The Holy Father’s Address on the Stations of the Cross

OFFICE FOR THE LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF

STATIONS OF THE CROSS AT THE COLOSSEUM

LED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II

GOOD FRIDAY 2000HOLY YEAR

MEDITATION AND PRAYERS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II

OPENING PRAYER

The Holy Father:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. R. Amen.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).

Good Friday evening. For twenty centuries the Church has gathered on this evening to remember and to re-live the events of the final stage of the earthly journey of the Son of God. Once again this year, the Church in Rome meets at the Colosseum, to follow the footsteps of Jesus, who “went out, carrying his cross, to the place called the place of the skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha” (Jn 19:17).

We are here because we are convinced that the Way of the Cross of the Son of God was not simply a journey to the place of execution. We believe that every step of the Condemned Christ, every action and every word, as well as everything felt and done by those who took part in this tragic drama, continues to speak to us. In his suffering and death too, Christ reveals to us the truth about God and man.

In this Jubilee Year we want to concentrate on the full meaning of that event, so that what happened may speak with new power to our minds and hearts, and become the source of the grace of a real sharing in it. To share means to have a part.

What does it mean to have a part in the Cross of Christ? It means to experience, in the Holy Spirit, the love hidden within the Cross of Christ. It means to recognize, in the light of this love, our own cross. It means to take up that cross once more and, strengthened by this love, to continue our journey… To journey through life, in imitation of the one who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

Brief pause for silence.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, fill our hearts with the light of your Spirit, so that by following you on your final journey we may come to know the price of our Redemption and become worthy of a share in the fruits of your Passion, Death and Resurrection. You who live and reign for ever and ever.
R. Amen.

FIRST STATION

Jesus is condemned to death

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33). “My Kingdom is not of this world; if my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my Kingdom is not from the world” (Jn 18:36).
Pilate said to him: – “So you are a king?” Jesus answered: – “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said in answer: “What is truth?”. At this point, the Roman Procurator saw no need for further questions. He went to the Jews and told them: “I find no crime in him” (cf. Jn 18:37-38). The tragedy of Pilate is hidden in the question: What is truth?

This was no philosophical question about the nature of truth, but an existential question about his own relationship with truth. It was an attempt to escape from the voice of conscience, which was pressing him to acknowledge the truth and follow it. When someone refuses to be guided by truth he is ultimately ready even to condemn an innocent person to death. The accusers sense this weakness in Pilate and so do not yield. They relentlessly call for death by crucifixion. Pilate’s attempts at half measures are of no avail. The cruel punishment of scourging inflicted upon the Accused is not enough. When the Procurator brings Jesus, scourged and crowned with thorns, before the crowd, he seems to be looking for words which he thinks might soften the intransigence of the mob.

Pointing to Jesus he says: Ecce homo! Behold the man! But the answer comes back: “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate then tries to buy time: “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him” (Jn 19:5-7). He is increasingly convinced that the Accused is innocent, but this is not enough for him to decide in his favour. The accusers use their final argument: “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar” (Jn 19:12).

This is clearly a threat. Recognizing the danger, Pilate finally gives in and pronounces the sentence. But not without the contemptuous gesture of washing his hands: “I am innocent of this … blood; see to it yourselves!” (Mt 27:24).
Thus was Jesus, the Son of the living God, the Redeemer of the world, condemned to death by crucifixion. Over the centuries the denial of truth has spawned suffering and death. It is the innocent who pay the price of human hypocrisy. Half measures are never enough. Nor is it enough to wash one’s hands. Responsibility for the blood of the just remains. This is why Christ prayed so fervently for his disciples in every age: Father, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).

PRAYER
Lord Jesus Christ, you accepted an unjust judgment. Grant to us and to all the men and women of our time the grace to remain faithful to the truth. Do not allow the weight of responsibility for the sufferings of the innocent fall upon us and upon those who come after us. To you, O Jesus, just Judge, be honour and glory for ever and ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father…
Stabat Mater:
At the Cross her station keeping stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last.

SECOND STATION

Jesus takes up his Cross

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

The cross. The instrument of a shameful death. It was not lawful to condemn a Roman citizen to death by crucifixion: it was too humiliating. The moment that Jesus of Nazareth took up the Cross in order to carry it to Calvary marked a turning-point in the history of the cross.

The symbol of a shameful death, reserved for the lowest classes, the cross becomes a key. From now on, with the help of this key, man will open the door of the deepest mystery of God. Through Christ’s acceptance of the Cross, the instrument of his own self-emptying, men will come to know that God is love. Love without limits: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

This truth about God was revealed in the Cross. Could it not have been revealed in some other way? Perhaps. But God chose the Cross. The Father chose the Cross for his Son, and his Son shouldered it, carried it to Mount Calvary and on it offered his life. “In the Cross there is suffering, in the Cross there is salvation, in the Cross there is a lesson of love. O God, he who once has understood you, desires nothing else, seeks nothing else” (Polish Lenten hymn). The Cross is the sign of a love without limits!

