Impact of Blessed Stations of the Cross - A Deeper Life of Grace

“The reader may form an idea of the zeal with which some saintly missionaries have labored for the propagation of this devotion — which is at the same time the strongest evidence of the value they set upon it— from the single instance of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, who erected no less than five hundred and seventy-two sets of stations. It was he, too, who induced Pope Benedict XIV to have them erected in the Colosseum at Rome, the spot which had been so frequently bedewed with the blood of martyrs; and the saint himself preached on the occasion.”

Fr. Lambing,

The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church, 1892


The Stations of the Cross, often officially referred to as “The Way of the Cross,” is a truly powerful meditation, one which the Church takes up weekly during the holy season of Lent.


What most Catholics don’t know is that these meditations have historically been endowed with rich indulgences, making this devotion perhaps the most fruitful of all private devotions.  In 1932, Pope Pius XI, in order to clear up the uncertainties related to the number of indulgences attached to the Way of the Cross, revoked all of the former indulgences and proclaimed new and rich indulgences.


While the current (1999) Manual of Indulgences simply refers to the indulgence as being a plenary indulgence, the emphasis in the 1951 book, The Externals of the Catholic Church, is that these are of great richness and spiritual fecundity.


One may obtain a plenary indulgence by making a devout and meditative Way of the Cross, moving from station to station (unless in a large group) before the fourteen officially erected wooden crosses.


Further, one is also performing this sacred work in the presence of a sacramental, enriched with the Church’s blessing, and intended to elevate and purify the soul in the process of these meditations.


The Roman Ritual Blessing – The Stations of the Cross


The Stations of the Cross, in every Church or chapel or dedicated place of prayer, are to be given the official blessing of the Church, as prescribed by the Roman Ritual.


After invoking the Holy Spirit, the images or paintings which are part of the Stations are blessed first, “that whosoever, through the inspiration of these images, strives to honor and worship Him, may by His merits obtain grace in this life and eternal glory in the next” (Ritual).


The fourteen wooden crosses, which are the central item of this sacramental, are then blessed.  These crosses, which do not bear an image or figure of Our Lord, are required for the indulgence attached to this devotion.  It is these which are the primary sacramental of this devotion, blessed and enriched with an indulgence.  These are also required to be made of wood.


Though useful to personal piety and spiritual growth, picture books of the Stations are not a replacement for the crosses of the Stations and do not fulfill the obligations for the indulgence.  To obtain the indulgence, one must perform the Way of the Cross in the presence of officially erected and blessed Stations.  Those legitimately impeded from making the Way of the Cross may acquire the indulgence if they spend at least fifteen minutes meditating on the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  The indulgence may also be acquired through other pious exercises, approved by competent authority, “which call to mind the memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord, likewise with the prescribed fourteen stations” (Manual of Indulgences).


The imagery in the wording of the blessing of the crosses focuses on Our Lord’s protection and the power of the Cross to destroy the effects of evil that flow from Adam’s “partaking of the forbidden tree.”  Thus, the spiritual power of the Cross is set against the spiritual evil that flowed from this disobedience and is invoked with the language: “by Thy holy Cross Thou has snatched the world from Satan’s grasp, and hast conquered by Thy passion the tempter who rejoiced in Adam’s partaking of the forbidden tree” (Ritual).


By the Church’s blessing, the crosses become “a strengthening of faith, a motive for good works, and salvation to souls … [and a] comfort, protection, and a safeguard against the cruel darts of the enemy” (Ritual).


The blessing petitions that “they who kneel in prayer before [the crosses] in honor of Our Lord, experience health of soul and body,” and that God would “mercifully grant us who devoutly associate ourselves with Him on Calvary to reign in triumph with Him in glory” (Ritual).


The Practice of the Way of the Cross


The practice of walking in the steps of Our Lord’s passion began in the very early Church, by the devotional example of Our Lady and the early Christians.  As time passed, devout pilgrims, notably Franciscan Friars, upon their return from the Holy Land, set up little chapels to commemorate the principal events along the way of Our Lord’s progression to Mount Calvary.


The “Stations” are the crosses marking the path which the penitent travels in imitation of, and to accompany, Our Lord as He journeyed toward His death.  The Stations are not, technically, the images or paintings created, which are solely there to aid the faithful in their meditations.


There are fourteen Stations, though the number has historically varied between eleven and sixteen.  The Church eventually set the official number at fourteen, as seen in the wording of the sacramental blessing and that of the Indulgence.


The Stations do not have to begin on the right or on the left of the Church.  The direction in which they are set is intended to match the direction in which Our Lord is depicted to be travelling in the images.  The artist establishes the direction when he crafts the image of Our Lord in the Second Station.


A Devotional Gift from the Holy Mother of God


Fr. Lambing, in his 1892 work, The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church, provides a beautiful and inspiring early history of this great sacramental:


“But let us ask, to whom do we owe the exercise of the Stations of the Cross? This beautiful and inspiring devotion is due, beyond all doubt, to none other than the august Mother of God, the Queen of martyrs. From the moment the Archangel Gabriel saluted Mary as the Mother of the long-expected Messiah, she knew, both from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which doubtless she had read and heard explained during her stay in the Temple, and also from her more than seraphic contemplation of the mission of the Man of Sorrows, that His Mother must of necessity be the Dolorous Mother. But after the presentation of her divine Infant in the Temple, when holy Simeon foretold that her Child was set for the ruin as well as for the redemption of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be contradicted, and that a sword of sorrow should pierce her own soul on account of Him, the sorrowful way was ever present to her mind. Whether an exile in distant and inhospitable Egypt, or at home in her quiet retreat at Nazareth, or accompanying her divine Son during His public ministry, this sorrowful way was never lost sight of. But when it came to be made in the reality, it far exceeded all ideas of it that even the mind of Mary was capable of forming. And once past, it could not be forgotten. The different places that marked the more than common sufferings of her Son and her God were indelibly engraven on her memory; and when His mission on earth was accomplished she would visit these sad scenes either alone or accompanied by other holy women, and there devoutly meditate on the love of God for man. It was thus she became the founder of one of the most fruitful devotions of holy Church.”


So, when we chant the Stabat Mater at the end of each Station, let us recall the depth of love which she held for Christ her Son, which impressed itself upon our august Mother, not only in her participation in the Passion and Death of her Son, but also in every moment of her life.


A Prayer


This prayer, based on the wording in the blessing placed upon the fourteen crosses, may be useful before or after making the Way of the Cross, or in renewing the fervor and devotion which one felt while previously doing so.


Abide with me, O Lord, my Redeemer,

and aid me with the consolation and instruction of Thy Spirit,

as I join with Thee in Thy saving Passion and Death.

By this holy contemplation, shield me from the evil one, from whose grip of death Thou hast snatched me, and keep me secure in Thy grace, that I may persevere in fidelity to Thee. 

May my intimacy with Thy victory on the Cross strike fear in the demons, who, seeing me beneath the covering of Thy Precious Blood, will deem me beyond their ability to sway.

Bestow upon me, I beseech Thee, O Lord, as I kneel before Thy holy Cross,

an increase in faith, a desire for good works, health in body and soul, and comfort in this valley of tears.

By Thy power, may I, escaping the poisonous darts of the enemy, persevere to the end and reign in triumph with Thee in glory.




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