The Way of the Cross

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, the Church’s 40-day period of preparation for the annual Feast of the Resurrection, Easter.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and for the second Sunday the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. In Year C, the Gospels for the third, fourth and fifth Sundays focus on the fruits of baptism: repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness.
A popular practice in many parishes during Lent is the Stations of the Cross. Several communities celebrate the Stations on Good Friday with people from other Christian traditions. It is an ideal form of ecumenical worship. For some it is an outdoor event with participants walking from station to station along the Way of the Cross. For others it is a spiritual journey with Jesus that allows them to express the subjective dimension of their faith.
The form of devotion known as the Stations of the Cross arose after pilgrims began to visit the Holy Land from the end of the 4th century to follow the path that Jesus trod in his last week of life. On Palm Sunday they walked down from the summit of the Mount of Olives, singing psalms and antiphons. On Thursday people processed to Gethsemane where the Lord prayed. On Friday they gathered at Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, to venerate the Wood of the Cross.
Christians who heard these stories but were unable to travel to Palestine themselves reproduced a parallel devotion at home. The first recorded “Stations of the Cross” were at the Church of San Stefano in Bologna in the 5th century. The Franciscans popularised the practice during the Middle Ages, but the number and subject of the stations was not settled until the 18th century. The fourteen stations that were established were a blend of biblical and legendary material.
In 1975 the Congregation for Sacred Rites suggested a list of Stations of the Cross more in keeping with the gospel accounts. The Congregation also encouraged the use of this devotional practice over all the seasons of the liturgical year.
The new selection of fourteen stations is scripturally based and covers a fuller span of the events of our salvation. It begins with the Last Supper and concludes with Jesus’ resurrection. Although the stations focus on the suffering of Jesus, they must never ignore our belief that the Cross is a symbol of victory, not defeat.
The Liturgical Commission has produced a booklet, ‘The Way of the Cross’, featuring these Stations and using images painted by renowned Australian artist Lawrence Daws. The text follows a simple format with scripture readings, people’s responses and verses from the hymn Stabat Mater. Cost is $5.45 singly or $3.95 each for 25 or more, plus GST. Purchasers of 50 or more copies receive a free CD containing a PowerPoint presentation of the 14 images.
As we remember the sufferings of Jesus, we are led into the celebration of Christ’s victory over death and into the renewal of our commitment to the life of faith at the Easter sacraments.

Elizabeth Harrington