PRAYER
Lord Jesus Christ, who accept the Cross at the hands of men to make of it the sign of God’s saving love for humanity, grant us and all the men and women of our time the grace of faith in this infinite love. By passing on to the new millennium the sign of the Cross, may we be authentic witnesses to the Redemption. To you, O Jesus, Priest and Victim, be praise and glory for ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father…
Stabat Mater:
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing, all his bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword had passed.

THIRD STATION

Jesus falls the first time

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

“God laid on him the sins of us all” (cf. Is 53:6). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6). Jesus falls under the Cross. This will happen three times along the comparatively short stretch of the “via dolorosa”. Exhaustion makes him fall. His body is stained with blood from the scourging, his head is crowned with thorns. All this causes his strength to fail. So he falls, and the weight of the Cross crushes him to the ground.

We must go back to the words of the Prophet, who foresaw this fall centuries earlier. It is as though he were contemplating it with his own eyes: seeing the Servant of the Lord, on the ground under the weight of the Cross, he tells us the real cause of his fall. It is this: “God laid on him the sins of us all”. It was our sins that crushed the divine Condemned One to the ground. It was our sins that determined the weight of the Cross that he carries on his shoulders. It was our sins that made him fall.

With difficulty Christ gets up again to continue his journey. The soldiers escorting him urge him on with shouts and blows. After a moment the procession sets out again. Jesus falls and gets up again. In this way, the Redeemer of the world addresses in a wordless way all those who fall. He exhorts them to get up again. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the wood of the cross, that we might no longer live for sin but for righteousness – by his wounds we have been healed” (cf. 1 Pt 2:24).

PRAYER
O Christ, as you fall under the weight of our faults and rise again for our justification, we pray, help us and all who are weighed down by sin to stand up again and continue the journey. Give us the strength of the Spirit to carry with you the cross of our weakness. To you, O Jesus, crushed under the weight of our faults be our praise and love for ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father…
Stabat Mater:
Oh, how sad and sore distressed was that Mother highly blessed of the sole begotten One!

FOURTH STATION

Jesus meets his Mother

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and his kingdom will have no end” (Lk 1:30-33).

Mary remembered these words. She often returned to them in the secret of her heart. When she met her Son on the way of the Cross, perhaps these very words came to her mind. With particular force. “He will reign… His kingdom will have no end”, the heavenly messenger had said.

Now, as she watches her Son, condemned to death, carrying the Cross on which he must die, she might ask herself, all too humanly: So how can these words be fulfilled? In what way will he reign over the House of David? And how can it be that his kingdom will have no end? Humanly speaking, these are reasonable questions. But Mary remembered that, when she first heard the Angel’s message, she had replied: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Now she sees that her word is being fulfilled as the word of the Cross. Because she is a mother, Mary suffers deeply. But she answers now as she had answered then, at the Annunciation: “May it be done to me according to your word”. In this way, as a mother would, she embraces the cross together with the divine Condemned One. On the way of the Cross Mary shows herself to be the Mother of the Redeemer of the world. “All you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering, which has been dealt me” (Lam 1:12). It is the Sorrowful Mother who speaks, the Handmaid who is obedient to the last, the Mother of the Redeemer of the world.

PRAYER
O Mary, who walked the way of the Cross with your Son, your mother’s heart torn by grief, but mindful always of your fiat and fully confident that He to whom nothing is impossible would be able to fulfil his promises, implore for us and for the generations yet to come the grace of surrender to God’s love. Help us, in the face of suffering, rejection, and trial, however prolonged and severe, never to doubt his love. To Jesus, your Son, honour and glory for ever and ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father …
Stabat Mater:
Christ above in torment hangs, she beneath beholds the pangs of her dying, glorious Son.

FIFTH STATION

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his Cross

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

They compelled Simon (cf. Mk 15:21). The Roman soldiers did this because they feared that in his exhaustion the Condemned Man would not be able to carry the Cross as far as Golgotha. Then they would not be able to carry out the sentence of crucifixion. They were looking for someone to help carry the Cross. Their eyes fell on Simon. They compelled him to take the weight upon his shoulders. We can imagine that Simon did not want to do this and objected. Carrying the cross together with a convict could be considered an act offensive to the dignity of a free man. Although unwilling, Simon took up the Cross to help Jesus.

