Stations of the Cross

Although I find new liturgical architecture generally inspiring, one feature of new church buildings which usually leaves much to be desired is the treatment of the Stations by which the faithful are enabled to follow the way of the Cross.

More often than not, the Stations are grouped together on one wall, or placed so closely together, that any sense of journey is lost. The long walk is reduced to a short stroll, in some cases even a hop, skip and a jump.

Such drastic attenuation is all the more regrettable when the artwork is really profound and powerful. One image tumbles into the next with no time for us to catch our breath, to ponder, to reflect. This is bad enough when praying the Stations alone, but when followed liturgically the lack of space between each Station erodes any sense of gradual progression, as we shuffle forwards to stand a few inches further forward while more verses of the journeying hymn is sung.

As we rediscover a sense of journey as a vital component of the Sunday Liturgy, it is a great pity that the one devotion explicitly build around a journey has been reduced almost to a standstill.

How might we recapture something of the essential journey as we follow the Way of the Cross, especially during Lent? How might we use the Stations more creatively?

Beginning with the texts themselves, the Scriptural Stations of the Cross initiated by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, are much to be preferred to the traditional Stations, some of which are based on apocryphal stories rather than well attested events. The Scriptural Stations recall us to a wider spread of incidents along the Way – including for example Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, and his promise of the Kingdom to the penitent thief –   and provide a form of this devotion immediately more appealing to Christians of other traditions.

Secondly, we should be more adventurous in our journeying. This could involve using all the walls of the church rather than just one, or going further, using all the buildings in the church complex, as well as the church grounds.

In urban areas or small towns, the Stations of the Cross could also provide an excellent opportunity for moving from parish to parish, or even from one denomination to another, reflecting on just 2 or 3 Stations in each church building. Reflecting together on Our Lord’s Passion may shame us into closer working together and do more for local ecumenism than any number of ‘special services’ in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Let us journey on.

Stations of the Cross at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia
Stations of the Cross at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia
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10 comments

  1. I forget where I saw it, but I remember a newly constructed church where the stations were bronze plaques inlaid in the floor along the perimeter of the nave. The idea was that the stations were a path to be walked. A short time later, a second set of stations were installed along the walls, apparently because someone thought the first set inadequate. An interesting idea perhaps, not sure what I think of it.

    At communal celebration of the devotion, who has experienced the faithful walking the stations vs. standing/kneeling in pews throughout the church while the ministers and servers walked the path?

    1. I think the Oratory Church of St. Boniface in Brooklyn NY had stations inlaid in the floor. But they might have been glass instead of bronze.

  2. At our parish, you would see both practices, depending on whether or not the priest or deacon invited the people to join him in the walk on that particular occasion.

    Our diocese’s youth ministry puts on a “living stations” in the downtown on Good Friday, covering several blocks, with stops at various churches, soup kitchens, the state house, etc. It is usually quite well attended.

  3. Another possibility is integrating scriptural stations with a procession or entrance rite before Mass, or the Liturgy of the Hours. With everyone gathering outside following the clergy into the church. Clergy and people would pause at each station, with appropriate prayers and short litanies intoned by the celebrant and/or deacon. Then the clergy and servers proceed into the sanctuary for Mass while everyone goes to his/her pew. This might be even better in a very large church with some distance between each station permitting some time to reflect and pray between the stations.

  4. I forget where I saw it, but I remember a newly constructed church where the stations were bronze plaques inlaid in the floor along the perimeter of the nave. The idea was that the stations were a path to be walked. A short time later, a second set of stations were installed along the walls, apparently because someone thought the first set inadequate. An interesting idea perhaps, not sure what I think of it.

    There is a nice set of bronze plaques inlaid in the floor along the perimeter of the nave in the chapel on the university campus in Dallas. However, no set of supplementary stations along the walls……

  5. Our church has outdoor stations, but the area is really unsuitable for a large group. We do encourage individuals, families, and small groups to pray these stations on their own. The layout of the church and it’s stations also does not lend itself to more than a hundred people to move from station to station. A few years ago, it occurred to me to consider a fresh approach. On each Friday, I lead the people in reflective meditations on three or four of the stations using the ones proposed by John Paul ll. We include a veneration of the Good Friday cross and chants. They have been received with great enthusiasm.

  6. It would seem that such installations (all grouped together) arise from the mistaken notion that the stations are “artworks” to be looked at together rather than having a functional dimension. I don’t generally think that it is a good idea to “mess around” with the traditional presentation and placement of the stations. I have seen very nice modern versions and beautiful traditional ones… but they should be placed around the perimeter of the church (or chapel) in such a way that the procession can walk from one to the other.

  7. For the reading of the Passion according to John on Good Friday, I have sometimes arranged it in Stations:

    Stations of the Cross
    following the gospel according to St. John, Chapters 18 & 19)

    Suitable song or prayer or acclamations of the people
    may be used between the stations.

    First Station: Jesus is arrested (John 18:1-11)
    Second Station: Jesus is taken before Caiaphas (John 18:12-27)
    Third Station: Jesus is brought before Pilate (John 18:28-40)
    Fourth Station: Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns. (John 19:1-5)
    Fifth Station: Jesus is condemned to death (John 19:6-16)
    Sixth Station: Jesus is crucified (John 19:17-22)
    Seventh Station: At the foot of the cross (John 19:23-24)
    Eighth Station: Jesus dies on the cross (John 19:28-30)
    Ninth Station: The side of Jesus is pierced (John 19:31-37)
    Tenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb (John 19:38-42)

  8. We built a new church a few years ago and it happened to have fourteen windows (around the outer periphery of the church). I persuaded the ad hoc windows design committee to adopt the “new” Stations, we had a series of meetings to reflect on those stations prayerfully and sent our notes off to an artist who designed lovely etched (clear) glass scenes that surround our worship space. They begin with Christ in the Garden near the Blessed Sacrament chapel and end with the empty tomb next to our Reconciliation room. My understanding is that those who choose to sit during the Lenten services can sit, and those who wish to follow the prayer leader around the church have much more space to do so then they did in the old church. I would love to see them used for a “processional” reading of the Passion one year, but I haven’t suggested it yet.

  9. Dunstan Harding :Another possibility … Then the clergy and servers proceed into the sanctuary for Mass while everyone goes to his/her pew. This might be even better in a very large church with some distance between each station permitting some time to reflect and pray between the stations.

    Some context perhaps:
    – Stations are not liturgy but a private devotion even though done in public and sometimes communally.
    – Is the objective to promote the devotion or to facilitate doing them well?
    – If facilitating, why attach to another service?
    – Not celebrant for the cleric, this is a personal devotion led by anyone, all are participants. Does anyone “celebrate” this sorrowful remembrance unless they use the 15th station of resurrection?
    – How do we approach the installation of stations differently in large and small worship spaces?
    – Is it really necessary to install stations in every parish?
    – The best “Way of The Cross” I have seen in recent decades have all been outdoors. If the Stations is seen as a Lenten practice, outdoors is not good in many climates.
    – Could this be another argument for flexible seating, in that there is not appropriate aisle space/width in most churches for a real procession of the faithful?
    – Has anyone considered not having permanent stations but using stations as the seasonal decor for Lent?
    – For the communal observance, what about processing the entire perimeter of the church before stopping at the next station?
    or consider these ways of looking outside the box?

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