THE WAY OF THE CROSS
Columbia staff, with prayers by Pope Benedict XVI
For many centuries, the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, has been one of the most beloved Christian devotions, especially during Lent. Also known as the Stations of the Cross, the practice developed over several centuries to eventually include the 14 traditional stations depicting episodes of Jesus’ passion and death. These are sometimes modified to include biblical scenes such as Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Olives and the promise of paradise to the Good Thief.
Each year on Good Friday, the pope presides over a nighttime Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum, using prayers and meditations written by a person or group of people at the pope’s request.
The following prayers were excerpted from the text written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005, presented just one week before the death of Pope John Paul II (the full text is available online at vatican.va). Unable to attend the service due to his failing health, John Paul II watched via television from his private chapel and sent a message to participants: “I also offer my sufferings so that God’s plan may be completed and his Word spread among the peoples. I, in turn, am close to all who are tried by suffering at this time. I pray for each one of them.”
So, too, Pope Benedict has assured us he is praying with and for the Church during this Lent, as we prepare to welcome his successor.
This prayer is said after the announcement of each station:
V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Jesus is condemned to death
Reading: Matthew 27:22-23,26
Prayer: Lord, you were condemned to death because fear of what other people may think suppressed the voice of conscience. So too, throughout history, the innocent have always been maltreated, condemned and killed. How many times have we ourselves preferred success to the truth, our reputation to justice? Strengthen the quiet voice of our conscience, your own voice, in our lives. Look at me as you looked at Peter after his denial. Let your gaze penetrate our hearts and indicate the direction our lives must take. On the day of Pentecost you stirred the hearts of those who, on Good Friday, clamored for your death, and you brought them to conversion. In this way you gave hope to all. Grant us, ever anew, the grace of conversion.
Jesus takes up his Cross
Reading: Matthew 27:27-31
Prayer: Lord, you willingly subjected yourself to mockery and scorn. Help us not to ally ourselves with those who look down on the weak and suffering. Help us to acknowledge your face in the lowly and the outcast. May we never lose heart when faced with the contempt of this world, which ridicules our obedience to your will. You carried your own Cross and you ask us to follow you on this path (cf. Mt 10:38). Help us to take up the Cross, and not to shun it. May we never complain or become discouraged by life’s trials. Help us to follow the path of love and, in submitting to its demands, to find true joy.
Jesus falls for the first time
Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6
Prayer: Lord Jesus, the weight of the Cross made you fall to the ground. The weight of our sin, the weight of our pride, brought you down. But your fall is not a tragedy, or mere human weakness. You came to us when, in our pride, we were laid low. The arrogance that makes us think that we ourselves can create human beings has turned man into a kind of merchandise, to be bought and sold, or stored to provide parts for experimentation. In doing this, we hope to conquer death by our own efforts, yet in reality we are profoundly debasing human dignity. Lord help us; we have fallen. Help us to abandon our destructive pride and, by learning from your humility, to rise again.
Jesus meets his Mother
Reading: Luke 2:34-35,51
Prayer: Holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, you remained faithful when the disciples fled. Just as you believed the angels’ incredible message — that you would become the Mother of the Most High, so too you believed at the hour of his greatest abasement. In this way, at the hour of the Cross, at the hour of the world’s darkest night, you became the Mother of all believers, the Mother of the Church. We beg you: teach us to believe, and grant that our faith may bear fruit in courageous service and be the sign of a love ever ready to share suffering and to offer assistance.
The Cyrenian helps Jesus carry the Cross
Reading: Matthew 27:32; 16:24
Prayer: Lord, you opened the eyes and heart of Simon of Cyrene, and you gave him, by his share in your Cross, the grace of faith. Help us to aid our neighbors in need, even when this interferes with our own plans and desires. Help us to realize that it is a grace to be able to share the cross of others and, in this way, know that we are walking with you along the way. Help us to appreciate with joy that, when we share in your suffering and the sufferings of this world, we become servants of salvation and are able to help build up your Body, the Church.
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Reading: Isaiah 53:2-3; Psalms 27:8-9
Prayer: Lord, grant us restless hearts, hearts that seek your face. Keep us from the blindness of heart that sees only the surface of things. Give us the simplicity and purity that allow us to recognize your presence in the world. When we are not able to accomplish great things, grant us the courage that is born of humility and goodness. Impress your face on our hearts. May we encounter you along the way and show your image to the world.
