No doubt, the Blessed Mother and the Apostles held the sites of our Lord's sorrowful passion in esteem. We might even think of the Blessed Virgin going to visit the places where she met Christ on the way to Calvary and even praying at the very hill of our redemption.
Early Christians in the Holy Land remained devoted to these various stations. The stairs and praetorium where Christ was tried by Pontius Pilate was well known as was the place of our Lord's Crucifixion and Resurrection. Pilgrims coming from the West desired to see these places and desired to know how Christ traveled from the place of His unjust condemnation to His Crucifixion - the Via Dolorosa or Via Sacra. The Stations of the Cross, then, have their origin in the actual locations in Jerusalem.
Pilgrims wishing to bring this moving devotion home with them. In the 400s, Saint Petronius erected a series of chapels dedicated to the important shrines of Jerusalem in Bologna, Italy. During the Crusades, when pilgrimages and travels to the Holy Land resumed, there was a renewed interest among Europeans in the Via Sacra. By the 11th century, pilgrims had popularized the devotion. The Franciscans, who were granted administration of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem in 1342, increased its popularity.
In the 1400s, the Stations of the Cross became extremely popular in Europe; however, they were usually an series of outdoor shrines.
In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted to the Franciscans the right to erect Stations of the Cross within their churches. It was only as late as 1862 that the right erect the Stations of the Cross without a Franciscan was extended to bishops throughout the Catholic Church.
Today, the faithful receive a plenary indulgence (with the usual conditions) for making the Stations of the Cross. You can find the exact details from the official Enchiridion below.
63. Exercise of the Way of the Cross (Viae Crucis exercitium)
A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful, who make the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross.
In the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross we recall anew the sufferings, which the divine Redeemer endured, while going from the praetorium of Pilate, where he was condemned to death, to the mount of Calvary, where he died on the cross for our salvation.
The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:
- The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected.
- For the erection of the Way of the Cross fourteen crosses are required, to which it is customary to add fourteen pictures or images, which represent the stations of Jerusalem.
- According to the more common practice, the pious exercise consists of fourteen pious readings, to which some vocal prayers are added. However, nothing more is required than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.
- A movement from one station to the next is required.
But if the pious exercise is made publicly and if it is not possible for all taking part to go in an orderly way from station to station, it suffices if at least the one conducting the exercise goes from station to station, the others remaining in their place.
Those who are "impeded" can gain the same indulgence, if they spend at least one half an hour in pious reading and meditation on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For those belonging to Oriental rites, amongst whom this pious exercise is not practiced, the respective Patriarchs can determine some other pious exercise in memory of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gaining of this indulgence.
The Stations of the Cross
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus bears his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
5. Jesus is helped by Simon
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls a second time
8. Jesus speaks to the women
9. Jesus falls a third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
12. Jesus dies on the Cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb