What are the “Stations” of the Cross?
“Station,” used like this, comes from the Latin word statio, which means a “stopping place” or “post.” The Stations of the Cross are the fourteen traditional places where Christ halted along the way of the Cross: that is, the route from Lithostratos—where He was condemned by Pilate—to Calvary—where He was crucified.
Where did this devotion come from?
In the Middle Ages, the Holy Land was overrun by the Moslem Turks in the 1000’s. The Crusades were largely launched to win back the Holy Land from the Turks (and others) so that Christians could once again visit the Holy Places. Eventually, the Franciscan Friars (followers of St. Francis of Assisi) were given care of the Holy Places, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (containing the tomb of Christ and Calvary), the Upper Room (where the Last Supper was celebrated), and so forth.
One of the devotions the Franciscans organized for pilgrims was the Stations of the Cross. Catholic pilgrims took this devotion back to Europe, erecting plaques or pictures of each Station.
Why have the Stations been so popular?
They are a very effective and touching way to recall Christ’s sufferings along the Via Dolorosa (literally, “the Way of Sorrow,” that is, the Way of the Cross). It’s difficult to explain the effect of devoutly praying the Stations, but it certainly fixes what Our Lord did for us more deeply in the mind and heart.
(The "Ask Father!" series is through the kindness of Father Charles Johnson, CHC, USNR, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.)
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