The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross

Question

I'm new to the Catholic Church. How much merit do I gain by praying the Stations of the Cross? Who is Veronica? How much does praying the Stations of the Cross shorten my time in purgatory?

Answer

These are good questions, and although we aren’t associated with the Catholic Church, we're happy to respond.

Stations of the Cross: Tradition, not the Gospel

According to Catholic Online, the Stations of the Cross [1] or the Via Crucis have been celebrated for centuries.
The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ's last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation. … The Stations of the Cross are commonly found in churches as a series of 14 small icons or images. [2]
The Stations of the Cross (SoC) are a man-made tradition. Walking the SoC is a tradition that originated centuries after the Apostles and during the Crusades of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Many of the Stations aren’t grounded in Scripture. For instance, the sixth Station, "Veronica wipes the face of Jesus" isn’t in the Bible. Moreover, the name of Veronica is never mentioned in Scripture at all. The event is thought to be a legend far removed from the date of the cross and perhaps derived from Ecclesiastical History written by Eusebius of Caesarea (312-324 A.D.). As matter a fact, of the 14 Stations, numbers 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 13 are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

Today there is even a modern-day "green" version of the SoC. In 2021 Vatican News announced the Global Catholic Climate Movement had reinterpreted the SoC. Among other changes (such as emphasizing the sufferings caused by COVID-19), they added:

At the fourth station, where Jesus meets Mary his mother, the reflection says: "A sword pierces the body of our mother Earth every time we destroy her forests, every time we pour poisons into her land, its rivers and beautiful seas, every time we behave as if the Creation were our property and not a gift of God … let us unite with Mary’s weeping and pain, let us unite with the weeping of the earth and of the poor, of the least, and prepare ourselves as children, who work with the heart, who try to defend their mother and alleviate her wounds, body and soul. [3]
It would appear that with the single stroke of a pen, the Catholic Church has turned the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, into Mother Earth. And the Station speaks more about Mary than Jesus. As Thomas Watson wrote in 1666:
They who will bring in a tradition, will in time lay aside a command. This the Papists are very guilty of; they bring in altars and crucifixes, and lay aside the second commandment. They bring in oil and cream in baptism, and leave out the cup in the Lord's Supper. They bring in praying for the dead, and lay aside reading the Scriptures intelligibly to the living. Those who will introduce into God's worship that which he has not commanded, will be as ready to blot out that which he has commanded. [4]

Stations of the Cross: Idolatry, not the Gospel

The SoC is not a biblical form of worship. It is idolatry, not only in some of its content but also in its use of images. The images of the 14 Stations are normally arranged around the walls of a church or outside on a road leading to a church. According to Catholic Answers, "The Stations may be of stone, wood, or metal, sculptured or carved, or they may be merely paintings or engravings." [5]

Catholics will argue that they don’t worship wood, relics, or images, but venerate them. What does venerate mean? [6] During the Second Council of Nicea, Catholics decided to use the word proskunei in reference to veneration. However, proskunei is found in Acts 10:25-26 which states, "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped [prosekynesen] him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up; I too am a man.'" So a Catholic council used the same word to describe "veneration" of images that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Peter decisively declared was inappropriate to also defend worship of Saint Peter himself! In Mark 5:6 and John 9:38 prosekynesen is used for the worship of Jesus, who is God. Even if called by another name, only God is worthy of worship, adoration and praise, and is worthy to be revered (Neh. 9:6; John 4:24; Rev. 4:11; 15:4).

Exodus 20:3-5 maintains, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me." The Apostle John says, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21; cf. 1 Cor. 5:11; 10:14; 1 Thess. 1:9). The SoC clearly has the appearance of idolatry.

While it is good and scriptural to remember what the Lord has done for his people, it is just as important to remember it in a biblical way and not add to it! (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). It’s biblical to remember that Jesus died for sinners. (Please see, "Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?" below). And it’s biblical to remember his resurrection and ascension. We should remember everything about Jesus that we can. But we shouldn’t worship the true God in a false way (cf. Mark 7:7, 8, 9). Jesus is a real person, not a thing. The worship of images obscure the glory of God. Nor should there be prayers to Mary or anyone else. These are sinful acts.

Stations of the Cross: No Resurrection, not the Gospel

Also disturbing about the original 14 Stations is what they don’t mention. One thing specifically is the victory of the cross. Jesus is risen (cf. Acts 2:24; Rom. 6:9, 10; Rev. 1:18) and Christians are saved by Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Though there are now some edited versions of the SoC which include the resurrection [7], how could the Vatican have initially neglected for so many centuries one of the greatest miracles of all — the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? If there is no resurrection, there is no gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:3-4; Gal. 1:6).

Unless Christ is risen, he can’t be ruling at the right hand of God (1 Cor. 15:13, 16), thus rendering our preaching the gospel and our faith as worthless (1 Cor. 15:14, 17) and making the apostles (including Peter) imposters who falsely represented God (1 Cor. 15:15). There is then no remission of sins and only remaining guilt (1 Cor. 15:17). And all who have died will perish (1 Cor. 15:18) and so there is no eternal hope (1 Cor. 15:19). Without the resurrection, there is no true gospel or good news!

