Whenever you visit a Catholic Church, one thing you will almost always notice is a depiction of the Stations of the Cross. The 14 stations it is comprised of tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death. Across the United States and the rest of the world, millions of Catholics pray the Stations of the Cross every year, especially during Lent. Where did this devotion come from? What is its purpose? How can we make it a bigger part of our prayer lives? This lesson will answer these questions and more!
Note: Parents of young children, especially those with children still learning to read, are welcome to summarize and adapt lesson texts rather than reading them verbatim. Feel free to creatively adapt, supplement, and/or omit certain lesson materials to better meet your children’s educational level.
An Ancient Devotion: The History of the Stations
Since the time of the Apostles, Christians and non-Christians alike have been meditating on Christ’s death on the Cross. The New Testament shows us that Jesus’s crucifixion was an important part of the Apostles teaching. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul famously wrote, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:20)
This verse shows how important it is to meditate (think) about how Jesus died. By doing so, we learn a lot about how much God loves us. St. Paul also tells us it can be hard to understand on our own. The Church has given us the Stations of the Cross as a way to better understand this part of the Gospel.
As early as the fourth century, we know that pilgrims to Jerusalem would retrace the steps of Jesus’s passion in the earliest record of something resembling today’s stations. These early Christians would stop and pray at the different locations mentioned in the Gospels. This practice continues today in Jerusalem and is known as the “Via Dolorosa.” (The Sorrowful Way.)1 As a matter of fact, you have already learned about one of the most important stops along it! Think back to the third lesson about churches. Do you remember the name of the Church in Jerusalem built over top of where Christ was buried? Its called the Holy Sepulcher.
In the centuries that followed, meditating on the Stations of the Cross remained an important part of the Church’s spirituality. Different versions were taught over the years and each focused on different parts of Christ’s passion. Nowadays, most of us are familiar with the version created by St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1787. This version has 14 stations. Here they are in order:
- Jesus is Condemned to Death
- Jesus Takes Up His Cross
- Jesus Falls the First Time
- Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother
- Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to Carry the Cross
- Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
- Jesus Falls a Second Time
- Jesus Consoles the Women of Jerusalem
- Jesus Falls the Third Time
- Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
- Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
- Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
- Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Why pray the Stations of the Cross?
Many Popes have encouraged the faithful to pray the Stations of the Cross. In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV requested that every Catholic Church have the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary.1 Why are the stations so important that many Popes throughout the ages encourage us to pray them? Before reading on, discuss this question as a family.
Pope John Paul II gave one of the best answers to this question. When writing about the meaning of suffering, he had this to say about the Stations of the Cross:
“The Christian loves to the follow the Way of the Cross in the Savior’s footsteps… To understand the mystery of Redemption and the salvific meaning of suffering, one ought to meditate upon the sufferings of our Lord, which he took upon himself to save us from sin.” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, The Meaning of Suffering, 1984.)
At this point in the year, you may have noticed that Pope’s often say things that sound really beautiful, but are hard to understand at first! In the above quote, the Pope is saying that the Stations of the Cross help us to understand how God can make good things come out of suffering. Jesus’ sufferings saved us from sin and, in a similar way, the sufferings of our lives help us grow closer to Jesus.
Answer the following questions as a family. Please share one of your answers in the comment section.
Pre K- 1st Grade:
- What are the Stations of the Cross about?
- What did Jesus do on the Cross? (Save us and forgive us.)
- Why do you think the Stations of the Cross have been so popular throughout history?
- How do you feel when you think about Jesus’ passion?
- Which of the stations is the most interesting to you? Why?
- Why is it important for us to pray the Stations of the Cross?
- What does it mean to repent? How can praying the Stations of the Cross make us better followers of Jesus?
- Pray the Stations of the Cross (you will learn how later in the lesson.) Describe the emotions you felt during each station.
- How can your family make the Stations of the Cross part of your family prayer life?
- What would change in your family dynamic if everyone were more aware of Christ’s love and forgiveness? What are some small steps you can take to foster this greater awareness?
This lesson’s featured saint is someone with whom you all are familiar! She was one of Jesus’s disciples, was with him at the crucifixion, and was one of the first people he appeared to on Easter Sunday. Can you guess who it is? That’s right, she’s our parish’s patroness – St. Mary Magdalen!
St. Mary Magdalen was one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples. The Gospels tell us that she stayed with him while he was on the Cross, even after many of the apostles and other disciples fled. She was also one of the first to see him after he rose from the dead. After seeing Christ, she went to the apostles. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas called her the “apostle to the apostles.”
To learn more about her, read the article below. I also highly recommend watching the TV series “The Chosen” in which she is a main character!
Let Us Pray
As I am sure you have guessed, this lesson’s prayer challenge is to pray the Stations of the Cross at home as a family. We are blessed with many ways to do so! The following is a wonderful article from Ascension Press that provides links to many different ways families can pray the Stations at home. Select the one that works best for you and spend some time in prayer together!
I invite you to find ways your individual family can enjoy this ancient practice of the Church. Take the time to discover how God wishes to speak to you through this devotion.
Live it Out Activity
As I said in the introduction video, this lesson’s featured activity is a Stations of the Cross contest! We are asking all of our program families to design and create their own version of one or more of the 14 stations we have learned about in this lesson.
Entries can be submitted from a variety of artistic mediums (drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, etc) We will select entries to form a complete Stations of the Cross display created entirely by all of you! It will then be available for viewing in the parish’s Gathering Area throughout Holy Week!
Once the Stations are completed, this will be a beautiful way to show the whole parish what our religious formation program has been learning this year. I hope you all have fun undertaking this challenge!
To be considered for inclusion in the final display, entries must be submitted by no later than Monday March 29th. Entries not selected for the featured display will still be available for viewing in the community room.
More to Explore
Make a Stations of the Cross Booklet to keep at your family prayer space!
Color some Stations of the Cross Easter Eggs: