Remembering the “Way of the Cross” can be traced all the way back to Emperor Constantine in the 300’s. In 335 A.D, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus’s tomb was thought to have been. Not long after the Church was built, the faithful began making pilgrimages here remembering the route that Christ took along the way.
The Franciscan Order is most often associated with the Stations of the Cross, since it was to this order that Pope Innocent XI gave permission to display the Stations of the Cross in all of their Catholic Churches.
In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII declared that all indulgences given for visiting the sacred sites in the Holy Land would also apply to any of the faithful who prayed the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic Church. Throughout the years, the number of stations have varied greatly, but in 1731 Pope Clement XII fixed the number to 14, where it remains to this day.
One of the most popular versions of the Stations of the Cross was written by St Alphonsus Liguori and is still used extensively to this day.
The Catholic Church grants a plenary indulgence to those who pray the Stations of the Cross and meet the following requirements:
The Enchiridion of Indulgences, issued in 1968 by the Apostolic Penitentiary states: 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:
1. The pious exercise must be made before Stations of the Cross legitimately erected.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.