Crosses on the 14 Stations

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Crosses on the 14 Stations

ROME, 19 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Are wooden crosses on top of depictions/paintings of each Station of the Cross required? These have been removed from our church. — P.C., Laplace, Louisiana

A: The principal document relating to the external form of the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, is the Enchiridion of Indulgences, No. 63.

The Church grants a plenary indulgence to a member of the faithful who practices the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross.

In order to obtain this indulgence the exercise must be fulfilled before legitimately erected stations.

For the legitimate erection of the Via Crucis, 14 crosses are needed, to which may be added images or sculptures that represent the station.

According to the most common custom, the pious exercise consists of 14 pious readings to which are added some vocal prayers. However, in order to fulfill the pious exercise all that is required is a meditation on the Lord's passion and death without having to make a particular consideration of each station.

It is necessary to move from one station to the next. But if the stations are done in a large group where moving is difficult, it is sufficient for at least the guide to move from station to station.

The faithful who are legitimately impeded from making the stations may gain the same indulgence by dedicating about 15 minutes to meditating and spiritual reading on the Passion.

Therefore, to answer the specific question at hand: A legitimate Way of the Cross consists of 14 crosses. These may be wooden, stone, metal or some other suitable material. The images are an optional, albeit very useful extra.

The crosses may be relatively small compared to the images or representations, but they should be visible. They may also be located at any suitable place near the images — above, below, beside or even incorporated within the frame.

Possibly the local parish church could be encouraged to restore the crosses to its Way of the Cross. It could also be a wonderful teaching moment to explain the Church's doctrine on indulgences as well as foment the practice of the Via Crucis.

As No. 133 of the Directory of Popular Piety says:

"The Via Crucis is a journey made in the Holy Spirit, that divine fire which burned in the heart of Jesus (cf. Lk 12, 49-50) and brought him to Calvary. This is a journey well esteemed by the Church since it has retained a living memory of the words and gestures of the final earthly days of her Spouse and Lord.

"In the Via Crucis, various strands of Christian piety coalesce: the idea of life being a journey or pilgrimage; as a passage from earthly exile to our true home in Heaven; the deep desire to be conformed to the Passion of Christ; the demands of following Christ, which imply that his disciples must follow behind the Master, daily carrying their own crosses (cf Lk 9, 23)."

* * *

Follow-up: Crosses on the 14 Stations [3-4-2008]

Several readers asked further questions regarding the practice of the Via Crucis (see Feb. 19 column), such as if there were any norms regarding alternative stations and the extension of the indulgence. Some of these questions were addressed in our columns of March 1 and 15, 2005.

An Ohio reader wrote, "Each year on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, my older students present the Living Stations of the Cross for the parish. This consists of individual meditations on the 14 stations read by the pastor or a lay leader while the students silently portray the stations. I am very pleased that the students take the project seriously and they have received many compliments on their maturity and the quality of their presentation.

"My question: The cross is present for all 14 stations — would this qualify for the indulgence? One of my focuses in my ministry is to acquaint the children with traditions that have faded ... introducing them to indulgences would be something new for this year."

The Enchiridion, No. 63.2, requires 14 crosses for a legitimate Way of the Cross to be set up. But No. 63.5 grants the indulgence to those who, legitimately impeded, meditate or engage in spiritual reading on the Passion for about 15 minutes.

Any legitimate impediment is sufficient, such as not having reasonable access to a legitimate Via Crucis. For example, in one of his apostolic visits Pope John Paul II made his habitual Friday Way of the Cross in a helicopter during the trajectory from one meeting to another.

No. 63.6 says that other approved pious exercises commemorating the Passion, and divided into 14 stations, also qualify for the indulgence.

The practice described by our correspondent, and similar public Via Crucis, would fall within either of the above-mentioned categories for the sake of obtaining the plenary indulgence.

A reader from Malta asked if the Resurrection may be added as a 15th station. While this is not required, it is a possibility. The Directory for Popular Piety (No. 134) specifically states that "the Via Crucis is a pious devotion connected with the Passion of Christ; it should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope; following the example of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem which ends with a station at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord's resurrection."

There might be days, such as Good Friday, when adding such a specific station commemorating the Resurrection could be less appropriate, due to the specific character of each moment of the Easter triduum.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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