Lenten Reflections: The Missing Station
Bread for the World activists begin their Lobby Day at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
Friday, March 29, 2013
By Adlai J. Amor
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrew 4:14-16)
Growing up in the Philippines, Good Friday always meant Via Dolorosa or Via Crucis – the Stations of the Cross. My strict Anglo-Catholic aunts always made sure that we did not forget that. To avoid being called irihis (heretics), my siblings and I would piously accompany them to church. There they would join other women fervently praying while kneeling on the bare floor before each of the 14 stations.
I never fully understood the value of their ritual or what those images meant. All I knew was that they prayed the Lord’s Prayer, the full rosary, and the Hail Mary in each of the 14 stations. I have flashes of those images: Jesus bearing a cross; Jesus with his mother, Mary; Jesus crucified; and Jesus taken down from the cross. After the first station, we would be fidgeting on our sore knees— and grumbling that it was cutting into time that we could have spent playing.
It was only when I matured as a Christian that I understood the meaning of Via Dolorosa. It is simply a recreation of Christ’s passion. It is Jesus' ancient journey walked today. The practice of Via Crucis originated in early pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Franciscan monks were said to have first started erecting chapels depicting scenes from Jesus’ last days. For a long time, only Franciscans—who were given control over the holy sites in Jerusalem —were allowed to build such stations. The chapels eventually evolved into sculptures, plaques, or paintings housed inside the sanctuary—as it was in my aunts’ church.
Originally, there was no set number of stations but by 1731 the norm was set at 14 stations. Of this, only 8 have direct biblical references. The others are considered embellishments—Jesus falling three times; Jesus taken down from the cross and laid on his mother’s arms.
But whether based entirely on scripture or not, Via Dolorosa has become one the most popular devotions for Catholics. Prayed in the spirit of atonement, it helps devotees go through their own Lenten pilgrimage by meditating on the scenes of Christ’s suffering and death.
To this day, I still have to find a good explanation of why the Roman Catholic Church settled on 14 stations in the early 1700s. But in the end, mathematical exactitude does not really matter. It is our faith that matters. Whether we experience this ancient devotion today or read Jesus’ passion in the Bible, it is worth remembering that without Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, we would never have been saved.
Three days later, Jesus’ journey will end. Then we can celebrate the 15th—and missing—station: Easter and His resurrection.
“God as we walk through this day may we remember: Beyond sin there is love inexhaustible;beyond death there is life unimaginable; beyond brokenness there is forgiveness incomprehensible; beyond betrayal there is grace poured out eternally. May we remember and give thanks for the wonder of your love. Amen.” (Christine Sine, Mustard Seed Associates)
Adlai J. Amor is Bread for the World's director of communications and a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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