by Maria Grace Dateno, FSP
The Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross) is a traditional Catholic prayer used especially during Lent. It grew out of the love and devotion of the faithful, especially pilgrims to Jerusalem who traced the footsteps of Jesus on his way to Calvary.
But what about praying them with children? How can they be used with kids in a meaningful way? Here are a few suggestions for introducing children to the Stations of the Cross:
- The Stations help us remember how much Jesus loves us. He suffered and died on the cross for us, so that our sins can be forgiven!
- Praying the Stations also expresses our love for Jesus. We imagine walking with him step by step through this sad and painful time. This is a way to show our love and gratitude.
- Since children very naturally are inclined to pray for others, and this can be included in the Stations. We pray for people suggested by the particular station. (For example, for the eighth station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, we can pray for all mothers, especially those whose families are experiencing problems.)
- The Stations incorporate vocal prayer, imagination, and physical activity. If possible, pray the Stations in a place where all the children involved can move from one station to the next.
- There are many child-friendly materials you can use. The descriptions of Jesus’ sufferings need not be detailed. Any questions children have should be answered simply, without unnecessary explanations. These materials also provide multiple ways for the children to participate—as readers, leaders, and through posture and responses. (See the end of this post for some materials available from Pauline Books and Media).
- For the older children, it might be good preparation to learn some of the history of this practice. The Vatican website has some of this fascinating history here.
One final thought: some people are reluctant to present children with the passion of Jesus, in the form of the Stations of the Cross, or even simply in the form of a crucifix. Over the years, I have heard from people who were worried that the image of the crucified Christ would not be good for children but would be frightening or confusing, since it depicts a kind of violence from which we would normally shelter young children. If you know someone who is concerned about this, two things might be helpful to consider:
First, it’s good to remember that children who are baptized have been given the gift of faith. This theological virtue is infused in the soul of everyone who receives Baptism, including infants. Naturally, faith must develop in the mind and heart of children as they grow, but through this gift they are already disposed to believe in God and all that he has revealed to us.
Second, be mindful of presenting the cross as an image that reveals the love of Jesus. It’s helpful if children can see crucifixes around from a very young age, and be told, “Look, there’s Jesus! He loves you so much!” Often they grow up with the firm idea of cross as a sign of love. But for children who have not been exposed to images like this, or for those who have become upset with sight of Jesus being hurt so cruelly, it’s important to listen to what their concerns are, to validate their feelings and agree that it is very sad that Jesus suffered so much, to assure them that it consoles Jesus to know that they are sad for him, and to speak of the resurrection.
Praying the Stations of the Cross can help unfold the grace of Baptism and the gift of faith in the lives of the children we love.
For child-friendly materials, you can check out some PBM materials:
Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life,
form yourself in me,
that I may see with your eyes,
smile with your smile,
and love with your heart.
Mary, our Mother, Teacher, and Queen,
pray for us.