The Scriptural Way of the Cross

It occurs to me that we Catholics pray the Stations of the Cross most often during Lent. I also suspect that many reading this pray the Stations on their own in addition to attending Stations services scheduled by our parishes. I write what follows with all this in mind.

It’s embarrassing to admit … but I had no idea that a Scriptural Way of the Cross existed. It has, since 1975; Good Friday this year will mark its 45th anniversary.

In a document available on the Vatican website (see address below), the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff reports that pilgrims arriving in Rome for the holy year in 1975 received a booklet with scriptural stations of the cross approved by Pope St. Paul VI. Pope St. John Paul II prayed scriptural stations on Good Friday in 1991. He celebrated them multiple times – and most often – in the Roman Colosseum. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI approved the scriptural stations for private and public celebration in 2007.

From the Vatican document: “The Way of the Cross or Via Crucis, in its present form, with the same 14 stations placed in the same order, is recorded in Spain in the first half of the 17th century, especially in Franciscan communities. From the Iberian peninsula, it spread first to Sardinia, at that time under the dominion of the Spanish crown, and then to Italy.

“The biblical Way of the Cross omits stations that lack precise biblical reference, such as the Lord's three falls (III, V, VII); and Jesus' encounter with his Mother (IV) and with Veronica (VI). Instead, we have stations such as Jesus' agony in the Garden of Olives (I); the unjust sentence passed by Pilate (V); the promise of paradise to the Good Thief (XI); the presence of the Mother and the Disciple at the foot of the Cross (XIII). Clearly these episodes are of great salvific import and theological significance for the drama of Christ's passion – an ever-present drama in which every man and woman, knowingly or unknowingly, plays a part.”

Please don’t take any of this to diminish the validity or holiness of the traditional Stations that date to at least the 1600s. It does not, and it is not intended that way. More from the Vatican document mentioned earlier: “With the biblical Way of the Cross the intention was not to change the traditional text, which remains fully valid….”

Here are the Scriptural Stations of the Cross that St. Pope John Paul II prayed in 1991:

First station: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Second station: Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested

Third station: Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin

Fourth station: Jesus is denied by Peter

Fifth station: Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate

Sixth station: Jesus is scourged at the pillar and crowned with thorns

Seventh station: Jesus bears the cross

Eighth station: Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross

Ninth station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Tenth station: Jesus is crucified

Eleventh station: Jesus promises his Kingdom to the repentant thief

Twelfth station: Jesus speaks to his mother and the Beloved Disciple

Thirteenth station: Jesus dies on the cross

Fourteenth station: Jesus is placed in the tomb

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted the Scriptural Stations that Pope St. John Paul II prayed in the Colosseum in 1991. Click here to download a copy from The Message website.

Click here to read the Vatican document on the Stations of the Cross.