QUAERITUR: Indulgence for Stations of the Cross

From a reader:

Last night the family that I live with recited the Stations of the Cross together in our home. At the end, we prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father and had a discussion about eternal/temporal punishment, indulgences (especially plenary ones), the requirements for obtaining them, and the ability to apply indulgences to the Holy Souls.
I decided to do a little research so the children would know about other indulgenced works. I found a great deal of information. Included was information about the indulgence for making the Way of the Cross. In the list of norms to gain the plenary indulgence it says, "The pious exercise must be made before stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected".
My question: What does it mean to be legitimately erected? Could we, in the house, hang 14 crosses, and make the Way of the Cross by processing with these? Or does this mean that we would need to go to a church and use stations that have been installed and blessed?

First, I am very glad that you have done this with your family.  You are to be commended.  I am reminded of the scribe who brings forth things both old and new.

The Handbook for Indulgences is the book issued by the Holy See containing the norms for indulgences, what some of the prayers and works are and what the conditions are.

A plenary indulgence can be obtained by making the Way of the Cross on Good Friday even through televised participation for the Holy Father’s Stations. 

Otherwise, this devotion at other times must be made before Stations of the Way of the Cross legitimately erected.   That means that a bishop or his delegate is to have established them in the place, usually a church or chapel or perhaps cemetery or other outside place such as a retreat house.  The bishop, etc., then provides a document that this was done.  Usually a document like that, often in Latin, can be found hanging on a wall of the sacristy, unless in ignorance it was taken down. 

When Stations have been duly erected, they are symbolized or "located" with a Cross on the wall or perhaps outside with a standing structure.  There is often a picture or statue group, etc.   There are 14 Stations.  Movement from one station to the next is required when you do them as an individual.  If the Stations are a public event, then just the person leading them needs to move from station to station.

The Handbook indicates that this is also vocal prayer.  By custom some "preces vocales" are added.  I suppose that might only be "Lord Jesus Crucified, have mercy on us."  Also, the Handbook says that there is flexibility about the mysteries considered.

It may be that some people are prevented from going to a church or place where there are legitimately erected Stations.  In that case a person can still gain the indulgence by spending at least one half hour meditating on the Cross and death of the Lord.

Eastern Catholics, who don’t have this custom of the Way of the Cross, can also gain an indulgence according as their respective patriarchs determine.

So… to the questions.

Yes… Stations must be formally set up as I described.  If you were to go to church with your family, you would all together move from station to station…. which would be a beautiful thing to see, actually.   If you were legitimately impeded from going to church, say there was a blizzard or someone at home who was ill who needed care, you have an alternative.

I don’t think "Well, I don’t want to drive for 10 minutes." is legitimately impeded.  But what that means is hard to say.  I tent to be on the lenient side with these things, for surely Holy Church wants people to be able to gain the indulgences without an undue burden.  It must cost us something, of course.  But that will vary.  A young person can get to church easier than an old lady with cane during winter.

Remember also that there are conditions for gaining any plenary indulgence.  In addition to the work performed you must be free of attachment to sin.  Meditation on the Cross and death of the Lord should help this resolve.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Liam says:

    I somewhere recall that the essential part of the Stations in imaging terms was not the illustration but the cross itself (and that the cross needed in some part to be made of wood). Anyone know about that?

  2. Question: how do I know I’m free from attachment to sin? This one has always troubled me, because I’m not sure I’ve ever been properly disposed to receive a plenary indulgence. Is this one of those things I can’t know, while taking on faith that if I am so disposed, I have received the indulgence?

  3. Ken says:

    There is also a plenary indulgence available on Fridays in Lent for those, under usual conditions, to gain after reciting the Prayer Before A Crucifix after receiving Communion.

  4. Mila says:

    Father Z, I’d like to add my own question.

