There is a tradition dating back to the early Church of people making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where they would walk the path that Jesus walked as He made His way from the site of Pilate’s judgment to the hill at Calvary. This route is known in Latin as the Via Dolorosa, meaning the Way of Sorrows or the Way of Suffering. Those who cannot make this journey in person can do so in their parishes by their participation in the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross are both a liturgical event as well as physical markers placed in churches. Sometimes the Stations are simple crosses mounted on the wall of the church and bearing the Roman numeral of their particular place on Jesus’ route, but most often they are artistic representations of the segment of the Passion story associated with their particular Station. These fourteen crosses and/or works of art are as much a part of every Catholic church building as would be holy water fonts or statues of Mary and Joseph.
The Chapel of St. Mary of the Assumption is no exception, and our Stations of the Cross are particularly beautiful, yet they are unique in two ways. First, they are embedded in the floor, encircling the perimeter of the chapel. And second, they are not the same Stations that would be in almost all Catholic churches in the world - they are what have been dubbed the Biblical Stations of the Cross rather than the Traditional Stations of the Cross.
In 1991 Pope John Paul II held the Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum of Rome where he introduced a new version of the Stations of the Cross. Missing are the Stations that are not found in the Gospels, those Stations that have been a part of pious legend for centuries. Added were those events of the Via Dolorosa that were written down by the Evangelists and thus can be scripturally referenced during the praying of the Stations.
These new Stations begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, move on to the betrayal, and include Peter’s denial, the scourging, and the promise made to the Good Thief. They also place the meeting of Jesus with His mother not near the beginning, but at the crucifixion where He gives her to the Beloved Disciple. All of these take the places of non-biblical scenes like the three falls and the encounter with Veronica.
Our Stations are the work of the renowned religious artist Suzanne M. Young of Detroit. Her works adorn churches, schools, hospitals, and libraries around the country. Our Stations are known as low relief sculptures, meaning that they are slightly raised so that the plate of brass is not a completely flat surface. They are stark in their simplicity, yet they contain a depth of emotion as seen in the faces and gestures of those depicted.
During these last days of school prior to Easter break our theology classes are spending time in the chapel with these Stations. Despite the novelty of some of the events depicted, there remains the beauty of this public prayer as well as the unbreakable bond with the Via Dolorosa and all who have walked in the footsteps of Christ.
As we begin each station we unite with all others throughout the centuries, opening each station with the call and response: “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You./Because by Your holy Cross You have redeemed the world.” And in doing so we are reminded that the Stations - no matter which version - are about the Cross, and that without that Cross there would be no hope, no redemption.