Mar 15, 2005

Family Stations of the Cross

Online Edition – March 2005

Vol. XI, No. 1

A family Lenten observance-

Family Stations of the Cross

Devotional exercises that harmonize with the Lenten season are to be encouraged, for example, "The Stations of the Cross". They should help foster the liturgical spirit with which the faithful can prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s paschal mystery.

Paschalis Sollemnitatis §20


Praying the Stations of the Cross is a popular devotion in both the Eastern and Western Churches. It was developed during the Crusades when the knights and pilgrims began to follow the route of Christ’s way to Calvary. The devotion spread throughout Europe and was promulgated by the Franciscan friars in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Eventually, the Stations of the Cross became an important catechetical tool, and the popularity of this devotion inspired some of the greatest examples of medieval Christian art. Some scholars believe that medieval miracle plays, which were essentially tableaux of Christ’s life, developed from the sculpted representations of the Stations of the Cross in the great churches. These scenes from the Way of the Cross have provided inspiration for many of the world’s greatest works of visual art.

During Lent or Holy Week, most parishes have a service of Stations at least once. It is worth taking children to this so that they can participate with other Catholics in this timeless and very moving devotion. If you are near a cathedral or other large church that has beautiful Stations, it would be worth making a visit with children so that they can look closely at the depictions of Christ’s way to Calvary. The visual representations, combined with the prayers and meditations, help to deepen our understanding of the Way of the Cross, which will be of great spiritual benefit for Catholics of all ages.

The Triduum

In the Triduum, or Three Days — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — the Church gives us a singularly dramatic, intense and richly symbolic expression of the very heart of Christian belief. Even in our unspiritual time and culture, the Triduum and Easter re-affirm the essence of the Church’s central beliefs in the strongest possible way — a way that penetrates the deepest recesses of the human heart, and calls forth a response from all, young and old, rich, poor, and in every state of life.

Through the Church’s continued observance of many ancient liturgical traditions, and also the restoration of the ancient Easter Vigil, the liturgical expression of these core truths of the faith during Holy Week is without parallel. Although the penitential season is now less severe than in times past, and some inspiring symbols and devotions were lost in the confusion of rapid and sometimes erroneous liturgical changes after the Second Vatican Council, for the believing Catholic, the days of Holy Week make it possible even for us, who are so easily distracted by the world and its enticements, to concentrate with our entire being on the events that assured us of God’s inestimable love, and that made possible our salvation.

By participating in the liturgy of the Church and by increasing our own observance of these holy days in our homes, we can deepen our understanding of these events in the history of salvation.


The Latin word Tenebrae means "darkness". Tenebrae is a very ancient service of prayers in the Church that takes place during the darkness of night. Many parishes are now reviving this extraordinarily moving service, which consists of three sets of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah chanted on each of three nights of Holy Week: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. (Originally this was the service of Matins said in monasteries before dawn on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but it customarily takes place the evenings before.)

The service begins with the nave of the church in darkness, except for a candelabrum on a stand in the sanctuary containing fifteen candles arranged in an inverted V, called a "Tenebrae hearse". As each lamentation — introduced with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet — is chanted, one of the candles is extinguished until only one, representing the Light of Christ, remains. Then this is extinguished, leaving the church in darkness. The ministers and cantor leave the sanctuary, and a loud noise like a thunderclap (representing the earthquake during the crucifixion) is heard; after which a single candle representing the Light of Christ is brought in, placed on the altar and the people leave in silence.

This is a very impressive service, and we hope you are able to attend with your children at least once during the Triduum. If your parish does not have Tenebrae, it is worth trying to find a place that does.

If you have young children, you might consider using our adaptation of this service for Stations of the Cross. It is by no means as powerful as real Tenebrae, but it does retain the symbolism of Christ as our Light, and it may be a workable substitute if your children are little or if the real service of Stations of the Cross is not available where you live.

Suggestions for Family "Tenebrae" Stations of the Cross

Throughout the season of Lent, but especially during the Holy Week Triduum, the family can pray the Stations of the Cross together at home. In her book The Year and Our Children, Mary Reed Newland suggests that family members make a candelabrum for the Stations of the Cross "to be used after the fashion of Tenebrae … to help them love the stations and to say them nightly during Lent". (p. 146) You might make a particular effort to say them as a family during the evening on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, especially if the service of Tenebrae is not available at your parish. You will need:

– Fifteen candles and candle snuffer

– A crucifix

– Holders for the candles — An improvised candelabrum can be made either by using a length of board drilled for fifteen candles (one for each Station plus one to represent the light of Christ), or by using a strong cardboard box — or even two stout shoe boxes — with holes for the candles cut in the top. You might cover the box with contact paper, and older children might help make this.

– A booklet of meditations on the Stations of the Cross. (If you have small children, you may prefer to explain the meaning of each Station yourself, rather than reading the meditation.)

At the beginning of the devotion, with the room in darkness and everyone standing, light all the candles. After each of the prayers for each Station is said, a child puts out one candle, alternating left and right ends of the candelabrum. When the last Station is prayed, the candle in the center — the Light of Christ candle — is extinguished and the room is in darkness. Explain the darkness to the children by saying, "Christ was the Light of the World, and when He died, the Light was gone from the world". Then relight only this candle.

The Stations of the Cross

First Station – Jesus is condemned to death
Second Station – Jesus is made to bear His cross
Third Station – Jesus falls the first time under His cross
Fourth Station – Jesus meets His mother
Fifth Station – Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross
Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Seventh Station – Jesus falls the second time
Eighth Station – Jesus speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem
Ninth Station – Jesus falls the third time
Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of His garments
Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the cross
Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the cross
Thirteenth Station – Jesus is taken down from the cross
Fourteenth Station – Jesus is buried in the sepulcher

After announcing each station, genuflect and say:
V. We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee,
R. Because by Thy holy Cross Thou has redeemed the world.

Or in Latin:
V. Adoremus te, Christ, et benedicimus tibi.
R. Quia per sanctam Crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

Then pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory be to the Father …, ending with making the sign of the cross.

At the end of the final Station, this prayer, adapted from one composed by Saint Alphonsus, may be said:

O Jesus Christ, my Lord, with what great love you traveled the painful road which led to your death — and how often have I abandoned you. But now I love you with my whole soul, and because I love you, I am sincerely sorry for having offended you.

My Jesus, pardon me, and permit me to accompany you on this journey.

You died for love of me, and it is my wish, O my dearest Redeemer, to be willing to die for love of you.

O my beloved Jesus, in your love I wish to live, and in your love I wish to die. Amen + (make the sign of the cross.)

Or this:

O God, Who by the Precious Blood of thine only-begotten Son didst sanctify the Standard of the Cross, grant, we beseech Thee, that we who rejoice in the glory of the same Holy Cross may at all times and places rejoice in Thy protection, through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen +

Conclude the prayers with one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be for the intentions of the pope.

Adapted from Women for Faith & Family’s Lent and Easter Sourcebook



The Editors