    Many many moons ago when I was in boarding school (early to mid ’60s), the priest who directed our annual retreat had faculties to, if memory serves, “attach indulgences to the religious articles he blessed”, i.e., rosaries, crucifixes, medals, etc. Rosaries would attain the Dominican, the Holy Cross, and the Apostolic indulgences. Again, if memory serves, crucifixes would attain the indulgences one would gain making the Way of the Cross, provided one walked to a different spot for each Station while saying the prayers. I may have all this wrong, but I think that’s how it was explained. I’m having a little trouble here because, in addition to it having been so long ago, the priest explained all this in Spanish.

    I still have a crucifix that was blessed by him. Would that privilege still attain? Not that I’m trying to avoid going to church and praying the Stations there. I’m just curious, especially because my husband is not well and sometimes I don’t want to leave him alone; plus I think it would be good for him to pray them, even if it’s a little difficult for him to walk around, and still get the indulgence. Thank you for your answer.

  5. Memphis Aggie says:

    I second Anita’s question. Is being free from attachment to sin like being in a state of grace in that we have indications but not perfect certainty?

  6. Jason says:

    I’ve once been told that Stations should be erected by a Franciscan priest in particular, and I see from the document in our sacristy that ours, in fact, were. Is this accurate?

  7. CDN Canonist says:


    In the earlier Enchiridion indulgentiarum, a number of indulgences were associated with particular religious orders. This is no longer the case. Only those indulgences which have been conceded in the present Enchiridion indulgentiarum (1999), and those conceded from time to time for special reasons by the Apostolic Penitentiary, are obtainable. Many prayer books, liturgical manuals, etc., published before the Second Vatican Council contain references to indulgences which no longer have any effect.

  8. Tzard says:

    As was said, total detachment from sin is required for making it truly a plenary indulgence. Even if you fall short, it’s a “partial” indulgence – which is to say meaningful and efficacious.

    If I recall correctly, many devotions and prayers are partial status – such as making the sign of the Cross, or saying Grace for meals.

    I recall the original thought of the stations was to give an alternate to actually going to Jerusalem and doing it in person. As such, it would seem to me that a minor pilgrimage would be in the spirit of the prayer. (hence the requirement for moving about, etc…)

  9. Tzard says:

    I meant to say: “It’s still meaningful….” – but it’s not plenary, of course.

  10. Tomas says:

    I have put up pictures of each station, with appropriate text, on the walls in my living room (the pictures and text are from the Fisheaters.com website). It sounds like this does not qualify for an indulgence though.

  11. pdt says:

    Sadly, I think that the greatest impedance to saying Stations at church is the padlock on the front door of the church. Many of our churches here are locked up all day, or closed at 5 at the latest. Families who would like to follow the Stations will find it hard to do so. The two churches with 24-hour adoration chapels don\’t have stations in the chapels, and ask for reverent silence in any event which pretty much rules out the kids.

    Do any churches offer a completely unstructured \”family night\”? This might be something to consider.

  12. crazylikeknoxes says:

    I would also ask for guidance on what “a spirit of total detachment from any inclination to sin” means as a practical matter.

  13. Steve says:

    My company, Bridegroom Press, has published a Calendar of Indulgences for the last several years. It’s a wall or desk calendar that allows you to see all the days with plenary indulgences attached, along with instructions for doing all of them, general norms, etc.

    If you want one, they’re selling for 50 cents each right now, plus an individual shipping charge.

    As the canonist points out, the only effective indulgences are the ones in the latest enchiridion. It used to be the case that you could use a blessed crucifix at home if you were ill, but the requirement for a blessed crucifix no longer obtains. On the other hand, using an item blessed by a bishop on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is a plenary, so hang on to it…

    However, (sorry to contradict you, Sir Canonist) since there are four general classes of indulgenced works (prayer, fasting, almsgiving and Christian witness), any attempt to do a plenary indulgence through prayer (which is what the Stations are) that fails will always obtain at least a partial, assuming you are in a state of grace. And any attempt to use outdated indulgenced prayers from old manuals that are no longer in force will not win you a plenary, but will still win you a partial, if only because ANY prayer offered up during the course of the difficulties of life is a partial.

