Stations of the Cross


Dear Grace, I am curious about how the devotion of the Stations of the Cross began. Could you please explain this?

Indeed, one of the most beautiful ways to prepare for the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter is the Stations of the Cross. This devotion goes back to the earliest times of the Church and has evolved over time. The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make, in spirit, a pilgrimage to the major scenes of Christ's sufferings and death. Today, it has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the various events of Jesus' Passion.

Although it cannot be confirmed, it is believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary made daily visits o the places where her beloved son suffered so much for the sins of the world. This should not be difficult to believe. What mother would not have done so? History shows that ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in 312 A.D., people have been making this spiritual pilgrimage. Constantine's own mother, St. Helena, was among the first to do so. St. Jerome (342- 420 AD), living in Bethlehem during the latter part of his life, also writes of the crowds of pilgrims from various countries who visited those holy places and followed the Way of the Cross or "Via Dolorosa" (Sorrowful Way), as it was later called.

Because many pilgrims could not actually travel to the Holy Land due to the control of the area by Muslim Turks, we see that, as early as the fifth century, an interest arose to "reproduce" the holy places in other lands. One of the first examples of this is the monastery of San Stefano at Bologna, where a group of connected chapels was contructed that were intended to represent the more important shrines of Jerusalem. Eventually, reproductions of these were erected at popular spiritual centers.

William Wey, an English pilgrim, visited the Holy Land in 1462, and is credited with the term "stations." At the end of the 17th century, the erection of these stations in churches became more popular when Pope Innocent XI granted the right to place them in churches and also that indulgences be given for practicing the devotion as if one had been on an actual pilgrimage. Some years later, Pope Clement XII permitted stations to be created in all churches and fixed the number at fourteen.

To this day, there are fourteen traditional stations: Pilate condemns Christ to death; Jesus carries the cross; the first fall; Jesus meets His Blessed Mother; Simon of Cyrene helps to carry the cross; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; the second fall; Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem; the third fall; Jesus is stripped of His grments; Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus dies on the cross; Jesus is taken down from the cross; and Jesus is laid in the tomb. Because of the link between the passion and death of our Lord with His Resurrection, many devotional booklets now include a 15th station, which commemorates the Resurrection.

A plenary indulgence (total remission from temporal punishment due to one's sins) is granted for those who piously recite the Stations of the Cross. If done in a public place, the person should actually move from station to station, but if they are not able to do so because of the number of people, the person leading the devotion must do so. In addition, three conditions must also be met (preferably on the same day, but at least several days before or after): sacramental confession, eucharistic communion, and prayer for the pope's intentions (see "Handbook of Indulgences," no. 63). Those who are not able to visit a church may gain the same indulgence by piouslyreading and meditating on the passion and death of Our Lord for fifteen minutes. Knowing all this, let us walk with the Lord on his way to Calvary and help Him carry His Cross!


Grace MacKinnon. "Stations of the Cross." (March, 2003).

Reprinted with permission of Grace MacKinnon.


Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She is the author of Dear Grace: Answers to Questions Abot the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at or call 1-800-348-2440.

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Copyright © 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon

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