What is the connection between ancient Romans, the Muslim Turks, the Stations that we have at Saint Timothy’s, and what we are doing today on Facebook have in common? Keep reading…
As a reminder, we will be live-streaming the Stations of the Cross at 2:00 P.M. today. I hope you are able to “tune in”. It should appear on our Facebook page, so please follow our Facebook page, if you are not already doing so. In this post, you can find more information, including the prayers to print off at home.
As a way to help our prayer and also to share some interesting background, I thought I could give a very brief, summarized version of the history of the Stations and how what we are doing today on Facebook is a natural development of their history.
From the very beginning of the Church, Christians have had the instinct and the desire to go to holy places: the tomb of Saint Peter, the graves of the martyrs in the catacombs, and the Holy Land. As travel became easier and Christianity became legalized and more widespread, Christians would go to Jerusalem as some of you have been blessed to do. They wanted to visit and pray and make a pilgrimage at the holy sites. As time went on, there developed the “Way of the Cross”. People would visit all of the important places in Jerusalem for the Lord’s passion. They would pray at each one. This all happened in the 4th and 5th century and earlier, while the Roman Empire was still standing.
The challenge is that not everyone could travel to the Holy Land and certainly it wasn’t easy. Some people wanted to experience the same sense of prayer without being physically present at the holy sites, even as they recognized it wasn’t the same. Chapels were then occasionally built as either reconstructions of the sites or as reminders of the sites.
This really began to accelerate when the Turks began to block access to the Holy Land in the 15th century. Eventually, it became more and more difficult to visit Jerusalem and by the end of the 17th century the addition of stations in churches became much more popular. By 1742, all priests were asked to put stations in their churches. (I am relying on this source for most of this.) The meditations used for the prayer varied then and now, but most use the ones that we will use today, which were composed by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th century. In 1922, when Saint Timothy’s was constructed, the people would have put these stations in the church as they would have been present in every other church with a long-standing tradition of walking the stations on Friday, having all begun with the ancient Christians traveling to Jerusalem.
Finally, that brings us today, March 20th, 2020. While this is a temporary solution in streaming the stations on Facebook Live, it is interesting to reflect on how it fits right into the history of the Stations of the Cross. These stations developed in their own churches because people couldn’t travel to Jerusalem to visit the physical sites. They were prevented by finances and unfriendly regimes. Today, we are prevented from going even to our local churches to walk with Jesus those stations of the cross because of a deadly virus. It obviously won’t prevent us from walking that way of the cross. Instead, in the tradition of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ll find new ways to bridge distance so that we can be at those holy sites from a distance and reflect on all that He suffered and endured for us, united as a parish and as a broader Church, walking with Jesus to the cross and beyond.
I look forward to “walking with you” on this virtual pilgrimage later today. God bless.