I notice that in churches built or renovated after Vatican II, the “scriptural” Stations of the Cross approved by Pope John Paul II in 1991 are rarely portrayed. Instead one finds the “traditional” order promulgated by Pope Clement XII in 1731. I suspect that many pastors, architects and artists are unaware of the revised version first used by John Paul II at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1991. This matter is worth considering as we enter the season of Lent.
Here are the 1991 scriptural Stations:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
4. Jesus is denied by Peter
5. Jesus is condemned by Pilate
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
7. Jesus carries his Cross
8. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
10 . Jesus is crucified
11. Jesus promises the Kingdom to the repentant thief
12. Jesus speaks to his mother and John
13. Jesus dies on the Cross
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
What were the reasons for the 1991 changes? First, there was a desire to remove scenes that are not explicitly biblical. This includes Jesus meeting his mother on the way to Calvary, the three falls of Jesus, and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. In their place were added biblical events missing from the traditional Stations, including Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus betrayed by Judas and arrested, Jesus denied by Peter, Jesus promising the Kingdom to the repentant thief, and Jesus speaking from the Cross to his mother and John.
The second, and more fundamental, reason for the changes was that the 1991 Stations were thought to be more adequate theologically. The Clement XII Stations emphasized the sufferings of Jesus on the way to Calvary (thus the emphasis on the three falls), while the John Paul II Stations emphasize the courage and fidelity Jesus displayed in his journey to death (thus the focus in the new Stations on the betrayal Jesus experienced in his encounters with Judas and Pilate), which we are called to imitate.
God does not wish anyone to suffer, nor is suffering in itself pleasing to God; it is the faith-filled attitude that we have in times of adversity that is pleasing to God. We are saved ultimately by our entry into the saving mystery (story) of Jesus and the inward change that is effected in us.
Archbishop Piero Marini, then Master of Liturgical Celebrations for Pope John Paul II, wrote that following the Stations of the Cross recalls “the tragic interplay of persons, the struggle between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood ... which they incarnate. All of them take part in the mystery of the passion, taking sides for or against Jesus, the sign of contradiction.”
I am not suggesting that every church change its Stations from the traditional to the scriptural overnight – but perhaps over time this could be achieved.
People might be open to change if it were explained to them that the Stations with which they are familiar are not as venerable as they might think, and that the number of Stations has varied between seven and 30 since their popularization by the Franciscans in the 13th century.
I know from experience that people are more eager to pay for artwork in churches than for anything else. Perhaps changing the Stations could over time become a parish project which would involve a parish-wide catechetical program.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is pastor emeritus at St. Vincent de Paul Parish.