    “Detachment from sin, even the most venial”, one of the requirements for a plenary indulgence, is NOT a requirement to be free of concupiscence. Even baptism doesn’t get rid of concupiscence, so it’s hard to see how that level of detachment would be required for a plenary indulgence. To fulfill this obligation just make an act of the will in which you detest all sin and desire only attachment to God. That should be sufficient, as long as you are in a state of grace when you make it.

    Also, you must receive sacramental confession within TWENTY (20) days before or after the indulgenced act. It used to be 8 days, but that was extended for the Jubilee year and the extension was never revoked. Eucharistic reception, preferably on the day of the action, but it’s acceptable to receive Him on a different day if necessary. Prayers for the Pope’s intentions (you don’t have to know what those intentions are, as long as you are praying for their success).

    IMPORTANT: Each day of the Triduum has a special plenary indulgence attached to it!

    But this comment is far too long as it is, so I’ll leave that be for now.

  14. CDN Canonist says:


    No, it does not qualify. The stations of the cross must be legitimately erected by the competent authority. Furthermore, it is not the depictions themselves which are required, but fourteen wooden crosses. If you notice, all stations erected in churches (which usually contain a depiction of the station) include a wooden cross.

  15. inillotempore says:

    I once saw a XV station at a cathederal.
    It was the really bad 70’s “art” and it showed Our Lord on Easter Sunday triumphant over the tomb for station XV.
    Gratefully, the new Bishop renovated the cathedral and put up the traditional XIV stations(much better art -classic, traditional– too) the frame of each station matches the design of the reredos in back of the altar.

  16. CDN Canonist says:


    Perhaps I should be clearer. I was speaking of the concession of particular indulgences, not general concessions. Many prayers and devotions contained in older prayer books no longer have a particular indulgence attached to them because they are not contained in the current Enchiridion indulgentiarum. Also, partial indulgences were measured in days and years; this is no longer the case.

  17. Veronica says:

    I actually called a Catholic Church today that was closer to where I live but don’t attend regularly to see if they had stations of the cross tonight. The woman who answered scowled at me like she couldn’t believe I would ask such a question and said NO we don’t have that here. Wow I couldn’t believe it. I looked at other parish websites and found nothing on their schedules for the stations. This is a sad state of a lot of churches.

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    I suspect a lot of places don’t have it (posted) on their regular scheduleon their website. If they have it, it may be under “Lent Schedule” or some such.

    I’ve also seen a few places that make it part of another event. Our Young Adult group in one parish used to host “Soup & Stations” – Stations of the Cross (with the slightly odd experience of the 15th Station) with a potluck soup (meatless, naturally) and bread supper to follow. Another parish I know was doing Friday Night Fish Fry in conjunction with Stations.

  19. Immaculatae says:

    It IS a beautiful thing to see — and a few weeks ago I did see it!
    One afternoon during the week I had stopped in at the Chapel to tell Jesus I love Him. There
    was a small home schooling family there. Maybe 4-5 children. One of the older children was leading the smallest one through the Stations explaining each in such simple,clear,beautiful words that
    I got all teary eyed.It filled me with hope. I think many such hidden wonders are taking place. I am grateful God let me witness one such. Thank you for reminding me of it and giving me an opportunity to share what I received from the scene.

    Let us hope then, that the classes at the school are doing the same? I vote homeschooling if possible.

  20. Susan Peterson says:

    I would like to ask if a certain thing I heard is in any way a possibility. This person said in a blog post that a friend of his, who he said is a bishop, told him he had gone to a Catholic book store and bought one of the pope’s books (such as Jesus of Nazareth) and the bookstore clerk told him that if he bought $50 or more worth, (I think it was of the Pope’s books) there was an indulgence attached. I said that I did not think this could be true, that there might be an indulgence for doing spiritual reading for so long every day or something like that, but not for spending a certain amount of money on such books. The person refused to give me the information I would have needed to check up on this independently. I would like to know if there is any way that this could be true.
    Susan Peterson

  21. Peggy says:

    Should some one be discouraged from praying the Stations at home or elsewhere (if they weren’t able to make it to a Church) simply because the conditions would not qualify for an indulgence?

