28 March 2021

Talks on the Sacramentals, by Msgr Arthur Tonne - Stations

"And bearing the cross for himself, he went forth to the place called the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him." St. Mark. 19:17

The French call it "The Holy Road." Not very long, it runs from the tiny town of Bar de Duc to the mighty fortress of Verdun, Verdun- -which the German army in World War One wanted to capture at any cost, Verdun--which the French were determined to hold at any cost.

When the battle began the railroads were wrecked, and supplies for the French had to be hauled over the road from Bar de Duc to Verdun. Day and night for three cruel months 12,000 trucks rumbled up to Verdun, loaded with soldiers, food, guns and ammunition. And daily 12,000 trucks rumbled back, loaded with wounded and weary Poilus. It is said that over this highway, more soldiers traveled never to return, than over any other road in the world. It was a road to death; it was a road to sacrifice; but it was a road to victory. France calls it "The Holy Road."

Christianity also has its holy road, the path over which Christ carried His cross to Calvary. It is a road to sacrifice, a road to death, but decidedly a road to victory. At the end of that road Christ won a complete victory over the enemies of our souls. He saved us. We Catholics like to think about the holy way that Jesus walked. The Way of the Cross is our holy road.

Just as the French recall the sacrifices of their heroes whenever they think about "The Holy Road," whenever they walk along it, so we think of the sacrifices of our Hero when we stop to think and pray before the fourteen scenes which mark the principal points along the path where Christ carried His cross. This devotion is also called The Stations of the Cross from the stations or crosses before which it was made. These are usually attached to the inside walls of every Catholic church. These wooden crosses are the essential part of the Stations; they must be blessed before one can gain the indulgence.

The story of the Way of the Cross goes back to the first Good Friday, when Christ's followers began to tread the very steps He trod for them. In the early centuries Christians from all over the world traveled to the Holy Land to visit the spots hallowed by the footsteps of our Lord, Particularly they wanted to walk along the holy road where Jesus walked. But when Jerusalem fell into the fanatical hands of the Moslems, this devotion became dangerous, difficult, and often impossible. Mother Church decided that the same devotion could be performed in one's own parish church.

From the very beginning the Franciscans promoted this practice. It was soon indulgenced by the Holy See, at first only for Franciscans and groups attached to our Order. In 1726 Pope Benedict XIII extended the indulgences to all the faithful.

Because for the past seven centuries the followers of St. Francis have been the official guardians of the holy places, they alone were permitted for several hundred years to erect the Stations officially. Today all bishops have this power. With a very special permission bishops may delegate it to their priests. However, it is still customary to ask a Franciscan to bless each newly erected Way of the Cross. There are two reasons for this: the burning love of St. Francis for the passion of Christ, and the seven centuries of labor, service, suffering and martyrdom render by the followers of the Little Poor Man as official keepers of the sacred spots in Palestine.

Although the number varied through the years, today there are fourteen stations Most of these are described in the Gospels. A few are not, like our Savior's falls, His meeting with His Blessed Mother, and the story of Veronica. These incidents have been handed down by tradition, a sound source of history.

The Stations may begin on either side of the church. If the figure of Christ faces the right, the Stations move toward the right. If Christ faces the left, they start to the left. Sometimes Stations are erected in the open air.

The indulgences of the Way of the Cross are some of the richest in the gift of Mother Church. Every time you make the Stations you may gain a plenary indulgence. A further plenary indulgence may be gained if the Stations are made on the same day one receives Holy Communion. Or this plenary indulgence is gained if the Stations are said ten times in a month, with Holy Communion received once after completing the ten times.

To gain these graces one is not bound to read a meditation or prayer at each Station. The following is necessary:

1. One must move from station to station.

2. One must stop at each Station and think for a brief time about the passion of our Lord in general, or about the scene pictured or represented.

3. If, on account of the crowd or physical inability, one cannot move about, it suffices to turn toward each Station slightly. In our country it is customary for the priest to go around the stations while the people remain in their pews.

So eager is Mother Church that everyone think of the Way of the Cross and gain its blessings, that she permits certain priests to attach the Station Indulgence to a crucifix of solid material. With such an indulgenced crucifix in hand, when for any reason one cannot make the Stations in church, the faithful may gain the indulgences by saying the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be twenty times--fourteen for the Stations, five in honor of the five wounds of our Lord, and one for the intention of the Holy Father. Printed pictures in a prayer book or on a chart cannot be used for the Way of the Cross.

This Holy Road is a holy sacramental. It gives the spiritually thrilling experience of walking with our Lord along the road to Calvary. It helps you think of what He went through for you. It helps you realize some of the love He showed in dying for you. It helps you return some of that love. Amen.

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