Praying Stations of the Cross, a Primer for Protestants

As a protestant, I had heard of the Stations of the Cross but didn’t know anything about it until I decided to investigate it this year.

The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, which is a traditional processional route symbolizing the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The objective of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion Story of Christ. It’s one of the most popular devotions and the stations can be found in many Western Christian churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.

The Stations of the Cross originated in pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a desire to reproduce the Via Dolorosa. Imitating holy places was not a new concept. For example, the religious complex of Santo Stefano in Bologna, Italy, replicated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sacred sites, including the Mount of Olives and Valley of Josaphat.

Usually, a series of fourteen images will be arranged in numbered order along a path, and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This is done individually or in a procession usually on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his crucifixion. As a physical devotion involving standing, kneeling, and genuflections, the Stations of the Cross are tied with the Christian themes of repentance and mortification of the flesh.

The fourteen 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. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross 
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus 
  7. Jesus falls the second time 
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 
  9. Jesus falls the third time 
  10. Jesus’ clothes are taken away 
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross 
  12. Jesus dies on the cross 
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

The style, form, and placement of the stations vary widely. The typical stations are small plaques with reliefs or paintings placed around a church nave. Modern minimalist stations can be simple crosses with a numeral in the center. Occasionally the faithful might say the stations of the cross without there being any image, such as when the pope leads the stations of the cross around the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.

Protestant puzzlement

Obviously, as a Protestant, I was puzzled about station six. Who was Veronica? According to Catholic tradition, Veronica was a pious woman of Jerusalem who was moved with pity upon seeing Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha. As Jesus passed, Veronica wiped his faith. A miracle occurred when an impression of Jesus’s face was left upon the cloth called The Veil of Veronica.

And, I never knew that Jesus fell three times as featured in stations three, seven, and nine.

How protestants can pray the Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced “Scriptural or Biblical Stations of the Cross.” These fourteen stations are tied to scriptures from the Passion story in the gospels.

  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-41)
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (Mark 14:43-46)
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter (Matthew 26:69-75)
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-5, 15)
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-3)
  7. Jesus takes up his cross (John 19:6, 15-17)
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross (Mark 15:21)
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
  10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-34)
  11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief (Luke 23:39-43)
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other (John 19:25-27)
  13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)

The Stations of the Cross

You might try meditating on these scriptures at each station. You can use the artwork below.

Online Resources

If you want to pray the stations using the scriptures listed above, there are lots of resources online:

  • Written resources
  • Prayer apps
  • YouTube videos
  • Podcasts

The next time you wear a necklace with featuring a cross, I hope you’ll remember the Passion Story and the Stations of the Cross. May you find Holy Week this year meaningful with the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

by Debora Buerk
Editor
Here & Now
Selah Community

Sources

“Experimental Theology” blog by Richard Beck, March 28, 2022
Wikipedia

Lent (n.)

Lent (noun). From the Old English lencten meaning springtime or spring. “The fast of Lent,” comes from the West Germanic for “long-days,” or “lengthening of the day.”

Lent (n.) the “period between Ash Wednesday and Easter,” from the late 14th century Lenten (n.) In the Christian calendar (early 12th century), “the forty days of fasting before Easter.” Also from the Old English lencten  meaning springtime or spring. “The fast of Lent,” comes from the West Germanic for “long-days,” or “lengthening of the day.”

In the Christian church, Lent is a time to meditate and reflect on the life of Jesus Christ: his life, affliction, atonement, death, burial, and resurrection. Lent’s length refers to the forty days he spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4).

Lent is about our relationship with Christ. Like all relationships, it has seasons of trial and deprivation, as well as seasons of joy. Lent helps us see where our wants have become distorted into needs. It’s the humble acknowledgment that our appetites can and should make us more forgiving.

Lent is a promise to walk with Jesus. To put our hand in His trustingly, no matter what it requires—into the wilderness or to the cross. Lent is the time to renew our promise to follow Jesus. Just as Naomi said to Ruth, “Wither thou goest, I will go.” (Ruth 1:16 KJV)

The trap of Lent is legalism. The spiritual practice of fasting from food, a vice, a bad habit, or a pleasure. Lent should not be confused with New Year’s resolutions. Nor is it a self-improvement project.

Lent is a time of repentance—an awareness that sin separates us from God and what it cost Jesus Christ to reunite us. Perhaps Lent might be a time to give up our resolutions and instead listen for God’s leading.

by Debora Buerk
Selah Community

Excerpt from
Reflections: A Journey through Lent into Easter
Debora Buerk, Editor
Available on Amazon

The History of Lent

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

Ash Wednesday is the day on which the season of Lent begins. It is named for the ashes used in the service to make the sign of the cross on one’s forehead. Created from last year’s Palm Sunday palms, the ashes are used to remind worshipers that all humans are mortal, hence the phrase used at committal services in cemeteries: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” This phrase, in turn, is based in part on Genesis 3:19, the concluding words of God’s words to Adam who hides in shame, recognizing the separation from God that entered human experience and history in the Garden of Eden:

                        By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for
out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust, you shall return

Genesis 3:19

The use of ashes is based on the practice in biblical times of imposing ashes as a sign of penitence and mourning about that separation. We are mourning sin that so easily entangles us and our world, the separation that leads to human mortality, resulting in death.

Lent is a period of forty days of spiritual preparation for Easter. The forty days are taken from Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness before His ministry began. The counting of the days excludes Sundays, which are regarded as “little Easters,” thus the total of 47 days. The English word “Lent” comes from a German word which means “spring.” The observance of a 40-day period of preparation for Easter in the Christian Church can be traced back as far as 325 AD. The name “Lent” came much later. Historically, it has especially involved the spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

In present time, regardless of a particular church tradition, the season becomes a time of reflection and intention to honor the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It provides a time to consider one’s own life in light of a relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God, knowing we are being invited, again and again, into a transforming communion. No longer separated, we linger in this place of prayer, fasting, and giving of ourselves to God and others. The faint hope of Easter, ever present, builds through the season, preparing our hearts to receive the gift of God’s self in Jesus the Christ, an ongoing discovery of what resurrection offers us all.

Blessing the Dust

For Ash Wednesday

 

All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if all you had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners

or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial—

did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?

This is the day

we freely say

we are scorched.

This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.

This is the moment

we ask for the blessing

that lives within

the ancient ashes,

that makes its home

inside the soil of

this sacred earth.

So let us be marked

not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

not for shame.

Let us be marked

not for false humility

or for thinking

we are less

than we are

but for claiming

what God can do

within the dust,

within the dirt,

within the stuff

of which the world

is made

and the stars that blaze

in our bones

and the galaxies that spiral

inside the smudge

we bear.

Jan Richardson
Painted Prayer Book