, a children's book, a CD, bookmarks with the art from
each station, and laminated posters of each station. A common
acclamation with the text "By your cross you have set us free" is
used for each station. Additional music is included for each station.
The children's book contains an opening and closing
prayer along with the music and the colorful art by Germano.
Germano's watercolors of each station draw both children and
adults into the mystery of the Passion. Walker and Ferburg's
music and texts take up the call of the DPPL to provide both
texts (and music) "written in a clear, simple style" (135). More
information can be found at www.ocp.org.
Following the Way of the Cross during the season of Lent prefigures
the Proclamation of the Passion and the Veneration of
the Cross on Good Friday. When we walk the Way of the Cross,
we mark our earthly journey toward our true home in heaven,
conform ourselves to the Passion of Christ, and rehearse our call
to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609
is the liturgy specialist and editor of Today's
Liturgy at Oregon Catholic Press. He is the coauthor of Parish Liturgy
Basics, published by Pastoral Press. He has served as a musician and
liturgist at parish, cathedral, and diocesan levels.