From a reader:
I was wondering if the stations have to be in a certain direction in the church. I was in a church where they were just arranged on a single wall in rows one above the other in a sort of zig-zag. That’s doesn’t seem right to me.
In the recitation of the Stations there must movement from one station to another. Station comes from Latin “statio… stopping place”. In public recitation, it is not necessary for everyone in church to move. Just the celebrant can move with the servers. But if the crosses of the Stations are all grouped together, it is hard to imagine what sort of significant movement there can be. Putting them all together seems like a bad idea to me – unless the space of the church or chapel or oratory is very small and not much area is available. There could be some movement possible even if they are arranged very closely.
I don’t know if there more recent legislation about the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis as it is also called, but we can get some insight from an old (reprinted) liturgical manual by Trimeloni, which is an Italian version of Fortescue/O’Connell, for the Extraordinary Form.
Trimeloni has detailed descriptions of the contents and arrangement of a church, which includes, of course, Stations of the Cross.
Here is what I found:
1. For Latin Church Catholics to gain the indulgences, the Stations must be canonically “erected” by a Franciscan or someone who had an indult, such as all diocesan bishops.
2. The Stations themselves don’t have to have images, but they must have visible crosses of wood.
3. The order of the 14 images can start from either the Epistle side or the Gospel side, that is, the side of the church corresponding to the sides of the altar where the Epistle or the Gospel of Holy Mass are said or sung during Mass. The direction of their order should correspond to the predominant direction of the artistic representation’s movement of the figures toward the right or left. For example, if the figures move predominantly from right to left for most of the Stations (that won’t be the case with the Crucifixion, for example), the 1st Station would begin on the wall closest to the Gospel side of the altar, so that the figures are artistically/metaphorically moving away from the altar during the narrative of the Via Crucis.
4. During more solemn exercises of this devotion it is not necessary to light candles before the Stations, a processional Cross without a corpus is used, there can be a folded “shroud” hanging on the Cross, servers go on either side of the Cross with lighted candles, the priest does not wear a stole, since this doesn’t concern the Blessed Sacrament or a sacramental.
There are some places where Stations are done in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, which is somewhat avant-garde and controversial. In that case, however, it seems reasonable that the priest would wear a stole.
A few other points. The Stations were not always 14 in number, but they are now. Adding a 15th Station is strange. There are different ways to observe the Stations now, but the traditional 14 were once obligatory. The Franciscans are deeply connected to this devotion from the time of pilgrimages in the Middle Ages to the Holy Land. The devotion of the Stations, to correspond with the places of the Lord’s journey to the place of His Crucifixion, were for the benefit of people who couldn’t go to Jerusalem. Franciscans still have custody of many pilgrimage places in the Holy Land.
The principle motivation for this devotion is for reparation for our part in the Passion and Crucifixion of the Lord and reparation for all the sins and offenses we commit which, in a sense, continue to crucify the Lord even now.
So, repeating my lack of awareness of some subsequent I don’t think there is a specific and obligatory arrangement or order, but the principles of common sense ought to apply.
I hope that helps a little.