The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross and the Way of Sorrow (Via Crucis in Latin), detail fourteen different moments on the day Jesus died.
This prayer pilgrimage is a powerful way to grow closer to Jesus at any time of the year, though it is most popular during the Lenten season.
“The cross of Christ, embraced with love, never brings sadness with it, but joy, the joy of being saved and doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.” – Pope Francis
What are the Stations of the Cross?
The Stations of the Cross are commonly prayed during the Lenten season. Tradition holds that Christ died on a Friday at 3 p.m. Because of this, many parishes offer Stations of the Cross services at this time on Fridays during Lent.
However, you can pray the Stations of the Cross at any time of the day, and you’re not limited to Lent when it comes to this devotion to Christ.
Brief Origin of the Stations of the Cross
Tradition holds that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Blessed Mother retraced Jesus’ last day every day.
Over the centuries following Christ’s Resurrection, this practice transformed into what we know as the Stations of the Cross today. To put it simply, the Good News continued to spread, and so did the popularity of following in the footsteps of Christ, either in the Holy Land or with the stations elsewhere.
However, it wasn’t until 1462 that the word “stations” was associated with this pilgrimage, either a replicated one or through the original sites; historians credit William Wey with the term “stations.”
Franciscans and the Stations of the Cross
In the early thirteenth century, St. Francis of Assisi made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, he had to get special permission to visit because the Crusades were still occurring.
So, while Jerusalem was still under Muslim rule, St. Francis founded the Custody of the Holy Land in 1217, with permission of his Franciscan order. In 1342, the Vatican recognized the Franciscans as the official custodians of holy places (including monasteries, churches, hospitals, and other holy sites).
The Franciscans continue to take care of the physical and original holy places we recognize in the Stations of the Cross.
After this recognition, the Franciscans began replicating these sacred moments and sites around Europe. While this movement started with building the shrines outside, the Franciscans also built stations indoors — in churches around Europe.
This wasn’t approved by the Vatican at the time, but the Franciscans continued requesting that the replication of holy places be approved by the Church. Finally, Pope Innocent XI approved this request in 1686.
Nowadays, most churches have the Stations of the Cross in an interior or outdoor area for walking meditation.
Original and Scriptural Stations
The original Stations of the Cross were passed down through tradition, following the footsteps of Christ’s last day on earth, as we read the Gospels.
On Good Friday in 1991, Pope St. John Paul II celebrated the Stations of the Cross with an alternative to the original Stations of the Cross. These alternative Stations of the Cross lead us back to the Scriptural moments leading up to Christ’s Passion.
Because of this, we call them the “Scriptural Stations of the Cross.”
Below, you can read the 14 Stations of the Cross in their original and Scriptural forms. Both devotions are beautiful to pray with as you look to grow closer to Christ.
The First Station
Original: Jesus is condemned to death.
Scriptural: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26: 36-41)
The Second Station
Original: Jesus is given His cross.
Scriptural: Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. (Mk. 14: 43-46)
The Third Station
Original: Jesus falls down for the first time.
Scriptural: Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin. (Lk. 22: 66-71)
The Fourth Station
Original: Jesus meets His mother Mary.
Scriptural: Jesus is denied by Peter. (Matt. 26: 69-75)
The Fifth Station
Original: Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross.
Scriptural: Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate. (Mk. 15: 1-5, 15)
The Sixth Station
Original: Veronica wipes Jesus’ face.
Scriptural: Jesus is scourged at the pillar and crowned with thorns. (Jn. 19: 1-3)
The Seventh Station
Original: Jesus falls down for the second time.
Scriptural: Jesus bears the cross. (Jn. 19: 6, 15-7)
The Eighth Station
Original: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Scriptural: Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross. (Mk. 15: 21)
The Ninth Station
Original: Jesus falls down for the third time.
Scriptural: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. (Lk. 23: 27-31)
The Tenth Station
Original: Jesus is stripped of His clothing.
Scriptural: Jesus is crucified (Lk. 23: 33-34).
The Eleventh Station
Original: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
Scriptural: Jesus promises his Kingdom to the repentant thief. (Lk. 23: 39-43)
The Twelfth Station
Original: Jesus dies on the cross. (Optional but appropriate to remain kneeling for this station)
Scriptural: Jesus speaks to his mother and the Beloved Disciple. (Jn. 19: 25-27)
The Thirteenth Station
Original: Jesus’ body is removed from the cross.
Scriptural: Jesus dies on the cross. (Lk. 23: 44-46) (Optional but appropriate to remain kneeling for this station)
The Fourteenth Station
Original: Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb.
Scriptural: Jesus is placed in the tomb. (Matt. 27: 57-60)
Why do we pray the Stations of the Cross?
“The Way of the Cross is…a school for the examination of conscience, for conversion, for inner transformation and compassion — not as sentimentality, as a mere feeling, but as a disturbing experience that knocks on the door of my heart, that obliges me to know myself and to become a better person.”
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Following Jesus as he makes the way to his death is disturbing; this is not a comfortable prayer. But by remembering the Stations of the Cross, walking with Jesus, and taking up our own crosses as Jesus calls us to do, we are pulled out of our selfishness.
We become more willingly patient, loving, and sacrificial. We become more like the people God created us to be when we remember Christ’s sacrifice.
When do we pray the Stations of the Cross?
We commonly pray the Stations of the Cross during the Lenten season. Tradition holds that Christ died on a Friday at 3 p.m. Because of this, many parishes offer Stations of the Cross services at this time on Fridays during Lent.
However, you can pray the Stations of the Cross at anytime of day, and you’re not limited to Lent when it comes to this devotion to Christ.
How to Pray the Stations of the Cross at Home
The most common way of praying the Stations of the Cross is in a church or at an outdoor shrine, allowing the images of each station in the sanctuary guide you. But you can also pray with the stations at home!
For example, you might look up images of stations, sit before a crucifix, or close your eyes and imagine yourself in each moment.
Below you’ll find a few steps to help you start praying the Stations of the Cross. If you pray all 14 stations, you can repeat these steps for each station.
Prepare for the first station.
Before you begin, choose which set of stations you plan to pray with, the original or Scriptural. Then, as you prepare yourself for prayer, ask yourself how to make this time in meditation peaceful. For example, you might want to close your eyes or take a few deep breaths before you begin.
Next, make the Sign of the Cross and walk to, look at, or lead your thoughts to the scene of the first station.
Name the station.
Kneel or genuflect before the station. Then, take a moment to quiet your heart and mind to be present with Christ at this moment.
If you’re praying with the original stations, Christ has just been condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. If you’re praying with the Scriptural stations, Christ is praying with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote this prayer, along with a popular series of meditations on the stations:
“We adore you oh Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
Spend some time contemplating this station. You may kneel, look at an image of the station, close your eyes and imagine being in the moment with Christ. When you’re ready, you might read the verse associated, or listen to your guide on Hallow as you begin to pray.
Close your time before each station with a prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer. Focus on speaking honestly with God.
Repeat this pattern for all 14 stations.