Jesus falls for the second time
Reading: Lamentations 3:1-2,9,16
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you have borne all our burdens and you continue to carry us. Our weight has made you fall. Lift us up, for by ourselves we cannot rise from the dust. Free us from the bonds of lust. In place of a heart of stone, give us a heart of flesh, a heart capable of seeing. Lay low the power of ideologies, so that all may see that they are a web of lies. Do not let the wall of materialism become insurmountable. Make us aware of your presence. Keep us sober and vigilant, capable of resisting the forces of evil. Help us to recognize the spiritual and material needs of others, and to give them the help they need. Lift us up, so that we may lift others up. Give us hope at every moment of darkness, so that we may bring your hope to the world.
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who weep for him
Reading: Luke 23:28-31
Prayer: Lord, to the weeping women you spoke of repentance and the Day of Judgment, when all of us will stand before your face: before you, the Judge of the world. You call us to leave behind the trivialization of evil, which salves our consciences and allows us to carry on as before. You show us the seriousness of our responsibility, the danger of our being found guilty and without excuse on the Day of Judgment. Grant that we may not simply walk at your side, with nothing to offer other than compassionate words. Convert us and give us new life. Grant that in the end we will not be dry wood, but living branches in you, the true vine, bearing fruit for eternal life (cf. Jn 15:1-10).
Jesus falls for the third time
Reading: Lamentations 3:27-32
Prayer: Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.
Jesus is stripped of his garments
Reading: Matthew 27:33-36
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you were stripped of your garments, exposed to shame, cast out of society. You took upon yourself the shame of Adam, and you healed it. You also take upon yourself the sufferings and the needs of the poor, the outcasts of our world. And in this very way you fulfill the words of the prophets. This is how you bring meaning into apparent meaninglessness. This is how you make us realize that your Father holds you, us, and the whole world in his hands. Give us a profound respect for man at every stage of his existence, and in all the situations in which we encounter him. Clothe us in the light of your grace.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Reading: Matthew 27:37-42
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you let yourself be nailed to the Cross, accepting the terrible cruelty of this suffering, the destruction of your body and your dignity. You allowed yourself to be nailed fast; you did not try to escape or to lessen your suffering. May we never flee from what we are called to do. Help us to remain faithful to you. Help us to unmask the false freedom which would distance us from you. Help us to accept your “binding” freedom, and, “bound” fast to you, to discover true freedom.
Jesus dies on the Cross
Reading: John 19:19-20; Matthew 27:45-50,54
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, at the hour of your death the sun was darkened. Ever anew you are being nailed to the Cross. At this present hour of history we are living in God’s darkness. Through your great sufferings and the wickedness of men, the face of God, your face, seems obscured, unrecognizable. And yet, on the Cross, you have revealed yourself. Precisely by being the one who suffers and loves, you are exalted. From the Cross on high you have triumphed. Help us to recognize your face at this hour of darkness and tribulation. Help us to believe in you and to follow you in our hour of darkness and need. Show yourself once more to the world at this hour. Reveal to us your salvation.
Jesus is taken down from the Cross and given to his Mother
Reading: Matthew 27:54-55
Prayer: Lord, you descended into the darkness of death. But your body is placed in good hands and wrapped in a white shroud (Mt 27:59). Faith has not completely died; the sun has not completely set. How often does it appear that you are asleep? How easy it is for us to step back and say to ourselves: “God is dead.” In the hour of darkness, help us to know that you are still there. Do not abandon us when we are tempted to lose heart. Help us not to leave you alone. Give us the fidelity to withstand moments of confusion and a love ready to embrace you in your utter helplessness, like your Mother, who once more holds you to her breast. Help us, the poor and rich, simple and learned, to look beyond all our fears and prejudices, and to offer you our abilities, our hearts and our time, and thus to prepare a garden for the Resurrection.
Jesus is laid in the tomb
Reading: Matthew 27:59-61
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, in your burial you have taken on the death of the grain of wheat. You have become the lifeless grain of wheat that produces abundant fruit for every age and for all eternity. From the tomb shines forth in every generation the promise of the grain of wheat which gives rise to the true manna, the Bread of Life, in which you offer us your very self.
You put yourself into our hands and into our hearts, so that your word can grow within us and bear fruit. Through the death of the grain of wheat you give us yourself, so that we too can dare to lose our life in order to find it, so that we too can trust the promise of the grain of wheat. Help us grow in love and veneration for your eucharistic mystery — to make you, the Bread of heaven, the source of our life. Help us to become your “fragrance,” and to make known in this world the mysterious traces of your life.
Like the grain of wheat that rises from the earth, putting forth its stalk and then its ear, you could not remain enclosed in the tomb: the tomb is empty because he — the Father — “did not abandon you to the nether world, nor let your flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31; Ps 16:10). No, you did not see corruption. You have risen, and have made a place for our transfigured flesh in the very heart of God. Help us to rejoice in this hope and bring it joyfully to the world. Help us to become witnesses of your Resurrection.