Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Stations of the Cross

A great many things have changed in the Catholic Church since Vatican n, and several of those changes are apparent if Catholic churches built after Vatican II are compared with those built before. Many new churches, for instance, contain none of those plaster statues of various saints before which so many pious Catholics used to pray. Similarly, whereas it used to be common for a Catholic church to contain several different statues of the Virgin Mary, many churches now contain only one such statue, and often even this one statue has been banished from the main body of the church to the small enclosed room where mothers are supposed to sit with their crying babies. Formerly the central and dominating feature of any Catholic church was a crucifix, that is, a cross to which is attached an image of the crucified Christ, but even that has changed. In at least a few Catholic churches the cross that hangs suspended over the alter is now just a plain cross (without the body of Christ), something that would have almost certainly told pre-Vatican II Catholics that they were in a Protestant church. But in the midst of all this change, I have yet to visit a Catholic church, new or old, that did not have attached to its interior walls the fourteen plaques marking the Stations of the Cross, the popular devotion that is the subject of this chapter.

Since the Stations of the Cross is a devotion organized around Christ's various sufferings on his way to Calvary, it is one of the few popular devotions in the Catholic Church that is overwhelmingly Christocentric. This fact probably explains why this devotion is still (quite literally) built into the structure of Catholic churches. Though Catholic commentators rarely say it outright, the fact is that Vatican II severely undermined the Mary cult and, by extension, all those devotions like the Rosary, the Angelus, and the Brown Scapular that have Mary as their focus.

The Council's relatively sudden de-emphasizing of the Mary cult stands in marked contrast to the preceding century and a half, which was clearly a period of Marian advance. It was during this period for instance that the

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