In a Lenten hymn we hear the words: “Under the weight of the Cross Jesus welcomes the Cyrenean”. These words allow us to discern a total change of perspective: the divine Condemned One is someone who, in a certain sense, “makes a gift” of his Cross. Was it not he who said: “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:38)? Simon receives a gift. He has become “worthy” of it. What the crowd might see as an offence to his dignity has, from the perspective of redemption, given him a new dignity. In a unique way, the Son of God has made him a sharer in his work of salvation. Is Simon aware of this? The evangelist Mark identifies Simon of Cyrene as the “father of Alexander and Rufus” (15:21).

If the sons of Simon of Cyrene were known to the first Christian community, it can be presumed that Simon too, while carrying the Cross, came to believe in Christ. From being forced, he freely accepted, as though deeply touched by the words: “Whoever does not carry his cross with me is not worthy of me.” By his carrying of the Cross, Simon was brought to the knowledge of the gospel of the Cross. Since then, this gospel has spoken to many, countless Cyreneans, called in the course of history to carry the cross with Jesus.

PRAYER
O Christ, you gave to Simon of Cyrene the dignity of carrying your Cross. Welcome us too under its weight, welcome all men and women and grant to everyone the gift of readiness to serve. Do not permit that we should turn away from those who are crushed by the cross of illness loneliness, hunger or injustice. As we carry each other’s burdens, help us to become witnesses to the gospel of the Cross and witnesses to you, who live and reign for ever and ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father . . .
Stabat Mater:
Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

SIXTH STATION

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

Veronica does not appear in the Gospels. Her name is not mentioned, even though the names of other women who accompanied Jesus do appear. It is possible, therefore, that the name refers more to what the woman did. In fact, according to tradition, on the road to Calvary a woman pushed her way through the soldiers escorting Jesus and with a veil wiped the sweat and blood from the Lord’s face. That face remained imprinted on the veil, a faithful reflection, a “true icon”. This would be the reason for the name Veronica. If this is so, the name which evokes the memory of what this woman did carries with it the deepest truth about her.

One day, Jesus drew the criticism of onlookers when he defended a sinful woman who had poured perfumed oil on his feet and dried them with her hair. To those who objected, he replied: “Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me . . . In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Mt 26:10, 12). These words could likewise be applied to Veronica. Thus we see the profound eloquence of this event. The Redeemer of the world presents Veronica with an authentic image of his face.

The veil upon which the face of Christ remains imprinted becomes a message for us. In a certain sense it says: This is how every act of goodness, every gesture of true love towards one’s neighbour, strengthens the likeness of the Redeemer of the world in the one who acts that way. Acts of love do not pass away. Every act of goodness, of understanding, of service leaves on people’s hearts an indelible imprint and makes us ever more like the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). This is what shapes our identity and gives us our true name.

PRAYER
Lord Jesus Christ, you accepted a woman’s selfless gesture of love, and in exchange ordained that future generations should remember her by the name of your face. Grant that our works and the works of all who will come after us will make us like unto you and will leave in the world the reflection of your infinite love. To you, O Jesus, splendour of the Father’s glory, be praise and glory for ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father . . .
Stabat Mater:
Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s untold pain?

SEVENTH STATION

Jesus falls the second time

V/. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. R/. Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

“I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people” (Ps 22:6). These words of the Psalm come to mind as we see Jesus fall to the ground a second time under the Cross. Here in the dust of the earth lies the Condemned One. Crushed by the weight of his Cross. His strength drains away from him more and more. But with great effort he gets up again to continue his march. To us sinners, what does this second fall say? More than the first one, it seems to urge us to get up, to get up again on our way of the cross. Cyprian Norwid wrote: “Not behind us with the Saviour’s Cross, but behind the Saviour with our own Cross.” A brief saying, but one that conveys much truth. It explains how Christianity is the religion of the Cross.

It tells us that every person here below meets Christ who carries the Cross and falls under its weight. In his turn, Christ, on the way to Calvary, meets every man and woman and, falling under the weight of the Cross, does not cease to proclaim the good news. For two thousand years the gospel of the Cross has spoken to man. For twenty centuries Christ, getting up again from his fall, meets those who fall.

Throughout these two millennia many people have learned that falling does not mean the end of the road. In meeting the Saviour they have heard his reassuring words: “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Comforted, they have gotten up again and brought to the world the word of hope which comes from the Cross. Today, having crossed the threshold of the new millennium, we are called to penetrate more deeply the meaning of this encounter. Our generation must pass on to future centuries the good news that we are lifted up again in Christ.

PRAYER
Lord Jesus Christ, you fall under the weight of human sin and you get up again in order to take it upon yourself and cancel it. Give to us, weak men and women, the strength to carry the cross of daily life and to get up again from our falls, so that we may bring to future generations the Gospel of your saving power. To you, O Jesus, our support when we are weak, be praise and glory for ever.
R. Amen.
All:
Our Father . . .
Stabat Mater:
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent.

..to be continued…

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