  22. Phil Steinacker says:

    I cobbled together a few notes on the concern over “attachment to sin.” Here’s what I found:

    An indulgence is granted to one who is properly disposed to receive it, which eliminates me if I just think of it as a free pass because I go through the motions correctly. In the case of a plenary indulgence the proper disposition includes having received absolution of sins through the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) while also being truly penitent.

    We receive an indulgence through God’s mercy when we truly turn or lives around – away from sin and toward the Gospel. That’s a great offer, but it’s not like we’re picking it up at the bargain bin. The Church, as steward of Christ’s promises of mercy, extends the pledge of mercy through the indulgence granted, but ultimately it is God who judges each person’s heart to determine true contrition.

    However, like a canopy over all of the prescribed concrete acts is the condition that one must be “in a spirit of total detachment from any inclination to sin” – something which can be judged by God alone. A lot of folks don’t know what it means to have no attachment to sin and they worry about inadvertently failing to fulfill that requirement.

    Let’s look at it.

    Plenary indulgences are not intended to be difficult to obtain. The condition is NOT freedom from all venial sin, but freedom from attachment to sin; i.e., that there is no sin which the soul is unwilling to renounce. Furthermore, an indulgence is NOT a sacrament, it is only a sacramental. One can describe it accurately as a completion of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but that’s as close as you get.

    Since even the great and glorious Sacrament of Baptism doesn’t free us from concupiscence (from concupiscentia, the natural inclination or innate tendency of humans to perform evil deeds – not exclusively sexual sin, as it is believed by some), it would be quite absurd to think we have to be free of concupiscence to obtain a plenary indulgence. The Church doesn’t say we must be free of such natural inclinations because it’s not possible to be free of concupiscence while we’re still in our bodies.

    The saints are holy precisely because they’re much more aware of their own concupiscence than most. Because they recognize their attachments more clearly they struggle with temptation more than we do. However, we cannot be responsible for that which invincible ignorance prevents us recognizing.

    So, if we just make an act of the will, praying something along the lines of Lord, I desire only You and Your perfection, I desire nothing of the sins or defects of this world (and in our hearts we MEAN it), that would be sufficient to constitute no attachment to sin. Our flesh may experience a movement towards some illicit thing, but that isn’t the same as an attachment to sin.

    BTW, the non-attachment to sin is only necessary for winning a plenary indulgence. It is NOT a condition for winning a partial indulgence.

  23. Alice says:

    I don’t think anyone should be discouraged from praying the Stations of the Cross just because they do not fulfill all the conditions necessary for the indulgence. Prayer brings one closer to God, whether or not an indulgence is involved.

    In the diocese where I live, familiarity with the Stations of the Cross is one of the religious education objectives at some point before Confirmation. The school at which I work prays them weekly during Lent and plenty of children come again with their parents to the parish stations. Most of the parishes have K of C fish fries afterwards, so lots of people come for prayer and fellowship. Certain pious practices are just too much fun to give up.

  24. If the church is locked and you cannot make the Stations therein that constitutes a legitimate impediment. In that case the indulgence can be gained by meditating on the Passion and Death of the Lord for at least one half hour along with fulfilling the other requirements.

    A good aid to praying and meditating on the Passion and Death of the Lord is to use any one of the various Stations booklets that are available. Though they are meant to be used moving from one station to another they need not be and can be used at home with great profit.

    Susan Peterson – This is absolutely false. Indulgences can never be obtained for money or any form of profit. It is the sin of simony.

  25. Mark Polo says:

    I have heard a story about St. Philip Neri that he once was preaching a Jubilee homily to which a plenary indulgence was attached. During the course of the homily he received the inspiration that only two persons in the church were actually properly disposed to receive the plenary indulgence — he himself and one old woman.

