The Station of the Cross is a prayer devotion that’s popular during Lent. Throughout this season, we seek to walk with Jesus toward His cross. Praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday, or even daily, can help us to enter into His pain and sorrow and fully appreciate the events of Easter weekend. Because the Stations of the Cross are fairly short and dramatic, they are accessible even for children. Here are my tips for praying the Stations of the Cross as a family.
“The Way of the Cross is the most familiar and popular form of devotion there is to the Passion of Christ. We pray the Way of the Cross to contemplate Christ’s suffering and to move ourselves to compassion.” ~ Marko Ivan Rupnik, Contemplating the Face of Christ
Praying the Stations of the Cross at Church
We’ve often joined our church on Friday nights during Lent to pray the Stations of the Cross together. I’ve found this tradition to be very family-friendly for several reasons.
First, the church is less busy than at a Sunday Mass, so I’m less worried about the kids’ behavior. We’ve often prayed Stations of the Cross with only a dozen or two other people. There’s also something different about the quiet, somber church for Friday night prayers that helps the kids stay quiet (in my experience!).
Second, the prayers are fairly short (all fourteen Stations can usually be said in half an hour). Even my wiggly kids can usually sit reasonably still for that amount of time (with some help—see my resources below!).
Third, kids can follow along as the priest or deacon moves around the church, to the various stations. The Stations of the Cross are a very visual prayer devotion, which appeals to kids. They can look at the Stations on the wall (or in a book, if your church’s Stations are small), watch the candles, see where we are in the prayers (and how much longer they have to wait!).
Finally, several churches we’ve attended have a tradition of sharing a meatless meal following the Stations of the Cross. This gives kids something to look forward to after prayers. If your church doesn’t share a meal, go home for a simple snack after praying the Stations of the Cross as a family to make Friday nights special.
Kendra Tierney from Catholic All Year points out that “there is a Stations of the Cross plenary indulgence available for meditating on the passion of Jesus in any format, but it requires the use of 14 crosses and movement from one station to the next (unless it’s not physically possible). A PLENARY indulgence is such a huge thing, it makes me sad to see so many people not meeting the super simple requirements for it!”
Praying the Stations of the Cross at Home
If praying the Stations of the Cross as a family at church doesn’t work, try praying at home together. You can pick any time during the week (it doesn’t have to be Friday!). Gather your prayer book and perhaps some extra visuals, such as a crucifix or candles. Children who can read can take turns leading the prayers or responses. Even younger children can learn the brief response said with each station.
You may want to do the Stations of the Cross at home a few times before going to church. That way, your children know the prayers and what is expected. This is easier than trying to explain in a whisper to your child what’s going on while the prayers are starting (umm, yes, I’ve done that…).
Melanie from Six On a Budget says, “We frame the stations and put them all around the house and pray in front of each one. It keeps the younger kids more engaged by being in motion than holding still for such a long time, just praying out of a book. Lighting little votive candles in front of each adds to the mystery and focus.”
Jenny says, “Almost every Friday morning in Lent we close the blinds and light 12 purple votive candles and kids take turns blowing one out after we pray each station from a children’s book. It’s simple and captivating, plus it’s pretty quick.”
Monica from Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families has a template and instructions for making Stations of the Cross Votive Candles. Kids will have fun making these beautiful candles, which will also help hold their attention while you’re praying.
Jen from Faith and Fabric has a Stations of the Cross magnet craft for kids. Again, kids will have fun making the magnets. These can then be a visual reminder, on the fridge or other metal surfaces around the home, during Lent, even when you aren’t praying. (My kids love playing with the magnets on the fridge! I’m sure they’d love these beautiful magnets.)
Kathryn shares, “I put up black and white copies of the stations in dollar store black frames around my living room (in about four clusters). We mostly just pray at home because between bilingual stations and a 7 p.m. start time, praying with the parish does not work for us. I made little booklets for my with stations I wrote that focus with a brief description of what Jesus went through instead of focusing on us, as many meditations do.”
