The Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross, also called as Via Crucis, means a series of images depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ- depicting the events on the day of his crucifixion, which are also associated with special prayers.
The Way of the Cross emerged as an imitation of the Jerusalem path of Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the real path, which Jesus walked on his journey to Calvary for his crucifixion. The aim of the Stations of the Cross is for Christians to go on a spiritual journey by contemplating on the Passion of Christ.
The Stations have become one of the most popular Catholic traditions and also in several Lutheran, Methodist, and Anglican Churches.
Usually, a series of 14 images are arranged on a wall and the faithful stop by at each image and recite prayers and meditations. This can be done individually or in a group. It is typically followed on all days in the period of Lent, and finally, on Good Friday. The aim is to offer reparations for the torture and insults suffered by Jesus during the day of Crucifixion (Passion).
The placement, style and format of the stations vary. Some churches feature 14 images depicting the stations. Other minimalist designs may involve only 14 crosses. In some cases, like when the Pope leads the Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum of Rome, there might not be any images or crosses to follow, but only 14 recitations of prayers.
The fourteen Stations of the Cross are as follows:
Jesus is condemned to die:
Jesus was most innocent. He neither could nor did commit a sin. Yet He was sentenced to death and particularly to the cruelest death by crucifixion. Pilate delivered him to the mercy of those who hated him, to preserve his friendship with Caesar.
Jesus is made to carry his cross:
When the cross was beheld by Jesus, he readily stretched his injured arms, embraced it willingly, kissed it with tender care and carrying the cross on his wounded shoulders; he held it willingly though he was exhausted.
The fall of Jesus for the first instant:
Our dear Lord, carrying the heavy cross was so burdened by its heaviness that he fell, exhausted. In fact, he was burdened by our sins and offenses. The cross was welcome, but our sins were galling.
The meeting between Jesus and his sorrowful mother:
How painful would have been it for Mother Mary, the sad mother to see her son, carrying the cross! What pangs would her tender heart may have suffered! Implore Mother Mary to assist you in your hour of death.
Jesus is helped to carry the cross by Simon of Cyrene:
It was Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to help Jesus carry the cross. Jesus accepted his assistance. Jesus is also calling you to repent of your sins and help him carry his cross. He invites you: but you decline.
The face of Jesus wiped by Veronica:
Veronica inspired by compassion and love offers her veil to wipe the disfigured face of Jesus. Jesus imprints his divine face on the veil: a great reward for her small service. What service do you perform for the wonderful blessing of the saviour?
The second fall of Jesus:
Bearing the cross’s cruel and heavy burden, Jesus falls once again. But the soldiers do not allow him a moment of rest. They press him on, striking and pushing him. Jesus suffered mainly for our sins. Witnessing this passion, how can I continue to sin?
The Women From Jerusalem Weep Over Jesus:
These devoted followers of Christ weep over his plight, affected by compassion. But Jesus tells them not to grieve for him, but rather to weep for themselves and their children. Most dear to the Lord is a sorrowful contrite heart crying for one’s sins.
The third fall of Jesus:
At the edge of Calvary, a tired Jesus falls a third time. But his love for mankind is not diminished. How oppressive must our sins be, causing Jesus to succumb so many times!
The soldiers strip Jesus:
When Jesus arrived at Calvary, he was mercilessly stripped. It may have been very painful, tearing at his bloody skin. All garments were removed so Jesus possessed nothing. How blessed will I be, if I remove all my sinful inclinations.
Crucifixion of Jesus:
Jesus was violently thrown upon the cross to which his feet and hands were nailed. In such excruciating pain, he did not utter anything as he bent willingly to the will of his father. He suffered in patience. This inspires me to be not fretful and complaining about my troubles.
Raised upon the cross, Jesus dies:
Behold the crucified Jesus. He suffers for our sins. The Son of Man dies upon the cross in order to save mankind from everlasting death.
The body of Jesus removed from his cross and placed in the arms of his mother:
Jesus died on the cross and rested in the arms of his mother. One must persevere not to avoid the cross: who stays loyal to the cross till the last will be saved.
Jesus is laid in the sepulcher:
Jesus was laid in the sepulcher of a stranger. The ruler of the world did not even own a tomb of his own as he was not from this world. Do not be attached to the world, so that you may not perish with it.
These are the common Stations of the Cross. Some Christians also recognize a fifteenth station: The Resurrection of Jesus. The different stations may also vary with denominations. Every station in the Catholic Church is followed by a recitation of Stabat Mater, a prayer to Mother Mary.