    The requirement for detachment from all sin is generally the hardest requirement to meet. Certainly not impossible, but we’re such creatures of habit, that our act of the will separating ourselves from all attachment to sin is hard to achieve, unless we really make an effort.

    Is it safe to assume that the Stations in a duly erected church or chapel are also duly erected? Our chapel has the 12 crosses/candles on the walls, which theoretically commemorate the original dedication/consecration (whatever it was called at that time) by the Bishop, but there is no particular document in the sacristy indicating that the Stations themselves were blessed.

  26. Michael R. says:

    Ultimately, the prayer is more important than the indulgence. And, if I’m not mistaken, the legislation of Paul VI adds to every good work a partial indulgence equal to the merit earned by the act itself. Sort of like a BOGO deal at the supermarket.

  27. Alan F. says:

    During Confession and Exposition time this morning there was a father with his small daughter taking her round the Stations of the Cross, explaining all the Stations to her, it was a good thing to see.

  28. Steve says:

    Canonist, you are right that the particular indulgence doesn\’t obtain, but we should be careful about the \”days and weeks\” measurement. As you know, but some of the other readers may not, those measurements were not intended to indicate \”time off\” purgatory, rather, they were meant to remind us of the ties between the current penitential system and the ancient penitential system. In ancient times, a penance could easily last years. Thus, the \”days and weeks\” were meant to show that the current prayer was equivalent to doing so many days or weeks of penance under the ancient system (i.e., the Church was giving out a LOT more grace now).

    I have seen stations that only had tableaux, but no wooden crosses. This is NOT, properly speaking, a stations of the cross. The crosses are necessary, the pretty pictures are not.

    To win an indulgence, you need only the general intention, not the specific intention. When you assign a penance after confession, if you make the penance something that already carries a partial or plenary indulgence, the penitent can start cleansing the world of his sins immediately.

    So, please, please, consider assigning a Memorare or Hail Holy Queen, etc., instead of a Hail Mary.
    Even the Sign of the Cross has a partial specifically attached…

  29. Tony from Oz says:

    Fr Z: Remember also that there are conditions for gaining any plenary indulgence. In addition to the work performed you must be free of attachment to sin. Meditation on the Cross and death of the Lord should help this resolve.

    Is it true that the complete freedom from attachment to sin was a post conciliar requirement invoked by Pope Paul VI c.1967? It appears supremely ironic to me that, at a time of complete disciplinary laxity, a more rigorous line was taken by the Church to make the gaining of graces via indulgences much harder to obtain (for plenary indulgences) than ever before in the history of the Church!

    Which brings me to my question: do you think that this is one instance where the Church might justifiably ‘liberalise’ the complete freedom from attachment to sin requirement to bring it into line with the traditional maganimity evident for all time up until 1967? God knows we need to maximise the transmission of grace – not hinder it in today’s world.

  30. Jason says:

    I wasn’t really asking about anything having to do with indulgences. But I am wondering if it is true what I was told, that stations are supposed to be erected by a Franciscan priest.

  31. I’m glad everyone is talking about indulgences. They really are a new blessing. Whenever anyone questions why they exist, I say “God love us and He’s looking for every possible way to bring us to him. If wants to give the Pope authority to dispense indulgences, then why not”. I also really like the Stations of the Cross. I just finished writing a meditation on them. Here is the meditation: http://www.CharismaticStations.com

  32. Ed Francis says:

    Tony – “you must be free of attachment to sin”

    What does this mean?

    Not considering committing a sin, or not holding back full contrition intentionally? Need the attachment be conscious, or may it inhere as a result of past sin, like temporal punishment? How can anyone, sans Christ and Mary, know with certainty that they are “free of attachment to sin” ? So many of our great Saints, in their incredible holiness, still held themselves enslaved to sin.

    Our archbishop declared an indulgence in connection with a local shrine feast day, but there were so many caveats attached to completion, it seemed unachieveable. One of those was “freedom from attachment to sin,” and I question anyone’s fitness to impose such a construct on God’s mercy. We’re all sinners down here, after all.

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