Stations of the Cross: No Gospel of Grace

One can’t earn righteousness by walking or praying the SoC. Genuine righteousness is given by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul tells us "[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Tit. 3:5). It's not our righteousness that makes us whole before God, but Christ’s (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). We don’t and can’t merit it.

God pronounced that our works — as good as we think they may be — are as filthy rags (cf. Isa. 64:6). There is a huge gap between what God demands and what we have to offer. The gap is far too great to be bridged by any ordinary man, so it is done by God himself through Christ who humbled himself and became obedient, even unto death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11). Only God-given faith can save a person. Only by the work of Jesus, and him alone, are we forgiven and able to receive eternal life. One doesn’t gain any merit or cleansing by praying the SoC.

Stations of the Cross: Purgatory Doesn’t Exist, but Hell Does

There is no need to worry about purgatory because it doesn’t exist. (Please see, "Is Purgatory Biblical?" below.) But an eternal Hell does exist and this should be the concern. Idolaters go to Hell - a literal place (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8).

Footnotes

[1] The 14 Stations of the Cross are: (1) Jesus is condemned to death; (2) Jesus carries His cross; (3) Jesus falls the first time; (4) Jesus meets His Mother; (5) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross; (6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; (7) Jesus falls the second time; (8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; (9) Jesus falls a third time; (10) Jesus clothes are taken away; (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) Jesus dies on the cross; (13) The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross [and laid in the arms of Mary]; (14) Jesus is laid in the tomb. Catholic Online. "Stations of the Cross." (https://www.catholic.org/prayers/station.php). Last Accessed 11 May 2021.

[2] Catholic Online. "Stations of the Cross." (https://www.catholic.org/prayers/station.php). Last Accessed 11 May 2021.

[3] The Australian. "Vatican changes Stations of the Cross to reflect climate change." (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/vatican-changes-stations-of-the-cross-to-reflect-climate-change/news-story/210384cafe2863f29b262ff5011bffa4). Last Accessed 12 May 2021.

[4] Watson, Thomas (1992). "The Godly Man's Picture." Banner of Truth Trust, p. 36.

[5] Catholic Answers. "Way of the Cross." (https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/way-of-the-cross). Last Accessed 12 May 2021.

[6] Worship and veneration are synonyms. Even some Catholic dictionaries see these terms as meaning the same thing. Here are definitions of both these terms from A Catholic Dictionary (William E. Addis & Thomas Arnold, Eds., A Catholic Dictionary. Catholic Publication Society: New York (1884):

VENERATION. The word commonly used to express in English that worship given to saints either directly or through images and relics.

WORSHIP. Adoration and reverence paid to God ... also for the honor paid to the saints ... veneration.
Notice how this dictionary uses worship to define veneration and then goes on to define worship as adoration, reverence and veneration. In their own words, worship and veneration are synonyms.

There are other Catholic sources that have recorded similar things. Today the RCC uses three Latin terms to differentiate between types of worship:

Latria – An act of adoration or worship due to God (Exod. 20:1-5).
Hyperdulia - An act of worship (veneration) towards the Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:48).
Dulia – An act of worship (veneration) towards the saints (Dan. 2:46).
While there may be no problem with the word Latria and the worship of God, the other two words pose a significant problem because their scriptural support has nothing to do with proper worship.

Let’s look at Dulia first. Catholics quote Daniel 2:46 referencing King Nebuchadnezzar’s worship of Daniel as a proof text of the worship of saints. However, according to BDB the Aramaic word segid means "to do homage" (by prostration). Every other usage of the term in the Bible (which is only in Daniel) is within the context of idolatry (Dan. 3:5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 28). It is never recorded that Nebuchadnezzar became a believer, but the average Babylonian had no problem assimilating Yahweh into the pagan pantheon (cf. Dan. 4:37). The RCC then has as their proof text a pagan king and his worship of idols.

Catholics also use Romans 13:7 as a proof text for their worship of saints. However, Paul wrote Romans 13 in reference to the pagan Roman government. The way the Roman Christians were to demonstrate submission to civil authorities was by giving back to each authority what is owed, whether taxes, respect or honor. This has nothing to do with worshipping the saints, but properly honoring pagan governments (cf. 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Peter also stated we should honor all men (1 Pet. 2:17), but honoring doesn’t mean worship.

Hyperdulia is a step above the worship of saints. It is the worship of Mary the mother of Jesus. The proof text Catholics use here is Luke 1:48 which reads, "for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant [Mary]. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." Mary was indeed richly blessed in what she received from the Lord, but this doesn’t mean she should be worshipped. Mary herself said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). Mary didn’t worship saints or even herself. She worshipped God alone and confessed that she too needed a Savior, and thus she is unworthy of veneration or worship.

[7] The SoC has been updated in an attempt to reduce the number of errors contained in it. "Pope John Paul II introduced a new form of devotion, called the Scriptural Way of the Cross, on Good Friday 1991." … "The Catholic Church in the Philippines uses a slightly different set called the New Way of the Cross." Wiki. "Scriptural Way of the Cross" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scriptural_Way_of_the_Cross). Last Accessed 12 May 2021.

Related Topics

Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?
Is Purgatory Biblical?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).