This liturgical year the Season of Lent begins with ashes on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, and climaxes with Mass on Holy Thursday, March 29, 2018. Lent is the Church's forty-day (the six Sundays are not counted) spiritual pilgrimage toward Easter. Christ Himself prayed and fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert before He entered His public ministry, and in Lent we imitate Christ's days of prayer and fasting in preparation for our redemption.

Originally, the period before Easter was a time of study and prayer for those preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. Today, the Church invites us not only to pray for catechumens but also to renew our own commitment to the life that began in us at Baptism. We observe Lent as a season of spiritual development marked by prayer, penance, fasting, charity, and introspection as we seek to recognize and respond afresh to God's presence in our lives. We enter Lent with the hope that Christ will become more meaningful to us and that we will be more Christ-like to others.

What are the Stations of the Cross?

The Way of the Cross (Via Crucis), as a devotion, may be traced to Christ's journey along the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Road) as He walked and stumbled in pain to his crucifixion on Calvary. From the earliest times, Jerusalem has been the goal of pilgrims wanting to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Tradition has it the Blessed Virgin Mary used to visit daily the scenes of Christ's Passion, and early Christian writers speak of crowds of pilgrims at the holy places.

During the late Middle Ages, when the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land prevented Christian pilgrims from visiting its sacred sites, the custom arose of making simple replicas of the holy places where the faithful might come to pray. One of the more popular of these "pilgrimages at home" was to pray at shrines erected in imitation of the stations (stopping places of prayer) on the street in Jerusalem that led from the judgment hall of Pilate to Calvary. By the end of the sixteenth century the present fourteen stations were erected in almost all Catholic churches throughout Europe.

Although no special prayers are prescribed for praying the Way of the Cross, nevertheless, in order to meditate with proper devotion on the sufferings of our Savior, most people find it useful to follow some set form of prayers composed for this purpose. Among the best known are the prayers for the Way of the Cross that St. Alphonsus Liguori published in 1761. The popularity of St. Alphonsus' Stations is due, no doubt, to their charming simplicity and ardent piety.

In recent years some variations have been introduced in the devotion. Some of the traditional stations are non-scriptural, owing their existance to Catholic tradition (e.g., the three falls, meeting with Veronica, etc.). In 1991 Pope St. John Paul II officiated at a Scriptural Way of the Cross on Good Friday in the Coliseum at Rome as a way of reflecting more deeply on the Scriptural accounts of Christ's passion.

Traditional or Scriptural, a further custom is the reciting or singing verses of the medieval poem Stabat Mater that reflects on the experience of the Virgin Mary at the Cross between each station.