An ancient tradition has it that Mary visited the sites of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection on a daily basis after His ascension into Heaven. Even before that other traditions say that Mary followed Jesus along His bitter Way of the Cross that led to Calvary and Scripture at the very least testifies that Mary was there at the foot of the Cross.
Mary was the first to accompany Jesus in His sufferings and she kept all of these things in her heart, reflecting daily on them after His ascension.
After her assumption, Christians would continue to flock to the sites of Jesus' crucifixion. They wanted to be close to their Lord and to walk in his footsteps. However, not everyone was able to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and for many centuries it was dangerous to travel there.
That is why, around the 17th century, Franciscans began to develop a “Way of the Cross” in local churches whereby the faithful could walk through the passion narrative without having to go to Jerusalem. Here is a brief history:
Innocent XI, in 1686, granted to the Franciscans, in answer to their petition, the right to erect the Stations in all their churches, and declared that all the indulgences that had ever been given for devoutly visiting the actual scenes of Christ’s Passion, could thenceforth be gained by Franciscans and all others affiliated to their order if they made the Way of the Cross in their own churches in the accustomed manner. Innocent XII confirmed the privilege in 1694 and Benedict XIII in 1726 extended it to all the faithful. In 1731 Clement XII still further extended it by permitting the indulgenced Stations to all churches, provided that they were erected by a Franciscan father with the sanction of the ordinary. At the same time he definitely fixed the number of Stations at fourteen. (Catholic Encyclopedia)
The Stations are a great devotion to unite us to Christ’s suffering and death and allow us the opportunity to accompany Him on the Via Dolorosa. We watch as He suffers under the weight of the cross and realize it was our sins that crucified Him.
This meditation on the passion of Christ, stirs within us a spirit of prayer, whereby we can not help but be drawn closer to God. We want to console Jesus and are sorry for our many sins.
The Stations of the Cross is just one way that the faithful can devote themselves more to prayer during Lent. Next week, we will look at what the Church recommends for fasting in Lent and beyond.
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