Praying the Stations of the Cross Outdoors
Another option is to pray the Stations of the Cross outdoors! Some missions, monasteries, and churches have outdoor stations of the cross. We are blessed to have a Carmelite Monastery just an hour from Vancouver with an outdoor Stations of the Cross going up the hill. The walk between the stations helps with the high energy of younger kids. The large stations of the cross (plus everything else to look at outside) helps keep their attention when you stop to pray.
If you aren’t sure about outdoor stations in your diocese, ask your friends or parish.
Helping Your Kids Pray the Way of the Cross
Happy Saints has an ebook for the Way of the Cross. It features printable artwork including posters, prayer cards, coloring pages and badges for activities during Lent. I printed the posters and put them in a duotang to take with us to church. These posters provide a colourful, kid-friendly picture of each Station. There’s a brief description and prayer with each picture. I also printed the badges and tucked them into an envelope glued in the duotang. A child can hold these badges in one hand and follow along, or put them in order.
Holy Heroes has several colouring books featuring the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We’ve used The Road to Calvary and The Passion of Jesus to keep kids busy while praying the Stations. Holy Heroes also has the Stations of the Cross on CD, which can help if you’re praying at home.
Ginny from Not So Formulaic made a Stations of the Cross Paper Bag book with her kids. This easy craft lets kids create their own images for the Stations of the Cross, then use their books while praying.
Bonnie Engstrom has a Stations of the Cross box, which includes an object that represents each station. These are tangible items that kids can hold and think about while you’re praying.
The Stations of the Cross for Moms
Many Catholic authors have written beautiful prayers and meditations on the Stations of the Cross. You may have a favourite Way of the Cross that you use every year, or you may choose a new one to pray each Lent. You could use the same meditations and prayers for every week of Lent, or change the Way of the Cross each week. Here are a few of my favourite.
The Way of the Cross: Discovering Mercy with Saint Longinus walks the road to Calvary with the Centurion who crucified Jesus. Reverend J. Francis Sofie imagines what it would have been like to be St. Longinus, escourting Jesus along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha and eventually peircing his side with the spear. Each reflection is short (2-3 paragraphs) and demonstrates St. Longinus’ growing curiosity about Jesus.
The back of Discovering Mercy with Saint Longinus includes a historical note about St. Longinus as well as a prayer to him. If you have boys who like playing soldiers, they may enjoy praying this Way of the Cross with you.
Contemplating the Face of Christ: A Way of the Cross features beautiful mosaic-style illustrations. Marko Ivan Rupnik draws on the religious traditions of both East and West in these images and meditations. Each Station includes a New Testament reading, meditation, quote from the Early Church Fathers, an Old Testament reading, and a verse of “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” (“At the Cross Her Station Keeping”). This small book has durable, glossy pages.
While St. Longinus pulls us into a very focused reflection through his perspective on the crucifixion, I found that Contemplating the Face of Christ has a wider view of Jesus’ Passion. The readings, quotes and meditations pull all of salvation history together to show God’s work not only through Jesus life and death, but also before and after. This Way of the Cross offers much food for thought, but is probably over the heads of most kids.
Our Lady of Sorrows: a Catholic Novena & Meditation Prayer Journal helps us to contemplate Jesus’ cross from His Mother’s perspective. Lis Luwia helps moms discover the depths of Mary’s sorrow, the strength of her love for her Son, and how Mary can lead us closer to Jesus. This journal includes the Seven Sorrows of Mary, meditations on each sorrow with journaling space, actionable items to help you understand each sorrow better, and the Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows.
This journal will help readers see how Mary can comfort them in their sorrows, and help them look to Jesus in times of struggle. While this is slightly different than a Way of the Cross, it provides another way to contemplate Jesus’ Passion.
Have you tried praying the Stations of the Cross as a family? What resources do you use? What helps your children get involved in the prayers?